Entries Tagged as 'Arts & Crafts'

The dollhouse

February 10, 2018

Image: Miniature Co.

I have been toying with the idea of buying an unfinished dollhouse kit for a few years. I love, love, love tiny things, a love that was cemented during an April 2016 trip to Tiny Doll House, a truly magical store that I highly recommend visiting if you live in NYC and are having a terrible day/week/time. Building a dollhouse seemed like a perfect amalgamation of all my hobbies — it’s crafting and home decorating and antiquing and puzzles, and also miniatures, which are the goddamn best.

Still, though, I felt weird about it. Whenever I mused about maybe doing it, I’d eventually land on, If only I had a child to build one for! I don’t know any 30-year-old women who build dollhouses, especially not just for the hell of it. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge deal, but I was going through so much personal trauma and was worried that it could skew my judgment. Like, I had gone down the Avatar Real Born rabbit hole and seen what that looked like, and I just wasn’t sure I wanted to descend into my own Tragically Bizarre Hobby Phase From Which You Never Really Return at the age of 31, you know? In terms of social capital, I assumed that building the dollhouse was probably equal to adopting 25 cats all at once. I also didn’t really know what I’d, like, do with the dollhouse. Like, just…have it? Is that what one does?

Building a dollhouse wasn’t something I thought about a ton, but every so often, I’d start looking at minis on Instagram or read an article about miniatures and begin entertaining the idea again. But I just couldn’t quite give myself permission to start playing with toys. Meanwhile, I had a book to write and plenty of other stuff to keep me busy, and I just simply wasn’t in the market for a brand new hobby for most of 2017.

Then in the fall, Chip and Joanna Gaines launched their debut collection for Target. It included an adorable modern farmhouse dollhouse (which like three people texted me because they know me well!) and seeing it was a lightbulb moment: suddenly, I saw what a dollhouse could be. Before, when I thought of a dollhouse kit, I always thought of a very formal Victorian thing — which is incredibly not me, and which is why it kinda would be the equivalent of adopting 25 cats if I went that route. But a more modern dollhouse with, say, subway tile and a tiny KitchenAid stand mixer? That made sense. It actually felt like the most natural and obvious thing in the world. Suddenly I wanted to build it and then, yeah, just…have it. Like, of course.

Image: Miniature Co.

My mom and brother came to visit me for Thanksgiving this year, and on that Friday morning, as we lounged and scrolled, I started looking at dollhouses online, sort of casually. The idea that dollhouses would be on sale for Black Friday seemed sort of unlikely, but…I don’t know, the spirit moved me to just look! It was actually the first time I’d searched for dollhouses online. I had a rough price range in mind, based on what I’d seen at Tiny Doll House, where the smallest and most basic unfinished dollhouse kit was around $500 and the big Victorians were $800-$1200. I expected to pay around $400 for what I wanted (I assumed there was a pretty big markup at an NYC dollhouse store), which was actually a big part of my overall hesitation; if I was going to spend that much money on something, I wanted to be really sure and feel really good about it.

I had no idea what to expect when I started searching, but I quickly found a great website with a ton of options, including some that weren’t nearly as expensive as I’d anticipated; in fact, the one I liked best was $187. (No Black Friday sales, though — alas.) Then I discovered that it was sold at Hobby Lobby for $120…and that you could use a 40% off coupon on it. And my mom was here…with a car. We called two different Hobby Lobby stores, both of which were about an hour drive from my apartment; the first one didn’t have the dollhouse I wanted, but the second one, in New Jersey, did. It was sort of the perfect Black Friday activity. The weather was really nice, the drive wasn’t bad, and, honestly, a trip to the suburbs with my mom and brother was exactly what I wanted to do. (We also went to Target, Home Goods, and had lunch at Panera! It was a great day.) (Also, I took them to Times Square to see Spongebob the Musical the next day, so rest assured that we also spent some time in the city doing the NYC things they wanted to do!) My mom offered to buy the dollhouse for me as my Christmas present. And, I mean, dollhouses are a thing you buy for your daughter for Christmas, right?

I’m glad we were able to look at the kits IRL; Hobby Lobby had all of their dollhouse models assembled — unpainted — which gave me a better sense of the size of them. Honestly, they were all majestic. The photos of the dollhouses online don’t really do justice to how lovely and elegant and big they are, and seeing them assembled was genuinely inspiring. The Painted Lady Victorian was incredible, and there was a bigger/more expensive farmhouse that I liked so much (it’s the one on the right in the photo above), I seriously considered getting it. But ultimately, I left with what I had come for: the Vermont Farmhouse, Jr., made by Real Good Toys.

The cool thing about Real Good Toys is all of the resources they have readily available. I quickly discovered that dollhouses are mainly the realm of grandpas, and that they have already done the work to help other people build a great dollhouse. (Hobbyists are really the best!)Each RGT dollhouse has its own mini site with deeply detailed guides, photos, Q&A, etc. The sites aren’t super pretty, but reading through all of that in the days following Black Friday was very fun and reassuring.

The first thing I did was dye the shingles because I knew it would take several days, and because it could be done separately from everything else. I was super skeptical of the process at first; the overwhelmingly recommended method was to dye them in this incredibly specific way (vs. staining them or painting them) that I found intimidating and just very “hmmmm” (like…I can’t just paint them????) but eventually, I came around. And…yep, they were right! That was the way to do it, and it was fine! It was a really great first step.

But the thing with the shingles was that I was able to just pop open the box, grab the bag of shingles, and then shut the box and shove it aside again — basically, I still hadn’t had to unpack anything, and I just hadn’t *really* started the dollhouse. Even though I was super excited about the dollhouse, I was actually really anxious about sitting down and reading the full instructions. After stalling quite a bit, I finally made myself do it around Christmas, and after reading them, I sort of panicked. It’s not impossible (you actually assemble everything with basic-ass white craft glue!) and the instructions are written in an incredibly (surprisingly !) human way, which I really appreciate…but it’s a lot of work, and includes a lot of things I just don’t have experience with. (Like…woodworking? So like…all of it?)

Before I read the instructions in full, I was feeling pretty ambitious. What if I just go ahead and wire the whole thing for electricity while I’m at it?! I thought to myself one night after reading the online tutorial for giving your dollhouse working fixtures. LIKE WHAT IF I JUST TEACH MYSELF ELECTRICITY??? I COULD, YOU KNOW!!!! But after I read the full printed instructions, I was like…Oh, boy. Again, it’s not impossible, and I know I’ll just go step by step and be fine, but seeing it all in one place was just…A Lot. A dollhouse is basically a complicated puzzle that requires a ton of advance planning, a lot of careful reading, a lot of sanding, and some light sawing (SAWING!!!!!), and it’s a project I just really, really don’t want to fuck up. Like, maybe I should have gone with Avatar Real Born dolls after all! But alas, here we are.

Here’s an idea of sooooort of where I’m headed (but with less black and more color):

I’m planning for lots of beautiful neutrals and pastels, modern traditional, and classic but unfussy. (More inspiration here.) So, basically a mini version of my apartment. Which…checks out!

I’m not really sure how long it’ll take me to finish it, but I will probably take some PTO to work on parts of it (and to cut down on my apartment being in a total state of disarray). I’ll definitely blog about my progress here, and will continuing documenting everything on my Instagram Stories and in this Twitter thread.

Right after I got the dollhouse, I was visiting with my friend Rachel. She didn’t bat an eye when I told her about it; she immediately completely understood why I wanted to do it, and said that she and her husband are firm believers in adults continuing to find ways to play. (Over on the couch were the custom Muppet versions of them that were part of their wedding.) I have also been thinking a lot in the past several months about the different ways adults engage in world-building — from Dungeons and Dragons to Fantasy Football to Department 56 to The Sims to Pinterest. There’s something so universally pleasing about having your own little domain, and after the brutal past few years that I’ve had, the idea of literally building and making a tiny, beautiful home feels exactly right.

Sneak peek: Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide

July 20, 2017

Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide

My book, Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide, is coming out on July 31! If you’re interested, here’s a preview of the book’s intro.

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I started my first diary when I was nine years old and in fourth grade. Onward through middle school, high school, college, and my early twenties, I wrote almost every single day, filling notebook after notebook with my thoughts and observations. (And my crushes. So many crushes.) I also used a physical plan­ner and wrote out my to-do list every single day, long after apps and websites made both unnecessary.

But in the second half of my twenties, my diary writing slowed down, then ground to a halt. Part of this happened because I was writing as my full-time job, plus keeping a blog. But I was also sharing my thoughts with my friends via texts, instant messages, and emails all day, and I didn’t feel like rewrit­ing everything in a notebook at night. And though I still wrote out to-do lists every day in a steno pad, it wasn’t a habit that I did with a sense of intention, or that gave me any real sense of joy.

So, this is where I was in my journaling ~journey~ when I came to dot journaling a couple years ago. I first read about something called a “Bullet Journal” on my friend Jessica’s blog in December 2015, and was intrigued. Initially, I assumed it was some sort of new diary or planner to buy—and I thought, Great, I love buying new things! But when I went to the official website run by its creator, Ryder Carroll, I just got confused. Not only was it not something to buy, I couldn’t understand what, exactly, it was. When I heard “journal,” I thought “diary,” but this seemed like it was a . . . to-do list? And also a . . . calen­dar? Or . . . something? There were bullet points involved, and also a lot of words and phrases that I didn’t recognize, along with photos of incredibly simple journal pages that seemed to have very little in common with the elaborate, creative, beau­tiful pages I was seeing on Instagram—pages that were also, somehow (apparently?), from Bullet Journals. It seemed like a lot of people were using dot-grid journals to do . . . whatever it was they were doing, but that type of paper didn’t appear to be a requirement. I couldn’t figure out what the rules were, or exactly what the point was, either. Eventually, I gave up.

But after asking around and discovering that my friends had also been hearing about this new type of journal and also couldn’t understand what it was, I became determined to fig­ure it out. Turns out, Bullet Journaling is an incredibly simple concept that is remarkably difficult to explain, in part because “you do you” is such a major aspect of it—meaning everyone does it a little differently, and there are no real rules. And, over time, the Internet has transformed the basic idea—using sim­ple symbols and dot-grid journals to record the things that matter most—into what I’ve come to think of as “dot journaling” . . . aka, a creative, colorful, robust, and—listen, take this with a large grain of salt—Pinteresty version of the original concept.

I started dot journaling on January 1, 2016, and I quickly fell in love. It was exactly what I hadn’t realized I needed: a single notebook that incorporated my to-do lists, helped me stay organized, served as a fun creative outlet, and led me back to my roots as a diarist—I was thrilled to discover that I had no problem writing in it every single day. And in this book, I’ll show you how to get started dot journaling, and how to make it a habit (or an addiction?) for you, too.

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You can enter to win a copy of the book, a blank dot-grid journal, and a bunch of other amazing journaling supplies here (the winner will be chosen on July 31), and pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Books-a-Million, Workman, or Powell’s.

Learning in 2015

December 31, 2015

learning in 2015

Every year I choose a verb instead of a resolution; over the years, I’ve found that this really helps me prioritize and focus on my goals throughout the year. My verb for 2015 was learn. My main goal was pretty simple: I just wanted to read more books. Beyond that I wanted to journal more and learn some new skills. Here’s how I did:


I set a goal of reading 35 books, though I had no idea if that was reasonable or not. Thanks to a few spans when I just wasn’t as focused, I now have 26 books on my reading list for this year. I think I could have definitely done 35 if I’d pushed myself harder during those times, but I really don’t care about the number too much, so it’s whatever.

Mid-way through the year I realized that I hadn’t read any books by straight, white, cisgender men… or any books by men at all. I decided to keep it that way for the rest of the year, a choice I still feel good about.

Of the 26 books I read, some were definitely better than others. Here are my six favorites, in no particular order:

1. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbot. This was the first book I read in 2015 and it’s so good! It’s about four women who were spies during the Civil War and it’s just fascinating. Also: females are strong as hell.

2. In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar. This book was amazing and I can’t recommend it enough. Full review here.

3. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. This book is informative, intense, heartbreaking, and inspiring. It’s non-fiction but it flows like a novel (think Devil in White City), and I recommend to anyone who likes history or who cares about racial justice.

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This is the last book I read in 2015 and it will haunt me for a long time. It’s beautiful and sad and lovely and magical and I want everyone to read it.

5. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. I picked up this book because I loved the cover, but I ended up really loving the intense and dark story. Full review here.

6. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. This book genuinely changed the way I look at my home, and it gave me a name/explanation for a lot of the things I was already doing. I know it’s gotten a ton of hype so the backlash is inevitable, but I think it’s worth a read, even if you don’t KonMari your entire house or take every bit of her advice. (I actually haven’t done everything yet.) But my apartment is a really, really pleasant place now, and I can definitely credit this book for some of that! Summary/review here.


I did a lot more journaling in 2015, but mostly via the Day One app and not my actual paper journal (though I used that on occasion). I set the app to notify me every night at 9:30, and I’ve added entries pretty regularly, especially in the second half of this year. I also liked being able to add a photo from the day on nights I didn’t feel like writing much.


When I made this goal, I was thinking I’d take some writing classes… which I looked into, but the writing classes in NYC aren’t cheap, so I started looking at options that were more budget-friendly. I had been wanting to learn more about illustration and lettering, so this summer I started taking a bunch of online classes in that area. These classes were one of the biggest (and unexpected) highlights of my year and helped me develop a new hobby that I’m really excited about. Here are the ones I liked best/recommend:

1. Intro to Calligraphy Video + Kit from Laura Hooper Calligraphy (which, full disclosure, I got for free through work)

2. Intermediate Watercolor from CreativeBug

3. Hand-Lettering Basics from Brit.co

4. Amy-Style Calligraphy Worksheets from The Postman’s Knock

5. Free Brush Calligraphy Worksheets from The Postman’s Knock

6. Calligraphy 201 from Brit.co

Reading on my Kindle (or reading physical books) was really great for unwinding and unplugging at night, but there were some nights when I just didn’t have the mental energy for, say, reading about systemic racism, or simply wasn’t in the mood for the book I was currently reading. Practicing calligraphy was a great alternative because it got me away from a glowing screen and got me making something with my hands, but I learned it can also be a very mindless activity — I could just zone out while doing it when I wanted to. It also forced me to be more patient; the first couple of weeks, I was frustrated working with the nib pen/link, but I ultimately realized that I had to go slowly if I wanted it to work. (That turned out to be the case with brush calligraphy too. Even though most people say it’s easier, I find that it’s still rather fussy.) Laura Hooper suggests three 45-minute practice sessions a week, which sounded like a lot, but didn’t turn out to be all that hard to do. It was often hard to get myself to put down whatever article I was reading on my phone and get started, but the time always flew by; I usually ended up working for 90 minutes or so without even realizing it. A lot of times, I practiced while listening to podcasts, which allowed me to learn new things/be entertained without staring at my phone or laptop. Other times, I’d forget to put on music or a podcast and would just work in silence.

I cannot overstate how incredibly relaxing calligraphy is. Making rows and rows of lowercase “l”s and “e”s was so soothing. Less pressure on the upstroke, heavier pressure on the downstroke, over and over again. Things like the sound the nib makes as it moved across the paper or hitting the turn of an “l” or a “v” just right were so satisfying. 2015 was the year that I left a really comfortable home and lifestyle and had to find my place and my people in a city that is very much Not Texas; calligraphy (and watercolors too) helped me deal with the with the anxiety, uncertainty, and loneliness that were very present this year. Both reading and calligraphy turned out to be very good habits/hobbies to focus on in 2015, and I know both will remain a part of my routine in 2016.

DIY vase project

July 6, 2015

This vase was one of the first things I made with my Silhouette Portrait.

best buds

Photo: Sarah Kobos / BuzzFeed Life

Learning to use the Silhouette is definitely taking a lot of trial and error, but this project wasn’t too bad. I quickly discovered the “Weld” function, which is what I used to get the letters to cut out as one piece instead of separately. (The font I used is called Rochester, by the way.) And it wasn’t terribly easy to get the words onto the curved vase. But I’m pretty happy with how it turned out! I like the idea of giving it as a housewarming or hostess gift, along with a bunch of fresh flowers.

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