Saturday, January 30, 2010

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Step 1: Purchase 3 ingredients - Borax, Arm & Hammer Washing Soda, and 1 bar of soap like Fels-Naptha. I don't recommend that you use a beauty bar or soap that has added fragrances and such. Ivory would probably work just as well.

Step 2: Find a container to store the laundry detergent in, a 1 cup measuring cup, and a fine cheese grater.

Step 3: Finely grate the entire bar of soap. Notice how the grated soap looks like cheese. Please, don't eat it.

Step 4: Add one cup of Borax and then add one cup of washing soda.

Step 5: Seal the container and shake it so that it mixes up.

Step 6: Use 1-2 Tablespoons depending on how heavy your load is.

  • Fels-Naptha Laundry Soap Bar is made by the Dial Soap Company. It will be found in the bar soap or laundry soap aisle at your regular supermarket. It is usually on the bottom shelf. If you can't find it in your area, try Ivory Soap instead. (I bought mine at a Kroger)
  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda can be found on the laundry detergent aisle of your local supermarket. It comes in a 55-ounce yellow box. Baking soda SHOULD NOT be used in place of washing soda.
  • 20 Mule Team Borax can be found on the laundry detergent aisle.
  • I searched for these items on Amazon and they were incredibly over priced. The bar of soap should be under $2 a bar, the washing soda about $2-$3, and the Borax about $3-4.
  • Stir or shake the laundry detergent mixture each time you use it.
  • Some people make liquid laundry detergent which included melting the soap and making this big globby mess. I'm not sold on the idea.

Friday, January 29, 2010


This is what I did yesterday, what about you?
It was one magnificent carrot cake with the cream cheesiest cream cheese icing, I think I'll go get a slice now.  Happy baking.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Kitchen Letters Tutorial

Here is the tutorial I promised in my previous post about my new kitchen/dining room wall. It's pretty cut and dry, but here we go. I got these letters from Joann's:

They were a dollar off, so I think altogether they ended up being less than $10. Then, I used some black paint I already had and painted them with a craft sponge. If you had spray paint, I would recommend going that route just because holding the letters gets tricky when you are trying to paint them and more and more of the surface area is wet paint. Also, spray paint gets in the crevices better, which would have been helpful in painting the A. But, since I already had the black paint and I am trying to use what I have, I skipped the spray paint. I ended up doing three full coats and then one touch-up coat where I just painted random spots that needed it. Let's say your letter dries to the paper underneath and leaves a little chip but you don't want to re-paint since you're moving on to the next step? Just use a Sharpie marker to color it in. The next step will take care of any difference in finish between the paint and the marker.

Then I purchased this stuff at the craft store:

I wanted my letters to be shiny, so I did three coats of this. This was less than $4, if I'm remembering correctly. And that was it. You can see the finished product on my kitchen wall. So easy, right? I look forward to using this spray stuff for projects in the future...I'm not sure what yet, but I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Clean Smart, Not Hard - 2nd Installment

The 1 Hour Once-Over

Once again, some methods I have learned (especially while having a house for sale and trying to keep it ready to "show") that helps keep my home neat and clean and frees up time for fun with my family.  Not to mention, it just keeps it easy!

Each week, I try to take out one hour on Monday and on Friday to do a quick once-over that makes my house neat and clean(ish) to start the week and start the weekend.  The key is keeping it to what you can do in 1 hour, rather than how long it takes you to do all these things.  If you work full time, once a week may be plenty.

Example list: (I start high and work my way down)
  • A feather dusting of all surfaces
  • Windex or Vinegar for french doors, mirrors and other surfaces that need a quick touch up like my guest bath sink, toilet or tub.  (Though this is not what I would use if I was just cleaning the bathroom it allows me to touch things up quickly)
  • Change out sheets 
  • Empty trash cans
  • Quick vacuum (I don't bother to move furniture etc.)
  • Quick steam mop of only biggest problem areas such as under our kitchen table
This of course assumes that you do some things daily already such as cleaning the kitchen immediately after meals, putting things in their place each day and making beds each morning.

For more thorough cleaning I spread my chores through the month and often used FlyLady's daily missions to knock out everything that needs to be done in the course of a month.

Happy cleaning.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Previously-Boring Kitchen Wall

This is how a wall in my kitchen/dining area has looked for almost three years now:

My kitchen and dining area are one long space along the back of my house and for the longest time this wall just seemed so overwhelming that I just left it bare. I hated looking at it (which I had to do during every meal) but just could not come up with a solution for it. I went through several different ideas, but none of them ended up working out. For the longest time I wasn't even sure what kind of look I was going for, so I didn't even know where to begin. The whole thing was really frustrating and the wall continued to stare at me, as bare and empty as ever.

Finally I decided that I wanted to do something eclectic - some combination of something (very specific, I know) that would fill up the space but also look completely effortless. [Side note: I've realized that when it comes to me and decorating, I take the same mindset as getting dressed: I want to look put together, but I don't want to look like I thought and obsessed about it for a long time, even if I did.]

Once I made my decision about going the eclectic route, I started to think through what I could include on the wall. I remembered that I had the framed postcards that I had never hung up, that I had a plate needed a home and would work on the wall, a neglected red frame that I could work with... I knew I needed a few more things, so I decided to spell out a word. And, since the wall is in my dining area, "EAT" seemed appropriate. Finally, a friend of mine sent me a link to a wreath tutorial that looked really easy and my wall scheme was born.

I decided to take the red frame to a local glass shop and they fitted it with a mirror, so for $15 I had a brand new mirror, which felt like a steal. The letters were on sale at Joann's (I will give a tutorial later on how I prepared them for hanging) and for the wreath all I had to buy was a styrofoam wreath form. So, for about $25, I got a brand new wall. I have to say, I felt like it was a final exam for all the Wall Decor posts I have previously done!

Since I was hanging things of different shapes and sizes at different heights and wanted to get the layout right without putting a ton of extra holes in the wall, I did more prep work for this project than I felt like I had ever done before. I took each piece that would be hanging on the wall and traced it on newspaper and then cut it out. You could also use craft paper, alumunion foil, paper bags, wrapping paper - whatever you have around. Then my husband and I used painter's tape to tape the shapes on the wall until we had a layout we liked. See below:

Once we got a layout that we liked, we started attaching the art to the wall. Since the letters were cardboard, I used a wall adhesive that is supposed to easily peel off without removing the paint (we'll see). For everything else, I used nails or wall hangers. One tip: leave the paper on the wall, nail your hole and THEN remove the paper. That way you are ensuring each nail is going into the correct spot, saving you from having to patch your walls or hoping your art covers your wayward holes.
When we were done, I was more than pleased with the result:

A few things: I realize now that the mirror is too low and you have to bend over if you actually want to see your face (but it's very convenient for checking your torso!). This seemed minor, though. Also, I felt my wreath could have looked more like the site where I got the idea for it. I might go back one day and make another one, but for now it works and people comment/compliment it, so it can't be that bad. I cannot for the life of me get the two postcard frames level - that will just have to be a work in progress. At some point I might hang something in the space beneath the wreath and next to the postcards. But for now, the empty space is fine with me.

Hope this got some creative juices flowing for you!
P.S. I am loving clementine season right now - don't they make a great centerpiece? And how convenient when you're eating to reach out and grab one!
P.P.S. When we first moved in, that chandelier was bright brass and not my tastes at all. I got my husband to take it down for me and I spray painted it white. I don't have any pictures of this process, as it was pre-blog and thus pre-documenting projects, but it can be done. Let me know if you have any questions about doing this to your chandelier and I will help you as much as I can!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Facets of Hospitality

We often think of our homes as being the center of hospitality and in many ways they are.  But our daily interactions can also be full of hospitality. 

Naturally, I am far too egotistic to have this gift, in short...I talk too much and listen too little.  However, I am thoroughly convinced that this is a skill worth developing.  The gospel and love of Christ can be communicated with much greater effectiveness if we are hospitable. 

So to start, I want to share an article with you on small talk.  It is not just a waste of time!  It is the very thing that can allow us to connect with someone.

So here are the 2 tips for connecting with people I have learned in my former careers:

1- When meeting people you should NEVER say "nice to meet you," or "is this your first time here?"  Seriously.  What if you have met them and don't remember?  Have you ever had someone say this to you that you feel like should remember you?
I use a few lines.  At church when I think someone might be a visitor and I want them to feel welcome but not risk mistaking a long-timer for a new-comer I say simply "Hi, I don't think we've met before, I'm...."
In professional or social situations where I am meeting someone for what I think is the first time I use something like "Nice to see you." 

2- Last week members of our church went knocking on neighbor's doors to invite them to our grand opening.  It brought me back to my days of knocking on doors for campaigns.  I was taught a very important skill that goes against nature when speaking to someone who you feel is rushed or not very keen on talking to you. 
We tend to rush in order to be considerate about their time, but when you rush, you make the person you are talking to feel more rushed.  Always, always, slow down.  The slower you speak, the more relaxed you seem, the more they slow down and listen.  It's true.

So I know the tricks for making the introduction, now I hope to learn how to get beyond that and make conversation.  More importantly for me, to learn to listen instead of talk.

What are some questions that are good to start a conversation when trying to get to know someone?  Please post and respond and we'll do another post in the near future!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Clean Smart, Not Hard

KM's posts on natural cleaning products have inspired me to do a few posts on cleaning methods.  I think most women are probably like myself and feel much more at rest when my home is neat and clean.  This desire used to cause me a lot of stress trying to find the large chunks of time I felt were necessary to clean my house and stole from precious free time with my family.

In the last couple of years I have learned some habits to maintain my home between deep cleans and keep it looking and feeling the way I like it.  Think of it like teeth cleaning, if you brush and floss regularly, the trip to the dentist is a lot less painful!

Today's topic: The Master Bathroom

The bathroom is one of those rooms that is just real icky when it gets dirty, and can be very time consuming to clean top to bottom because of all the tile.  So why clean it all at once?

I shower at night (you would too if you have sweet little bitties drooling and spitting up on you throughout the day).  I keep a couple of basic cleaners under my sink with a roll of paper towels (far right basket above.)  Each night before I get in the shower I grab the spray bottle and  few towels and wipe something down.  Sometimes the mirror or the sink, sometimes the toilet.  Once or twice a week I grab a used towel and some vinegar and give the shower a quick wipe down.  The bathroom always looks good.  I still have to pull out the big guns once a week to vacuum and mop the floor and scrub my shower floor, but the room requires less on those days, just like the dentist.

Monday, January 11, 2010

UPDATE: Natural Cleaning

Okay, okay...this should be my last post on natural cleaning products. I just wanted to share that, over the holidays, I did all my "holiday cleaning" using the natural products I have discussed previously. I was preparing for guests to arrive, plus I just wanted the house to be clean as we were going in and out of town and it's always nice to come home to a clean place!

In the bathrooms I used the vinager & water mix to clean the mirrors, the all-purpose cleaner on the sinks, counters and showers, and Borax* to clean the tubs and toilets. In the kitchen I used the all-purpose cleaner to wipe down the counters and Borax on the sink. I was also pleased to receive the Shark steam mop for Christmas (it's kind of splurge if you're buying it yourself, but I LOVE it), so I used that on all my hard floor surfaces. So, I literally used no chemicals in the cleaning.

I have to say - I was very pleased with the results. However, I noticed that sometimes you have to work a little harder to get the same results as you would with common cleaners that have chemicals. For instance, I used Borax to clean the bath tubs and I had to scrub a little more to get the results I used to get with Soft Scrub. But - keep in mind - while you may be exerting more energy, you're also not breathing in all kinds of noxious fumes, so huff away!

I asked my husband what he thought of the results and he made the comment that he liked for things to smell clean, and the "clean" scent was definitely absent from our home this time around. I understood what he meant but, after thinking about it, I realized it's probably the same process as learning to eat whole wheat bread if you've only ever had white, or salting your food less - once you get used to the change, it's hard to imagine ______ any other way. So maybe he'll have the same experience as I did recently: I walked into a bathroom in my office building that had just been cleaned and was practically knocked over by the smell of cleaning products! Obviously they probably used some kind of industrial cleaner, but still - once you adjust your definition of the "clean" smell, things that are clean will almost smell bad if they are too chemical-y!

So that is my report on my experience with natural cleaning products. Now go forth and clean!

*I have to give a plug for the Borax. I have really enjoyed using it. I have even started putting it in my laundry and letting things that are extra-dirty soak in it. The box says it's a "natural laundry booster," so you use it alongside your regular clothes detergent. I feel like my towels have come out cleaner and since it doesn't have a scent, it doesn't compete with the detergent. I also sprinkled some in my trash can when we removed a full bag, and it quickly eliminated the stinky trash can smell. I just need to figure out a less-cumbersome way to tote it around the house when I am cleaning - it's not all that fun to carry a box under your arm!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Parenting Tools: The Kitchen Timer

I have two little munchkins under the age of 2 and daily I am learning how to (and how not to) be a mom.  I suppose for every parent, every stage is a new experience so I thought I would share one of mine.

My favorite parenting tool to date kitchen timer.  Who would have thought?

The one pictured here sells at Target for under $10.

For my infant, it is a sanity saver.  It keeps reality in check.  Sometimes before falling asleep she needs to cry, and those few minutes can feel like hours.  So I set my timer for 4 minutes, go into another room across the house and get a quick chore done, and don't check on her until the timer goes off.  Usually she is off to dream land.  Often when I feel like she has been crying forever I am surprised to look and see it has been only 2 minutes.

For my almost-2-year-old it is an even more important tool.  Toddlers do not understand time and waiting.  They don't know if it will be a minute or an hour.  The timer helps control that sense of unknown and takes the attention off the parent.

When my son wants to eat but his food needs to go into the freezer for a minute to cool, I set the timer.  He knows he just has to wait for the beep (and it keeps me from forgetting it is in there!)  When he gets in trouble and is sent to time out, he knows he must stay in the chair until the beep.  It's not mom that won't let him up yet, it is the timer.  When he wants to keep playing in the bath (always) we set the timer for 3 minutes and he can play until the beep, then we have to clean up our toys.

What are your favorite parenting tools?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Round 2: Shadowboxes

This picture is courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens online (I get their e-newsletter) and wanted to share this creative use for shadowboxes. If you have the wall space, either in your closet or above your dresser, this is a great way to store and display jewelry.

Leftovers Soup

Aren't we all trying to save money and eat better?  Leftovers is one of my favorite and most delicious ways to do both.  And it's easier than you think.  The key is, you do not have to do a batch every week to keep food from going to waste thanks to the modern marvel we call the freezer.

I hate throwing food away and yet there always seems to be some produce we have bought in a disproportionate amount that I can't finish up, or just enough sauce or meat left after a meal that it won't make a satisfying leftover in itself but seems too much to trash.

I take these bits and pieces, toss them in a freezer zipper bag and stick them in my freezer door.  Examples?  Whenever I make pasta sauce with italian sausage or beef, I freeze the last cup or so that doesn't get finished in my family?  If I buy zucchini for bread and have too much I cut it up and freeze it.  I prefer to buy the shredded broccoli slaw in the produce department and make my own slaw rather than buying the too sweet and too fattening deli version but we can never eat the whole bag before it starts to go bad.  So I only "slaw" half or so and freeze the plain shredded broccoli.

The key to leftover soup is deciding on a base and taking it from there.  At the most basic, you decide tomato, broth or gravy based.  Then go another step, if its tomato, do an Italian if you are using pasta sauce and add an extra can of diced tomatoes, some extra garlic and oregano.  Or make it a taco soup and add in a can of green chilis and a taco seasoning packet.  If it is broth based, use the meat you have, chicken, ham or beef (often you can mix them.)  Add some bouillon or a can of broth.  If it is leftover roast you can use a gravy packet and water it down.

Next comes the leftovers.  Produce is your best bet, fresh, frozen and occasionally canned.  Spinach, onion, celery, carrots, baby tomatoes, cauliflower, shredded get the picture.  Really want to give it some bank for the buck in terms of being filling and nutritious?  Add a can of beans or two.

Keep adding water and let it simmer.  Your house will smell lovely, dinner will be ready whenever you and your family are.  And you will learn as time goes on how to cook on a whim experimenting with spices and flavors that blend well.

Good luck and happy leftovers to you!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Making use of unused space

I love finding effective and lovely ways to use an empty space to increase functionality and storage.

This is my mom's bathroom toilet area.  Their bathroom lacks a linen closet so she has been looking for a way to increase her storage.  Isn't it lovely?

She bought two plate shelves from Ikea and a couple of baskets from Michael's where they have an excellent selection.  And...the result!

The Start of a New Year

I don't remember the last time I made a New Year's resolution. Call me flighty, but something about stating a formal resolution just seems so...limiting. I'm all about setting goals and working on new habits for myself, and the start of a new year is a perfect time to do that, but resolutions just seems so...resolute. I can't explain it, but something about the whole concept is a major turn off.

BUT I did find this idea on one of my favorite sites, RookieMoms: "What if, instead of unrealistic resolutions, we set 31 daily goals, four weekly goals and one monthly goal?" This was much more appealing to me AND it seemed more manageable because each day/week/month you might have a different goal. Plus, your goals can be seasonable - spending more time outdoors in the summer, baking more in the winter - whatever! And once you master one new goal/habit, you can move on to something else.

One goal I am setting for myself this year is in the area of finances. I want to be better about finding deals and doing the leg work necessary to take advantage of discounts, etc., at stores. For example, I know that CVS and Walgreens both have rewards cards with perks that come with each card, but I have no clue how they work and I have always chalked up the whole thing to being too time-consuming to figure out. And I know that there are coupons available online so that if something is on sale at Publix/Target/CVS already AND I combine it with a coupon, I would barely be paying anything at all. But until now the whole concept has seemed too overwhelming to try to understand that I just haven't, but now I am determined to break into the coupon/bargain-finding lifestyle! I would really like to keep track of the amount of money I save over the course of a year, just to prove to myself that it is worth the extra time and planning it takes.

A friend who has mastered the whole coupon-ing lifestyle recommended this site to me. She lists all the deals for the week at various grocery stores, plus how to combine them with other coupons from either the Internet or the Sunday paper to get a real bargain. Also, she adequately explains the CVS and Walgreens rewards programs, which I very much appreciated. The whole thing seems much more palatable now that someone has explained it all to me. Now I just have to get clipping!