Wednesday's Weekly Tip

Wednesday’s Weekly Tip: 35 Money-Saving Home Decor Knock-Offs


If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know quite well which one of the two of us is the ‘artsy’ one. (Hint: It ain’t me!) I’ve been friends with M.C. for almost 4 years now, and she constantly impresses and surprises me with her creativity. I’ve seen her take something I think should be destined for a life in a landfill, and turn it into something beautiful. One of the more amazing tricks I’ve seen M.C. do time and time again is see something she likes, then make it. She’d end up spending pennies for what you’d pay for it in a store. It’s a gift, people.

When a graduate wife reader sent this article on making home decor knock-offs, I knew I’d have to post it. Since we’ve just moved into a house for the first time in 9 years, and I have a very small decorating budget, I need all the help I can get – both for saving money and DIY projects.  I thought it might be helpful for you, too! Anyway, for those of us who can’t and won’t pay the prices at Potterybarn or Restoration Hardware, but like the designer look, then this article is for you.

And now, this is next on my list of things to do in my son’s room, his very own growth chart. Wish me luck!



Beauty and the Budget

Beauty & the Budget: Tips for Renters

tips for rentersAre you moving into another graduate student housing dorm soon?  Are you packing up and moving for a graduate degree or post doc. into yet another rented space?  Or are you staying still, but just oh so ready to have a home of your own?  If you flip through some of our Beauty & the Budget files, you’ll see we have lots of tips and ideas to hopefully get you thinking about how to beautify your space, even if it is only for a few months or years.  You can even read this post on how strongly I feel about the importance and value of creating a home that really  reflects who you are, even though the space might be temporary.  As this is the season for moves and transitions, I’ve done some searching online and below are some of the best ‘tips for renters’ that I could find to pass along.

Even if you can’t paint the walls, have you thought of using tempaper (fancy pants temporary wall paper) or purchasing fun chalkboard or sticker decals, or even painting some furniture to give you some color?  Have you thought of getting new hardware for the kitchen and bathrooms to give the cabinets a facelift or even taking the cabinets off and storing them to have a fun open storage thing going on?  What about embracing bold colors in small spaces through a new rug or curtains or adding more throw pillows to the couch?  Lots of fun ideas below to bring life to a rental space. I hope some are helpful and encourage you to make your new abode your own!


tips for renters 1

* Apartment Therapy: 20 Tips, Tricks, & Solutions for Renters; 5 Resources for Temporary Wallpaper

* Better Homes and Gardens: 25 Ideas to Steal for your Apartment

Canadian House & Home: Top Decorating Tips for Renters

* The Daily Buzz: Ten Decorating Tips for Renters

* Salvage Love: Decorating Tips for Renters

Do you have any tips to add?


Further Reflections of a Home

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about M.C.’s post from last week, and what home looks like for our family. If you’re creatively challenged like me, it can be daunting to think about decorating, or defining what true beauty actually means. As I glance around our Oxford flat, I see piles of books everywhere, furniture that doesn’t belong to us, really horrible blue carpet, and very little that makes this place ‘ours’. It is difficult to maintain or even define a sense of family identity when everything that surrounds us is not ours.

My husband and I have lived in 6 different places in the 8.5 years we’ve been married. Only one of those places was truly ours; the others were all transition places. Unfortunately for us, when we began our graduate journey, we adopted the “we’re only going to live here for x years, so why bother to decorate” policy. I now realize what a mistake that was.

I know that material possessions do not define us, but what if beautiful things are put into our lives to help us define the environment we live in? What if fresh flowers, photography, beautiful art pieces, or a breathtaking architecture book help us appreciate where we are on this graduate journey? And what happens if we ignore that?

It wasn’t until MC came into my life did I realize how much I missed having a space, or a geborgenheit, in which to rest. After her move to Oxford, I watched her create a little haven for her family, and you know what? When I visit her house now, I am filled with a sense of calm, a sense of rest. Her home is truly a reflection of her family’s identity and personality. She has worked very hard to define what beauty means to her family, especially in this graduate season of life, and has creatively displayed that through the elegance of her little flat. It is home.…but it is her home.

I began to brainstorm ways to make our home a place of rest, wondering how I could incorporate our family personality with our quirky taste in art on a virtually absent budget. All I knew was that I wanted to articulate an atmosphere of happiness, brightness, and laughter, things that had once been very important to me when we owned our first home, as we welcomed friends for dinner, family staying for the weekend, or people who just needed their spirits lifted. I wanted people to feel loved and encouraged upon their arrival and departure in our home. But, I wasn’t sure how to do that.

So, I bought flowers. Not a big deal, but it was for me, because I had not purchased fresh flowers in 3 years.

Then, my aunt sent me this little guy, along with a handwritten note written saying she wanted to brighten our lives and our flat. It did.

But, it wasn’t until last year did I come to realize how one piece of art could completely change our home. My husband and I fell in love with an Oxford artist named Tim Steward. His iconic Oxford scenes moved us, and we sheepishly hatched several ways of procuring one of his drawings, knowing we would never be able to afford one. With a gift lovingly bestowed upon us by our families for finishing a PhD, we now have one of those drawings hanging in our flat. I always marvel at how much it’s changed the room. It represents our time here, memories of forged academic community, the birth of our son, hard work, sweat and tears, the struggles of graduate life.

We began to shape our environment at home, one that did not include bare walls. My husband and I delved into our love of photography, and began to hang more photographs of our son, our godsons, and our family, even though we weren’t allowed to hang things on the wall. Our home began to have a safe feel, a place of familiarity instead of transition, a place we could rest, a place we could imagine being for awhile.

I would by lying if I didn’t stop to say that I do long for the days when the vibrant colors and bold strokes of folk artists that adorned the walls of our first home find their way out of storage to proudly hang in our new home. But, I will be happy for the art that represents and defines one season of our lives to meet the art that represented and defined another season of our lives.

And for me, as I sit in my newly defined place of rest, it is enough. For now.

In this graduate journey, what words would you use to define the environment in which you live?


Beauty and the Budget · Inspiration


I read a lovely book once by a lady named Ingrid Trobisch and in the book Ingrid talks about the idea of creating one’s ‘geborgenheit’.  Geborgenheit is a German word that means safety or security.  After some reflection, geborgenheit to me means a place to laugh and a place to cry.  A place where there is space to be quiet and also a place that makes room for noise.  A place of retreat at times and at other times a place of welcoming others in.  It means a place of fulfillment and also vulnerability, a place of creativity, a place of continuity, and a place of peace and familiarity that can offer me comfort from a long day.

Funny how we find ourselves in many different places on our grad wife journeys.  We live in rented flats with other people’s furniture around us, we live in college family dormitories with carpets that haven’t been updated since 1975, we live in huts in the jungle for field research and we live in suburbia with small cookie cutter houses.  This journey may take us near or far, but we can almost all be certain it usually takes us to places that we might never have otherwise chosen to call ‘home’.

I can’t really begin to describe how much our ‘geborgenheit’ means to our family here in Oxford.  Our place that we call home, that we feel we can welcome others into and our place we feel restful and at peace within.  It’s not my dream home in any way shape or form…but I guess in some ways it kind of is just that.  It is a small, cozy flat that my daughter learned to walk in and that my husband finds refuge in from his demanding work.  It’s a place that I work ‘from home’ in and it offers me a warm corner that I can curl up and relax in with a cup of tea.  It’s not perfect, but it has become something beautiful and it offers a sense of continuity that is essential on this graduate wife journey.

I’ve heard it said, “We are only here for a year…I mean what can I really do?”  Or things like, “It’s just so hopeless I wouldn’t know where to start trying to make this place feel like home….I just don’t even like being there.”  Or even, “I want to wait for the ‘real deal’ to really invest in making my house feel like a proper home.”  All of these comments make me sad.  Sad, just because I realize the incredible power that a comfortable and inviting space can offer a tired soul and what it can do for one’s perspective and attitude.  I don’t want to sound too cheesy, but go create your geborgenheit!  Create a place that offers a sense of safety and continuity and peace.  Look at some of the Beauty and the Budget tips or scour pinterest and google DIY home décor ideas to find millions of amazing ideas that can help enhance your space without much effort or money. Don’t get overwhelmed.  Just pick a project here or there. It’s worth it.  I promise you it is worth it.

When I was in college, I volunteered some nights at a rescue mission for battered women.  The place was amazing and I would help babysit kids while the women went to career training classes.  The name of the place was called ‘bread and roses’ and it has forever stuck with me.  I honestly believe we need ‘roses’ (i.e. beauty and order) in our lives, just as much as we need bread for our souls to truly survive and thrive.  I encourage you to stop waiting for something better to come along or for some other opportunities.  Make the most with what you have.  Be creative. Buy a £4 scrap of fabric and make a table cloth or runner.  Pick up some daffodils outside and put them in a vase, light some candles, cook some yummy meals, turn on some music that moves you.  If you see a quirky trinket at the market that makes you smile, buy it.  You don’t have to do a ton, start with a corner or nook and try to make it feel peaceful, orderly and comfy.

I have shared bits of this before in some of the beauty and the budget pieces, and I felt like highlighting it today because recently our lives have seemed really busy.  If anyone asks, ‘How are you?’, my immediate response is almost always, ‘Gosh, I’m just really tired’.  We’ve been traveling, visiting and working a lot…and in the midst of it all I’ve been reminded how incredibly powerful it is for me to come back to our geborgenheit.  To light candles at our dinner table, to sit and eat together, to unwind and to be present and at peace.  My home has greatly affected my sanity on this graduate wife journey (and my husband’s as well) and I hope the concept can affect your life too.  Try to pick up some roses next time you run out for some bread and see what it does for you.

 Do you have any tips that you have picked up on how to make your temporary house a home?  What does geborgenheit mean to you? Do you have a favorite spot in your home that offers you sanity and peace?


{Disclaimer: I suppose the word ‘geborgenheit’ doesn’t have to refer to physical space, maybe an object can offer that same sense of security, but in the book Ingrid highlights the idea of creating an actual space for oneself and that is what I chose to go with here.}

Wednesday's Weekly Tip

Wednesday’s Weekly Tip: DIY! 7 New Stylish Ways to De-clutter Your Beauty Closet

Remember that episode of Friends where Monica wouldn’t let Joey and Chandler look in the hall closet, because it would reveal a hidden, messy side of her organized self?

Yep, that’s me.

I am über organized with most things, but after spending nearly two days cleaning up what can only be described as beauty product chaos, I was amazed I ever found anything I was looking for among the tangled necklaces, hoards of make-up, earrings, and array of scarves!

A former graduate wife saw this article on the Today show, and sent it our way (Hi, Jill)! I hope some of the tips help add a little organization to your life….like it did mine!


Beauty and the Budget

Decorating Tips from a Military Wife: Part I

-written by Megan, a military wife that will soon be a graduate wife

I couldn’t tell you how or when I first stumbled upon the Graduate Wife blog but I do distinctly remember finding myself able to relate to a lot of the experiences that I read about here, and I’m not even a graduate wife, I’m a military wife!  Well I’m a soon to be graduate wife but that’s a whole other story!  Each role requires tough personal sacrifices, long separations from the one person who you can’t bear to be separated from, and both include frequent moves where sometimes your new pad is less than stellar.

Staying in the present and decorating for your current home is always tough when you know that it is only temporary.  Everyone wants to make smart decisions about their home décor, but its hard not to worry if what you purchase now will fit into the next place.  In addition to that mindbender, many times in this gypsy lifestyle the best option is to rent rather than buy, which we all know places limitations on how much you can do.  As a military wife who has moved three times in four years and formerly employed as an interior decorator here are a few decorating tips!

1.     Paint, paint, paint!  Definitely ask your Landlord if this is allowed, but I promise you that nothing will have a greater visual impact per dollar spent then a few gallons of paint does.  Paint walls, paint doors, paint baseboards!


2.     Keep main pieces of furniture and window treatments conservative but have loads of fun mixing and matching patterns and colors with everything else.  If you are worried about curtains lengths (like I tend to be) just realize that hems can always be let out, topper treatments improvised to add height, and an oversized horizontal banding in a lovely coordinating fabric can always be added to the bottom.  Even in my very colorful home I stuck to leather furniture and grey drapes in the living room and an espresso bedroom set with white curtains in the bedroom.   But this doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING needs to be brown, black, or white; go bold with color!  Pillows, rugs, blankets, art, tchotchkes, these are all the perfect opportunity to liven up a space!

Same furniture, two different looks:

3.     Be very picky about what you buy at places such as Ross, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, or any other store like that.  Look for items that can serve double duty.  An apothecary jar can be used to hold flowers in the spring and Christmas tree ornaments during the holidays.  A basket can hold firewood when it’s winter and dog toys when it’s warmer.  Look for things that might work in any number of rooms of your house.  Maybe a pretty lamp would look nice on your foyer table, but in the next apartment you use it in your bedroom.

4.     Don’t be afraid to put holes in the walls.  Multiple holes even, because we all know it takes at least four tries until you get the picture hung juuuusttt right.  After painting this follows as the number two tip at making your house feel like a home.  Get creative with your art, it doesn’t have to be expensive, but in my experience a frame and mat can make even the most humble of art look gallery worthy!

5.     Houseplants make any space feel more alive and its healthy for you and your home.  ‘Nuff said!  Just make sure that what you bring home isn’t poisonous to Mister Dog or Madame Cat!


Come back next week for Part II!

Shuga' Mommas

Shuga’ Mommas: Iced Sugar Cookies

Who doesn’t love a good sugar cookie? And, with the added bonus of icing?

I know I do. But, I love sugar. The love affair began at a young age, and although I’ve managed to reign it in quite a bit over the years (mostly because of a failing metabolism), I still enjoy probably more than my fair share.

I’ve tried several sugar cookie recipes, and have finally tweaked a foolproof one…. one that I love, and one that loves me back. And, you can never go wrong if you find a recipe that loves you back. You need all the lovin’ you can get when you’re a graduate wife.


  • 1.5 cups of butter (Note: use real butter – yes, I have an obsession with using real butter)
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 4.5 cups of flour

With a mixer (hand or stand), cream butter and sugar till smooth.

Beat in eggs, vanilla, baking powder and salt. Add flour and combine. Cover and chill dough in refrigerator for 2 hours, or even overnight! (Note: for less mess, I use a glass/plastic bowl to do all my mixing in, slapping a lid on top so it goes straight from mixing into the fridge).

Once dough has chilled, roll dough onto floured surface into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch thick. Use cookie cutters to cut into shapes. (The ones photographed below are from a recent baby shower).

Preheat over to 400F (200 C), and bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 5-7 minutes. Do not let them get brown.

Once cookies have baked, cool on racks or wax paper.  DO NOT ICE until completely cooled.


(I would like to point out that while I enjoy baking, I am less than amateur when it comes to icing and decorating cookies. I definitely think there is a cake/cookie decorating class in my future)!

  • 1.5 cups of confectioner’s sugar (or icing sugar in the UK)
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • a dash of almond extract (or if you prefer the icing to have a bit more of an almond flavor, add more – I usually add 1/2 tsp)
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of milk (can add more, depending on the desired icing consistency)

Cream sugar and butter with mixer (hand or stand). Combine rest of ingredients till smooth. Depending on the consistency of your icing, you can either ‘paint’ your cookies, or just glob on loads of icing. I chose to paint my cookies, rolling on the icing till smooth, allowing them to dry over night.

For the baby shower, I made 2 batches of icing, dividing them into 2 separate bowls. Once divided, I added 1 drop of red food coloring in one bowl to make pink icing, and 1 drop of blue food coloring in the other bowl to make light blue icing. I used a decorating bag with a round tip 12 for the piping.

This is where your creative side can come in! You literally can take this recipe and use it for ANY occasion….Christmas, Halloween, birthdays…the sky is the limit!



Beauty and the Budget

Beauty and the Budget: Project Framed Things I

Written by Jill – a former graduate wife

I was a graduate wife for 7 wonderful years and I am now in my 6th year of hubby having a full-time job! YAHOO! Hang in there girls, it does eventually happen!

I have found, however, that some former habits die-hard…like decorating on the cheap…or sometimes not decorating at all (GASP!).

When we moved to England for full-time job #2, we found ourselves living in a gorgeous Victorian home with lots of character.  And bare walls.  Bare white walls with 12 foot ceilings! Lots of space. So much wall space that I found it completely intimidating. So my walls stayed bare for 18 months. Yes, 18 months!

After a trip to Ikea with a friend, I came home and announced to the family that I was decorating.  They told me I couldn’t decorate in the living room because it was the guy’s tennis wall!  Not anymore!

I am not an expert at decorating, but I can assure you that enhancing your space (even on a budget) is incredibly important and enriching. So here goes!


Step 1: Find something you want to frame.  If I were in America, there is no doubt there would have been pictures of my 3 kiddos in those frames. Case closed. But we live in England and family pictures just don’t normally grace the walls of your living room. So I had to find something else…and that something else had to be cheap! So I headed to my box of scrap fabric that just so happened to match two of our chairs.

*Other ideas of things to frame: pretty leaves from your garden or local park, cool wrapping paper (MC’s idea!), postcards from a place you love, trinkets, the ideas are endless! (MC is posting more on this next week!)


Step 2: Find frames.  The frames I used are from IKEA. I found matching frames in different sizes and made a little grouping on the wall (all for under 20 pounds).  Frames can be expensive. So if you have time stroll through local charity shops and yard sales…you may find a beauty!  It is nice to find frames with matting as well.


Step 3: Frame it! I cut out the parts of the fabric that I liked and taped it to the back of the matting. Simple as that!


Because the frames were all different sizes and I wanted them to look mis-matchy, there was no measuring and obsessing.  I just got out the hammer and started hammering!

I threw in a few more knickknacks (some bought, some hand-me-downs from friends) and voila! a wall

that is no longer suitable for indoor tennis!

Beauty and the Budget

Beauty and the Budget: Project Plates

How many of you have moved into a rented space during your graduate school journey and instantly found yourself a bit depressed by the stark white walls around you?  How many of you have drooled over Pottery Barn catalogue wall displays and then ended up in tears when you saw the price tags? OK, that is a bit extreme, but if you have come close, know that you are not alone!  Continuing on through the dining room/living room, our next beauty on a budget project involves an easy solution to instant wall decor.

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy vintage plates and saucers.  There is so much charm and beauty to be found in old chipped pieces of porcelain.   To quickly fix our white wall dilemma, I started searching for some flea market finds that would do the trick.  I found three of the plates above at the Gloucester Green market in Oxford and they were £2 each.  I found the fourth plate (bottom one) at a local charity shop for only 99p.  Finding fun vintage dinner ware is almost always easy, as it will be at pretty much every yard sale / charity shop / flea market that you find, and it is also always incredibly cheap.  Usually there will only be one or two of the set and thus it sells for pennies.  You have to embrace the theme “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”  If you haven’t done that before, let yourself be creative and go for it!  Don’t try too hard at visualizing the plate on the wall and don’t let yourself put too much thought into it.  If you like a pattern or a color, just grab it and build the others to match the same color family.  It doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to match exactly, just keep the same theme or pattern or color family going on.  The key is finding pieces you like and that would work well together. I’d say start with 4 in a hanging and if you find more plates to add later, then go for it.

The next few steps are incredibly easy.

  1. Buy some plate hangers that fit the plate sizes.  They usually sell in small, medium and large.  If you are hanging a platter, you can buy a little disc that sticks to the back of the platter and has a small ring to hang from, called an invisible disc adhesive plate hanger.  (UK-Boswells-£1.19 each/ Ebay UK)  (US-any large craft store, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc.)
  2. Slip the hanger around the plate.
  3. Arranging the plates can seem daunting, but don’t let it stress you.  Just start with the largest plate and place the others around it.  The spacing doesn’t have to be perfect, just try to keep around 3” between each plate to be most pleasing to the eyes.  Try placing them on the floor first to arrange them and then move to the wall. (You can take Martha’s suggestion and cut out paper to mimic the plate and then tape it on the wall first to get a better idea of your layout.)
  4. Plates are nice to be viewed at eye level, so keep that in mind when hanging.  I needed to fill a full wall in our dining nook so I opted to hang them a bit higher than eye level when seated.   I hope to add some more plates to the collection soon, so I left room to travel down the wall.
  5. Hang and viola!  You have beautiful wall decor and no empty pocketbook.


Here are some favorites I found online that might inspire you as you are working on your plate arrangement.

Stay tuned as we will feature guest posts with several more DIY wall decor ideas for cheap.  And for all of you who aren’t allowed to hang with nails or do anything else to puncture the walls in your rented spaces, don’t worry, we’ve got some ideas for you coming up too!

Beauty and the Budget · Finances

Beauty and the Budget

Greetings!  I am really excited to start this “Beauty and the Budget” series for the graduate wife. This project has become a great interest of mine as I have seen far too many friends give up on making their homes feel comfortable and beautiful because they were on tight budgets.  So, these blogs are being started for one reason: To inspire and encourage you as you seek to spruce up your space on a budget.

I don’t want to overwhelm you or leave you thinking, “Eek, I could never do that.”  It is definitely not my point to show you lovely things and make you think, ….I wish.   I PROMISE that all of the projects I am going to highlight are totally possible to do.  Yes, by you and you alone.

I can’t go on enough about the importance of beauty, balance and comfort in your personal space.  I believe it can be truly life changing for you and your family and can be achieved if you are willing to get a little messy (with some makeovers), dedicate a bit of time and allow yourself to tap into your creative side.

So, if you are reading this then you are probably a graduate’s wife and you are no doubt on a budget….a pretty tight one at that, budgeting with an income that you are bringing in or possibly even living off the luxuries of a student stipend (as I find myself).  Don’t fret!  I know that you feel there is probably nothing you can do with a meager budget to liven up your flat, apartment, dorm suite, or wherever else you now find yourself, but these blog postings are for you!!  I am going to show you some easy steps to transform everyday items and thrift store/market finds into beautiful pieces that will bring life to your home and not put a hole in your pocketbook.

If you are interested in using some of these tips, be warned.  :) Once you liven up something like a small bookcase, it is very tempting to feel depressed that the rest of your space is not ‘up to par.’ This is going to be a work in progress and you have to be patient with yourself as you slowly but surely bring a new sense of harmony and beauty to your home.  Most projects will range from around £5-15, so start budgeting in a few extra pounds or dollars a month for a new project.  I will try to do a series on one room at a time so that you can allow yourself to focus on getting one room in good shape before jumping to the next.  Or you might be like me and want to jump around…feel free!

I pray these tips are helpful and fun.  I’d love your thoughts, feedback and other ideas that can be highlighted on here. I hope to include more thrifty ideas for cooking, etc. and would love thoughts on those as well.  Tune in next week as we start on the below project!

Until then,