Project: Happiness Jar

For my money, there is nothing better than taking trash and turning it into treasure. I recently worked on a project that fit the bill and gave me a happiness boost for a lot of different reasons.

In Krista Tippett’s interview with Elizabeth Gilbert for On Being, Gilbert talks about her happiness jar. She notes that it is a huge apothecary jar that is filled with bits of paper, on which she’s written the happiest part of each day. I love this easy form of journaling and quickly made space in my blog planner to record the happiest part of my day. But I knew I also wanted a happiness jar, as well.

I didn’t necessarily want to buy something to serve as a happiness jar. I’m not really into shopping for a new item when it isn’t necessary. I don’t have the time or energy to poke through antique malls, flea markets, garage sales or thrift stores to find something. And I knew I probably had dozens of things in my house that could serve the purpose. But I also wanted it to be special.

I immediately thought of something Gretchen Rubin wrote about in The Happiness Project, which is the question “What did you do for fun when you were 10?” Her theory is that if you enjoyed something as a child, you will probably still like doing it as an adult. One thing I did for fun as a kid (although I was probably older than 10), was to decoupage. My version of decoupage at the time was to cut pictures out of magazines, rubber cement them to a little box and cover the whole thing with packing tape to seal it. We didn’t have any decoupage glue in the house and I’m not certain I knew there was such a thing as decoupage glue, so I improvised. I made a couple of different little keepsake boxes: one was a bracelet-sized box covered in flowers and the other was a greeting card box covered a mish-mash of colorful photos of textural things (beads, sequins, etc.). The memory of making those boxes immediately solved my problem of what to use as my happiness jar.

Project in progress with my trash supplies.

I took a melange of trash, really, a spaghetti sauce jar, old magazines my mom gave me, and actual Mod Podge leftover from a project I did several years ago (no rubber cement and packing tape for adult me), and gave them new life in my happiness jar. I even had the paint sponge leftover. No purchases went into the making of this project. No trips to the craft store necessary.

Another suggestion from Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast came into play when it was time to figure out what I was going to cover the jar with. In episode 71 of Happier, Rubin and her sister discuss choosing a signature color as a way to boost happiness. It was easy for me to identify my signature color: turquoise. But I started to notice that I don’t have much of this color around me in my everyday life. So a turquoise decoupage happiness jar was what I set out to create.

This project is so simple I don’t need to share step-by-step instructions. It’s just cut, paste, and repeat until you’re happy with the final result.

In a happy twist of kismet, while I was working on this project, my husband and step-daughter went to a comic-con and came home with the Deathly Hallows image complete with the turquoise background (I’ve not shared with either of them that turquoise is my “signature” color.) and three blind box Harry Potter figures. (We got Draco, Harry and Voldemort. They let me keep Harry on my desk even though I opened Draco. I put Draco and Voldemort in our family Harry Potter “shrine.”) The new gifts go quite well with my happiness jar, and my Lego keychain Dumbledore and Snape.

Project in place.

Project Clean House

I’m a terrible housekeeper. The daily grind of keeping up with everything gets me down. Not only that, I’m not the type of person who takes note of my surroundings often. For example, all of the following are situations that have happened to me.

Coworker: Did you see how this intern is dressed? Do you think it is inappropriate?
Me: The intern is here today?

Me: Your hair looks great. Did you dye it? (It was an obvious change from blonde to brown.)
Coworker: Yeah, like a week and a half ago.
I was in the office the whole time and her cubicle was directly across from mine.

Me, giving directions in college: Then you turn left at the pink metal building.
Mom: That building hasn’t been there for years.

So it isn’t surprising that a layer of dust on the bookshelf or lint on the floor or dried toothpaste in the bathroom sink doesn’t phase me. But just because I don’t notice those things doesn’t let me off the hook. The reason that I’m so interested in keeping a clean house lately is that my husband got a job in November. He had been unemployed for a few years and did a great job keeping up with the housework. The only chores that were my sole responsibility was food-related. Now that my husband has a job, though, he doesn’t have time to maintain the house and also cross bigger jobs, like changing the oil in our cars regularly or fixing his squeaky breaks, off the list.

So even though “housework” doesn’t seem like a rebel thing to do, I’m motivated by a sense of justice and fairness. Also, when he wasn’t working he was obsessive about doing things a certain way, which often precluded me from even trying to help. So in a sense, me taking over certain chores and doing them to my “standard” is rebelling against the established routine in the house.

The first thing I needed to overcome, though, was my inability to notice when a job needed to be done. My solution to that problem was to develop a schedule. Unlike Pinterest-worthy cleaning schedules that are colorful and written in a fancy font, my schedule is scribbled in the back of a half-used notebook. Maybe after I test it out for a while, I will make it look nicer but maybe I’ll just scribble it into another notebook when I finish using the current one and recycle it.

To make my schedule, I divided the house into three zones: kitchen, bathroom and rest of the house. “Rest of the house” does not include the basement as that is my husband’s domain, or my step-daughter’s room. They are responsible for their own spaces. After I divided the house, I made lists of chores that needed to be done daily, weekly and quarterly. I tried to make sure the quarterly jobs were scheduled for a weekend, since they usually take more time. Every evening when I get home from work, I make a to-do list with all the chores that I need to do that day listed.

The thing that works best about the schedule is that there is space built in for me to fall behind if I need to or want to and then catch up later. No single day is so burdensome that I couldn’t do everything on the weekend. If I’m going to be busy on Sunday, I do my Sunday chores on Saturday.

The other thing that works is that, even if I don’t get everything done that I’m supposed to get done in one day, I get a few things done. Most of my daily chores only take a few minutes combined. Even if I can’t cross all the weekly stuff of the list, I can do something.

Finally, I always take credit for chores that I don’t have to do. It gives me a secret thrill. For example, my only daily bathroom chore is to squeegee and dry the shower. We don’t do this individually, but the last person who takes a shower does it. If I get in the shower first so that my husband has to dry the shower, I don’t have to do the task but I get to cross it off my list. Same with watering the outdoor plants–if it rains I get the credit.

So what does my schedule look like? Here’s what I’ve accomplished after using it for about four weeks.

Daily chores: Do dishes (load/empty dishwasher, empty dish drainer, hand wash anything that needs it), wipe down counter tops/stove, take out recycling, squeegee and dry shower, make bed, sort mail, water plants, 10-minute tidy up and at least 10-minutes doing outside chores (weeding, picking up sticks, deadheading flowers, etc.)

Monday chores: clean microwave, empty compost container, dust bedroom and office
Tuesday chores: wipe down back splash,  vacuum bedroom and office
Wednesday chores: wipe down range hood, empty freezer of food waste, empty bathroom trash, take trash out, dust living and dining rooms
Thursday chores: wipe down coffee pot, vacuum living and dining rooms
Friday chores: Do a stove chore (this is a trigger to do one of the quarterly chores related to cleaning the stove/oven), clean bathroom mirror and sink, declutter something (again, a quarterly chore list)
Saturday chores: Vacuum kitchen plus declutter one cabinet, do a quarterly bathroom chore, laundry
Sunday chores: Do a quarterly refrigerator chore, mop bathroom floor and clean toilet, do a quarterly household chore.

Quarterly chores I’ve done so far:
Cleaned and organized top of refrigerator, freezer, refrigerator door, and two shelves
Cleaned burner pans, under range, oven door
Cleaned and organized Tupperware cabinet, pantry cabinet, bake ware cabinet, junk drawers and cleaned dishwasher
Cleaned shower head, washed bathroom mat, vacuumed out ceiling vent, wiped down walls
Decluttered desk, purse, nightstand and closet
Dusted baseboards, cleaned doors and frames, light plates and doorknobs and light fixtures.

It’s been mostly smooth sailing so far. I’ll post an update in the future.

Just like the admonition that happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy, project clean house doesn’t always make my house look clean. When I was cleaning the dishwasher, the seal on the door gave up it’s 15-year struggle to keep the water inside. Now I’m struggling to keep up with hand-washing the dishes until the new seal we ordered comes in.

Cake: It’s What’s for Dinner

I love cake so much. A few years ago, I used to make those microwave cake-in-a-coffee-mug things. They are terrible ersatz cake and also kind of depressing. Cakes are a celebration; glop in a coffee mug is desperation. Cake shared with family, friends or cow0rkers is like a fruity, frozen cocktail at a fun summer event; mug cake eaten while standing up in the kitchen is like a 40 in a brown paper bag.

There is no substitute for baking a real cake. I have two friends with birthdays at the end of May and my dad’s birthday is at the beginning of June. This year I decided everyone would get cake. I ended up making 3 cakes in one week. I quickly started dreaming bigger and decided I would keep my my cake baking pace. Not 3 cakes every week, but 3 every month (or so) for the next year seemed doable.

All cakes are welcome in this project: coffee cakes to cup cakes to cake balls to stacked, triple-layer confections. I’ll even allow boxed cake mixes as long as they have something a little special involved.

Here’s my cake journey, so far.

Berry Cake with Lemon Mousse Cream – May 27 for a friend’s birthday
Chocolate Oreo Cake – May 30 for a friend’s birthday
Lemon Coconut Cake – June 3 for my dad’s birthday

Best Blueberry Cake – June 11 because freezer blueberries
Dutch Butter Cake – June 19 for Father’s Day (no picture)
Smore’s Cake – July 4 for my niece’s birthday
Apple Cake with Maple Buttercream Cream Icing – July 10 because mealy apples

I’m posting all the cake recipes I’ve tried on my “Let Me Eat Cake” Pinterest board.



It’s a Cushy Job


We have two couches. One of them is a hand-me-down that was part of my husband’s furniture when we got married. I have no idea how old this couch is, but I do know that the upholstery is ripped in several places, including the couch cushions. It’s had a slipcover on it ever since I’ve been around.  In fact, this couch is so old that the slipcover has holes.

The obvious solution was to get a new slipcover, but I wasn’t feeling spending $50 to $120 on something that looks weird and never fits right. We aren’t sure how much longer we will keep this couch anyway. My idea was to get some cheap fabric and make covers for the cushions. Then we could put the cushions over the slipcover and we wouldn’t have to re-tuck the slipcover every time someone sits on the couch. When I shared this idea, my husband suggested using a canvas drop cloth as the material and a project was born.

IMG_1546We went to the hardware store and got the middle quality drop cloth. We bought two because even though I measured we weren’t 100% sure that we could get all the pieces I needed from one drop cloth. I think we spent less than $25 on both, including tax. I only needed one and we returned the other. I’m not sure why, but I already had upholstery thread in my thread collection (Mid-project, I did have to get another spool at less than $2.) and the standard needle on my sewing machine worked just fine.

I want to pause here to note that while I’m going to describe my process below, I’m not terribly skilled when it comes to the sewing machine. The point of this project, for me, was completion rather than perfection. If it was perfection I was aiming for, I would’ve spent more than $15 in supplies.

After washing and ironing the drop cloth, my first step was to measure and cut. I decided to do one piece for the top, one for the bottom and then piece together a long side with the leftovers. I ended up with two pieces for the sides. I added 3/4 inch to all sides for a seam allowance.

It was very necessary to zig-zag all the edges except the selvage to keep the material from unraveling. After that, I started pinning the top to the sides, outsides facing each other. I centered one of the sides to the front of the top and started pinning together.

I was afraid that figuring out the corners would be a little tricky. I imagined a box-type pleat on the corners, but I had no idea how to make that happen. Turns out it was a lot easier than I thought. I really don’t know how else you would make the corner. The part that was really tricky was up next: sewing the two side pieces together.

The first side was easy. Just pin together and sew. The second seam was much more difficult because I didn’t bother to figure out the total length before I started. I just pinned all the way around, got to the side seam, measured 3/4 inches on the front side for seam allowance and folded it over. Then I matched the back side up, chopped it off, pinned to the front and sewed it up.

I finished pinning all the way around, making sure to pin down the seam so it didn’t fold to one side or the other and then stitched it all the way around. The next step was to pin and sew the bottom on, leaving the back unstitched once you turn the corners and sew down the pleats.

Then I trimmed the corners at an angle and zig-zagged the raw edges. I almost forgot about this step until I tried to turn the first cover right-side out. The corner looked rounded and was full of material, which gave me flashbacks to my 3rd grade sewing project (a pillow). I remembered what my momma taught me and took care of the corners.

The most difficult part of this whole project was wrestling the couch cushions into the new cover. I popped several stitches both times, but I just made sure to go over those when I hand stitched the cover closed.


Then I repeated the process for the second cushion, and voila! It’s not the most gorgeous couch ever, but all we wanted was for it to last until we get a different couch.

If I had to do it over again, I would’ve bought batting to cover the cushions. They had batting over the foam cushion, but it was ripped in several places. You can see a bulky place on the front of the right cushion, which is batting that bunched up. It would’ve added about $30 to the project, but I think it would’ve helped the foam cushion stay together better, in addition to looking nicer. I also would have cut one big piece to cover the top front and back. I’m not 100% sure my canvas drop cloth was appropriately portioned for this to happen, but it would have given the corners a cleaner look. I could have done a straight seam instead of a box pleat. I realized this when I was taking the old ripped covers off the old cushions because that is how they were sewn together.

Overall, though, I’m really pleased with how this turned out. I would love it if the whole thing were covered in canvas, but I’m so not ready to tackle a project of that magnitude. The very best part is that we don’t have to re-tuck the slip cover every time we sit on the couch.