Wednesday, May 27, 2009

You may be right...

...I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you're looking for...

Tonight's post made me think of this song because when my sister saw what I am about to show you, she sweetly asked me "can I have one?" When I gladly gave her a copy, she exclaimed "I can't WAIT to show my boyfriend how CRAZY you are!!!"

But I maintain, not all crazy is bad! As a matter of fact, just today I was reminded how helpful some of my crazy is. People can call some of my tendencies OCD but the reality is good planning and organization allow you to be less crazy later.

I have a plain black binder (I saw the picture above and thought, maybe I'll make it pretty sometime soon!) that I keep in my kitchen with several tabs for information that should always be kept near at hand. For instance, a babysitter page that lists my child's schedule for eating, sleeping and rituals as well as emergency information. Our base line budget. The schedule for the gym's workout classes. {{Insert your family's needs here}}

But tonight's post will focus on 2 things that might seem a little crazy at first, but if you try them, I believe will quickly become indispensable.

First: The Pre-prepared Grocery List

This was the cause of my sister's crazy comment. I enjoyed KM's post on kitchen staples. Whenever I cook I open my notebook to my current grocery list and mark anything that I use up in the process. I have posted a picture below of my base list. I took one morning when I had a babysitter and walked slowly through my grocery store of choice writing down aisle by aisle what things were there that I usually or might buy. I went even further than that! I thought about the most efficient shopping route, starting right to left, skipping the frozen aisles, circling around the outside and then doing the cold stuff last.

I brought all that info home and put it into a spreadsheet (it took two sides though only one is shown) leaving room for notes next to each item and blanks to fill in. I included 3 letters I circle: N=Need, S=Sale and C=Coupon. This way I can note if something is BOGO this week and I need to grab two, or I can paperclip coupons and remember to look and make sure I am getting the correct item for the coupon. Here it crazy list.

But TRUST ME, my shopping takes on average 10-20 minutes less time than it used to per trip, and I never forget anything. Even using a normal jot-down list, I always forget a couple of items. And heavens knows when I shop from memory (like I did today) I feel crazy, wander a LOT, retrace my steps, and forget much.

Second: A Freezer Inventory List
My husband will complain that the only food in the house are bagels. This week I had to admit he wasn't that far off.

I have used this method for a while but let it lag. This is useful for saving money by buying on sale and not letting leftovers go to waste. I freeze LOTS of things:
-meat when it is on sale
-prepared extra servings of meals for future use (ie. making an extra lasagna)
-a bit of leftover meat sauce for adding to a future soup
-fruits or veggies before they go bad (for smoothies or cooking)

Whenever I freeze any of these things I jot it down on my freezer inventory list in my binder. When I use an item, I cross it off. Any given night I can open my binder and know there are 3 bags of frozen chicken breast in my freezer and pull on out for tomorrow's dinner.

The wonderful part is you don't overbuy things you have in stock (in my case bagels), you get ideas of what you need to use up, you get ideas about what to cook and things don't go bad from being lost in the bottomless pit of freezer land.

So maybe my sister is right, maybe I'm a little crazy...but it's the lunatic in me that keeps our kitchen in working order and me from wandering the grocery aisles!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Quick, Handmade Gift

I made this old-book-turned-picture-frame for a friend of mine who loves homemade gifts and has made a fair share of some for me. My inspiration for this idea came from an old issue of Real Simple. Here are the instructions, straight from the source:

Let a book help you see your world differently. Use an X-Acto knife, or a utility knife and a metal ruler as your guide, to cut a window into an old clothbound book cover to create an unusual picture frame.

This is a book I found for a few dollars at the Goodwill bookstore here in town. I chose the book more for its color than any significance of the book title itself, although that would be fun to play off a fun title with a picture.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer Project: Cleaning Out Closets

Even though I am no longer in school, I still operate on the academic schedule with summer somehow feeling like a "break" - even though I work full time. To mark this new season, I made a list for myself titled "Summer Projects 2009" that I am going to try and work through throughout the summer and I will give you updates as I cross them off. Most of the items on the list are small projects that can be completed in an evening or a weekend and are just things that I put off otherwise - touching up paint, clearing out drawers, cleaning fan blades, etc.

I have recently begun purging closets of stuff we don't wear or use. Typically I have heard the suggestion, when cleaning out clothes, to ask yourself "Have I worn this in the last year?" For me, this is not the best question, because even if I don't wear it, I'll somehow rationalize keeping it "just in case." Actually, the "just in case" exception doesn't happen as much with clothes as it does with craft-y things (scraps of ribbon or wrapping paper, gift boxes that have been collecting dust, etc.), but I have found a question that is slightly more urgent and can be applied to both clothing and stuff: "If I had to move tomorrow, would I want to pack this up and take it with me?" Asking myself this question has really helped me separate the men from the boys, so to speak, when it comes to stuff I own. Seriously, for anyone who has ever moved (all of you should be raising your hand), you know how big of a pain it is to pack it up, move it and then unpack it and find a spot for it in your new place. Is it really worth it to do all that? Although this is kind of a harsh question and could lead to some hasty tossings, I have not yet regretted throwing anything out. And really, when it comes to clothes, if I get rid of the fill-in-the-blank and realize six months later I wished I hadn't, then wouldn't I rather go out and buy a new one instead of using the faded, stretched out version I previously owned? Yes, I would. Or...I'll just make do without it. (That's my husband's favorite option!)

What strategy do you employ when deciding what to keep and what to throw out?

Good luck on your next closet clean-out!

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Well-Stocked Pantry

I really enjoyed the previous post on pursuing hospitality. I have been thinking a lot about the Well-Stocked Pantry, and thought this concept dovetailed nicely with the idea of being hospitable and having a kitchen that is equipped for (almost) all situations. In the last few years I have fallen more in love with cooking and recently started thinking about the ingredients I go to over and over again, which is the inspiration for this post. I tried to narrow it down to something like the 10 ingredients...but I just couldn't! I also tried thinking about these ingredients in terms of what to have on hand in case you have unexpected dinner guests and need to whip something up quickly, but how often does that happen? And keeping a kitchen that is always stocked "just in case" seems way too stressful.

Instead, I have approached this post with the idea of what I always try to have on hand so I can take meat out of the freezer and not have to worry about what ingredients I have to make a meal with - I can just always assume I have them. Now, if you are someone who plans out menus each week or cooks your family's dinners for an entire month and freezes them, this might not be that helpful. For my household, I feel like dinner always comes together that night and I have found that we use the same ingredients again and again.

So, without further ado, here is my list of ingredients that I always like to have around, in the event I want to bake a sweet surprise for my husband and won't have to worry about if I have any flour, or making dinner each night. Also, I realize this list has a lot of ingredients, some you may use more than others, which can get expensive, but a lot of times I buy this stuff on sale when it's buy one-get one and that way I always have enough. I have divided the list between sweet and savory, and almost all of the ingredients are things that will keep for awhile on a pantry shelf or in the door of the refridgerator. I have included some fresh ingredients at the end.

Flour (which can double as savory because I use it when breading chicken)
Vanilla extract
Baking powder
Baking soda
Powered sugar
Brown sugar
Chocolate chips - lately I have been getting the chocolate chunks by Nestle and have been very pleased with them in my chocolate chip cookies

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Bread crumbs - I always buy Italian bread crumbs, just for the extra seasoning
Vinegar (White, Apple Cider, Balsamic, etc.) - all great for marinades or making vinegarettes
Chicken/Vegetable stock (on sale a lot during the winter) - great for cooking rice or making soup
Nuts - great for tossing into salads, also could go under "Sweet" in making desserts
Dry seasonings
Salad dressings
Dijon mustard - I use it to make salad dressings
Honey - again, great for dressings
Cooking wine - I buy a big bottle of white wine and use it in usually only need a cup or so at a time, so it will keep a long time

Fresh ingredients
Garlic - We use garlic a lot; we don't like onions so I typically will sub in garlic instead
Lemons - I use the juice in vinegarettes and the zest/juice in a delicious shrimp scampi recipe, and sometimes we just throw it into random side dishes to give it some freshness and that extra "something special"
Unsalted butter - I use this in baking and also sauteeing

I realize that buying bread crumbs or stock may be taboo for some and kudos if you make either from scratch...I'm just not there yet. Any ingredients I have forgotten that you find yourself going to over and over again and would consider "essential" to the Well-Stocked Pantry?

I Clean With Vinegar

Since becoming pregnant, I was encouraged by my midwives to find alternative cleaning products instead of using harsh chemicals. This was definitely a shift for me because I was so used to spraying Lysol kitchen cleaner (or something similar) on my counters, using bleach in my shower, and using other harsh chemicals when convenient.

On a chemical-free mission, I decided to buy a big jug of white distilled vinegar from Wal-Mart (which was very cheap by the way). I also bought a squirt bottle from their cleaning supply isle for $1. When I got home I labeled the bottle “vinegar” so the contents of the bottle would be known to my husband and I.

I chose vinegar as my #1 cleaner because of its high level of acidity which kills germs, bacteria, and mold. Also, it is very inexpensive. I have to say, I LOVE using vinegar in the kitchen. I am not worried about getting chemicals on food anymore AND my countertops are clean!

Here are some other ways I have successfully used vinegar as a cleaner:

Coffee Maker: Pour vinegar in the coffee maker (in the same place you pour water to make a pot of coffee) and run it through a full cycle. Pour out the vinegar and run water through it for two additional cycles. This will clean out the insides of your coffee maker without the fuss!

Dishwasher: I use vinegar two places in the dishwasher. The first is in lieu of a rinse agent cleaner. I find that using vinegar helps make less spots on dishes without using a chemical. The second place that I use vinegar is in the drain in the bottom of the dishwasher. I pour about a cup of vinegar on it and shake some baking soda over it. I watch the bubbles and smile as it cleans and unclogs the drain. Fantastic!

Fabric Softener: Use vinegar in your Downy ball or liquid fabric softener dispenser in your washing machine. Vinegar will soften your clothes, but don’t worry – they won’t smell like vinegar when it comes out! This method will come in handy when our new baby comes. Small babies tend to have sensitive skin and react to fabric softener and other perfumed detergents.

Cleaning Windows and Mirrors: Tear off a piece of newspaper (about the size of a cereal box) and crumple it up into a manageable size lump. Spray your windows and mirrors and go to town. It really does work! Better yet, go to your local newspaper company and get a roll of extra unprinted newspaper and use that. No ink on your hands!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pursuing Hospitality

Within the church we talk about something we call the "gift of hospitality." It's never put quite that way in the Bible, but it is a quality that is valued.

1 Peter 4:8-10
"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace."

I used to humor myself believing that because I enjoyed entertaining this made me hospitable. Then I began to realize that the fact I become a crazy person for a week before entertaining probably disqualifies me. True hospitality doesn't make your home and family miserable up until the party begins.

Today I want to introduce the FlyLady at I love this site and email service because she recognized how our unreasonable compulsion towards perfection keeps us from accomplishing things and making our homes lovely places.

I threw a shower this weekend for a fellow contributor to this blog and took a few tips from the FlyLady, planning the menu a week ahead of time, creating a schedule for what I would prepare each day, not trying to do too much at a time and generally allowing myself to enjoy the process without the stress.

I didn't accomplish this perfectly, but it was a major improvement. Tuesday I did a basic cleaning of my house. Wednesday I baked, Thursday I cooked these beautiful quiches. And Friday I decorated, set out all my dishes, did a quick clean up of those things that had collected mess through the week and did a final check for all things I would need the next morning.

I have taken another tip from the FlyLady making sure my kitchen is clean, dishwasher empty and lace up shoes are on my feet before I start cooking. Everything moves smoother. This was my kitchen the night before, ready for the morning and giving me plenty of time to spare for a shower that started bright and early at 9:00am!

So here is to learning not to make blessings to others a curse to our own families!

Proverbs 14:1

The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Produce Deals this week

As the summer gets hot (it already is here in Florida) I love more than usual fresh produce. I find it is easier to keep my grocery budget down with dry and frozen goods because I can combine with coupons and stock up, but fruit and veggies are a little harder, you have to buy what is in season and take advantage.

I was so excited to find that The Fresh Market was having some great deals today.
Blackberries $0.98 (usually over $3 ea!)
Raspberries 2/$5
Blueberries 2/$5
Mangoes $0.98

Publix was also featuring Strawberries, Cantaloupe and Blueberries 2/$5
Florida sweet corn 8/$2
Red Anjou Pears $0.49/lb

A tip to avoid waste
I get so angry when I have to throw away produce that I let sit a little too long or didn't get finished (like a 1/2 banana.) Freeze them and make smoothies! I suggest you prep them (cut of stems of strawberries, peel bananas and mangoes, etc.) then drop them in a ziplock bag and into the freezer.

As the summer gets hotter, a nice frozen fruit smoothie is delicious and can be very nutritious. Throw in a handful of spinach and you will pack some serious nutritious punch and not taste the difference. Leftover smoothie can be poured into Popsicle molds and pulled out later for a snack.

Happy Healthy Eating!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

As promised...grout staining

When I was a kid I lived in a house with at least 1,200 square feet of white tile with white grout and a mother who kept a spotless house. Every summer my sister and I had the pleasure of helping her stain every inch of grout (I wonder how many miles of grout that would be if it was laid out straight???) We hated it.

However, my husband and I bought our home a couple of years ago and I kept saying I hated the tile. As time went on I realized, it wasn't the tile (which was nice and neutral,) it was the dark, dirty, old grout. So I pulled out my mother's trick and it was transforming.

I am amazed I have NEVER seen this on a home improvement show. I sat watching one of these programs recently where they were trying to get a house ready to go to market and make updates for under $1,000 or so. The bathroom got the attention and they scrubbed and scrubbed the grout leaving the old tile and in the end, it still looked dirty. Had no one in their industry ever heard of staining grout?!

I warn you now, this is tedious, but it is cheap.

Items Needed
Rubber Gloves
Eye protection
A nylon brush
Grout haze remover
Grout stain in your chosen color (I found this at Home Depot, but not Lowe's)
A couple of cheap toothbrushes (you want it to be a rectangle and flat, unlike the ones we buy for out teeth that can get into corners, look at kid brushes)
A few small damp rags
Grout sealer
(Recommended but not required) A shop vac, knee pads

Step 1: Acid Washing Grout
Follow the instructions on your acid wash/haze remover which involved saturating the grout with water for an hour.
I warn you, this stuff is an etching solution, it essentially takes away all of the protectants on the grout leaving it open and porous. You DO NOT want to do this step and wait until next weekend to stain. Everything will seep right in.
Second, protect your eyes and skin. This is not some terrible smelling chemical like you might think, it is just effective.
I suggest after scrubbing with the wash, you shop vac it up and flush the floor again, followed by another shop vac. I have done this the hard way with a mop and bucket - trust me it is worth the investment in the ShopVac, it will cut your time by triple.

Step 2: Staining
You want to work in small areas. I suggest you put the stain directly on the toothbrush rather than on the grout as the instructions suggest. work it into the grout following up immediately with a wet rag to take it off the tile. Don't let this stuff dry on there, its a pain to remove.

Step 3: Seal
I skipped this step when I last did this and it needs to be redone 2 years later which is a real bummer. We never sealed as a kid, I am sure this is why we suffered the summer ritual every year. Sealing is cake, wait the allotted time, apply, wipe off. Voila.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Keeping Polished

When I was 6 or 7 my mom made a bargain with me: I would be allowed to grow my hair out (a big deal in the second grade) if I stopped biting my nails. I'm not sure if we shook on it or what, but I definitely did not keep up my end up of the bargain. For whatever reason, I could not leave my nails alone. Ironically, when they got a little long-ish, I was more apt to mess with them. My poor mother - she never made a bargain with a 6-year-old again.

Now that I am older, I realize I don't even like really long nails and now I keep them relatively short but in the last year I have been polishing them and it really improves the look of short nails. My favorite color-of-the-moment is Pinking of You by OPI. It's a little more expensive than the brands you see at drugstores, but I feel like it is worth it because the color is so great and it lasts longer. (I bought a bottle last summer and am still using that same bottle, so it's practically paid for itself.) I can hardly keep still for a manicure (and who wants to pay for one every week - I'm all for a splurge, but every week?), so this is a great option for me. The color is sort of sheer pink but you can still see the whites of your nails. I know you can buy it at Trade Secret but, incidentally, not at Sally Beauty Supply, which was surprising to me.

Also, for those of you who like painted toes in the summer (or anytime really), let me recommend Feelin' Hot Hot Hot by OPI. It's a bright pink color that I think (hope) is still professional for the office.

Happy polishing!

Friday, May 8, 2009

3 Day Bathroom Facelift COMPLETE!

Ladies, I post this project in hopes that I can encourage you not to fear taking on the projects that seem too big. If there is something in your home you dislike every time you look at it, get creative and consider what you can do about it that won't break the budget.

I did this in 3 days. 2 hours the first night prepping and priming, 4 hours (and a VERY late night number two painting walls and cabinets, installing my new light fixture, cleaning and spraying my hardware and framing out my plain mirror. On the last day, during my kiddo's naps I painted the second coat on the cabinets and trim, changed out my faucet and put all the doors and hardware back on.

Here is before and after!

I find installing light fixtures is extremely rewarding! It just seems like a job that should be hard, but it's not. Just make sure that you turn off the power FIRST. Changing out a faucet is mildly more tricky, but read how to do it and you can!

But I want to focus on one of my FAVORITE of tricks for making over anything in your home. The key is textured black spray paint. It is made for metal or plastic and can make anything look like wrought iron.

On this particular project you can see I used it to spray the light switch plates, the hardware on the cabinet and the toilet paper and towel bar.

I have used it to spray a full trundle bed that was shiny white, brass lamps, all the hardware in my kitchen, decorative items found at garage sales and all my switch plates.

The next cheap and transforming project: Staining Grout...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Day 1: The 3 Day Bathroom Facelift

So tonight begins the 3 night guest bathroom facelift(these things happen at night because I have to wait for post baby bedtime). I call it a facelift because everything being done is cosmetic, and I know what a real renovation is (we have done a bathroom to the studs and I am NOT doing that!) Also, everything being done here can be done by one ambitious lady on a budget. I am hoping to do this project for under $150 - with the caveat that I have the paint supplies already in stock. is the ugly bathroom we are attacking:

Note the lovely wallpaper, the awesome light fixture, the bare mirror, the dated brass hardware and the dark wood and grout.

Night #1 - Sanding, prepping and priming

Work fast, work hard, it doesn't have to be perfect, but you'll regret being sloppy.

First remove all hardware, light switches, cabinet doors, etc.

It is well worth buying a power-sander if you have many projects in your future, taping is a must, you'll spend the next several years looking at your mis-placed paint and wishing you'd taken a few more minutes prep time.

In one hour flat, the doors were on saw horses and the bathroom ready for paint:

One more hour and all sanded surfaces had received a coat of primer.
I have painting tips, and I share them here because I recently helped my sister-in-law paint her dining room and she had NEVER before painted...seriously. I suppose my family painted more than is normal, but just in case you are in her boat.
It is WELL WORTH THE MONEY to buy good paint brushes and good paint. The more expensive stuff will save you time and money in the long run.
Specifically with regard to painting cabinets - I strongly recommend if you are doing a kitchen or a primary use bathroom that you use oil based paint, it holds up so much better to wear and tear, but it is a royal pain to use!

Here are the painted surfaces, one hour later.

Total time commitment to night # 1 - 2 hours.

More to come as the transformation continues.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Making Quick, Beautiful, and Easy Curtains

Step 1: Buy fabric you LOVE. I purchased mine at a local fabric store on sale for $32. I bought 5 yards – 2.5 yards per window. To pick out fabric that I LOVED, I brought a picture of our baby bedding off of its package to the fabric store. That way I was able to find fabric that went perfectly with our baby bedding and made it easy to ask three strangers what they thought. It’s always nice to bounce ideas off of other ladies!

Step 2: Buy the hardware. I bought two curtain rods at Target for $10 each (I used a gift card), and from the fabric store I bought a package of 10 clip rings which were 50% off making them $5.

Step 3: Sweetly ask your husband to install the curtain rods. I suppose I could have done this myself, but he took pity on me since I’m 8 months

pregnant. Love him!

Step 4: Cut the fabric in half. I needed two identical pieces of fabric for each window so all I did was fold it in half and cut at the fold. Easy peasy.

Step 5: Iron the fabric. It will look better – trust me.

Step 6: Place the clip rings on the curtain rods. I used 5 clips per rod.

Step 7: Take one panel of fabric and fold the top of it (the part that will attach to the clip rings) down and away from the good side of the fabric. Fold it about one inch.

Step 8: With the same panel, fold the left and right side in about one to two inches, and then again, so as to hide the cut edge from peering eyes.

Step 9: Attach the fabric to the clip rings so that there is an equal amount of fabric per clip ring.

Step 10: Repeat for any additional windows.

Step 11: Admire your handiwork.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Natural Cleaning

Lately I have noticed in several magazines they have had "recipes" for making your own cleaning products. One of these recipes involved making a paste of white vinegar and baking soda and then spreading it on a lemon half to scrub tile. As I was cleaning my bathroom one Saturday morning and breathing in the fumes of various cleaners that weren't proving all that effective on my stained grout (please don't judge me!), I thought back to this cleaning recipe and decided to give it a try.

On a saucer I mixed the vinager and baking soda together - I don't have exact measurements, just enough to form a thick paste. I noticed while I was mixing the two ingredients together, there was a little of bubbling and fizzing going on. It made me think back to elementary science class when some overzealous kids would make a paper mache volcano, pack the base with baking soda and then pour in vinegar dyed red with food coloring and we would all clap while it "exploded." All that to say - do not make this mixture in large quanities unless you want to recreate that moment.

Once I had my paste, I headed back to the bathroom with my saucer, a spoon and a lemon sliced in half. I spread the paste across the first lemon half, and more bubbling started occurring. Then I went after the tile and, I have to say, it worked! My tile grout is not now sparkling white, but it definitely made a bigger improvement than the other cleaners I had previously been using. Also, as I was cleaning, I was struck with how clean the scent was and how I didn't feel like I was breathing in any toxic fumes. Now that I am expecting, I am more conscious of these things and, as I start running out of store-bought cleaners, I want to start replacing them with either things I make at home or with cleaners that have more natural ingredients. If you think about it, this is how our grandmothers used to clean, and our parents grew up perfectly fine, and probably without as many cases of asthma or other upper-respiratory issues. The only thing to be cautious of are wayward sprays of lemon juice that flew back at me as I scrubbed! As I squeezed the lemon to release its juice as I scrubbed, I started using the edge of the lemon as well, basically the skin, which also helped make progress - they always say in cooking that the skin has more flavor than the juice, so maybe it has a higher concentration of cleaning properties as well? It's just a theory, but may be correct! Once the first lemon was out of juice and solution, I switched to the other lemon slice, re-spread the paste and finished the job.

I encourage you to give this recipe a try the next time you are scrubbing tile and not seeing the kinds of results you were hoping for!