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What I’ve Been Up To…

29 May

I wanted a lighter-weight diaper bag because I kept hitting random people in the grocery store checkout with my 5-pound glazed Petunia Picklebottom backpack…
Diaper bag sewing

Pleated diaper bag

This door leads from our kitchen to our laundry room. It’s always open so the cats can use the litter box, but the visual clutter from the shelves of cleaning supplies and kitchen storage was driving me crazy. This curtain helps hide it. It’s a twin sheet from Target, hemmed and hung on a tension rod. The tie-back matches our cafe kitchen curtains.
Kitchen curtain in doorway

My friend recently graduated so I whipped up this handy business card case. Now I want one! Not that I have business cards.
Sewing business card case

Sewing business card case

I’ve been taking the kids for long walks lately to help my daughter run off some steam. The other day we saw a crow on our walk and started talking about what a crow’s nest might look like, what color the eggs would be, etc. So after nap we sat down and painted a crow’s nest. We didn’t have any black paint; brown crows look a little less… uhhh…. greasy? anyway. I painted the crows, tree trunk and cloud; my 3-year-old did the rest.
Preschool art

The eggs hatched…
Preschool art

That’s all for now. Hope you are enjoying your Memorial Day weekend!

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Happy Things

11 May

Hello everyone! I hope you had a pleasant Mother’s Day filled with hugs and kisses, macaroni jewelry and homemade picture frames.

My dear sweet husband and little girl rewarded me with some lovely flowers in an adorable blue, vintage-looking planter. I love them!

Every time I walk by them I smile. I think it’s so important to have things in your home that make you happy. Not expensive things, just simple, beautiful things like fresh flowers in a pretty pot.

Or this mouse pad.

It’s kind of random, I know. But I found this fabric at Jo-Ann and fell in love. I discovered a tutorial from Make It and Love It for a fabric-covered mouse pad and I was sold. It was so easy, 10 minutes tops. Every time I glimpse over at it I smile. I’m smiling now. I wonder if my husband ever notices me sitting here and smiling at my mouse pad. He probably thinks I’ve gone over the edge which isn’t far from the truth. But as long as I can bring my happy flowers and my happy flowered mouse pad to the loony bin I’ll be golden.

What object in your home makes you smile?

Living Green for Less

21 Sep

When my daughter was born almost three years ago, I began researching ways to make our lives more environmentally friendly, to feed her foods that weren’t full of additives and pesticides, to keep our home clean without worrying about her crawling on a floor coated with cancer-causing chemicals. As usual, I went a little overboard – shopping almost exclusively at Whole Foods and squandering a huge portion of our budget on premium natural cleaning products and groceries.

As the months passed and our bank account dwindled, I realized this kind of lifestyle wasn’t compatible with our single-family income, especially not while living in Orange County (and paying Orange County rent). So I started looking for alternatives, and was surprised at what I found: In many ways, greener options can actually cost less, while helping to save the planet. And what budget-conscious parent can pass that up?

Here are just a few easy tips that you can implement today:

Instead of buying disposable items, put your money into things that will last.
Paper towels and napkins can get really expensive. We bought a large pack of white washcloths at Costco and use them as all-purpose kitchen towels and napkins. We end up picking up a roll – one roll – of recycled paper towels every few months for things like bacon grease or pet messes. Bonus – the washcloths wipe down tables and food-covered faces better than any paper product I’ve tried.

These are similar to what we use.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=005CFF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B001J1Y9RO

As a prettier alternative to paper napkins, you could also try something like these flour sack towels – just cut them in half and hem. You could even add some embellishments, a strip of coordinating fabric… OK, I’m getting ahead of myself here.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0050FF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=B002H9XA40

We also regularly use reusable bags when shopping. Many stores offer a per-bag discount on your grocery bill. If you want to use something a little nicer than what the stores sell for $1, try the Cute and Easy Tote Bag Tutorial.

Instead of buying new clothes, toys, gear and household items, buy used (or borrow) whenever possible.
Consignment stores, garage sales, Craigslist, eBay – there are so many options for buying used items and so many people looking to unload their stuff for a little cash! Buying used means less packaging and you’re keeping items from going to the landfill.

We rarely buy new books, instead opting for borrowing from the library, buying them from the library bookstore for $.50 or picking them up at garage sales. (P.S. The library is also a great resource for renting movies and your favorite magazines!)

Most baby gear is used for six or nine months and then stored. Borrow from a friend or buy used.

Find clothing at local consignment shops. Most are picky about selecting items free of stains and in good condition, so you can get excellent brand names for half the price (or less) of new. And with the way kids destroy clothes, this is a great deal.

Look for toys at consignment stores, thrift stores and garage sales. Just be sure to check that it hasn’t been recalled. Some great finds we’ve made are a like-new Memory game for 50 cents and a Push and Ride for $3.

Instead of buying prepared cleaning products, try your hand at some natural solutions.
Although I am a huge fan of certain natural brands, including Biokleen, Dr. Bronner’s and Seventh Generation, I regularly reach for a spray bottle of distilled water and vinegar for cleaning around the house. You can buy a giant jug of vinegar at Costco for just a few dollars. If you’re worried about the smell, it does dissipate after about 10 minutes. Trust me – I even used it when I had morning all-day sickness! You can find some excellent uses for vinegar here. Baking soda is another super inexpensive, natural cleaning product.

Use them in combination with some old washcloths or microfiber towels instead of paper.

Stay tuned for more tips on Living Green for Less!

Organizing the Kitchen Pantry

11 Sep

I gave myself two options of projects after our daughter went to bed for the night: sew or work on a website I’m putting together.

So why, you might ask, did my kitchen look like this at 9 p.m.?

disorganized kitchen

Because I’m crazy like that.

The Problems
We have a narrow, deep “pantry” (and I use that term only because I someday dream of having an actual pantry to call my own, instead of a set of laminate, “wood-grain” cabinets that so beautifully complement the linoleum “brick” floor. Hello, 1978.). We also have a long history of ant infestations that drove me insane (and also drove me 10 miles up the freeway to IKEA to buy some glass storage jars for our dried goods and baking supplies). Any remotely tempting or expensive ingredient that isn’t in glass storage is in a plastic bag. We had 10 or 15 of these just floating around the cabinet, wherever they would fit.

Because of the height and depth of the upper shelves, I constantly overlooked their contents. Eventually I had three partially used bags of powdered sugar, two tins of baking powder and a bag of cornmeal that was about to reach its expiration date.

Cake pans, loaf pans, and CorningWare were stacked precariously on the lower shelves. The top cabinet was seriously underutilized – it’s tall in addition to being narrow and deep, and all that we had in there was a bulk bag of sugar (in a plastic bag) and three boxes of cereal. And I really wanted to find a safe home for my birthday gift.

Oh, and I didn’t want to spend any money on this reorganization. Plus I needed instant results and the stores were closing.

The Solutions
First, I refilled the glass storage jars from the bulk bags.
Then, I purged anything that was A) expired; B) an amount too small for even a one-person meal (10 dried white beans, anyone?); or C) disgusting (so long, vanilla-flavored hemp protein powder).
Finally, I stared at the cabinet for about five minutes and willed it to tell me where everything should go. “Frequently used items at eye level,” it whispered to me. “Tallest items in the back, shortest in the front,” it suggested.

(Hey, if you think I sound crazy, you should talk to my toddler. She thinks there are elves in the kitchen. Christmas elves. They’re extremely short and sometimes she steps on them. Now that I think about it, maybe they were the ones giving me tips?)

Regardless, I followed the advice. I also corralled the plastic-bagged items (all baking supplies) and put them in a storage bin I stole from the upstairs closet. When I need something from the bin I can just pull the whole thing down instead of having to fumble around a crowded shelf.

organized pantry

Bulk bags of flour, sugar, coffee, etc. were placed in the far reaches of the cabinet. Baking pans are now stored on their sides instead of stacked. I decided to move our largest stock pot and sauce pan to the rear of the highest shelf, since I can’t even remember the last time I needed them, and placed the bag of expired junk-food chips my husband insists on bringing home from work and his Costco-sized jug of maple syrup up there.

Now I can reach everything I use when baking or cooking, and I can more easily see when we are running low on a particular item or when something should be added to the meal plan.

pantry shelf

And my birthday gift has a home.

I showed my husband and made sure he appeared suitably impressed. If he mumbled “crazy pregnant woman” under his breath it was out of my earshot.

Author’s note: No elves were stepped on during the execution of this project. Perhaps execution isn’t the right word.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=FFFFFF&IS2=1&nou=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0038FF&t=domesticatedm-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&m=amazon&f=ifr&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&asins=0805075895 If you want to get organized but can’t seem to get the process started (or keep it that way), you might enjoy this book.

Ten Household Tips and Creative Crafts Using Lavender

22 Aug

lavender farm

Ever since I tried a Lavender Truffle at Sweet Earth Chocolates in San Luis Obispo, I’ve had this sweetly scented flower on the brain. With just a couple of days left on the Central Coast, I decided to drive out to the Green Acres Lavender Farm, tucked away about 15 miles north of SLO in Atascadero.

The friendly folks at Green Acres encouraged me to walk the path around the property. A word of warning: If you happen to be afraid of bees, strolling through a field of lavender might get your heart racing. And that might be an understatement. But the buzz about lavender is that it is believed to have calming properties, so it should all balance out… Right?

In any case I was able to convince myself that the hordes of bees really just wanted the flowers and that they weren’t going to suddenly go ballistic and chase me all the way back to San Luis Obispo. I even managed to take a couple of photos. So I guess the lavender-calming theory is spot-on.

Naturally I had to stop in the Green Acres shop, which is a converted garage (and smells better than any garage I’ve ever been in). The shop carries essential oil, lavender water, lotion, soap, dried lavender flowers and a variety of other local goods. For the purposes of my research (and because my heart rate was still a bit on the high side), I took home a bottle of essential oil. I was sad that my trip to the farm was coming to a close, but I knew that with a little lavender and some creative inspiration, I could transport myself back to the fields of Green Acres – minus the buzzing.

Dried Lavender
Handkerchief Sachets
Eye Pillow
Lavender Pillows
Lavender Salt
Tub Teas

Lavender Essential Oil
Linen Spray
Air Freshener – just add a few drops to an oil diffuser; to freshen drawers, add a few drops to a cotton ball
Rice Heat Therapy Bag
Aloe Vera, Lavender, & Peppermint Sunburn Spray
Body Oil

lavender farm fields

Visit GreenAcresLavenderFarm.com for more ideas on how to use lavender.

Whiter Grout in 40 Minutes

9 Aug

Grout looking a little less-than-pristine?

Try this:

1. Sweep the floor.

2. Mix up a solution of 1/2 cup oxygen bleach (I used OxiClean) to one gallon very warm/hot water. Stir until mixed.

3. Pour solution all over floor, making sure it gets in all of the grout lines. You should have some standing water; if it seeps into the grout you will need to add more solution.

4. Wait about 30 minutes.

5. Scrub the grout lines with either a grout brush or a scrub brush (I used the latter).

6. Rinse the floor with water and dry with a clean towel.

At this stage you may be noncommittal about your results. Be patient – the grout is still damp and will continue to lighten as it dries.

7. An hour or two later, admire your work!

We have lived in our rental for four years, and over those four years I have tried many things to whiten our dingy, yucky grout. I’m guessing an amateur installation job left it unsealed and primed to collect dirt. I bought a steam cleaner, used vinegar and various pastes and destroyed a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser trying to make some headway. At one point our landlord recommended dumping bleach on it. (Which, now that I think of it, seems to be his solution to a lot of our complaints. Not that we have a lot of complaints. Our landlord is actually quite nice and helpful and lets us live here for dirt-cheap rent compared to the rest of the area. But I digress.)

Then, while in one of my cleaning frenzies (courtesy of baby hormones), I Googled “clean grout” and found this website. This very friendly man offered his solution to my grout woes, and I tried it immediately. And it works! Our grout looks much, much better. See for yourself in this before-and-after:

Before
Dirty grout

After
clean grout

Yuck
dirty grout

Yay
clean grout

I especially love that this is a non-toxic option. No odor, no need to escape the house or wear a gas mask. Try it. I would love to see your results!

Save on Biokleen Products at Drugstore.com!

8 Aug

Bac-Out

I do most of my household cleaning using a combination of vinegar and water, Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soaps and Biokleen products. I switched to more environmentally friendly (and non-toxic) cleaners when my daughter began crawling, and I sent my husband to the hazardous waste center with a box full of stuff I didn’t want to be spraying anywhere around our baby. The best part is, I learned that I can get the same results (and often better) without the chemicals – and if I want to clean the windows while my daughter is awake, well, she can hold the cloth and give me a hand.

I discovered Biokleen Bac-Out Stain & Odor Eliminator when we began cloth diapering; it’s often recommended to help with stinky diapers. Soon enough I discovered Biokleen’s laundry detergent, soy bathroom and toilet cleaners, and the all-purpose concentrated cleaner. I love the natural smell of the products and, of course, the cleaning power.

If you are already a Biokleen fan or have just been tempted to try their products, Drugstore.com is offering 40% off on select Biokleen products (including the ones mentioned above) until September 21, 2010. What a deal! Drugstore.com also offers free shipping on any $25 order. (Note: If you order Biokleen laundry detergent, the free shipping code will not work due to the increased weight.)

Happy, healthy cleaning everyone!