Monday, January 30, 2012

Made Over

 A new year, a new look.

One box of darkdarkdark brown dye. A good trim and asymmetrical bangs via razor comb. Some white and pink embroidery floss. Earrings from my favorite jewelry artist. This super-easy new make-up trick.

From this to witch in exactly one year!

Friday, January 27, 2012


I bought these matching vintage lamps at the same time as the lamp in this previous post, for $6.00 each ($12.00 for both). I knew it'd be a long-shot to thrift matching lamp shades, so I caved and bought these from a big box store for less than $30 total (yikes!). I suppose the extra cost was worthwhile, as I have been grinning at them each time I walk past for four days now. 

This is the wall directly across from this one, and I love how its symmetry is mirrored. No matter how ready I'll be to leave Chicago, it's going to be tough leaving this apartment.

Happy Weekend! I'll be taking it easy and hopefully hosting a game night--our first time having a gathering of friends we've made here in Chicago. What are your plans?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

DIY Grease-Fighting Liquid Dish Soap

After some struggle and playing a little "mad scientist" in the kitchen, I've struck up a pretty, pretty decent alternative to store-bought dish soap. Here's a little somethin'-somethin' for you to read about major brands is dish soap. There are many somethin'-somethin's on this subject for you to find out there, so this is just a jumping off point. 

 This recipe is natural, but please remember that natural does not mean that it's something you should eat or drink. If you're going to do a full load of dishes with this stuff by hand, be sure to wear some gloves to protect those lovely paws from drying out.

I already had all of these ingredients on hand (you will too, once you begin exploring the world of natural housekeeping), so it was unbelievably convenient to make. More convenient, in fact, than actually going to the store to buy more dish soap. The total cost of the soap breaks down to approximately $2.50, which is less than leading natural dish soap brands that I've found to be much less effective at cutting grease.

3 cups water
1 cup Castile soap (Dr Bronner's is my preferred. The peppermint is what we always have on hand, but unscented would probably be ideal)
3 TBS Super Washing Soda (Found in most laundry aisles)
2 TBS Baking Soda
3 TBS White vinegar
10-20 drops of your favorite essential oil *optional (I chose tea tree, but lavender, lemon, and eucalyptus are great choices as well)

1. Mix the water, castile soap, washing soda, and baking soda together in a non-reactive pot. On your stove, gently heat the mixture over medium-low flame. Whisk until the washing soda has completely dissolved.
2. Remove from heat and add the vinegar and essential oil. Mine did not bubble over, so I assume anyone who tries this method should be safe. If your kitchen turns into a middle school science lab, I apologize.
3. Allow your soap to cool and then transfer to your favorite liquid soap vessel. I always make sure to label my concoctions clearly, as well as mark their containers with the recipe for easy future reference.

Please note that this soap will not do much in the way of sudsing, but it WILL get the job done. As consumers we've been convinced that something isn't getting cleaned unless we see some bubbles, but often suds are the result of drying, harmful chemicals--totally artificial to most cleaning processes. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

An Eccentric and a Flake

Lately there's been a great deal of consideration done on my part towards my next steps in life and the future far ahead. My "now" and my future look much different than many of my peers', as I am sure many of my dear readers understand and can relate. Make no mistake, I  am not feeling down, simply reflecting, considering, deciding, and preparing. 

Street art on Randolph Street in Chicago. The piece on the left is made from reclaimed home trimmings.

"Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. 
In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy 
doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only 
understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes 
an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities 
is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them."

-Bill Watterson

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Back in Iowa, I had the pleasure of not only making exceptional espresso at the city's favorite coffee shop, but also keeping up the chalk boards. The menus are done exclusively by hand, and I updated some of them weekly.

Being barista and chalk-wielder are two things I miss dearly, so I was thrilled when offered the old menu board from Jake's Chicago coffee shop. It may not be a job any longer, but I will certainly keep it as a hobby.

Make no mistake, this board is the size of my car--almost four feet tall and 7 to 8 feet wide--which made it difficult to get home. It looked a lot like this, but much less stable. Now that it's home safely, it will be the perfect thing to fill up our bare wall in the entryway and offer greetings and art space for our guests. My first-ever chalk board greeting was for birthday kids Josh and Jessica, who were to spend their birthday weekend with us here in Chicago until the snow ruined our plans.

Eventually it will be hung, but the whole hallway is full of "eventuallys." Eventually, we'll put up a couple more coats of orange paint to hide the blue underneath and touch up the white trim. Eventually, we'll either pull up the hideous carpet or get a decent rug. Eventually, we'll put a privacy curtain over the front door. 

Here's a peak at the other side of the wall, in all of its undone glory:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Outfit: Color Warrior

 With the season's first winter storm (in mid-January? No complaints!), I'm back into wishful dressing.  Just because the whole outdoors is grey does not mean that I need to be.

Top: Discount buy from a big box store, $2.00
Skirt: Vintage and home-sewn, a birthday gift from my handsome roommate
Hat: My favorite of all time, crocheted vintage from a church sale, $.25
Necklace: From the one and only Luxe Debris, who is now hand-etching the most amazing pieces!
Belt: Vintage gold, silver, and copper makes for a perfect match in any jewelry situation, $.25
Tights: Discounted from a big box store, $3.50
Boots: Thrifted in Des Moines on New Year's Day 2010, $4.00
Approximate Total: $10.00

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy Weekend!

Stay safe and warm this weekend!

We may be hosting some if our greatest buddies over the next few days, but it looks like an impending blizzard will be thwarting our much anticipated plans.

In the case that I'm snowed in and buddy-less I'll be sewing, cooking comfort foods, and figuring out what to do about my mess of hair. It hasn't been this long since I was 22 and I'm reminded now of how boring it can feel. Any suggestions would be welcomed!

Here is an unfortunate phone photo of myself sans make-up or styling for extra effect of desperation:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Claw Machine Reviews

Cory, a buddy of mine back home in Iowa, shares my joyful passion for arcade games--specifically skee ball and claw machines. Clever and talented guy he is, he's started a review blog for claw machines. Yes, there really is a corner of the internet for everyone.

Image Source
Having been trained well by my dad over the years, I will toot my own horn and admit to being well-above average in the claw machine department. Prior to a little snafu at the Dekalb Oasis (rigged machines!), I had been on a 3-time winning streak--three different machines in three different states. If only I could get paid for such things!

It is with these credentials that I am proud to say that I have earned as spot as Claw Machine Reviews' Chicago correspondent. You can check out my first post here!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reading List

 The book fairy was kind to me over the past month! For you, a list of what's new on my bookshelf. I heartily endorse each of these titles.

  • Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs. The "type" and illustrations are all done by hand for a 'zine edge with a radical feel. This is an excellent resource for wild-crafting and making your own tinctures, as well as natural home and health care.
  • The Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin. Valuable to anyone who wants to build a presence in today's crafting market. 
  • Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich. I haven't read this yet, but I am anxious to get started!  Part memoir and part how-to manual, Made from Scratch recounts Woginrich’s growing independence and the successes and missteps she experiences as she learns to more fully live off the land. By turns upbeat, dramatic, and sometimes sorrowful, her story embodies the experience of the new homesteader  one who is committed to reducing dependence on commercially produced goods while still working a day job to pay the rent. Woven into the narrative, readers will find easy-to-follow instructions for making clothing, playing a musical instrument, preserving fruit, brewing the best pot of coffee imaginable, and much more.  (Synopsis courtesy of
  • Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn. I haven't cracked this one yet either, but the concept is incredibly compelling! Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year. When the writer Donovan Hohn heard of the mysterious loss of thousands of bath toys at sea, he figured he would interview a few oceanographers, talk to a few beachcombers, and read up on Arctic science and geography. But questions can be like ocean currents: wade in too far, and they carry you away. Hohn's accidental odyssey pulls him into the secretive world of shipping conglomerates, the daring work of Arctic researchers, the lunatic risks of maverick sailors, and the shadowy world of Chinese toy factories. (Synopsis courtesy of

  • Making It by Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen. Written by the couple behind Root Simple and Urban Homestead (which I gifted to Jessica and have heard high reviews). Full of DIYs for the home that go beyond mixing baking soda and lemon juice and venture into castile soap making (with lye!), building your own chicken coops, slaughtering said chickens in a humane way if you so choose, kombucha brewing, and plenty of other truly radical projects. 
  • Bust DIY Guide to Life from Bust Magazine. Clever sewing projects, easy vegan recipes, DIY intimacy ideas for yourself and/or your partner, wedding planning, and even your rights in caring for loved ones when they pass. It's Bust magazine, how could this not be wonderful? And it is.
  • The Cook & The Butcher by Brigit Binns. A meat-oriented cook book from Williams Sonoma, with contributions from Mark Martin. Mark is a family friend, fellow Iowan, and owner of Nelson's Meat Market, a dying breed of classic butcheries. He's an incredibly kind and knowledgeable man, I'm so glad to see him find this success! Below you can see his personal inscription in my book, written after he was told Jake and I eat mostly vegetarian these days.
  • Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. This is the bible of vegetarian cooking. Organized by ingredient, Madison gives detailed information including storage, health benefits, choosing the best fruits and vegetables, and cooking methods, followed by tried-and-true recipes for the ingredient.  This is more of a reference book than recipe book. Have a surplus of tomatoes? Head to the tomato chapter and learn how to make marinara. Want to try lentils for the first time? There's four pages to guide you through the process and make something you'll love. I can't recommend this tome enough.

 To Brooke & Jake
In a weak moment think "BEEF"!
Happy grilling
Mark Martin
Christmas 2011

Monday, January 16, 2012

Thrift Haul 1/16

 Vintage table lamp in the perfect colors of orange and green, with beautiful special details. $5.00

Set of 3 vintage TV trays. Hand-painted! $3.00 each, $9.00 for the set.

Buttery soft motorcycle boots with metal details. They make me feel like I am walking around in Carissa's shoes, which is nothing short of a dream come true. $3.00

Friday, January 13, 2012

Birthday Outfit

Dress: A very rare mall purchase! Divided by H&M, $20
Sweater: "Vintage Brooke", pushing ten years in my wardrobe! At this point, I'm calling it "free"
Necklace:  Statement necklace bought from 1st Class Finds, $4.00
Stockings: Gifted by Jake's mom, who has never seen me wear pants, free
Shoes: Grey pumps, not shown and bought new for a job interview, $15.00
Handsome Fella: Wearing all vintage (except the tasseled loafers, a gift from my mom) and constantly complaining about needing a hair cut, free but lookin' like a million bucks
Approximate Total: $39.00 (Whew! that's pricey in my book!)

As I've mentioned, I had a birthday last week. Among many really special gifts, I received The Boss's first ever piece of art (a lovely abstract, finger paint on canvas) and a couple of pitch-perfect vintage scarves from my boo. 

After a day at work, I was escorted by the handsome man above to play unlimited free pinball at Logan Hardware, have some whiskey at the dive-y Bob Inn, and indulge in amazing tapas at The Girl and the Goat, run by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard. He sure knows how to treat me well. 

The whole night was sponsored by Templeton Rye, made in Iowa and oh-so delicious.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cat Family Photos

You guys!

I just turned 27. Well, exactly a week ago I did. 

It was difficult to spend my first birthday away from my family and Iowa buddies, but obviously I lived to tell about it. I'd planned to go out and meet up with Chicago friends to do karaoke, but fell asleep watching a PBS documentary instead. Such is old age, I guess.

While some things were very different this year, Jake insured we upheld a couple of traditions. The first being to get at least one slow dance in to Beck's "Debra," the second being our January 5th Cat Family Photos. This event takes place each year following a large meal and many adult beverages (this will soon be plenty obvious).

They've looked different each of the past three years (while still all being equally unflattering), but the important thing is that the tradition continues mightily.

January 5, 2010:

January 5, 2011:

January 5, 2012:

PS- My first blog post was exactly 1 year ago today! Look at what a disaster it was back then!

Gratuitous Train Video

For absolutely no reason, please enjoy the beautiful view from my daily train ride. The video is completely unedited, so be aware that the only soundtrack is of the track sounds.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pinhole Press

If you ever visit A Cup of Jo, what I'm about to share with you will be no secret.

A lot of my gift-giving this past holiday season was done with the help of a small internet business, Pinhole Press. They offer sleek, contemporary photo gifts that are very high quality for reasonable prices. Their products are LIGHT YEARS ahead of the mugs and mouse pads you find at drugstores.

From all of the photos from my Long Island excursion, I chose my favorite 68 and made a soft cover photo book each for my mom, grandfather, and aunt. Of course, I didn't bother to photograph the books before I sent them to their new homes. Shame! The books made my photos look beautiful and professional. It's easy to pretend you've had your work published into a coffee table book with Pinhole Press.

For Jake, who had decided we should only exchange gifts we'd made (yeah, I cheated!), I chose a larger hardcover book template and filled it with almost 100 of my favorite photos from our six months here in Chicago. For an extra special touch, I wrote notes here and there throughout the book so we could remember the silly little details years down the road.

I can't wait to save my pennies (and photos!) and fill a whole shelf with books from Pinhole Press.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Phone Photos

Some photos from my new, fancy phone. Expect some actual substance tomorrow!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Best Gift of 2011

When I was young I spent most of my free time with my dad. He likes to keep busy, work with his hands, and keep a long list of hobbies. On weekends, we'd build model rockets from scratch and launch them, hunt for agates in the quarries or trilobites on the side of Iowa roads, garden, skip stones on the river, or meticulously record perfect mix tapes from vinyl records.

Sometime between the ages of 4 and 6, he made me a very important tape, "Dog Fight Giggle." Having begun climbing drawers onto cabinets before I could walk, my parents dubbed me "Monkey."  The whole Monkey thing was the main theme behind Dog Fight Giggle, including every song Dad could think of with the word "monkey" in it, mixed in with other animal related songs. 

I wore the tape out. And then eventually, after doing the constant college apartment shuffle, I lost it. Every time I'd visit my childhood home, I would dig a little more in hopes of finding it. The All 4 One and MC Hammer tapes survived, having been left safely in their cases in my closet after I'd outgrown their music. Losing Dog Fight Giggle was one of my greatest laments. I remember sitting with my dad while he produced it. I remember my childhood obsession with it. I remember a few of the songs, but not well enough to recreate it.

Completely from memory over 20 years later, my dad managed to recreate Dog Fight Giggle, this time on his new vinyl to CD gadget. Of course I have no idea if it's in the same order as the original, and it is definitely missing one song ("Been Caught Stealin'" by Jane's know, the one with the dogs barking?), but it is absolutely perfect. My dad has always had a taste for peculiar music--reflected well on this mix--and it has absolutely shaped my taste. Without having a clue that "Ape Man" was on this mix so many years ago, I heard it again for the first time as an adult and quickly adopted it as my favorite song by one of my favorite bands.

Little Feat- Down on the Farm
Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes- When You Dance
Trio- Boom Boom
Jethro Tull- Bungle in the Jungle
Joe Nash- All Night Laundromat Blues  *so excellent, you guys!
Pink Floyd- Seamus
Todd Rundgren- Medley/Dog Fight Giggle
Rolling Stones- Monkey Man
Kinks- Ape Man
Beatles- Except Me and My Monkey, Oh-Bla-Di, Oh-Bla-Da
Los Lobos- No Anchovies Please
JoJo Gunne- How Will the Wolf Survive
Sweet- White Mice
Fleetwood Mac- I'm a Roadrunner, Hypnotized
James Gang- Funk #48
Heart- Dog & the Butterfly

The Obscure Classics was a bonus CD gift mostly of the same artists' even less commercially popular songs. 

I love my dad.