Thursday, May 28, 2009

Play It Again, Momma: Finding Beauty in the Ordinary

When we moved into our house, one of the things that I really wanted to change about our house was the landscaping. There were, however, many more pressing concerns though that required our funds and attention- a leaking roof, a monstrosity of an air-conditioner, cosmetic updating that made the space more livable. All of these repairs have trumped the landscaping funds for now and we have been doing things little by little in our yard.

One of the things I have disliked the most though has been one of our side beds. It is filled to the brim with giant ferns. The ferns are enormous and I have to mow through them to cut the grass. I don't find them all that attractive and they keep popping up in my other beds. Each year I have vowed that I am going to rip them out, but my efforts usually end up on other things and I forget about it...until the ferns pop up the next year.

When we had the original owner out to our house last summer, she commented how pleased she was to see those ferns there. They came from her father's lake cottage and she brought some back each time she went. Her eyes were misty as she told me how happy she was to see each of those ferns there and she shared with me her happy memories of planting them and the summers with her dad. I began to see the ferns in a different light than I had before. To her, they were a thing of beauty and held wonderful memories of her family's summers.

Last night I brought bunches of them in and started putting them in recycled single-size coffee jugs. They looked so pretty all fanned out that I started putting them in each room, adding a touch of green here and there. I marveled at how beautiful they were and how they added that little bit of life I needed to my living space.

Frugality is a lot like that though, isn't it? Sometimes it takes seeing all that you have through another pair of eyes to appreciate all of the bounty you already possess. My yard was filled to the brim with vases of green and all I had to do was pick it from my own backyard. Yet, each year I grumbled about mowing around them, shaking my fist as more ferns popped up.

Sometimes it just takes someone else pointing out the beauty for you to appreciate the ordinary.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Notebook Experiment: Can I Make A Pretty Wreath for Our Door?


Experiment: Can I make a pretty spring wreath for our door OR can I attempt one of the most craftiest crafts ever for Mother's Day?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry03.18.09

Materials Needed: Please see A Soft Place to Land for the full instructions. I did everything that was instructed by Kimba to create this beautiful wreath.

Results: This has to be one of the most ambitious projects that I have ever done, but it certainly does make for a great story.

My best friend & I decided to attempt Kimba's infamous lemonhead wreath after I featured it in our notebook. We agreed to split the cost on supplies and each make three of these wreaths- one for ourselves and two for each of the moms in our life.

First, we ordered SIX POUNDS of ping pongs. I swear, the guy that we ordered them from (off of eBay) thought that we were throwing the world's biggest beer pong tournament. I can't say that explaining we were making wreaths out of them cleared up any of the confusion. After we spent $65 to buy enough ping pongs, we then set off to buy the rest of the craft supplies to complete them.

Spray paint, flowers, glitter, adhesive, wreath forms, ribbon, hot glue- another $65 was spent to get these babies yellow and sugared for our front doors. Kimba never said that this was the most frugal craft, but wreaths are expensive and our mom's are worth it so we got the supplies and headed over to my house to start plugging away at putting these together.

Spray painting ensued, 144 ping pongs glued around each wreath, more spray paint, adhesive, glitter, attaching flowers, bow-making craziness. Two days of truly hard work, but my gawd, I was getting this craft done and they were going to be the best gifts in the whole dang world.

After all of the blood, sweat, and still picking the yellow paint out of my fingernails, here is our final look:




And one more picture that is exactly the same, but I deserve it after all of that work:



Conclusion: I am so happy with my wreaths, but trying to tackle three of these might have been a tad bit TOO ambitious. In all seriousness, I am so proud of these and I know my moms will absolutely love them. May I also say that if THIS happens to any of these precious wreaths, you may need to lock me up in the mental institution.

This will go down in history, as the most ambitious Mother's Day craft in the history of my life!

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I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Wednesday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Personalizing Our Home



Living Room Before


We have been living in our little tri-level home for over five years now. When I think back to the house we moved into, I can honestly say that there is very little that has not been touched and retooled. We have a few things lingering that will require some time and money, but our house barely resembles the home we moved into.

The very first room that we tackled was our front living room. We had never done any real painting before and chose a neutral color that we thought would look good on the walls. The art in the room said little about our family and more about Linens 'N Things. The color, just one tiny shade away from white and had pinkish tones to it that I just did not like. I did not have the heart or time to rethink our decisions, but five years later we have returned to that first room to revamp it.

This lamp, for instance, was one of my least favorite pieces in the room. The lampshade was dirty from years of use and abuse from my children and the brass spoke of another era altogether. I purchased a $3.99 can of black spray paint and visited Hobby Lobby where I found a new lampshade (marked at $40, but on sale for $20) and gave this little piece a makeover.

This tired old lamp now looks positively perfect in my house. With the coat of black paint and chocolate shade, it reminds me of a piece I would love in Restoration Hardware. Notice the walls? That is the new color we chose Dutch Boy in Honey Bear. It was the perfect neutral yellow that brightened our room up and made it look more modern.




That Linens 'N Things art that spoke nothing of our family and our life has been replaced with three black-and-white 8x10's that I had printed at Sam's Club for a total of $4.38.

The first picture was taken just a couple of weeks ago of Emily's foot dangling as she was swinging in the air at the park. Her little lacy socks and Mary Jane shoes were too perfect not to photograph. It spoke volumes about Emily's girly-girl attitude even for a day of playing in the mulch.

The second picture, was a shot I took this fall of my entryway with all of the pretty fallen leaves and my sweet little white pumpkins. My favorite fall boots are resting in the corner after I had come in from raking.

The last picture was my most glamorous day ever- a photo shoot in my home with Redbook Magazine. Those shoes aren't even mine, they are my friend's, Kathy Friend from Flourish Boutique, who had supplied the wardrobe for the day. It was one of the most fun & exciting days for our family and that moment sealed the deal on our credit card free life.

I found beautiful picture frames at Hobby Lobby in black, to match our "new" lamp for $8 each. When you walk in, it brings people into a conversation about what those moments mean to us, who photographed them, and that our family is more than stock art from a home supplies store.

The furniture remained the same, but the curtains were switched to a cotton beige that would match the lampshade in the room. I found these for $19.99 at Target, but did four panels instead of two since this window is larger. The only other addition to the room was the leather ottoman resting next to our new personalized corner to add a little storage space for $59 from Target.

Faucet Before

Faucet After

Some of the changes we have been making, have been necessary ones because of the age of our house. A new roof was installed last summer and new gutters because they were broken, old, and leaking.

Little changes like a dripping and corroded faucet replaced with an oil-rubbed bronze one was a quick simple fix that brings me a lot of joy and less hassle when washing my dishes. We could have bought another white faucet, which would have been a lot less expensive, but it didn't speak of our personal taste or have our personal stamp on it. These add personalization to our space and with each project behind us, the house becomes more about us and less about the previous owners that owned it before us.

With each project, we are able to modernize the house that I thought said nothing about our family. As we complete these projects that personalize our space, I find myself falling in love with corners in our home that I never thought I would love.

What have you done to personalize your home that you are most proud of?

Related Links:

Patio Renovation on a Budget

Our Kitchen Makeover

Our New Double Workspace

After Photos: Making Our Home More Inviting

Maximizing Your Space

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Notebook Experiments: Will A Loft Bed Save Us Space?

Experiment: Will a loft bed save us space?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 01.22.09

Materials Needed: Please see Ohdeedoh for the full instructions.

Results: I can admit that I am totally cheating this week, but when I saw the post on Ohdeedoh, I thought it would tie in perfectly with showing you our son's new big boy bed. Now that his bed had moved over to his sister's room, we had to find a bed for Ethan.

My new rule for furniture buying is I will NEVER again buy something online without seeing it in person first. His first bed was the biggest fiasco ever. We got it home, it was the wrong thing, it was damaged, it was 300 pounds, it had to be loaded piece by piece back into our car, it had to then be unloaded and returned to the store. The whole thing ended with me trying to get the trundle bed out, as a substitution bed for our son, and the trundle releasing under the other bed, pinning my hands between the two beds. We had to make a call to 9-1-1, I was nursing jammed fingers for three days, and cursing my bright idea to order a bed online. NEVER again!

The next day, I decided to head down the road to our local Oak Express and found a bed within minutes. I paid for the bed and sprung for the people to come and put it together for me. It was an easy decision, as I clutched my swollen hand and swore to myself that whatever the price it it would be worth EVERY penny. And it was. It was so worth it. Lesson learned.

Without further adieu, our fabulous new set-up:

We have a tri-level home with very small bedrooms. These small spaces require much thought to make the most of every square inch. A loft bed seemed like the perfect solution for his room. With his new bed, we were able to create space underneath for his own desk to study at. What you can't see from this angle is that there is also a shelf for his books and water at the very end of the bed which he really loves.

Here is Ethan's demonstration for how he climbs into his bed. When he gets older, the ladder can be removed and he can just climb up the side of it. Basically, it will look more grown up for when he is too cool for ladders.

They had two desk choices for this model of bed and we went with the smaller one so he still has room to play underneath. I still need to buy a good chair for him, but he is so thrilled to have his own little space to study his schoolwork.

Conclusion: A loft bed is a great solution for small spaces. Despite having to pay more for the bed than I intended, it is still cheaper than moving into a new house to have bigger rooms. We are thrilled with our purchase and Ethan has been sleeping like a dream in his fancy new bed.

Have you ever had an online purchase go bad? Have you ever regretted buying something online rather than in person?

********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Big Girl Room on a Budget


We are still getting Emily settled into her big girl room, but I thought I would share some of the ideas we have had so far for her new space.

First, Ethan's bed was moved into Emily's room and Ethan is getting a loft-style bed for his room with a desk underneath to make use of his smaller space. We had a bed fiasco, better left for another post, and he is now sleeping on the trundle part of this bed until his bed comes in.

We swung the daybed around so that the back of it becomes the side to keep her more secure. It is great because it still has the security of the crib, but has more space for her to sleep in. She has been in it for a couple of weeks now and hasn't attempted trying to get out of bed by herself yet.

The room was already painted a cheery yellow and I already had the curtains which were a set of eyelet lace curtains from the Shabby Chic line at Target. The comforter has been in a chest in our basement since we first got married. This bed was originally our guest bed and I used this comforter for it. It was a tad too girly for Ethan so we put it away, in hopes we would be adding a little girl to our family someday. It was a steal for $19.99 from TJ Maxx and is a Tommy Hilfiger comforter. It is reversible with another pretty flowered design on the alternate side. The addition of this "Sweet Dreams" pillow was bought with some of her Christmas money from the grandparents from Target (also from Shabby Chic).


The art in her room is courtesy of her big brother. These were two pictures that Ethan made at school and donated for his sister's room. I found these frames at the dollar store so these were the perfect budget-friendly decor for her new room.

We made a banner with her name on it for one of the walls. The color didn't turn out very good in this picture, but it is a pale pink with dark pink polka dots. The scrapbook paper and ribbon came from my craft supplies and I had my husband pick a pretty font for it. I used my circle punch to punch out these circles, but you could also trace a drinking glass to make them all uniform in size.

We bought new rugs for each of the kid's rooms. These are bamboo rugs that we purchased from Walmart and I absolutely love them. I have a fondness for bamboo rugs because they wipe off easily and are easy to vacuum or broom sweep. Underneath the bed is a basket of toys and a basket of diapers. We are hoping one of these baskets will be no longer needed...can you guess which one?

This set of table and chairs relocated from our playroom downstairs. Ethan was getting too big to sit in these so we put it in her room along with a basket of books for her to read.

This step stool holds an extra set of pink sheets for her bed. This stool used to be her brothers and it is one of my favorite little storage solutions for keeping a spare set of sheets.

This little lamp was also bought at Target and I used her Christmas money from her grandparents to buy it. I really wanted to bring the pink into the room and this was a cute little addition to her big girl space. You could implement the same idea with a basic white shade and a little grosgrain ribbon and some glue.


The perfect room for our sweet little princess!

What budget-friendly ideas are you proud of in your kid's rooms?

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Gardening for Fall


My flowerbeds have been looking a little tired. The long dry spell left my beds dried out and the Day Lilies were taking over the beds with their dried out leaves. It was time for some fall sprucing.


I just love adding some fall mums for a frugal bit of color. For $2.48 each (at Lowe's this week), I was able to brighten my bed up with a little bit of color. Best of all, the mums come back every year and when I see their bright colors start popping up in my beds, I know that it won't be long before my favorite season is here.I trimmed the Day Lilies down for the year. They could have lasted a few more weeks, but it made it easier to pick a good placement for my mums. I put eight mums into the front flowerbeds and marveled how something so simple can make a girl so darn happy!


I am still loving how we solved our barren spot in our lawn with this boxed in tree. I planted four mums in and cut our sad little Hostas down. I am hoping that they do better next year because they looked pretty sad this year. A fresh bed of mulch (an extra bag tucked in our garage from the last project) and my tree looks a little bit brighter.

How do you prepare your flowerbeds for fall? Do you plant again or just cut things down? I am a newbie gardener so I am always looking for tips!

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dressing Up the Front Step For Fall

I loved the white pumpkins featured in A Soft Place to Land and gained some inspiration from that post for my own doorstep. Of course, I took the lazy and cheap route, but I think they turned out beautifully.

I purchased faux pumpkins at Michael's Craft Store. The were on sale for 40% off this past week. I found two pots to rest my pumpkins in and a bolt of black ribbon to dress up the pots.



I used my glue gun to attach the ribbon around the outside of the pot. With the leftover ribbon from the bolt, I made a bow and then tied it off with a little raffia. The pumpkins wedge perfectly in there.

I am hoping it will be something that I can use each year. I have found most of our guests think they are real pumpkins when they come over and have spent a lot of time thumping and touching them. I am not usually one to pick things that aren't natural for decorating with, but I love being able to store these and use them year after year. If they are fooling people, then that works even more to my advantage!


Of course, if those pumpkins don't last until next year, I have these two little pumpkins that I can set out there on occasion to dress up the step!

What are some creative ways you decorate your home for fall?

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Clay Cookery: A Frugal Chef's Dream Come True


A long time ago, I read a post from Meredith, at Like Merchant Ships, about her clay cooker. Since her post, I have been on the lookout for a clay baker of my own, but have not seen one on any trip to the thrift shops. I am sure that I probably passed a million, not knowing what the heck they were, but when I finally figured it out...there were none to be found.

Until last week, that is! I actually spotted two of them sitting together on a shelf. I lunged to grab one and took home the one that was in the best condition. It was marked for six dollars, a bit more than I usually spend on a single item in housewares. After months and months of waiting though, I was willing to fork over the six dollars.

The lid was tightly taped shut and, I prayed that there was nothing wrong inside of it. What I discovered was that the clay cooker had never been used and all of the information packets were neatly tucked inside waiting for the next owner.

Today we roasted a chicken for our family in it. A good old Aldi chicken was stuffed with rosemary from my garden and seasoned with a little salt and pepper. I slid the chicken into the cold oven, after soaking my baker in water, and baked it at 450 degrees for 85 minutes.

I had read the packets cover to cover, praying that I wouldn't screw it up. Would the chicken really be moist and flavorful? Would it be brown or would it be light in color like my slow cooker chickens? Was it really true that it didn't require liquids?

We held our breaths as I lifted the lid...

What was unveiled was better than I had imagined. A juicy and flavorful chicken- full of color and just as good as any chicken I have bought in a store.

After we were all done applauding... well, maybe that didn't really happen, but I will say that we were all really impressed with just how good that chicken tasted.

I can't wait to try other things in the clay cooker and, just in case your thrift store find does not come with a booklet, here are a few of the tips that were provided for using your clay baker:

  • Soak it in water- Completely immerse the top and bottom in water for ten to fifteen minutes before each use.
  • Place in a cold oven- After adding the ingredients, place your clay baker in the center of the cold oven.
  • Time cooking according to your own preferences and oven- tastes and ovens vary. Time your dishes according to the way you want them and don't hesitate to vary the recipe slightly. Recipes usually can be converted for clay pots by increasing the cooking temperature by 100 degrees and deducting a 1/2 hour of cooking time.
  • Put the clay cooker on a cloth when you remove it from the oven- Sudden changes in temperature should be avoided. When the clay baker is removed from a hot oven, place it on a towel, hot pad, or wooden board rather than a cold surface.
  • Clay bakers are ideal for the microwave- Because microwaves vary to such a great degree, it is impossible to state any rules for converting recipes for the microwave. Use the oven manufacturer's guidelines for cooking times.
  • Clean with a hot water and a brush- Use hot water and a stiff brush to clean your clay baker. A little baking soda will cut any grease. Translation: NO SOAP! Never scour with a scouring powder or metal scouring pad. It can block some of the pores of the clay, reducing the water absorption.
  • Don't use it on an open flame- It is designed only for the oven.
  • Place the lid upside down on top of base when storing- When the clay baker is not in use, keep it in a place where the air circulates. Place the lid upside down on top of the base, so the air can reach inside the bottom.
But, why is a clay baker helpful for a frugal cook? Here are a few reasons I think this can be a good addition to the kitchen:

  • Cooking food in a cooker requires no additional liquids. It pulls all the natural juices out of your dishes so no need to add cans of chicken stock or extra ingredients to make your food flavorful.
  • Clay bakers allow you to prepare quick, healthy, high quality meals that cost less and taste better. My Aldi chicken looked and tasted better than any other preparation I have tried before and it browned the chicken beautifully without any extra steps at all!
  • You can cook very nutritiously. You can cook all kinds of foods without adding any fat. Due to the low cooking temperature the aroma, vitamins and minerals are preserved within your food. As someone who is trying to eat well, this is an important feature for me!
I can't wait to try other things in this clay baker and I hope you can score one of your own for your kitchen!

Have you ever tried cooking in a clay baker before? If not, what are some items you use in your kitchen that may seem unconventional to others, but have saved you time or money?

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ask the Frugal Momma: How Do You Organize Your Pantry & Cupboards?

I know you guys were most impressed with the way we organized our closet, but what you *REALLY* wanted to know is how do we organize our pantry.

Remember when I revamped my laundry system and my yard sale system? That day I hit up the same college student for a great bookcase that she was getting rid of for only $20! I knew right away what I wanted to do with it and couldn't wait to bring it home and put it in our basement.

First, let me give you some background information on our house and previous storage solutions. My kitchen does not have very many cupboards or pantry space so I have had to be more creative with my storage. Our big dream is to expand my tiny utility closet into a walk-in pantry, but until that happens I have been storing the majority of my pantry items in our basement.

Previously, we had a dark wood bookcase that was extremely deep that we were using to store the pantry items. We had ripped this "bookcase" out of our closet that we had turned into an entertainment unit. Yes, you could say that we are pretty creative with our smaller home. We have tried to maximize the space in places that were not being used properly instead of moving into a bigger home.

Due to the depth and darkness of the unit, what had ended up happening was that I found myself doing the repeat-buying. I would look in the unit and say to myself, "No tomato paste?" And then I would rush to the store and buy tomato paste. When I would pull items out though, I would see twenty cans of tomato paste that I had already bought. This was not frugal and the bookcase was working against me.

The location of the unit was also not the smartest place for me. With a quad level home, I was already making the trek down all of our stairs to retrieve items and then walking into the farthest corner of the basement to get what we needed. It was inconvenient and not a functional storage solution.

Welcome to the new home for my canned goods! This bookcase rests just at the bottom of the stairs in a well-lit area of our basement. The light wood color makes it easier to see what is in my pantry and the labels (created with my label maker) make it easy for even my husband to find what we need out of the pantry.

Our upstairs cupboards needed revamping as well. We have the same problem with our cupboards as we did with our former basement storage solution. One cupboard was extremely deep and items would get shoved back there until we said, "Hmmm... do you think that this is still good if it expired in 2003?" Obviously, we were wasting food and valuable cupboard space.

Repeat the same scenario above with the Lazy Susan unit that we had, but just make the items revolve in mass chaos. Clearly, we had a serious problem!

I got these handy storage baskets for less than two dollars each and divided our pantry items into categories. The storage baskets made it much easier for me to pull down exactly what I needed, rather than climbing up on a chair to try and dig through the back of the pantry. It also makes throwing items out quicker, when I need to clean out the pantry, and makes tasks easier because I had grouped like items (or cooking projects) together.

Here is how I grouped the items:

Spices- All of the spice containers were gathered together and imagine my surprise that we had plenty of repeat performers in this category. I wiped down the spices and consolidated them into one container. The spice container is residing in the cupboard closest to the stove. I can pull the small basket down and take out whatever we need and slip it back into the cupboard when I am done cooking. This is much easier than rifling through fifty teeny bottles and makes shopping day easier too!

Cake/Cookie Decorating Supplies- These are items that are used less frequently, but still needed a home. I put these higher up in a basket with handles. Piping bags, piping tips, cookie cutters, food coloring, sprinkles and the birthday candles (that no one could ever find) all went into this container.

Baking Supplies: This is a pretty general category, but it was all of the items that I needed, but could never find. In this larger basket went our baking powder, baking soda, confectioners sugar, shortening, and cocoa powder.

Rice/Pasta: These ingredients went into a larger basket and all of the boxes were consolidated and smaller pastas and the rice were placed into clear Mason jars. The mason jars were labeled and have the cooking instructions labeled on them (unless I knew the directions by heart). In the Mason jars were white rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, orzo pasta, macaroni, and couscous. Larger pasta included linguine, angel hair, and thin spaghetti. Everything fit more neatly and anything extra went into the downstairs bookcase unit.

Flour/Sugar: This organizing unit went into our Lazy Susan. This included wheat flour, white flour, self-rising flour, cake flour, brown sugar, and white sugar.

Syrups/Oils/Vinegars: This organizing unit also went into our Lazy Susan and included corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, molasses, honey, and maple syrup. Using this unit eliminated the "sticky" factor, which usually occurred, making a huge mess in the bottom of our pantry. Any extra condiments also get put in there, as they are often used in recipes.

Finally, the items that I like to keep on hand upstairs all go into our pantry door. We bought one of these wire units that mounts on the door and keep items that I might need on hand. A smaller unit, that clips onto the larger unit, houses all of those little packets that we might need to assemble a meal. I try to keep what we need for the week in the upstairs pantry door and then the excess (or whatever doesn't fit) ends up going downstairs.

If you want, I am happy to share where we keep appliances and stuff like that, just leave me a comment!

I hope that this will help give you some creative storage solutions for your pantry!

Note: You can click on the pictures to expand the size.




Related Readings:

Free Up Pantry Space & Make a Snack
Making Your Spice Rack Usable
Getting the Car Organized
Gettin' Quick in the Kitchen
Living Out of Your Pantry

Sound Off: What storage solutions have you found work in your pantry?

*Originally aired July 25, 2007*

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What a Difference a Day Makes

I decided to hit the thrift store this Saturday in search of a china cabinet or unit where I could rest my laptop for our kitchen. I have been hunting for awhile, but just haven't seen anything with the good bones that I was looking for. I walked around for awhile before I saw IT. You know? The one! The one that I have been hunting for ages looking for? Well, I basically threw my body upon an old eighties cabinet and requested the crew help me load it in my vehicle. The cost was only $99 and the units that I had been looking at in the stores were a minimum of $250 and upwards of $600. This piece looked like it was going to be perfect and I headed over to the hardware store and got all of the supplies to tackle this project.

I was inspired by Meredith's recent post about a project that was done on Notes from a Cottage Industry. This blogger had painted her unit black and had gotten hers for a mere fifty bucks and made it look like a million.

This was my first attempt at refinishing a piece of furniture and I was pretty nervous at first, but my tentative paint strokes turned to fast swipes as I became more confident with what I was doing.

This particular piece was a knotty oak wood and had worn brass handles on it. We prefer a more contemporary look with clean lines and a silver finish to our pieces so that is what I wanted to achieve when I refinished this piece.


I decided to leave the piece with the knots in the wood, opting to skip the spackling step altogether, and purchased a primer tinted grey to give us a good start on the piece.

I sprayed the unit with a liquid degreaser to get all of the grime and muck of off the wood. Next I primed it with primer and allowed that to dry for a couple of hours. The next step was to put on the black paint and then another coat. Then another coat. Finally, another coat was applied before I could do the final touch-ups to the wood.

The hardware was the type that had been dropped into the a cut-out in the wood of the piece so there was no way that I could replace it. The worn dingy handles received a face-lift with a coat of stainless steel spray paint that was made especially for metal. Fifteen minutes to dry and only four dollars to redo all of the hardware. We are going to be spraying some other ugly brass fixtures around our house that need a little TLC, rather than purchasing new pieces which would cost us a lot more.

I started the project at six o'clock in the evening and painted until 2:30 in the morning. I collapsed in bed and then picked it back up at nine and had it fully assembled with my dishes and cookbooks on it by six the next evening.

It was a bear of a project, but I can't stop glowing or patting myself on the back for what I accomplished in a single day. The unit is absolutely enormous and I did all of this by myself with the only help from my husband being the help with moving and reassembling it.

The finished product reminds of something you would get at Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware and I doubt that it would be only $99!

The history of the piece was as interesting as the furniture was itself. A quick discussion with one of the employees seemed to indicate that it was repossessed. After pulling it all apart we found a very mysterious hole that at been cut out of the bottom. A hole that would have no purpose except to hide something. Weed, perhaps? Who knows!

What has been your biggest accomplishment that you have done in or around your house? Have you ever attempted to refurbish a thrift store or yard sale piece? Any blunders refurnishing anything?

* Originally aired April 2, 2007*


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Our Kitchen Makeover

When we moved into our house, one of the big things that attracted us to it was the size of our kitchen. Now that we have lived in our house for four years, I don't think my kitchen is as big as I would like, but it seemed enormous when our last house had only a galley kitchen. Isn't that funny how accustomed we can become to more space?

The thing that I was not fond of about the kitchen was the dated look of it and the lack of storage and cupboards. The walls were white, the floors a really light pine color, and the cabinets were oak with no hardware. We didn't have enough cabinet space, the appliances all needed to be updated, and the kitchen lacked the style I wanted. If this was a reflection of the "heart of our home," it was certainly missing something. The owner before us had completely renovated the kitchen, but it wasn't our style and wasn't cohesive or finished the way we would have liked.

Our kitchen makeover has been a gradual process and we are still working on the details of it, but it has come a long way from the dated eighties look. We would replace things as they went out and updates would come when we had a little extra money. I did want to show where we are at now, with the updating process, and to share how we have renovated our kitchen on a budget.

I wish I would have taken more before pictures of the kitchen, but I hope my descriptions will help.
These are the pictures of our cabinets before the makeover. Nice, but not much to write home about. We had received a $50 Lowes gift card for Christmas (thanks, mom & dad!) so we thought we would put the money to good use. I used the steps provided in this tutorial to paint our cabinets. This meant no messy sanding and so it helped to save a step and saved me a lot of cleaning too!
We took all of the doors off and gave them a really good cleaning with a liquid degreaser that I had purchased from the hardware store. Once cleaned, we applied two layers of primer to each side of the doors and to the outside of the cabinets themselves. We allowed the primer to dry one day and then we began painting them the next day. The color that we chose was a Martha Stewart "Wainscot White." It wasn't a true white, but was definitely not a cream either.

The hardware for the cabinets was purchased from Target. They have ten packs of knobs that very closely resemble the stuff at Restoration Hardware, but they only cost $14.99 for ten versus $5-10 each. The drawer pulls were $4.99 each (also purchased from Target) and they all were in oil rubbed bronze.

These are the cabinets after. What a difference a weekend can make! The cupboards are so beautiful and have brightened the kitchen up so much. Not only that, but the whole space feels so much larger because of the white cabinets. The walls were also painted a pretty gray blue to bring the more up-to-date feel to our space. We left our counters the same, but hope to one day replace them with a more high-end material (or at least make them look more high end).

We replaced our dishwasher with a new GE dishwasher that we purchased from Sears. It is the stainless steel look instead of the real stainless steel, so little hands can smudge away without mommy having to clean the surface as often. We actually won the dishwasher in an advertising contest that was sponsored by Sears. Technically, all of you AWESOME people helped us earn the dishwasher so we thank you for that. This one is so much prettier than the other one and better yet...it works! What a novel idea!
Next to my stove are hooks for my aprons. This was a great way to add some "art" to the walls without making an investment. $3.99 to display a few of my favorite things in the world.

We updated our stove with this fancy stainless steel number. It has everything I could ever want for this space and, while not free, I was able to get a killer deal on it. The stove was marked for $1K and I was able to get them to accept $500. Always pick those floor models, I say, and point out any and every flaw you can...even the stupid stuff. That is how we were able to score this stove.

The range hood was free and part of our Sears shopping spree that we won. Our refrigerator is the last of the white appliances to make an exit, but we are watching Craigslist to see if we can score a good deal on that.
Since cabinet storage was an issue, I was able to find an old ugly eighties desk with a hutch from a thrift store to remedy the problem. I did my makeover work on it and it is now my favorite piece in the house. This was cheaper than buying new cabinets and I just love how it is open for guests to grab their own dishes. The white dishes really make me happy and make me feel like a little Martha when I am entertaining! These dishes were priced at $14.99 for a service for six, including all of the serving dishes! They aren't the best quality, but I love the clean lines and design on them.

I also have my new china from my mother-in-law that looks so elegant on our tables. She recently brought this over to add to my dishes and I was so thrilled.

While it can make our seating a little more cramped, we did add a narrow table along the back wall to keep our computer. This has our dinner music on it and I can watch the television while I cook. The two plants on either side were purchased from Target, clearance to $14.99 each. The basket on the table, normally brimming over with fruit, is empty since I need to head to the grocery store. The basket was also a clearance item that I purchased from Marshalls along with some of the decor for our walls.
Like this piece that is centered along our back wall! This was a clearance item at Marshalls for $9.99. It got discounted with some of their summer pieces and I thought it would be a perfect focal point in that open spot.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of our kitchen!
We could not be more proud of the space we created...on a budget!

*Originally aired on January 2, 2008*

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make Wall Art?




Experiment: Can I Make Wall Art?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 08.21.08

Materials Needed: Please see Simple Mom for the full instructions on this task (originally taken from Mt. Hope Chronicles). I had two places in my house that was in need of some art so I thought I would attempt this craft. I hit a local scrapbook shop and picked out some scrapbook paper for my project. I then headed over to Michael's and picked up Mod Podge and the canvases to do the work on. I also splurged and purchased a circle punch so that I would have nice and even circles. I am lousy at cutting and this made the work go so much faster. I will use it to make our gift tags for Christmas gifts this year and banners for birthdays. See how I can justify any purchase as an "investment opportunity?"

Results: My husband & I put together our design and then I glued them onto the canvas. After gluing them and letting them dry, I used a sponge brush and brushed the entire canvas with the Mod Podge to create a smooth surface. I did two layers of the Mod Podge on top and this created a nice sheen to the pictures and made the project look more finished

I had a window that I wanted surrounded by art and these turned out great. The ones for our family room incorporated the reds in them, and had a little tribute to our favorite date nights together. Can you find it?


The one I created for my husband's office. He loves anything to do with fonts and is a proud collector of them (can you tell I married a web guy?) so I made this one as a tribute to his font fascination.

Conclusion: I absolutely loved this craft and am thinking of all the other art work I could create for our walls. I often feel limited by my crafting abilities so this easy project was right up my alley. Thank you Simple Mom for the great suggestion!
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I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Me on You Tube: Getting To Know Your Dishwasher

I have to say that I am QUITE nervous about all of this, but wanted to share with you the latest project that I am working on. Wal-Mart is partnering with You Tube and will be offering a new feature on their site, sharing video footage of how moms save money. They did some research and picked a handful of bloggers to help them kick this new feature off and sent us Flip Video cameras to document ways that we have found to save our family money.

I am very excited to be included and will be sharing more ways that moms can save through this feature. I do want to be honest with you and let you know that I am not being paid by their company at all and that I am under no obligation to promote Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart products, or am asked to say anything in my segments. The payoff for me will hopefully be getting our website name out there to other people and to have the opportunity to make our community here larger and stronger. It also is a great way to build stronger relationships with the other participants and collaborate together on projects.

Working in this format is new for me so please be patient. I tried to do a fun intro and I am looking forward to your feedback. What would you like me to cover? Is there something you would like to see in my house or in my kitchen? Please let me know and I will try to include the things that will appeal to you guys!

I really appreciate all your support and feel very blessed to have such great readers!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Patio Renovation on a Budget

Longtime readers may remember that we were attempting to redo our backyard patio ourselves. Yeah, we have still been working on it up until this past weekend. Two solid days of back-breaking-cursing-ourselves-for-starting-something-so-stinking-hard-my-wife-won't-stop-
nagging-me-until-it's-done-work. Yeah, good times, good times. Don't you wish you were my spouse about now? Nope! Me either!

First, let's start with some before pictures and I will share some of our woes and dilemmas with redoing our space.


When we moved into our house, there was a giant tree that was right next to a bricked patio that had been there from the very first owner. That tiny beautiful tree turned into a giant enormous tree that began to uproot the patio, creating an unsafe spot to hang out and was horrible to entertain on.

We paid to have the tree removed and the stump ground. What we did not expect was the difficulty that we would have placing a new patio on this space because the stump was ground, but the roots were still there. And the roots? Yes, those roots were giant trees that were just as difficult to work around as the space. This giant pile of dirt was creating a damper on my outdoor entertaining and my kids loved playing in it...which created a ton of laundry for me.

We ripped out the entire patio except for the very beginning of it because it was all uneven, but many of the bricks were broken and crumbling so we were worried how big we could make our patio if we only had a few bricks to work with.

Lucky for us, Ryan's family renovated their patio and offered us their bricks so Ryan decided to make a design from their old brick and our old brick to equal a fabulous new patio. We loved the design, but the work was very tedious because the bricks were two different sizes. Basically, it made for difficult and unpleasant work BUT it was practically free except for the labor and the fresh sand.

Now I can tour my yard with a lot less embarrassment. Here was my solution for (with the help of my husband's hard labor) the giant dirt pile. The root system was axed as much as we could and we leveled the dirt and outlined it with some of our free brick. We covered the dirt with pebble and moved our fire pit to this area. Two chairs were purchased for $29.99 from the Martha Stewart line and two outdoor pillows for $12.99 each (also from the Martha Stewart line at K-Mart) to complete this look. These chairs are wicker, but can fold to be stored in our shed or can be easily moved to the dining area for extra seating. I picture a lot of time in the evenings with my husband in these chairs! Not pictured was a small glass table that I got for drink holding or as an extra spot to put a tray on when dining outside for twenty dollars.

Here is what the bricking looks like on the finished patio. The two bricks made a beautiful design with their different colors. I just love how it turned out and I know my husband is really proud too.
Please ignore the trash can in the corner- we are still cleaning up from all of the hard work. Here is our dining area which has been relocated to the side to create more room on the patio for playing and drawing with our chalk.

The patio set was already owned, but my cushions were showing their age. I did do a deep-cleaning on these and let them enjoy some time in the sun. I didn't want to spend all my money on cushions so I replaced the back cushions and will replace the bottom cushions next summer. These kept me on budget, but also freshened up the patio set.

Now the kids can play in this instead of the dirt pile. How refreshing! It will certainly save me some time on laundry, but not on floor sweeping.

And now I can nag my husband about moving these, which are leftover brick from our project. I am sure we can think of some things to do with these, but he asked me not to nag him for a few days until he can recover from this project.

That concludes our backyard tour- I can't wait to hear what you think!

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Finding Beauty in the Ordinary

When we moved into our house, one of the things that I really wanted to change about our house was the landscaping. There were, however, many more pressing concerns though that required our funds and attention- a leaking roof, a monstrosity of an air-conditioner, cosmetic updating that made the space more livable. All of these repairs have trumped the landscaping funds for now and we have been doing things little by little in our yard.

One of the things I have disliked the most though has been one of our side beds. It is filled to the brim with giant ferns. The ferns are enormous and I have to mow through them to cut the grass. I don't find them all that attractive and they keep popping up in my other beds. Each year I have vowed that I am going to rip them out, but my efforts usually end up on other things and I forget about it...until the ferns pop up the next year.

When we had the original owner out to our house last summer, she commented how pleased she was to see those ferns there. They came from her father's lake cottage and she brought some back each time she went. Her eyes were misty as she told me how happy she was to see each of those ferns there and she shared with me her happy memories of planting them and the summers with her dad. I began to see the ferns in a different light than I had before. To her, they were a thing of beauty and held wonderful memories of her family's summers.

Last night I brought bunches of them in and started putting them in recycled single-size coffee jugs. They looked so pretty all fanned out that I started putting them in each room, adding a touch of green here and there. I marveled at how beautiful they were and how they added that little bit of life I needed to my living space.

Frugality is a lot like that though, isn't it? Sometimes it takes seeing all that you have through another pair of eyes to appreciate all of the bounty you already possess. My yard was filled to the brim with vases of green and all I had to do was pick it from my own backyard. Yet, each year I grumbled about mowing around them, shaking my fist as more ferns popped up.

Sometimes it just takes someone else pointing out the beauty for you to appreciate the ordinary.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Blueberry Muffins & Loving Your Neighbors



Experiment: Can blueberry muffins help score us some new friends?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 03.27.08

Materials Needed: Please see little momma & company for specific directions on how to complete this experiment. I did add a little special ingredient of my own this time to the mix and that was some freshly grated lemon zest and one squeeze of a lemon into the batter. It just added a little hint of something in the background, but didn't overpower that yummy blueberry taste! This ingredient is completely optional, but added a very fresh flavor to our muffins.

Results: I have been very inspired by Monica, at The Homespun Heart, and her wonderful intentions of being thoughtful and kind to their neighbors. When our new neighbors moved in next door, we wanted to welcome them in the kind of way that we would hope that we would have been welcomed into the neighborhood. What says welcome better than a big batch of blueberry muffins?

While I baked muffins, Ethan worked very carefully on a card for the new family. It had a picture of their house on the front and then a picture of our house inside. He invited them to "come over to our house sometime," which was so sweet and sincere that sometimes I can't help but kiss him.

He helped me make the surprise delivery and he was as proud as he could be! It was a great moment for both of us and a wonderful way to teach him how to share in some good old-fashioned hospitality.

Conclusion: The neighbors were so touched by our gesture, which made me very happy! It also was a fun thing for Ethan and I to do this project together.

I would have to say that this concluded another fabulous notebook experiment! I am hoping that I have started a movement of neighborly love- check out Keeping the Kingdom First and how they shared their love with their neighbors after reading my little tweets about my baking day. Her daughter is older and she was able to keep her occupied with this task and hopefully she has sealed herself a brand new friendship.

In this high-tech day and age, I was wondering if you know your neighbors? What kind of a relationship do you have with the people on your street? This is something I am trying to work on, but I find it can be very difficult to connect with others because everyone is so busy. How do you make those connections?

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Friday, May 09, 2008

There are Holes in My House Where My Clutter Used To Be

This corner of my garage has been housing our old dishwasher since we replaced it this fall. It was one of those things that needed to be taken care of, but I kept procrastinating on it. As long as I could get my car parked and open our doors comfortably, did it really matter that it was sitting there?

While the kids were enjoying some fresh sunshine in our front yard one day though, I started to organize our garage...a dumping ground of activity in our home. Don't know what to do with something? Just throw it in the garage or basement until you can "figure it out."

I started loading items right into our car that we were no longer using and could donate, other items were thrown into the trash. I filled our car up with the first load of stuff and made a pile for a second round later.

I flipped through our local paper and found a company that hauls your junk for free. We have one particular company that we like because they are very respectful and come when they say they are going to come. They arrived the next morning and picked up the dishwasher and some old doors that we had from our closets. The entire process took about five minutes and everything was gone. Yes, I completed this task while watching my kids play in the front yard- a half year for a five minute task, but I guess that is how I can procrastinate sometimes.

Feeling motivated, I started clearing out the basement, my closet and drawers of too old clothes, cleaned out both of the kid's drawers and closets and loaded up four more loads of stuff that we didn't need. Summer clothes were moved into the closets and an inventory was taken of what little they really did need for the warmer months ahead.

I sold $70 worth of Emily's cloth diapers, $25 worth of her clothes, $10 in Ethan's toys, and am making another $50 on our train table that the kids no longer play with. That is $155 that I made plus a nice tax deduction for next year. Although I might have done well with a garage sale, I really just wanted the items out so I could get on with life.

We miss none of the clutter and I am continuing to add to the car as I see things. I didn't just look at the big things though, there were lots of little things too. For example, every single morning, I would remove this little toaster oven baking sheet that came with my toaster oven so that I could make the kid's their bagels. I never actually used the little cookie sheet because I used my little stoneware pan if I needed to use something, but every single day, I would pull that sheet out to put my bagel in. It would rest on the counter, aggravating me until I could slip it back into its proper place. Last week I looked at that dish and asked myself, "Why do I do this every day?" I didn't use it, it was a nuisance, it got in the way of what I needed to do....so I loaded it into the car. Guess what? It isn't bothering me and I am glad to have it gone.

Is there something that is getting in the way of your life? Why not start a container in your car and fill it as you see things. When the bin is full, just drop it at a charity on your errand day. Start with a small tote and see if you could fill that. What I found though was that I started with a tote that turned into a trunk full of items that were not being used in our house.

Yes, I like the holes in my house where my junk used to be!

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Sad Life for the Clark Kids- Lots of Chores!

Chores are an important task in the Clark household and one of the benefits about our children getting older is that they can pitch in more. Since most chores seem to fall in the lap of mommy, I am thrilled that chores haven't lost their novelty yet and that my son loves to help mommy get things done around here.

Do I know that the novelty will wear off soon? Of course! I am going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Here are some reasons why chores are important in my house:

- I am grooming my child to someday be a self-sufficient adult. I don't want my kid going to college and not knowing how to make himself/herself a sandwich, do a load of laundry, or have to be dependent on the people around them.

- I want my kids to know that we are a family unit and in a family unit, it is important for everyone to pitch in. Occasionally, I will hear my son say that he is "bored" with chores or "too tired" to help me out. That is tough luck in this house because everyone has to put forth an effort so that we can ALL enjoy having a clean and organized home.

- Chores are a great teaching opportunity. Sorting clothing by colors teaches your child to group colors together, folding clothing helps them build fine-motor skills, working at a fast pace (setting a timer for completing certain tasks) can be a fun way to exercise.

- I want my son to be a catch someday. Yeah, I am looking waaaaayyyy down the road, but that is sometimes in the back of my mind. What girl would not want to marry someone who knew how to wash his own laundry, could whip up a lovely dinner for her, or who picked up after himself? Those are attributes that would have been on my list when choosing a mate and I want my son to have those kind of attributes too...not only for himself, but for whoever he might end up with someday.

Here are what chores we do in our house:

- My son ( 5 yr old) has to get himself dressed in the morning, put his pajamas in his hamper, and make his bed before coming downstairs.

- He helps me prepare the evening meal and helps set the table for our dinner.

- Emily (2 yr old) & Ethan both have to help pick up their toys before they go to bed in the evening. We put on fast and crazy dance music, set the timer for ten minutes, and the whole family pitches in to pick up the playroom.

- On house cleaning day, Ethan is responsible for picking up his room for me to vacuum and dust it and he has to make sure the playroom is in order. We typically clean while my daughter lays down for her nap so this is a solo operation. I have moved my cleaning day to coincide with our Friday night family night. Basically, it is total bribery and we have to get the playroom picked up so that they can have a pizza and a movie with mommy and daddy. It works out really well.

- Ethan sorts our laundry. I line the hampers up and the baskets and he sorts the laundry for me. He also helps fold the laundry when I wash it.

Here is what I had to overcome in order for this to work in our house:

- Teaching chores is a tedious process, but it is worth the time and effort spent. It took him awhile to get the hang of sorting the loads so we would start with a "question" pile which saved us all time. If he didn't know where something went, he would put that in a separate pile and we would talk about each item as we threw it in the correct basket.

- Things will not be done perfectly and I needed to get over that. When my son helps fold the laundry, it is not going to look like I folded the laundry, or like when I set the table, or have all the toys exactly where I would have put them. This is when you take your "mommy dearest" issues down a notch and enjoy being a mom and having someone to help you.

- I try to use our chore opportunities, not as a time to direct, but to talk with my kids. As we work on putting dinner together and setting the table, we talk about our day at school. It isn't always this way, but I try to reserve this special time with them.

Sound Off: What chores do your children do and what are their ages?

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Frugal Hacks: Spring Cleaning & Organizational Hurdles

Today on Frugal Hacks, I wanted to explore what might be preventing people from entertaining in their homes. I reflected that if people were anything like me, it might be because chaos and disorganization can rule the roost and I am too embarrassed to have anyone over. Does this ring true with anyone else?

Please head over to Frugal Hacks and share what your biggest challenge is in your home! I am going to be working through these issues in my own home and try to share some helpful tips for creating a space that you would want to entertain in. As I tackle my spring cleaning, I can share my experiments through embarrassing photos and wordy descriptions. Who wouldn't come back for that?

It should make for an interesting month!

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Weekend Project: New Workspace

I am so excited because Ryan & I were finally able to complete another project on our to-do list... creating a workspace for two.

We have had a lot of challenges with the two of us both working from home and both working on the computer. We both needed computer time and we were constantly battling for the computer. One of my first investments was getting a laptop. Thanks to having a computer guy for a hubby, he was able to get me an excellent deal on a laptop and I was partially in business.

I say partially because we were still battling over workspace. I have back problems and would want to sit at a desk. He would need the desk for his computer so we would once again be duking it out for the workspace. One of us would be sitting at our children's tiny table trying to talk about work ideas and the other one of us would be sitting all comfy at the desk. We also had other scenarios where I would try to be productive working in my room and then fall asleep or I would attempt to work from the couch, but someone would want to watch television. In short, it wasn't working.

Finding a desk though that could fit our "team Clark" philosophy was tough and expensive! We decided to use some of the money that I earned this year to put towards getting a desk that would be perfect for us to work together.

We found what we wanted in the Pottery Barn catalog, but we aren't a Pottery Barn kind of family (budget wise, I mean). Ryan was able to find it for a fraction of the price on Target's website though and you can't even tell a difference between the two designs. He also found a deal where we got 15% off and free shipping. Timing it with that really helped save us some additional money. While it was definitely a splurge, it provided the perfect space for the two of us to work together.

Welcome to my new workspace- isn't it great? You can expand these pictures to view it in more detail. We purchased three cabinets and bought two desk tops to make our new work area. The two desk tops rest on the center cabinet and make one seamless unit. This set-up works great for us because we work together on many of our projects.

Not only is this great for working together, but it has created a lot more space in our office because it is all against one wall versus our corner desk that we had before.

This set-up was not without challenges because we had originally intended for it to go along our back wall and found that the unit was a lot larger than we had anticipated. We had to remove our closet doors and allow the unit to go basically into the closet space, which meant that this closet is now open and viewable to the world. I am not liking that too much, but it was a way to encourage us to weed through the items in the desk and in the closet to free up space and make it look more organized. I am thinking about making a curtain that would just partially hide this from view since a full set of curtains probably won't work.

I did tackle an enormous project though...those craft supplies are finally in order! That was no small undertaking and I am so happy to see everything neatly arranged. I even have space for my sewing machine so I can use my workspace to craft as well.

I organized the closet without making any investments. While I think pretty baskets would look so much better, the practical side of me won this battle and I am just using things we already have. If I add a curtain, I can close this off a bit and no one will even notice.

On the opposite wall we have my children's table and chairs. They can be in the office with us while we work and they can work on their own little projects. You can see past pictures of how we made our workspace kid-friendly.

This is an investment that I hope really pays off because we can both work together and each have our own space. Being productive, without a space to call your own, can be difficult. We love working together so this the ideal space for us!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's the Little Things

These little dinner trays are one of my favorite things for my kids to eat on. I found these awhile ago at Target and they continue to offer them in array of colors. For some reason, they really start marketing and selling them around the Easter season in pastel colors. I noticed they had them in the Pottery Barn Kids catalog last year for about three times the price.

One of the compartments is perfect for sippy cups or for a big glob of ketchup for dipping. The other compartments are big enough for generous portions of food and deep enough that it makes scooping things like macaroni and peas just a little bit easier. Bonus for the kids...the foods never touch.

A quick rinse and in the dishwasher they go! Cafeteria dining at its best!

*Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great ideas!*

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

All Around the House 02.07.08

You might be wondering where I was yesterday? Well, I am proud to say that I am tackling one of my New Year's resolutions and have begun a sewing course over at Hancock Fabrics. I had been looking into it (or procrastinating on it) for several months now and finally decided that this was the year to learn.

To say that sewing is hard for me is an understatement. I am really struggling with learning to sew. Does sewing come naturally to anyone? I find this whole thing to be quite tedious compared to using a hot glue gun and a staple gun. I am one of those free spirits though that doesn't like to measure or follow direction, but that is not what is expected of you in a sewing class. I know I am being taught the proper way to sew, but I don't envision myself doing half the stuff I am learning when sewing. My goal really was just to learn how to use the sewing machine so that I could make throw pillows or curtains. An added bonus for me would be to be able to make a simple skirt or apron, but never to sew my own pajamas (which is our third project in this series of classes).

Our first project was pillowcases. I have a feeling I will never make pillowcases again because this is something I would rather buy in the store. Of course, the purpose is to learn how to sew, not necessarily to learn how to make pillowcases. These were supposed to be an easy first time project, but it took me four hours to make these. They didn't turn out perfect, in fact, one of my pillowcases had to be completely sewn again because it wasn't done right. I also had made the mistake of picking striped fabric, which I wouldn't recommend to anyone who is trying to learn to sew because all of the lines had to match up and it took forever to cut these and sew them.

Our next project will be more up my alley. We are learning how to make aprons and this time I picked a green polka-dotted print. Seeing as the pillowcases took me four hours, I can imagine that an apron will take me about twenty hours.

Regardless, I am really enjoying Ivy's, from Home Ec 101, posts on learning to sew and she is offering a great tutorial for beginning sewers. Taking her free advice is a lot less expensive than taking the courses, which average $15 each plus materials, but I am hoping this class pays off for me.

If you have any kind words for a discouraged sewer, I could really use them! I know I am not very patient!

Ethan was also the superstar in his class for the week. They pick one person each week to be the star and each day they do something special with that person. He had to make a picture about himself and his family which shared all about himself and his favorite things (pancakes and trips to Chicago). The next day he shared his favorite book, "How do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon." The next day was spent sharing about his favorite toy- his Mega T-Rex. Lastly, today we had to make his favorite snack to bring in to share with the class..Pumpkin Muffins. After my sewing class last night, I came home and whipped these up to take this morning while my little superstar slept.

The whole family chipped in to make his superstar week, complete. Even Emily & her monkey helped by handing crayons to our rock star to complete his project! This was definitely a family effort to make his week special.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Open Your Own Bed & Breakfast

Pre-children, my husband & I got the opportunity to take some really fun trips and to visit some really amazing places. While we have never gotten the opportunity to travel out of the country, we have gone lots of great places in our own country.

One of our trips lead us to a beautiful bed and breakfast in Cape Cod. Our room was tucked away in the attic of the home and it was filled with beautiful antiques and slanted ceilings. They served us an amazing breakfast and we lounged on their antique couches and enjoyed our beautiful breakfast while reading the paper. We spent the entire day window-shopping and curled into our bed, covered in quilts and feathered pillows. It has been one of our favorite little getaways and was one of the last trips we got to take before our son entered the world.

Since we have had children, our travels are more limited, but I have been trying to capture the feeling of a good bed and breakfast over the weekends in our home. While I don't have someone here to keep the home tidy, I try to revel in the details that can help make our home feel more like a vacation house, instead of just the place we live in.

Here are some of my ideas for helping create a bed and breakfast in your own home:

1. Putting fresh sheets on the bed makes climbing into bed so much nicer. I love to turn the bed back to make it look more welcoming. I wouldn't suggest doing this until the evening (or you will probably end up in it!), but doing this before bed makes the bed seem more inviting. If you don't have time to clean the sheets, fresh pillowcases or just neatly making the bed can help to freshen it up.

2. If you have the space, pull a comfy chair up into your room. Our glider was rarely used in Emily's room anymore, so I brought it into our room to make a cozy little reading corner. A basket of library books are right next to my bed so I always have a little reading material.

3. I love my trays and I keep one in our bedroom too. It is a great place for me to put my current reading material, the newspaper, and a Suduko puzzle book. I like to rest my coffee in the tray while I do my reading so I don't have to balance a cup on our bed. You could also bring your breakfast into your bedroom and take a little mommy time-out on the weekends. My husband sometimes lets me disappear for a little bit and I can enjoy a few moments in peace. It is great!

4. One of the fun things about staying at a hotel is getting to try all sorts of new bath and body products. I keep a basket of freebies in our room and love to dig into these on the weekend. It is so fun to try tons of spa products without paying a dime for them. What could be better than that?

5. On Saturdays, we love to make pancakes or waffles. On Friday night, while our pizza is cooking, I try to make up the batter for our brunch the next day. I put this in a bowl and tuck it in the fridge for the morning. The next day, all I have to do is pour the batter out and we are ready to go. It helps eliminate a lot of the work for the meal the following day and makes my morning run much smoother.

6. When serving your brunch, break out the good dishes! Everything looks and tastes so much better when it is well-presented.

7. If the budget allows it, buy some fresh flowers for your bedroom and table. A beautiful bouquet at Aldi is only $2.99 and has enough flowers that it can be split into two rooms.

Here are a few recipes for creating your own bed & breakfast:

Oatmeal Waffles
Spiced Pumpkin Waffles With Honey Butter
Yeast Waffles
Banana Pancakes
Pete's Scratch Pancakes
Pumpkin Pancakes With Oven Fried Bacon (scroll down)
Amy's French Toast
Gingerbread Waffles
Cinnamon Muffins
Apple Pie Muffins
Sour Cream Muffins
Pumpkin Struesel Muffins
Almost Nutra Grain Bars
Amy's Favorite Cocoa Mix
Homemade Pancake Syrup
Homemade Nonstick Spray (This will help keep your waffles and pancakes from sticking)


For inspirational reading on making your house feel more like a fabulous weekend retreat, I love to read INNside Innkeeping in Montana. There are excellent tips for home maintenance and tons of delicious recipes to try.

Sound Off: What is your favorite thing to do on the weekends? How do you help keep your weekends running smoothly?

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

WSBT-TV: Frugal Storage Solutions

I wanted to post my WSBT-TV segment before the crew head over and tape more of our future segments to air later this month. This morning I got to share easy ways that you can organize your belongings, without spending a lot of cash. This segment goes along with our article on Frugal Storage Solutions for your home.

Next week I will be discussing fun ideas for a frugal Valentine's Day! I look forward to sharing some of my thrifty solutions for the holiday and I hope you will check back for more fun ideas.

I promise to post our results from our Valentines giveaway later today and I will be guest-writing for Frugal Hacks so I will be sharing that later as well. In the meantime, did you enter the Starbucks $20 gift card giveaway? I am floored by how many people have entered. I don't know what I would do if I got comment love like that every day, but it has been so fun to see all of the entries for the contest. Who am I kidding? I would love comment love like that everyday. Who wouldn't? You feel like a blogging rock star and that feels pretty darn good.

Back to our topic for discussion...

Sound Off: What are some inexpensive organizers that you use in your home? Do you have an organizing project that you plan to tackle this year?

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Worth Its Weight in Gold

Last week I went to a local market to stock up on meat for the month. I have been really disappointed in the quality of the meat at our supermarkets in town so I decided to go to another town to stock up on meat there based on some great recommendations from my mom's group. I ended up getting some really excellent deals for my money and the meat was a much better quality too.

I brought home ten pounds of chicken, ten pounds of ground beef, and two whole chickens. I broke out my FoodSaver, purchased from the thrift store, and one of my favorite kitchen tools...my postal scale.

I got my postal scale off of eBay and I use it often for shipping purposes. It has saved me a lot of time and hassle at the post office, but it also has been such a useful tool for me to weigh ingredients when cooking in bulk.

I divide my meat into one pound portions because that is the amount we typically use in a meal and it also thaws a lot quicker when it is in these smaller portions. Each one pound portion was vacuum-sealed and labeled for the freezer.

The whole chickens were rubbed with my Sticky Chicken dry rub and are all ready to go for a yummy meal one night. The chicken breasts were cleaned and trimmed, and then cubed for the various dishes I will be using them for.

With the grocery prices rising, this is one easy way that I can save my family money during the month.

Sound Off: Do you buy your meat in bulk or do you have store that you usually find good meat sales at? What would be a good price on meat in your area?

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Apple Pie Muffins

Practicing hospital hospitality this past week for my nephew, I put together a basket of treats for the family to take down to the hospital with them.

I had lots of apples to use up and thought this recipe for Apple Pie Muffins would be perfect for a yummy treat. I made a double batch for them and for our family. I also made a triple batch of the crumb topping and put it in our freezer to help save a step the next time I make these or my Banana Crumb Muffins.

These muffins are super delicious and just the right balance of sweetness and tartness (from the apples). Serve these with a big glass of milk to wash them down.

Our house smelled so good after I was done baking these that I wanted to extend the scent longer. I used the peels and apple cores from dicing my apples and threw them in a pot with some lemons that were no longer good anymore. I topped the pot with some water and extra cinnamon and let it simmer away while I packaged the muffins up for the trip to Chicago. It smelled like an apple pie for the entire day. Thanks to whoever supplied that tip on Works-For-Me Wednesday because it really worked.

I thought these looked so beautiful in this red gingham basket that I had purchased from Goodwill. I put a little tag on it with a description of the muffins on it so that people knew what they would be diving into.

Although I couldn't sit in the waiting room with them, it was my way of showing that I loved and supported them during that time.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Our Kitchen Makeover

When we moved into our house, one of the big things that attracted us to it was the size of our kitchen. Now that we have lived in our house for four years, I don't think my kitchen is as big as I would like, but it seemed enormous when our last house had only a galley kitchen. Isn't that funny how accustomed we can become to more space?

The thing that I was not fond of about the kitchen was the dated look of it and the lack of storage and cupboards. The walls were white, the floors a really light pine color, and the cabinets were oak with no hardware. We didn't have enough cabinet space, the appliances all needed to be updated, and the kitchen lacked the style I wanted. If this was a reflection of the "heart of our home," it was certainly missing something. The owner before us had completely renovated the kitchen, but it wasn't our style and wasn't cohesive or finished the way we would have liked.

Our kitchen makeover has been a gradual process and we are still working on the details of it, but it has come a long way from the dated eighties look. We would replace things as they went out and updates would come when we had a little extra money. I did want to show where we are at now, with the updating process, and to share how we have renovated our kitchen on a budget.

I wish I would have taken more before pictures of the kitchen, but I hope my descriptions will help.
These are the pictures of our cabinets before the makeover. Nice, but not much to write home about. We had received a $50 Lowes gift card for Christmas (thanks, mom & dad!) so we thought we would put the money to good use. I used the steps provided in this tutorial to paint our cabinets. This meant no messy sanding and so it helped to save a step and saved me a lot of cleaning too!
We took all of the doors off and gave them a really good cleaning with a liquid degreaser that I had purchased from the hardware store. Once cleaned, we applied two layers of primer to each side of the doors and to the outside of the cabinets themselves. We allowed the primer to dry one day and then we began painting them the next day. The color that we chose was a Martha Stewart "Wainscot White." It wasn't a true white, but was definitely not a cream either.

The hardware for the cabinets was purchased from Target. They have ten packs of knobs that very closely resemble the stuff at Restoration Hardware, but they only cost $14.99 for ten versus $5-10 each. The drawer pulls were $4.99 each (also purchased from Target) and they all were in oil rubbed bronze.

These are the cabinets after. What a difference a weekend can make! The cupboards are so beautiful and have brightened the kitchen up so much. Not only that, but the whole space feels so much larger because of the white cabinets. The walls were also painted a pretty gray blue to bring the more up-to-date feel to our space. We left our counters the same, but hope to one day replace them with a more high-end material (or at least make them look more high end).

We replaced our dishwasher with a new GE dishwasher that we purchased from Sears. It is the stainless steel look instead of the real stainless steel, so little hands can smudge away without mommy having to clean the surface as often. We actually won the dishwasher in an advertising contest that was sponsored by Sears. Technically, all of you AWESOME people helped us earn the dishwasher so we thank you for that. This one is so much prettier than the other one and better yet...it works! What a novel idea!
Next to my stove are hooks for my aprons. This was a great way to add some "art" to the walls without making an investment. $3.99 to display a few of my favorite things in the world.

We updated our stove with this fancy stainless steel number. It has everything I could ever want for this space and, while not free, I was able to get a killer deal on it. The stove was marked for $1K and I was able to get them to accept $500. Always pick those floor models, I say, and point out any and every flaw you can...even the stupid stuff. That is how we were able to score this stove.

The range hood was free and part of our Sears shopping spree that we won. Our refrigerator is the last of the white appliances to make an exit, but we are watching Craigslist to see if we can score a good deal on that.
Since cabinet storage was an issue, I was able to find an old ugly eighties desk with a hutch from a thrift store to remedy the problem. I did my makeover work on it and it is now my favorite piece in the house. This was cheaper than buying new cabinets and I just love how it is open for guests to grab their own dishes. The white dishes really make me happy and make me feel like a little Martha when I am entertaining! These dishes were priced at $14.99 for a service for six, including all of the serving dishes! They aren't the best quality, but I love the clean lines and design on them.

I also have my new china from my mother-in-law that looks so elegant on our tables. She recently brought this over to add to my dishes and I was so thrilled.

While it can make our seating a little more cramped, we did add a narrow table along the back wall to keep our computer. This has our dinner music on it and I can watch the television while I cook. The two plants on either side were purchased from Target, clearance to $14.99 each. The basket on the table, normally brimming over with fruit, is empty since I need to head to the grocery store. The basket was also a clearance item that I purchased from Marshalls along with some of the decor for our walls.
Like this piece that is centered along our back wall! This was a clearance item at Marshalls for $9.99. It got discounted with some of their summer pieces and I thought it would be a perfect focal point in that open spot.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of our kitchen!
We could not be more proud of the space we created...on a budget!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Booster Seat Cleaning Solution

I hate cleaning underneath my daughter's booster seat, but the things that can get stuck under there can be quite unappetizing a few days after sitting there.

The other day I decided to tuck Emily's plastic placemat under her seat instead of on the table and can't believe I had not thought to do that sooner. Now after we enjoy our meal, I just pick the seat up and slide out the mat for a quick rinse instead of trying to clean under the seat, creating a sea of crumbs under our table.

It doesn't help the nasty on the top of the seat, but sure makes the nasty underneath a little bit easier.

For more fun solutions for your family, be sure to visit Works-For-Me Wednesday over at Rocks in My Dryer.

Sound Off: Do you have any clever solutions for dinner clean-up?

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Grab a Cup of Tea...

And sit down to read this most excellent interview with Michael Mead of Country Home Magazine, courtesy of Restyled Home. I just love the questions about the holiday season and his creative answers. Be sure to swing by and visit his site to see all of his wonderful ideas for holiday decorating!

Enjoy your mommy break!

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Space Heater Recommendations


It is that time of year again and I got our space heater out last night to warm our downstairs family room. Would you believe that this is the third edition of this space heater in our house in less than a year, and it has once again OVERHEATED?!! The first two I had returned, all for overheating, but now I am past the return policy on this one. I really loved the design of this heater because the air blew at just the right height, but now I just want one that works.

Do you guys have a space heater that you could recommend? One that has some lasting qualities to it? I am looking for one with an automatic shutoff.

Boo to Lasko for releasing such a bad product! Shame on you!

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Overcoming My Fears: Canning

It is fun to document my domestic fears and share how I am trying to overcome them. If you have been reading me for a long time, you might notice that I have had many domestic fears to overcome. I had a fear of working with dough, I have feared getting dirty in a garden, I was terrified of my mower, I was scared to cut hair, and another fear that I have experienced since college is the fear of canning.

I took a Food & Nutrition course which was a basic course into food sciences and how things happen when cooking & preserving food. One of our class assignments was to can foods. We were given acidic foods and non-acidic foods to can and then the teacher went around to check our handiwork. Knowing nothing about canning, I read the instructions and then canned my tomatoes for the class.

The teacher walked around and checked everyone and the majority of us failed the assignment. I remember her words quite clearly, "That food would kill someone- it did not seal properly, you filled it too high, and so on, and so on."

Perhaps it was the fear of killing someone that instilled the fear in me? I think that would be a valid fear, don't you?

When I saw the Pumpkin Butter recipe that Monica, from The Homespun Heart, shared on her blog last week, I was determined to try it. I got out my book on canning and read through the tutorial again. I have had this book for years and kept reading it, but never acted on anything.

I increased the recipe four times and put it in my slow cooker, instead of cooking it over the stove top. Since I did such a large batch, I let it cook for six hours. I would recommend that you only triple the recipe in a standard slow cooker because mine did overflow a little bit.

The whole process really went smoothly and I ended up with eighteen jars of Pumpkin Butter. I can't wait to give these away as hostess gifts!

This recipe is a great one for a first-time canner especially if you use the slow cooker to make it. There is no processing involved and it yields a great amount for very little effort.

The results were delicious! This literally tastes like pumpkin pie smeared all over bread. I am going to make some of my Buttery Bread Machine Rolls to put this on for dinner one night this week.

Here is how my conversation went with my husband after the great canning experience:

Me: I am so proud of myself! I am all done! You want some toast with pumpkin butter on it?

Him: I don't want to die. You can't get rid of me that easily!

Me: Very funny...Hey, I think I have overcome all of my fears now.

Him: What about sewing?

Me: Shut up!

Looks like sewing will be next! I am making a pact with myself to take a course next year and figure it out.

Sound Off: Do you have any domestic fears that you are working on overcoming? Please tell me that I am not alone!

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Thrifty Treasures: Autumn Container

I found this container when I hit our local Goodwill this past Friday. Saturday was their official half off day, but my husband was going to be gone all day and I was not about to brave the crowds with two little ones to take care of.

Lucky for me, they had discounted their seasonal items down to 75% off the day before their big sale day. This beautiful glass container ended up costing me less than a dollar after I got my discount.

I filled it with marshmallows and placed it on a serving tray along with hot cocoa and freshly popped popcorn. It was a fun treat for a freezing cold evening and a great way to start our weekend. I always try to do a special snack and the marshmallows looked so pretty in this!

I am going to have fun filling it with all sorts of fun goodies and it is the perfect size to be functional, but not take up too much room in our house.

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Displaying a Collection

Last week, while we were out running errands, I was listening to a question and answer session on the radio. The question for their listeners was, "What do you collect?" and they had tons of people calling in to share their weird and interesting collections. People called in and shared about their massive beanie baby collection or crazy key chains that they had begun collecting.

The two things that struck me when these people came in were two things that have always bothered me about collections. The first was that the collections were usually started by someone else in their family or by a friend. It started with the love for one particular thing and it became as though everyone in the world now knew exactly what to get them for Christmas. And their birthday. And their anniversary. And to help cheer them up.

The second thing that seemed to resonate with me was that almost everyone who had a collection had it stored somewhere. When asked where they kept their thousand key chains, the listener would say, "In my basement." Other answers varied, but they all boiled down to them being put away in boxes because people didn't have a place for the items or didn't know a good way to display them.

These are the two things that have always bothered me about collecting items (not to mention all of that dusting). I like to enjoy items, but I don't enjoy collecting things unless they are useful and are used in some capacity in my home.

I did become obsessed with collecting one item though and as I tsked-tsked the people that called into that radio show, I realized that I had done the same exact thing. My beautiful apron collection, while worn daily, was becoming a disarray of items that were tucked away in the depths of a pantry closet and were brought out rarely. I love aprons and I appreciate their beauty, but what beauty were they bringing me pushed in the back of a closet?

I went to Target and purchased two bronze hooks. The total cost was less than four dollars and I had my husband mount them on an empty wall in our kitchen. I picked four of my favorite aprons and hung them from the hooks.

I am now enjoying my aprons and the true beauty of them in a much greater capacity than I was before. They make me smile when I see them and each of them was given to me by someone special in my life.

Sound Off: What do you collect and how do you display them? Do you have a collection of something stored away?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An Inspiring Home Tour

Run over to Miss Monica's website, The Homespun Heart, and check out her pictures from a recent tour of the Martha Stewart homes. It has to be one of the most inspiring house tours because I wanted to do everything in every single picture.

We have tons of projects going on over here and our updates are slow with two children and little money or time. We have high hopes though for the kind of home we would like to create here. These pictures gave me another dose of fuel.

On our to-do list:

Painting our kitchen cabinets- I have decided that I am going to paint them an antique white and do bronze hardware. Currently they are oak and have no hardware so I think this will add some character to these.

We are going to do wainscot in our entryway. It is currently painted chocolate and I think it would add some nice character and pizazz to the entryway. We will also be adding a bench for seating.

We are creating an area in our garage for the kids to take their coats and shoes off. I cleaned out the garage and am finally able to park my car in there (whoohoo!) and now we have room to make our own mud room area. I am putting a bench out there (to take off our shoes) and I got hooks to hang our coats up. This will hopefully clear out some of the clutter and will help prevent all of the tracking in of muddy boots and such.

We are going to do some crown molding in our home.

Our upstairs bathroom needs serious updating- wallpaper removal, painting, new lighting, new fan, new flooring...we pretty much need to gut this room and start all over.

We are going to do wainscot in our family room downstairs. It has a ledge and we are going to do this from that point down.

We would like to do a large family desk (like the one featured in the tour), but an L desk so that my husband and I can work together instead of one person in the office and one person hunched over at the couch. I think we are going to try and build this ourselves.

The list goes on and on and on. Our little home is a big sucker of time and money, but the more we do it to it, the more I am beginning to like it.

Sound Off: What is on your to-do list?

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Just One More Year...

My poor laundry hamper has been looking pretty sad these days. We bought this hamper the year that we got married and each year it looks a little worse than the year before.

Somehow the top of the hamper got a tear in it and I noticed weird pieces of fuzzy stuff lurking all over my daughter's room. It appears that someone in our house had now made it a mission to pick out the foam interior and shred it all over their room. I can't say who this person was, but I am pretty sure that I can narrow it down to two little people. It was becoming necessary to replace this item or fix it.

I did happen to have some vinyl fabric leftover from recovering my dining chairs so I thought I could use some of this excess fabric and recover the top of the hamper.

Within a half hour, I had the whole thing apart and had recovered the top with the pretty chocolate fabric.

The hamper is still very stretched out and I doubt I have more than a year before it will be completely worthless, but I bought myself a year to look for a new one while I am at the thrift store. This was completely worth the time and effort and I can't wait to keep my eyes peeled at our stores to find a good deal on a new one.

Operation Foam Destruction has been disabled!

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Warm Up Your Belly

It is officially fall because I have finally made my homemade cocoa mix for the season. My cocoa machine had a nice little break while my blender worked overtime this summer. His days were numbered and yesterday's cool weather was just the excuse to start making my cocoa mix. Marshmallows topped our mugs to the brim and we enjoyed a sweet treat on yesterday's cool afternoon.

The yummy warm comfort foods and drinks are something I look forward to all year long. Who can resist a big bowl of soup and a grilled cheese for dipping?


Speaking of these comfort foods, we have been missing our yummy bowls of clam chowder since we had moved back to the Midwest. No one does it better than Boston and we seemed to always be craving a bowl of this yummy goodness, but couldn't seem to replicate it. I was determined to find a recipe to feed our cravings this year and lucky for me, I stumbled upon this chowder recipe that fit the bill perfectly.

This recipe for chowder is delicious. Rich, but not too rich. Chunky, but not too chunky. It is just an absolute bowl full of perfection. There are other chowder recipes out there, but I think this one will be in heavy rotation in our house. The kids won't eat it, but that won't stop my husband & I from enjoying it!
I did make some minor changes to the recipe- I omitted the heavy cream and replaced that with half & half. I also omitted the dill in the recipe because I didn't have any on hand.

Determined to perfect my grilled cheese too, I also tried this delicious recipe for baking your grilled cheese in the oven instead of making it in the pan. Since I am doing grilled cheese in mass quantities, I thought this would be a great solution for us to all have our grilled cheese sandwiches at the same time, instead of doing my batches in stages. Technically not a grilled cheese, this "toasted cheese" is delightful! No soggy centers and perfectly crunchy! Just keep your eyes on them while they cook. The bread does have a tendency to get a tad too toasty, if left unattended!

I hope you can try some of these delicious recipes to warm your belly.

Sound Off: What are your favorite dishes when the weather turns cool?

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pretty Menu Plans

I thought I would take the plunge and do a big day of grocery shopping for our entire month. This took a couple days of planning and picking our menus for the month. I really thought it would be a great idea until I actually got to the store and realized that loading and unloading my groceries was a little like a complicated game of Tetris. Nothing fit in the cart and nothing fit in my car. The only thing motivating me was the knowledge that I would not have to do this again for another twenty-nine days. I used to only shop once a month, but had gotten into the habit of shopping every two weeks with my husband's past pay schedule. The new payment schedule motivated me to just go ahead and get it done all in one trip. Am I crazy? Maybe a little bit!

Inspired by my dear friend Monica, I decided to pretty up my menu plan this month. I found a cute pumpkin to add to my planner and now my menu plan looks organized and cute too!

As we have been going through the meals, I have just been highlighting them to remind me what meals we have left to eat and I can see what we have already eaten. I incorporated lots of new dishes and several of our old favorites this month. I am hoping I will have lots more recipes to share and that I can keep us on budget with our dining out category.

Sound Off: How often do you grocery shop? Why did you choose this schedule for shopping?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

After Photos: Making Our Home More Inviting

I am beat, but I got some of our outdoor projects done today. I discussed yesterday that we are working on making our home more inviting to our friends and neighbors and I hope that we have accomplished that.

The project is incomplete until I can plant some annuals and fill out the beds, but I did freshen the beds up for fall and hopefully give the impression that we care a teeny bit about the outside of our home. Unfortunately, while I have been working hard on the outside of the home, the inside has gotten neglected so that is what I will be working on the rest of the week. Remember, I am still attending boot camp!


First, this is the new wreath that I put on our front door. Our front door used to be an ugly boring brown color and our house lacked a little spark to it. The coat of fresh red paint added a little pop to our house and a pretty wreath completes the look. This wreath was made from a grapevine wreath (that I had in our basement) and I got the sprigs of autumn touches from Wal-Mart for $3 total. The ribbon happened to be in my ribbon collection so I used that to hold the wreath in place. I hope this lets our visitors know that this is the place to be!


I love fall mums for my flower beds so I bought some of these from Home Depot for $3.88 each. It adds a little color to my beds and I love that these plants will be back next year. An inexpensive solution for a boring bed.

These beds also were looking overgrown and tired so I thinned them out and cleaned them up. This was a free solution for freshening the beds up a bit!

I loved the color of these mums so I added them to a pot for my front step. It was a great way to make our front step look more inviting and add some color to the front of the house.

The tired tree (with no grass around it) also got a face lift. We used our free brick and bricked around the tree. I added four hostas ($5.99 each) and three bags of red mulch ($3.38 each). Next year I will plant some pretty impatients to add some color to this spot. I loved how it all turned out!

The last thing I did (although I didn't take a before picture, but I am sure you can imagine boring and dull!) was frame our mailbox out with the plants and brick. The greenery came from one of my beds, on the side of the house, so this was free. Another addition of a mum and a little of the mulch completed the look.



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Feeling Like a Professional Florist

I am feeling like a professional florist after making this beautiful centerpiece for my dinner table. I found this idea through The Sparrow's Nest and I am so impressed with myself. Her tutorial was so simple, but could it really be that easy? Well, it truly was! I was able to whip this up while the water was heating on the stove for our dinner.

It was also a great opportunity for me to use my new cake stand too. I am so proud of it and love the detail on this piece. This centerpiece was the perfect way to showcase my new piece and add a fall element to my table.
I also made the candles that she had showcased last fall on her blog. I had the jars leftover from all of my Christmas crafting and I am still working our way through all of the popcorn in our house. I actually pulled some of the popcorn out of Ethan's popcorn table for this craft. The candles were the only purchase- two Pumpkin Spice candles at $1.44 each at Wal-Mart. They tie in the pumpkin theme well!

Thank you, Mrs. Wilt, for making me feel like a professional florist!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Making Our Home More Inviting

I spend a lot of time on the interior of our home, but not enough time is spent working on projects on the outside of our house. We decided that we would spend these last few weeks of the warmer weather working on some of these projects. The benefit of waiting until later in the summer/fall to do your projects is that a lot of these outdoor items are on clearance. The downside though is that the selection is very limited and can make getting supplies for your projects more difficult.

The first project on our list of things to do was to work on our back patio. We had a brick patio behind our house that had been uprooted by a large tree root. We saved the money to remove the tree and then needed to put our patio back together. What we found were lots of broken bricks and our hopes of expanding the patio (and matching old street pavers) seemed very far away. My in-laws happened to be redoing their patio and graciously let us have their brick so we made a new design with the new brick and old brick together. The only cost to us is the sand, blood, sweat and tears that are going into the new patio. I think it is going to be beautiful when it is done.

Our next project is working on the front exterior of the home. We had several cracks in our driveway and don't have the funds to repave the driveway. Ryan got some crack filler (I will not go into how many jokes go along with that phrase when we talk about the repairs!) and filled the spots so that they will hopefully not continue cracking.

I spent a great deal of time on our flower beds and planted mums for the front bed and also got a pot and planted more mums in it for our doorstep. I divided some of my perennials and relocated them to the back bed, which was looking very sparse. I rounded it out with some red mulch, which made the bed look more finished.

Finally, our front tree needed a little sprucing up so we decided to use some more of our free brick and brick a box for it and fill it with some shade-loving perennials and mulch. I was originally going to do all of this myself and surprise my husband, but the surprise ended up being on him because I was too much of a wimp in the heat and couldn't get the bricks level like I wanted.

I just wanted to share some of our before pictures and then I will share some of our after photos. I am hoping it will be everything we are hoping for and that it help give our house a little more curb appeal. It is all still a work in progress, but we have high hopes of creating the home of our dreams on a budget!

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Cleaning Out the Coffee Carafe

I love my coffee carafe and use it regularly. When we had a mommy's helper this summer, I would pour all of my coffee into it and then take it with me into my office and shut my door. It was a great way to keep the coffee warm and also keep me from going up and down the stairs for refills while I worked.

Cleaning a narrow thermos or carafe can be difficult, but my trusty baby bottle brush has pulled through for me on these occasions. I use this to wash these narrow items and get them squeaky clean. They also are great for washing wine glasses or other dainty glasses.

Sound Off:
What baby items do you still use in your house? What new purposes have you found for these things?

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Frugal Hacks: A Fun Brunch Discussion

Today's entry on Frugal Hacks is all about why brunch can be best and this actually came from a recent brunch that I had this past weekend. It was such a fun way to entertain and the dishes I prepared were very budget-friendly, compared to a more expensive dinner option.

For this brunch, I included a fun breakfast tray for my guests. I draped a pretty red & white dish towel across the tray and then filled it with lots of fun coffee goodies. I made a good pot of coffee and then poured it into my coffee carafe (purchased from a thrift store). I also included pretty coffee mugs, sugar, flavored creamer, flavored coffee syrups, and an assortment of teas. Since my table is long & narrow, I used this as my centerpiece for this brunch. It looked so pretty and it made it easier to clear the table when were done.

A quick clearing of the table and the ultimate Turbo Edition of Cranium (purchased for $1.50 at Goodwill) and it made our time together even more fun, while still keeping it easy on the wallet.

I hope you can swing by the Frugal Hacks blog and read more on this fun entertainment option!

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Perfectly Pantry: Cinnamon Muffins

Tomorrow is grocery day so this means we are down to the bare minimum in our pantry. I did a search for muffin recipes and found a great one for Cinnamon Muffins to try. All of the ingredients were in my pantry and it would make a great treat to start the week.

These muffins are delicious. The only changes that I made to the recipe were to add one teaspoon of cinnamon to the batter and to decrease the melted butter, to be brushed on top, to two tablespoons. Making cinnamon muffins with no cinnamon actually in them didn't seem to make sense to me so that was why I made the addition. Even with only melting two tablespoons of butter, I still had some leftover and I didn't want to make these muffins too heavy.

I was a little scared by how thick the batter was, but the muffins were nice and light when baked. I was able to get nine muffins out of this batter.

These were enjoyed by everyone in our family and I will definitely make these again!

While I am on the subject of our pantry, I just wanted to direct you over to Frugal Hacks and Meredith's thoughtful piece on how to stay within your grocery budget,while practicing her theme of cheerful frugality. I loved this!

Since I am in the test kitchen mode, do you guys have a favorite recipe for muffins that you could share? I would love to try them!

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Caring for Stainless Steel Appliances

We have been gradually making the switch over to stainless steel appliances. The cost on these is higher, but I have been doing bargain shopping to get the best prices on these. I am hoping that when we sell our home that it will make our kitchen look a little higher end and I love the look of the appliances for our family.

My best friend also has stainless steel appliances and when she found out that I had gotten a stainless steel stove, she told me she was going to bring a special gift over for my new stove. She showed up on my doorstep with a bottle of her favorite stainless steel cleaner that she had sworn by. She had picked up a bottle of Weiman Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish that she had purchased for me from Wal-Mart. She said it was the best cleaner out there and instructed me to spray a very tiny bit on a soft cloth and wipe the appliance off going with the grain of the steel.

Thanks to this little bottle of cleaner (and my extremely smart friend!) I have been able to keep my appliances gleaming clean, requiring very little cleaner and effort on my part. The bottle of cleaner was $5.99, but I have had it for over two years and have barely made a dent in it.

Scotch-Brite recently contacted me though to see if we would be interested in reviewing a new product that they had come out with for stainless steel appliances. They recently came out with two new cleaners, their Stainless Steel Cleaner & Cook Top Cleaner. These cleaners have handles for gripping, making it easier to get in all of the nooks and crannies of your appliances. They are ergonomically designed and offer streak-free cleaning.

After trying these out, I was impressed with how it could into all of the grooves of my stove and I was able to deeply clean the crevices of the appliance that had not been ever cleaned. There was definitely some hidden areas that needed attention and the handle made the cleaning very easy.

Unfortunately, the Scotch-Brite pads are not reusable and would require additional refill purchases, much like the Swiffer systems and other similar products. I am not as big on products that require additional purchases and this is why I stay away from systems such as these.

The Scotch-Brite pads would be great for someone who just wants to do a quick touch-up, but with starter kits at $6.99 and refill pads an additional $3.99, this is not the most cost-effective option.

Scotch-Brite is offering a $1 coupon on their website though, if you would like to give their new products a try.

I am pretty hooked on the Weiman cleaner, but would be interested to hear how you all care for your stainless steel appliances. Do you use any special cleaners? Do you have any tips that you have found work the best for your appliances? How about cook tops? This is an area that I know nothing about!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Day 28: Get To Know Your Freezer

Today I was working on some items to put in my freezer when I realized just what kind of savings a person could cash in on just by learning what they can freeze and how to store the items in their freezer.

Here is the view into our freezer in our refrigerator. We also have a small chest freezer in our basement, but it isn't as easy to view as the one upstairs.

What might one find in our freezer?

- Ice cube trays filled with ice to make our favorite Slushies and Magic Milkshake from Miss Maggie at Hillbilly Housewife. These make great frugal treats for the kids and save us a lot of money by not going to places like Dairy Queen in the summer.

- Coffee ice cubes to make my frozen coffee treats.

- Mashed bananas in measured containers for all of my baked goodies that might need this ingredient.

- Pizza sauce in measured containers for our Friday night pizza nights.

- Banana pops made to help the kids beat the summer heat.

- Lunch meat packets that I made for my husband's lunch and quick dinners using our panini maker.

- Self-Rising & Cake Flour- which I use less regularly, but wanted to keep the ingredients fresh and on hand when I needed them.

- Homemade soup

- Homemade waffles

- Items that I got on sale- hot dogs, shredded cheeses, butter, margarine

- Cupcakes

In our downstairs freezer you would find loaves of bread, meats purchased on sale, gallons of milk, and homemade spaghetti sauce. I also stockpile anything that I can when it is on sale

Your freezer can be your wallet's best friend if you use it. For example, when an item goes on sale and you want to stockpile that item, make some space in your freezer for the extras instead of letting them go bad in your fridge. You will have the item when you need it and you will pay a lot less money for those items.

Freezers can also be handy for bulk cooking and preparing meals in advance for your family. Prepare a meal that can be eaten by your entire family or prepare single serving dishes that can be eaten for just one. Veto the middle man and do your own freezer sessions in your kitchen and make dishes that can be eaten later. Dream Dinners even has a cookbook out that you can use to do your own freezer cooking. Check this book out from the library and see if you can come up with your own menu plans. You could start a group with girlfriends or trade meals with a buddy. (Note-This did not work for my picky family, but is great for families that are open to more types of foods).

Need help navigating the freezer? Here are some helpful resources for getting started:

Feed the Freezer Cooking Guide
Sneak Up on Freezer Cooking
Freezer FAQ
30 Day Gourmet
Recipezaar's Freezer Recipes

Books to Check Out:

Dream Dinners Cookbook
Frozen Assets
Super Suppers
Don't Panic- Dinners in the Freezer

Potential Monthly Savings- $30 or more

Sound Off: What could I find lurking your freezer? Is there anything that people might find unusual in your freezer?

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Am I Stirring the Pot?

I might be stirring the pot here, but I think this will make for some fun conversations. Did anyone else here about the Texas university that is offering homemaking as a major at their school? The big controversy is that this course is only open to the women at the university and people are angry that women are paying for a degree in this when (for most) these seem like basic life skills.

Personally, I don't see it as any different than offering a Home Economics degree. I could have used the guidance in learning how to manage my family finances or how to cook. I think everyone in my family could have financially benefited from me being part of a program like this.

I always knew that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, even before I had any children to stay home with. It wasn't a religious choice, but I just knew that was where I wanted to be. My husband & I together decided that I would be a stay-at-home mom. Daycare was too expensive and it seemed to work better for us financially, as I was not the big breadwinner in the family.

Do you guys have any thoughts on this?

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Product Review: Halo UVX Ultraviolet Vacuum

Seven years ago, Ken and Carrie Garcia were blessed with the birth of triplet boys. Like many multiples pregnancies, the triplet boys were born prematurely at 30 weeks, weighing approximately 2.5 pounds each. They spent the next two and a half months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before being released weighing approximately five pounds.

Doctors warned Ken and Carrie that if the boys became ill during the next year, they would need to be immediately hospitalized again given their under-developed immune systems, and any illness could be life threatening. Wanting to do everything possible to prevent another hospitalization, they researched how they could provide the healthiest home environment for their triplet boys.

In addition to good home cleaning and disinfection, the research and doctors recommended that they rip up the carpeting in their home, as it was the one surface in the home that could not be disinfected, and as a result, all carpeting harbored millions of germs and dust mites. The time and expense involved in tearing out their carpet was just not a feasible option. In addition, studies showed that children can develop life-long allergies in the first 24 months of life when they are exposed to high levels of allergens.

Through research, Ken and Carrie learned that ultraviolet light had been used for decades in various industries to produce some of the world’s cleanest environments. For example, they learned that ultraviolet light had been used to disinfect hospitals and sterilize drinking water. Why couldn’t this technology be utilized inside the home – where people and their children spend so much of their time? If the power of ultraviolet light could be harnessed to use in the home, parents could experience a whole new level of comfort knowing their homes were truly clean. The culmination of years of research and design created Halo Ultraviolet Vacuums; the first and only vacuums in the world that incorporate ultraviolet light to kill germs in the carpets where they live.

When the triplet boys came home from the hospital, extra hands were necessary to get everyone fed, changed and rocked to sleep. Now those extra hands include the Halo Ultraviolet Vacuum. The triplet boys are happy and healthy living in their Halo Home!

I got the opportunity to test-drive this new vacuum and was amazed at the features and the research that was involved in creating it. The company operates under the motto of, "Clean What You See, Kill What You Can't" and has been featured on the Today Show, as well as many other television programs and newspapers.

The vacuum has many special features that my collection (yes, I did say collection- I am a bit obsessed in this department!) of vacuums does not offer. This includes a height adjusting telescopic handle, a 31' power cord (much longer than the cord on my current vacuum), a gear driven system, the UV technology, and a HEPA filtration system.

I have been enjoying disinfecting my house with the new vacuum. There is something so cleansing, knowing that you are kill dust mites and bacteria that are living in your carpet. This is the type of product that I wished I would have had when my daughter was crawling around on the floor.

The vacuum literally propels itself and requires very little maneuvering on the operator's part. I have a lot of back problems, and this vacuum seemed to take some of the work off of me by the way that it moves on its own.

The downside of the vacuum is that it does not come with any tools to get in the crevices of your carpets and you cannot use the vacuum on the stairs. This makes it inconvenient when cleaning the house because you have to switch to using another vacuum when cleaning these areas. Also, one of the places that you really would want to use this type of technology is in those areas of the home and on your mattress.

I would recommend this product for any family who is suffering from severe allergies or have severe health problems in their home. I think it would help to bring peace of mind to parents who have lots of carpeting in their home or who are living in a home with older carpeting.

The retail price on this vacuum is $399. For ordering information, please visit their website.

Sound Off: What is your favorite vacuum? Are there any vacuums that you are dreaming of owning one day?

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Product Review: Febreze Candles

What does a little apple spice & delight smell like? Well, it smells just like a freshly baked apple pie in the new candles from Febreze.

Like all of the products from the Febreze company, these candles are meant to eliminate odor and offer a fresh scent alternative to your home. The candles come in a variety of scents which include meadows & rain, spring & renewal, linen & sky, vanilla & refresh, and the apple spice & delight scent. All candles offer thirty hours of burn time and come in an attractive glass jar.

You know when you walk by the Yankee candle store and can smell the strong candles throughout the entire mall? People pay for that strong scent because you can actually smell them versus some of the cheaper brands on the market. These Febreze candles are just as strong as the Yankee candles and can take out any foul odors in your home.

I have been lighting my candle in the evening to eliminate the lingering smells of dinner or the smell of smoke coming into the house after we have had a bonfire outside. It definitely clears the air, but the scent can be overpowering at times. To eliminate odors quickly though, I would highly recommend these candles.

The suggested retail price is between $7-8, making it less pricey than the Yankee candles, but higher than the other drugstore brands. Possibly combined with a Sunday flier coupon, this would be an affordable alternative.

We would like to thank Procter & Gamble for being among the first to review this great product! As someone who formerly worked in a marketing department, I have to just say that your presentation was GREAT! The packaging and information included made for a very fun review!

Sound Off: What is your favorite brand of candle and your favorite candle scent?

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ask Frugal Momma: How Do You Organize Your Pantry & Cupboards?

I know you guys were most impressed with the way we organized our closet, but what you *REALLY* wanted to know is how do we organize our pantry.

Remember when I revamped my laundry system and my yard sale system? That day I hit up the same college student for a great bookcase that she was getting rid of for only $20! I knew right away what I wanted to do with it and couldn't wait to bring it home and put it in our basement.

First, let me give you some background information on our house and previous storage solutions. My kitchen does not have very many cupboards or pantry space so I have had to be more creative with my storage. Our big dream is to expand my tiny utility closet into a walk-in pantry, but until that happens I have been storing the majority of my pantry items in our basement.

Previously, we had a dark wood bookcase that was extremely deep that we were using to store the pantry items. We had ripped this "bookcase" out of our closet that we had turned into an entertainment unit. Yes, you could say that we are pretty creative with our smaller home. We have tried to maximize the space in places that were not being used properly instead of moving into a bigger home.

Due to the depth and darkness of the unit, what had ended up happening was that I found myself doing the repeat-buying. I would look in the unit and say to myself, "No tomato paste?" And then I would rush to the store and buy tomato paste. When I would pull items out though, I would see twenty cans of tomato paste that I had already bought. This was not frugal and the bookcase was working against me.

The location of the unit was also not the smartest place for me. With a quad level home, I was already making the trek down all of our stairs to retrieve items and then walking into the farthest corner of the basement to get what we needed. It was inconvenient and not a functional storage solution.

Welcome to the new home for my canned goods! This bookcase rests just at the bottom of the stairs in a well-lit area of our basement. The light wood color makes it easier to see what is in my pantry and the labels (created with my label maker) make it easy for even my husband to find what we need out of the pantry.

Our upstairs cupboards needed revamping as well. We have the same problem with our cupboards as we did with our former basement storage solution. One cupboard was extremely deep and items would get shoved back there until we said, "Hmmm... do you think that this is still good if it expired in 2003?" Obviously, we were wasting food and valuable cupboard space.

Repeat the same scenario above with the Lazy Susan unit that we had, but just make the items revolve in mass chaos. Clearly, we had a serious problem!

I got these handy storage baskets for less than two dollars each and divided our pantry items into categories. The storage baskets made it much easier for me to pull down exactly what I needed, rather than climbing up on a chair to try and dig through the back of the pantry. It also makes throwing items out quicker, when I need to clean out the pantry, and makes tasks easier because I had grouped like items (or cooking projects) together.

Here is how I grouped the items:

Spices- All of the spice containers were gathered together and imagine my surprise that we had plenty of repeat performers in this category. I wiped down the spices and consolidated them into one container. The spice container is residing in the cupboard closest to the stove. I can pull the small basket down and take out whatever we need and slip it back into the cupboard when I am done cooking. This is much easier than rifling through fifty teeny bottles and makes shopping day easier too!

Cake/Cookie Decorating Supplies- These are items that are used less frequently, but still needed a home. I put these higher up in a basket with handles. Piping bags, piping tips, cookie cutters, food coloring, sprinkles and the birthday candles (that no one could ever find) all went into this container.

Baking Supplies: This is a pretty general category, but it was all of the items that I needed, but could never find. In this larger basket went our baking powder, baking soda, confectioners sugar, shortening, and cocoa powder.

Rice/Pasta: These ingredients went into a larger basket and all of the boxes were consolidated and smaller pastas and the rice were placed into clear Mason jars. The mason jars were labeled and have the cooking instructions labeled on them (unless I knew the directions by heart). In the Mason jars were white rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, orzo pasta, macaroni, and couscous. Larger pasta included linguine, angel hair, and thin spaghetti. Everything fit more neatly and anything extra went into the downstairs bookcase unit.

Flour/Sugar: This organizing unit went into our Lazy Susan. This included wheat flour, white flour, self-rising flour, cake flour, brown sugar, and white sugar.

Syrups/Oils/Vinegars: This organizing unit also went into our Lazy Susan and included corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, molasses, honey, and maple syrup. Using this unit eliminated the "sticky" factor, which usually occurred, making a huge mess in the bottom of our pantry. Any extra condiments also get put in there, as they are often used in recipes.

Finally, the items that I like to keep on hand upstairs all go into our pantry door. We bought one of these wire units that mounts on the door and keep items that I might need on hand. A smaller unit, that clips onto the larger unit, houses all of those little packets that we might need to assemble a meal. I try to keep what we need for the week in the upstairs pantry door and then the excess (or whatever doesn't fit) ends up going downstairs.

If you want, I am happy to share where we keep appliances and stuff like that, just leave me a comment!

I hope that this will help give you some creative storage solutions for your pantry!

Note: You can click on the pictures to expand the size.




Related Readings:

Free Up Pantry Space & Make a Snack
Making Your Spice Rack Usable
Getting the Car Organized
Gettin' Quick in the Kitchen
Living Out of Your Pantry

Sound Off: What storage solutions have you found work in your pantry?

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lessons from Miss Meredith

This week Meredith, the lovely blogger of Like Merchant Ships, is offering a week's tutorial for an Online Finishing School. She is sharing the special touches that make her house so homey and the best part of all is that all of her ideas are very budget-friendly.

I hope you will join her class this week. I can't imagine a better teacher and I have already benefited from her first few lessons.

Sound Off: Who taught you how to make a home? Are you a self-taught homemaker or did you have a great influence in your life?

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Monday, July 23, 2007

How I Finally Cleaned Out My Closet

I got the opportunity to check out, "It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff" by Peter Walsh. I was excited to read this book because I love to read up on organizing the items in my home. Unfortunately, the book focused more on the psychological aspect of people who cannot part with their clutter, rather than a book that is geared towards an enthusiastic clutter-buster.

I would highly recommend this book to someone though who is not living a life that they desire and feel consumed with the clutter in their home. He shares a lot on achieving the life that you have always wanted by taking action and parting with the "stuff" in your life that isn't benefiting you, but is hindering you from enjoying your home and your life.

The fact is, I am the type of person that feels attached to very little in my home. It isn't that I don't appreciate what I have, but the desire to keep items for sentimental reasons has never been big on my priority list. I have memories of good times...not items that represent those good times.

I don't like to collect items because I don't like to maintain and dust collections of things. I don't like to hang on to things that I think I might need in the future because I would rather free up the space in our home.

Don't get me wrong, my house has true areas of chaos. Our garage is a disaster and our basement is in disarray. These are projects that I need to devote some time and thought to and seem to be the dumping stations when clutter starts to consume our house. We have definite areas that we need to work on in order to make our home more spacious and to create more organization in my life.

The one area that I have always really struggled with is my closet and the clothing in it. I hate to turn away clothing when friends and family give me things (even if I don't look good in them) and I have hung onto my work wardrobe for no other reason than the fact that I spent a mint on it and thought I could use it when I returned to work.

The simple fact is that I have no idea when I will be returning to work and the pieces in my wardrobe are already beginning to look dated. By the time I return to work, I will still need to invest in a new wardrobe, and I will also need to get rid of the items that are taking up closet space. Why should I wait until then and just free it up now?

Since our closets are small, and the space there is so premium, I decided to use one of the tips that Peter Walsh had recommended when promoting his book on Oprah. He suggested hanging your hangers the opposite way and flipping them when you wore (not just trying on) an item. Whatever hanger did not get flipped at the end of the specified time, got the boot.

This season I was able to get rid of thirty items in my closet. I loaded them up in bags and took the stuff over to our local thrift store. Not surprisingly, this was very freeing for me and I felt really good about the small accomplishment I made.

My clothes are now sighing with relief because they can breathe a bit. Now that I have room to move my hangers and see my wardrobe, I am able to enjoy the items I have and am noticing all of the the potential outfits in my closet that I had never seen before.

Sound Off: Do you get emotionally attached to your belongings? What is your problem area in your home?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ask Frugal Momma: Washin' the Washer


Dear Frugal Momma, Would you mind doing an entry on cleaning the washing machine...both inside and out? I know that probably sounds strange, but I try to clean everything in my home on a regular basis! Thanks in advance! The Cleaning Queen

I have to admit that this is something I had never really thought about, although I am sure it is one of those items that I should add to my regular home maintenance. This entry required a little research so I hope that it will help someone else out there!

For the interior of the washer, you will want to clean your washing machine from time to time by running it empty on a hot cycle. I will offer up two choices for cleaning the washer. You can do it the environmentally-friendly way or by trying the bleach version.

The first way that you can clean the washer is by running the hot cycle with one cup (250 ml) of white vinegar. Just add it during the cycle and allow the vinegar to clean the washer for you. The vinegar will help remove any detergent deposits that have built up on your washing machine.

The second alternative for cleaning can actually be used in disinfecting a variety of non-food-contact surfaces. The recipe was supplied by, "Home Comforts" written by Cheryl Mendelson. This method is recommended for your washer, as well as the bathtubs, showers, sinks, marble, plastic, fiberglass, diaper pails and indoor garbage cans. The disinfecting solution is not recommended, however, for metal fixtures or on dark or colored grout.

Disinfecting Solution

3/4 cup bleach
1 gallon warm water
1 tablespoon of powdered laundry detergent

Using solution, wash surface or object clean. Then keep it wet with the solution for at least five minutes. Rinse and let dry.

The exterior of most washer and dryer tops are made from porcelain enamel or synthetic enamel. This type of material does not stand up well to repeated exposure of chemicals such as ammonia, chlorine bleach, or any abrasive cleaners.

The best solution for cleaning the exterior of the washer (and just about everything else) is my homemade all-purpose cleaner. The recipe for that is:

All-Purpose Cleaner

2 tablespoons dish soap (any kind works fine)
2 cups warm water


Put two ingredients into a spray bottle and give it a shake to incorporate them.


If you begin to see any mildew damage to the rubber door seal, on your washing machine, you will want to disinfect it to discourage further problems and to remove what has already occurred. Make a solution of one cup chlorine bleach to two cups warm water. Wearing rubber gloves, first wipe the lower portion of the door seal (where the water and bacteria will be most concentrated) with a soft cloth soaked in the bleach solution. Then wipe down the entire seal. Finally fill the bleach dispenser with bleach and run the washer empty through one hot cycle. You can repeat this process every two to four months to keep mildew down. This is particularly recommended if you live in a humid climate or if your laundry room is not well-ventilated.

I hope this helps answers your question! Please feel free to email your questions directly to me at amy@momadvice.com on any topic related to homemaking or saving money. I would be happy to answer your questions. You can also submit your questions through our forum.

Related Readings:

Happy Homemaking the Homemade Way
Cleaning Out Yo Fridge
Frugal Solutions for the Swiffer
Frugal Carpet Steaming
Favorite Frugal Cleaners
Organize Your Week

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Life's Little Miracles


My garden grew something! If you know me, you know what a miracle it truly is! Here are some of my cherry tomatoes I picked for my salad yesterday.

Related Readings:

Overcoming My Fears: Gardening
Gardening Update & Fun Summer Reads
Still Alive

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Still Alive


There is a miracle occurring in my garden. Nothing is dying! Everything is still growing! I actually am growing my own vegetables!

The fact that I haven't killed anything is still blowing my mind! My tomato plants, particularly my cherry tomatoes, are doing really great. I did stake them, but my stakes were not long enough. I should have caged them. I should have relocated them to a sunnier spot. These are all lessons that I am learning about gardening. It is definitely a trial and error type of hobby and I am confident that I can make my garden so much better next year.

I picked a spot in our lawn where no grass was going, for fear that I would dig into our grass and lose interest in the gardening or that my plants would die. Next year, I have a spot all picked out where I believe my plants will do better. It is not as conveniently close as the spot I picked this time, but I have a feeling that everything will thrive under all that sun.

My herbs are not flourishing, but a quick discussion with another newbie gardener lead us to the conclusion that my tomato plants are providing too much shade for the herbs and they need more sun. I am thinking of transplanting them to a sunnier location or just using containers and putting them out in the sunshine.

Regardless, I am really proud of myself and how well it is all turning out. I actually ate one of my cherry tomatoes off of the vine and declare them DELICIOUS!

Want an expert's opinion on getting things to grow in your yard? Gayla, over at You Grow Girl, is a wealth of knowledge! I loved her tip on using expired milk on those tomato plants. I recently met Gayla in person and she is really passionate about teaching people how to begin gardening. We went to dinner with a group of other bloggers and I probably was the worst person in the bunch to sit by because all I did was lean over and ask her dozens of gardening questions. Lucky for me, she LOVES to take about it so we got along great! Her website is a great resource for the novice and pro gardeners and she has a great forum where you can share & ask questions. Check it out!

Related Links:

Overcoming My Fears: Gardening
Gardening Update & Fun Summer Reads

Sound Off: What is happening in your yards this year? Oh, and it is COMPLETELY fine to say absolutely nothing! Nothing or dying is what is usually going on in our yard!

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

How to Construct an Airing Rack

If you haven't seen our Benefits of Line Drying Your Clothes article, please be sure to check it out. It is a basic tutorial on how to hang your clothing and why a clothesline is a beneficial addition to your yard.

I recently ran across a few more tips for line drying that I wanted to share:

Drying Socks- To save space on lines, hang pairs of socks on a hanger. This will also enable you to remove the socks quickly if it rains.

Drying Sweaters- Sweaters will not stretch on a clothesline if you string an old pair of hose through the arms and pin the pantyhose- rather than the sweater- to the line.

Pleated Skirts- After washing, hang on the line from the waistband. Clip clothespins at the bottom of each pleat so the pleats dry in place.

Constructing an Airing Rack- Large items are best aired along parallel washing lines, which will not only take the weight but allow air to reach the entire area of fabric. Air items such as pillows and blankets on the clothesline. To improvise an airing rack indoors you can construct an airing rack. To air or dry large items if you do not have a clothesline, stretch strong cord between two chairs. Using parallel lines allows air to reach both sides of an item , and will not leave creases or clothespin marks. Use this system for blankets, comforters and curtains. If you use the chair method, use plastic chairs, if possible, since wooden chairs can stain damp items. To help stabilize the chairs, you can put piles of books on the chairs to help with the weight of the clothes.
Others Entries of Interest:

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Gardening Update & Fun Summer Reads


Well, I haven't killed my plants yet so I guess my first gardening endeavor is going good...so far. Of course, you guys might get a good laugh at my expense because I actually thought I had squash already sprouting from the seeds I had planted. Just after I patted myself on the back, I realized that these were just little green pieces of nothing that fell off of a tree. I didn't kill anything though, that was the point in sharing this!

I also have overcome another fear that I have...mowing! Yup, I am terrified of the mower! I told you guys that I am a total girly-girl. I think it was a discussion with my dad, who was trying to teach me how to mow, where he told me that rocks could get thrown at me if I wasn't careful. He also redid all that I had mowed because I didn't mow "the right way" and so I ended up crying and going inside. That is just the kind of fun sport I am!

I managed to mow without any injuries thankyouverymuch. I also made my husband's day because he hates to mow the lawn. Unfortunately for him, this is probably not going to be happening with regular occurrence, but I did help him this week! I offered to switch roles and he could cook while I mowed the lawn, but he wouldn't take me up on it. It makes me think I am getting the short end of the stick here.

Thanks for the fabulous gardening tips that you emailed and shared with me though! I appreciate all the help I can get OBVIOUSLY since I think I am growing imaginary plants.

Here are some old blog entries & articles that I thought you might enjoy. Now RUN outside and enjoy all that nice weather!

Solving the Sand Between Your Toes Blues

Cleaning Up Yo Grill

Busy Day Activities for Warm Weather

Frugal Teacher Gifts

Getting Ready for Summer

Gearing Up for Summer

Summer Survival

Organized Travel

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Real Simple Magazine Tips for May


Here are this month's tips for your reading enjoyment courtesy of our friends over at Real Simple Magazine. Be sure to pick up their issue to get more tips on how to make your life a little easier!

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Ask Frugal Momma: The Amazing Toaster Oven

I have a toaster oven, but it is barely functional, at best. I got it for five dollars from the thrift store and was excited to upgrade from the standard two slice toaster to the toaster oven. It was quickly evident why this appliance had been donated as I burned the toast the first time. There is no signal to let us know when it is done toasting. You have to keep an eagle eye on our toaster to make sure your toast is perfectly toasted. I am thinking of just forging ahead and getting a new one though…one that actually works. Ironically, the question of the day comes from a reader who was interested in learning about the toaster and how to care for it.

The toaster oven can be used for a variety of things, not just your toast or bagels in the morning. In fact, toaster ovens are not necessarily the best option if you are looking for an appliance to just toast bread. A toaster will actually toast your bread, while a toaster oven will provide a good toasting on one side, but takes twice the time as the traditional toaster. If you are just looking for some good toast, stick to the regular old toaster.

There are many uses for the toaster oven and it is great for when you are dining alone, want to throw together a simple appetizer, need to heat a few chicken nuggets for the kids, or don’t want to heat up the kitchen. A quick search on Google for, “toaster oven recipes” will yield a ton of ideas for things you can prepare in your toaster oven.

Consumer Reports did a testing on toaster ovens, and surprisingly some of the better performing toaster ovens were the cheapest options. Consumer Reports named the Procter-Silex Cool Touch a best buy at only $15 & the Oster Counterforms 6335 at $40 as the best deals for your money.

When it comes to electricity though, which is the cheapest option to use? Compared to your oven rage, which can use more than 3, 500 watts of electricity, a toaster oven uses only 1,350-1,500 watts. Comparatively, a typical toaster only uses 900 watts so using a toaster for toasting is the cheapest option of all when it comes to the perfect bagel. For bigger jobs though, relying on your toaster oven is a much cheaper option, particularly during the summer months when heating up your kitchen requires more wattage and makes your air conditioner have to work overtime.

Cleaning a toaster oven is very easy. First, unplug the unit and make sure it is completely cool before cleaning. If you wipe spills up as they occur, it will be a lot easier to keep this appliance clean. Wash the racks in warm soapy water. Use a damp soft cloth to clean out the interior and never ever submerge your toaster oven in water. If burned food discolors the paint on your toaster oven, you can try using a liquid degreaser to help minimize the discoloration, but nothing will remove it entirely.

To clean the standard toaster, again make sure the unit is unplugged and completely cool. Carry the toaster oven to the sink, and slide out the crumb tray (located at the very bottom of the toaster) and dump out the crumbs. Next turn the toaster upside down and let any remaining crumbs fall into the sink (if you have a disposal) or over your trashcan. Wipe the exterior with a soft cloth that has been dampened a bit with water & dishwashing soap. The chrome surfaces can be wiped down with a little all-purpose cleaner sprayed on a cloth. Don’t spray into the unit, just spray on the cloth.

How often you should clean your toaster oven depends on how often you use it. We usually wait until we can see a load of crumbs on the bottom or start to smell a burnt toast smell when we run the toaster. We probably should clean our toaster oven more often, but with all of the other things demanding my attention, this usually does not top the priority list in our house.

I do remember eating at our grandparent’s house and after every breakfast, our grandmother would clean it out, wipe it down, and then put it up in her cupboard. This was just part of her morning routine, just like taking out the trash or anything else. Her toaster always looked like new, my toaster…not so much. Follow her example if you want a sparkling toaster.

For some great toaster oven tips, visit Real Simple’s Versatile Toaster Oven article. It has some really wonderful ideas for using that toaster oven of yours!

Toaster Oven Recipes:

Toaster Oven Pizza

Mini Meat Loaves (You could probably try this recipe with my own mini meat loaves recipe)

Toaster Oven Easy Muffins

Do you have any tips to share? What do you use your toaster oven for? Please share!

Keep those questions coming! Submit them to amy@momadvice.com on any topic related to cleaning, money, or food. I love to answer these and hope that this information is useful for you & your family.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Prepping for Garage Sales


And, no, I will not be hosting a garage sale. My prep work involves everything that I need to know in order to truly maximize my visits to other people's garage sales. I am not ambitious enough to have a garage sale myself. I prefer to donate our items and take the tax deduction. It might be the lazy person's way of decluttering, but it works well for us!

I love to garage sale during the summer. I, in fact, look forward to garage sale season all year long. In the interim, I do a lot of thrift shopping until I can take advantage of all of those great garage sale prices.

I do most of our clothes shopping for the kids by visiting the thrift store often throughout the year. We also have friends & family who pass on their clothing to us, which is a huge financial help. All of these clothes were folded in several boxes in our basement, but I had never taken inventory of what we already had.

This weekend I pulled out all of the boxes and started grouping things together. All of the dresses in a pile, all of the pajamas in a pile, and so forth. And remember when I mentioned that I got some great organizing units from a university student? Well, in her stash were large three drawer rolling carts that would be perfect for organizing the kid's clothing.

I used my label maker and labeled each drawer with the child's name and the size of the clothing. All of the clothes were neatly sorted into the drawers, instead of thrown into boxes that might have been forgotten.

I also got out a piece of paper and wrote down what I have for each child. It was time-consuming and a pain to do, but now when I hit those garage sales I will know just what my kid's need. I realize that ten summer dresses are enough for one little girl, but one pair of jeans won't cut it. I know that my son is great for the fall, but his summer wardrobe is really lacking. This information will really help me when I go to the sales this summer.

Take inventory of what you already have in your house and make a list of things to look for when you go to the garage sales. Try to stick to the list, or only buy things that you will really and truly use in your house. Even if it is only ten cents! Do not buy things that will not have a purpose in your home. A deal is not a deal, if it is just taking up space and collecting dust on a shelf.

Do you have any tips for preparing for garage sales? Do you have a way of tracking the inventory in your homes? Please share! Your comments are invaluable!

Don't forget to swing by Rocks in My Dryer for all the other wonderful participants!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Real Simple Magazine Features


The folks over at Real Simple Magazine contacted me and asked that we share some of the items that their editors have been tirelessly working on. Here are some of the great articles & tips they have added to their site:

Home Inventory Worksheets

Sources for Evening-Garden Plants & Pots

Dreaded Cleaning Tasks Made Easier

What is Your Favorite Speed-Cleaning Trick?

The Best Cleaning Wipes

A Chaotic Laundry Room Gets Organized


Solutions to the Most Vexing Pet Problems

Environmentally-Friendly Tips

New Uses for Clocks

Update Old Furniture With New Knobs & Pulls

Dealing with Mice, Bats, Deer, & Other Pests

I love Real Simple Magazine and have been a subscriber for years. My mother-in-law got me hooked on the magazine and she has given this subscription to me as a birthday gift every year. How wonderful is that?

Here is a tip for all of you other subscribers out there. The pictures in this magazine are beautiful and I love to hang on to my magazines and utilize them in other ways. If you notice in the front of the magazine, there is an index of what is in the issue. In the index, are tons of cute pictures that are the perfect size to be reused for cute gift tags. I cut these out and mount them on card stock to make cute tags for my gifts.

Anyone else subscribe? What has been your favorite tip from the magazine?

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Organizing Your Laundry Room

Tis the season for college students to began moving out and that means loads of great deals on organizing units and apartment style furnishings. Not only that, but many kids just offer up the stuff for free to rid themselves of having to lug the stuff home and back to school again. Keep in mind all those students who are graduating and don't think they will need their furnishings in their new & more lucrative lives. It is a bargain-hunters dream so be checking the local papers and the free online classifieds for all these goodies.

Last weekend I scored several very nice organizing units and I was able to revamp some of the organizing systems in our house. The first organizing system that I created, was a unit that I purchased for our laundry room.

I saw this organizing idea on one of those organizing shows on television and thought, "I should do that!" The show was about a mom who just couldn't keep up with her laundry and she had no good laundry system in place. She had a laundry area in her basement (just like me!) and clothes were piled everywhere. She had no idea of what was clean or what was dirty and the basement was a disaster.

The team came in and renovated her laundry area and added a shelving unit that assigned each person in the house a shelf for clean laundry. They used baskets to organize and made things look very pretty.

I loved this idea, but I wasn't willing to fork over the big bucks for a huge unit like that. Lucky for me, a graduating university student had an organizer that she didn't need anymore and I was able to score this unit for only twenty dollars.

My husband reassembled it in our basement and I set to work on creating a system for our own family. Each person has a tag now for their respective shelf. The top shelf is for our linens and then we go down the line for the family members.

Some other features that I added to my station are:

- A small dish tub, that rests below, that houses a small sewing kit and is reserved for items that need mending. Mending must be simple, but those items are now separated and have all the materials needed for a quick & easy repair.
- A larger tub for ironing. I don't iron, but someone else in the family can now find anything they want to iron themselves. Aren't I thoughtful?
- A bin for the, "Lonely Socks Club." We sort socks at the end of all our loads, but all socks who are missing a partner are now located there. It makes finding matches much quicker.

The unit is only a holding station for the family. This is not a storage facility. When the kids get a little older, everyone will be responsible for clearing their own shelf and and putting their own clothes away. Baskets are neatly assembled beside the unit and each family member has a basket for themselves.

What are some ways that you organize your laundry area? What are some important items that you keep in your laundry room? Any systems that work great for you? Please share!

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Monday, April 02, 2007

What a Difference a Day Makes

I decided to hit the thrift store this Saturday in search of a china cabinet or unit where I could rest my laptop for our kitchen. I have been hunting for awhile, but just haven't seen anything with the good bones that I was looking for. I walked around for awhile before I saw IT. You know? The one! The one that I have been hunting for ages looking for? Well, I basically threw my body upon an old eighties cabinet and requested the crew help me load it in my vehicle. The cost was only $99 and the units that I had been looking at in the stores were a minimum of $250 and upwards of $600. This piece looked like it was going to be perfect and I headed over to the hardware store and got all of the supplies to tackle this project.

I was inspired by Meredith's recent post about a project that was done on Notes from a Cottage Industry. This blogger had painted her unit black and had gotten hers for a mere fifty bucks and made it look like a million.

This was my first attempt at refinishing a piece of furniture and I was pretty nervous at first, but my tentative paint strokes turned to fast swipes as I became more confident with what I was doing.

This particular piece was a knotty oak wood and had worn brass handles on it. We prefer a more contemporary look with clean lines and a silver finish to our pieces so that is what I wanted to achieve when I refinished this piece.


I decided to leave the piece with the knots in the wood, opting to skip the spackling step altogether, and purchased a primer tinted grey to give us a good start on the piece.

I sprayed the unit with a liquid degreaser to get all of the grime and muck of off the wood. Next I primed it with primer and allowed that to dry for a couple of hours. The next step was to put on the black paint and then another coat. Then another coat. Finally, another coat was applied before I could do the final touch-ups to the wood.

The hardware was the type that had been dropped into the a cut-out in the wood of the piece so there was no way that I could replace it. The worn dingy handles received a face-lift with a coat of stainless steel spray paint that was made especially for metal. Fifteen minutes to dry and only four dollars to redo all of the hardware. We are going to be spraying some other ugly brass fixtures around our house that need a little TLC, rather than purchasing new pieces which would cost us a lot more.

I started the project at six o'clock in the evening and painted until 2:30 in the morning. I collapsed in bed and then picked it back up at nine and had it fully assembled with my dishes and cookbooks on it by six the next evening.

It was a bear of a project, but I can't stop glowing or patting myself on the back for what I accomplished in a single day. The unit is absolutely enormous and I did all of this by myself with the only help from my husband being the help with moving and reassembling it.

The finished product reminds of something you would get at Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware and I doubt that it would be only $99!

The history of the piece was as interesting as the furniture was itself. A quick discussion with one of the employees seemed to indicate that it was repossessed. After pulling it all apart we found a very mysterious hole that at been cut out of the bottom. A hole that would have no purpose except to hide something. Weed, perhaps? Who knows!

What has been your biggest accomplishment that you have done in or around your house? Have you ever attempted to refurbish a thrift store or yard sale piece? Any blunders refurnishing anything?

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Should You Buy Brand Name Detergent?

I received a package from Tide which included some samples of their new Tide Simple Pleasures Vanilla & Lavender scented laundry detergent for review. It was a nice little package including a Tide To Go pen (a necessity for any mother’s diaper bag!) and two cute Tide retro t-shirts that had their logo on the front and a, “You’re Dirty” message on the back. You have to love a company that has a sense of humor like that!

I admit that I never buy brand name detergent and getting enough free brand name detergent to accomplish my laundry this week was a nice surprise. Since I never buy the big name detergents, I was very curious to see how this detergent would perform against my usual generic.

The first difference that I noticed, for me, was how great the scent of the detergent was. With my generic detergent, there is usually a scent when I throw it in, but rarely a scent when it comes out. In fact, the scent of my clothing remains neutral after being washed and dried. The clothes washed in Tide held their scent throughout the washing and the drying, and they just smelled cleaner. Environmentalists would say that this is a poor indication of a good detergent, and to aim for detergents that do not contain fragrances, but I secretly enjoy the scent of a good detergent.

The second difference that I noticed was the amount of lint in my dyer was considerably less with the brand name detergent. When I would use the generic detergent, I could practically make a blanket out of the lint that comes out after doing a load of laundry. When I used the Tide, however, the amount of lint was minimal and I almost didn’t need to even clean the vent at all. This indicates to me that this detergent might be easier on my clothing than the generic detergents.

I am no expert though, so I looked to Consumer Reports for the real scoop on laundry detergents. Consumer Reports performed the studies under controlled conditions and washed clothing in a variety of stains that every mother would cringe to see listed- chocolate syrup, blood, grass, coffee, purple grape juice, spaghetti, mud. If you see these items regularly, can you please raise your hand? They ran the clothes through rigorous testing and pitted the brand names versus the generics to see which would perform the best.

In the top three listed, Tide was listed the best for performance. Their top three products were Tide with Bleach, Tide Cold Water (washed in cold water), and Tide HE. To my surprise, the powders topped the charts over their liquid competitors. As someone who has always purchased the liquid detergent, this was very interesting to me.

Unfortunately, Tide is also listed as the tops for cost per load at $.33, $.31, & $.36 per load for the top three choices. Consumer Reports did name Great Value Ultra Mountain Fresh liquid (Walmart), Kirkland Signature Ultra HE (Costco), or Ultra Plus with Fabric Softener HE (Sears) detergents as achieving very good ratings and named those brands the Consumer Reports Best Buys for detergent. The cost for loads was between $.09-$.14 per load for these best buy winners.

My normal detergent, Purex, was near the bottom for their performance report and received pretty bad reviews overall. The cost was the same as the ones I listed for best buys for detergent, so buying this brand doesn’t really save me any money and it does not perform as well.

Whether you buy the name brand goods or the generic, you can always reduce the amount of detergent you use and see if it performs the same as the recommended amount. You can also wash your clothing in cold water and save yourself ten cents per load. Throwing a cup of vinegar into your fabric softener dispenser will save you on the cost of the softeners and will allow you to omit the fabric softener sheet altogether. A cup of baking soda is also a great addition to help the cheaper brand perform better. I just sprinkle this on top of my load and run the cycle.

I thank Tide for giving me the opportunity to try their new scent! This new fragrance is neither too floral nor too strong. The vanilla and lavender complimented each other well and the clothes smelled wonderful. This is great for the scent-conscious consumer and, as noted above, Tide is the best there is when it comes to the performance of detergents!

Share your thoughts on detergents. What is your favorite? Do you have any money-saving tricks when it comes to washing your clothes? How about any homemade stain fighting remedies?

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ask Frugal Momma: Happy Homemaking the Homemade Way


I am not going to launch into a preachy prose about how bad commercial cleaning products are today when it comes to cleaning your home. It is common knowledge that a healthy home is not doused in heavy-duty bleach and preserving our environment should be tops on our priority list. The truth is, if you peeked inside of my caddy of cleaners though, you would see some of these harmful products in there. The fact is that I am trying to rely less on these cleaners and rely more on homemade cleaners. I am in the process of making the transition over to using only healthy homemade cleaners, and I feel a lot of pride when I take the time to do this. I know how much better it is for our environment….and for my wallet!

Making cleaners does not mean that you need to purchase a ton of items; in fact, most cleaners can be made from things you already have in your house. The main components that I like to work with are white vinegar, baking soda, liquid dishwashing soap, and lemon juice. One purchase that you may need to make though, to begin getting started, is purchasing a few spray bottles. I pick these spray bottles up from our local dollar store. These clear spray bottles will make it easy to measure and label your new cleaners in your house.

If you do decide to use these types of cleaners regularly, I would suggest making a trip to your wholesale club to buy the ingredients. A small box of baking soda can cost around fifty cents at your local grocery store. The same baking soda, in a twelve pound bag, from Sam’s Club costs about $5.42. What a savings! All of these products can be purchased in bulk and once you begin using them regularly, you will go through them quickly.

While you are at the warehouse store, be sure to swing by the automotive section and pick up a bag of microfiber cloths. The cloths sold at the warehouse store are larger and thicker than the ones you can get in other stores, and these are great for all of the jobs around your house. You can use these wet or dry. You can also use these just using water and not even bothering with a cleaner because they are that amazing.

Be sure when you launder your microfiber cloths that you do not use any type of fabric softener and use a very little amount of soap or cleaner on them. If you overload them with cleaning products, they will become less and less effective, particularly when you are trying to attract dust towards them.

Because these cleaners are homemade and use less harsh ingredients, they will require a little more elbow grease than your commercial products. There are lots of great recipes on the internet though and typing in the search phrase, “homemade cleaners” should you give you lots of different ideas and give you an array of recipes to choose from to find which one works best for the jobs you have around your house. Everyone uses different measurements; it just depends on the difficulties of the jobs around your house.
Here are some of my tried and true recipes that we use in our house:

All-Purpose Cleaner- Mix together two tablespoons of mild dishwashing soap and two cups of water in a spray bottle and give it a shake. Use these anywhere that you would use a commercial all-purpose spray. This cleaner is particularly great for countertops, bathroom surfaces, and high chairs.

Glass Cleaner- Mix together one part white vinegar to one part water in a spray bottle. Spray this solution on your mirrors and windows and dry your windows with newspaper. The newspaper is great for lint-free drying and is a great way to repurpose some of those old papers you have laying around.

Homemade Oven Cleaner/ Deep Kitchen Cleaner- Mix a paste of three parts warm water to one part baking soda to clean away kitchen stains or to clean your oven.
Bathroom Cleaner- Mix dishwashing liquid with baking soda until you have a thick paste and use this throughout your bathroom.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner- No measuring is required with this recipe. Sprinkle a little baking soda into your toilet bowl and then pour a little vinegar in and watch it fizz it up. Give it a swish with your toilet brush and then flush.

Floor Cleaner- Add ½ cup of vinegar to a gallon of water. The scent of the vinegar will fade in approximately an hour, but you can also add a couple of drops of essential oil to help with the scent. I like the smell of Tea Tree Oil, but you can buy any essential oil that smells best to you. Essential oils can be picked up at stores offering nutritional supplements or can be purchased online.

Furniture Polish- Mix ¼ cup olive oil with four tablespoons of vinegar and two teaspoons of lemon juice. Pour into a spray bottle and shake well before using. If you do not use all of it in one cleaning session, store the remainder in the fridge, as the lemon juice can go sour. You can also substitute the lemon juice with twenty to thirty drops of lemon essential oil and then you won’t have to refrigerate it. Using the essential oils though will up the price a bit on your homemade product.

Silver Cleaner- Although I don’t polish silver very frequently, this is a great to have in your bag of tricks. This will clean all of those nooks and crannies that are hard to reach in more detailed pieces and is great if you have a big batch of silver that needs cleaning. In a large bowl (or you can use your kitchen sink) place strips of aluminum foil in and place the silver pieces on top. Cover the silver with boiling water and then add three tablespoons of baking soda and soak for ten minutes.

By making your own cleaners, you will save hundreds of dollars over the course of the year. For example, a bottle of window cleaner will usually run you around two or three dollars. A bottle of your homemade window cleaner though, will cost you about five cents. What a difference that will make to your grocery budget and helping the environment is a wonderful benefit of your fabulous frugalness.

For more tips visit the following links:


Next week, I have received a request to discuss cleaning out the fridge so I will share some tips for that next week. Please, please send me your questions about anything! Email your questions to amy@momadvice.com and I will be sure to add your requests to my list. Without your requests, this column wouldn’t be possible and I would love to keep this going. I have enjoyed sharing through this format and it helps me come up with more content for our site. The answers will be added to our website as articles for quick reference!

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ask Frugal Momma: The Amazing Dishwasher


I have decided to start a weekly segment on getting to know items in your home. I got some emails and comments about my post yesterday, regarding some tips for your dishwasher, and I thought it would be great to start a little segment explaining frugal tips for caring for your appliances. If you have an appliance or item in your home that you would like to be featured, or you have a question about an item in your home that you would like to know more about, please email me at amy@momadvice.com and I will try and hunt for all those answers for you. Consider it a Frugal Momma question and answer column and ask away! I am not an expert in anything so take my advice with a grain of salt!

I don’t know what I would do without my dishwasher! There is an urban legend out there that says that washing dishes by hand is cheaper than washing them in the dishwasher. You actually waste less water by using your dishwasher, which makes the dishwasher a great addition to a frugal homeowner’s house.

First, there is no exact science to loading a dishwasher, but there are a few guidelines. Heavy duty stuff (pots, pans, plates, & utensils) go on bottom & delicate items and glassware go on top. Place everything in the upper rack facedown and put everything on the lower rack aimed towards the center. Silverware should have forks and spoons alternating, otherwise you will get spoons stuck together and they will need to be rewashed.

The important things to know to keep your costs low for running a dishwasher are pretty simple and straightforward. First, it is not economical to pre-rinse your dishes, especially with the newer models that they have out now for dishwashers. If you have an older dishwasher, like me, a quick pre-rinse with cold water only is the most efficient way to get your dishes clean.
Secondly, try and run the most cost-effective cycle on your dishwasher. Try the shorter cycle first and see if your dishes come out clean. If you need to still run the full cycle, don’t run the drying cycle and allow the dishes to air dry. It is more cost-effective and there is less chance of spotting on your glassware.

It is also important to read the manual for your dishwasher to see the recommended amount of dishwashing detergent you should use. The manufacturer will have the best suggestion for the amount of detergent you should use. Are your dishes looking a little gritty? Do you have a nasty residue on your glasses? The remedy to that problem is decreasing the amount of dishwashing detergent. If you don’t have the guidelines handy, you can always look them up on the manufacturer’s website or you can do your own test run to see how much you actually need to get those dishes clean.

If your glasses are looking spotty then you might need to add something to your dishwasher to make it perform better. I fill our rinse agent dispenser with white vinegar. Vinegar is great for removing spots on dishes and it leaves everything squeaky clean. Just fill the rinse aid dispenser as you would with the commercial stuff and stand back in amazement. You won’t believe how much better your dishwasher will perform with just this simple household solution.

I noticed that our dishwasher was looking pretty bad on the interior and I found the quickest way to get your dishwasher looking like new again is just running an empty cycle and filling the detergent cup with a drinking mix with citrus in it. You can use any citrus drink mix and fill it just as you would with your regular detergent. Any drink mix will do- lemonade, Tang, Crystal Lite, or any other drink mix with the citrus ingredient in it. We had a drink mix that the kids just didn’t like and that ended up going in the dishwasher instead. Doing this once a month will help keep your dishwasher looking like new.

Stubborn spots on the dishwashing door are also bothersome. If running a cycle of citrus drink powder doesn’t do the trick, you can try using other products on the door to get rid of the stains. Tomato-based stains will just have to fade with time, but you can sprinkle a little baking soda on your door and let it set for awhile. Take a soft dishtowel and add a little water to make a paste. Then rub the heck out of it and see if that removes the stain. The baking soda paste is also great for countertops or for burnt on gunk on your dishes.

There is a feature on dishwashers that I have never used, and only after writing this article would I even be aware that it even exists. The feature is the Rinse & Hold feature. This is a great feature for those dishes that you just absolutely cannot picture leaving in the sink until the dishwasher is run in the evening. Instead of washing a few dishes, you can run the Rinse and Hold cycle and have the dishwasher rinse them off for you. But how frugal is this feature? According to Consumer Reports, using this feature only takes two gallons of water compared with four gallons for a typical hand-washing. The energy needed to heat the water though, makes this a less than frugal feature so only use this feature when absolutely necessary. It is much more energy efficient to run your dishwasher with a full load.

Finally, you can make your own dishwashing detergent for a fraction of the cost. All you need to make dishwashing detergent is Borax (at our local store a box of this runs about $3.99), baking soda (cheapest at your wholesale club store) and regular old salt. Mix one cup Borax, one cup baking soda (you can also substitute this with washing soda, but most people don't have this on hand) and 1/4 cup salt. Add a tablespoon of this to your detergent dispenser and run it through a normal cycle. With vinegar added as a rinse aid, the dishes will be clean & spot free.

These blog entries will be added as articles to our Organize section of the site, for quick reference.

Up next week, Amelia's question on making your own cleaners! I can't wait to talk about this one!

Don't forget to submit those questions. I hope that this will be a fabulous addition to the blog!

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Thrift Store Finds

Earlier this week, I went to the thrift store and found a couple of great things for our house.

The first item I found was a small bench. It was covered in a shiny & very ugly polyester, which was frayed and torn. The pictures of this fabric don't do it justice. It was much more hideous in real life than what is pictured here. The piece itself was really nice though so for ten dollars, I took it home and got to recover it. I still had some fabric leftover from when we recovered our dining chairs so I used some of that. The vinyl is nice because it could easily be wiped off, which is important in a house with a four year old and a one year old.

Originally I had planned to put it near our front door, but the sizing didn't seem right. I think a bench larger than that needs to be there, but we did have a corner in our bathroom that I had been trying to decide what to do with. I had one of my dining chairs down there and when we needed it for company, I would have to walk downstairs to get it and haul it up. The bench seemed to fit perfectly and I love the worn legs on it and how well it goes with the decor in our bathroom.

I also ran across these beautiful table linens. Now that you all are aware of my table linens obsession, you can imagine how excited I was about this! I had no idea if the tablecloth was the right size, but I was willing to take a gamble on it for $2. It had six napkins at a quarter a piece, and it is very rare to find a tablecloth and napkins all together in a matching set. I also found a few vintage floral-printed napkins too, all in various colors.

I washed the linens and placed them on the table. The tablecloth is a beautiful baby blue and it is soft just like a blanket. When washed, I did notice a small spot in the center, but it could easily be disguised with a napkin centerpiece. One of the floral napkins was perfect for resting our centerpiece on it. Do you happen to recognize this centerpiece?

I am always amazed at what one can find in their local thrift store!

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Tutorial On Painting Kitchen Cabinets

We are going to be refinishing our cabinets and I happened upon this great tutorial on how to update them. Has anyone had any experience in this? Have any tips to share?

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Caring for Your Table Linens

I love having a tablecloth on our table. We have three tablecloths that I can rotate throughout the week- a red, burgundy, & white tablecloth. Of all of the colors I have, the white tablecloth is my most favorite of all. Although spills show on it more initially, I can toss it in the wash with bleach and the stains come right out. There is just something about a clean tablecloth & napkins that makes everything look fresh.

Despite loving the look of linens, I do not enjoy ironing. The rarity with which I iron is, at times, a little embarrassing.

Frankly, there are not enough hours in the day for me to be spending them standing over an ironing board.

Since the word ironing is not in my vocabulary, caring for my linens promptly is important when laundering them. I run them through a normal warm cycle (check the tags on your tablecloths to see what is best for your fabric type) and then I dry them until they are just barely dry. They are then folded into thirds inside out and hung on a hanger. I hang these down in our laundry area until it is time to use them.

If you do iron your linens, the best time to iron them is right before you use them. Spray the linens with starch or a spray bottle of water and press away on the reverse side of the tablecloth on the recommended setting.

If linens only make a rare performance on your table, there is one other storage solution that might work better for you. Take an empty wrapping paper roll and line it with acid free tissue paper. Fold the tablecloth in half and then wrap it around the roll. Line the top again with the tissue paper and then store the tablecloth horizontally.

While on the discussion of table linens, I did want to share a few links for folding cloth napkins. I am going to attempt a few of these and see if they improve the look of my table.

Cloth napkins are not only used to wipe faces, but they can also highlight something in the center of your table. This vintage napkin was the perfect place to rest an arrangement of flowers on our table.

Do you have any storage tricks for linens in your home? Do you use linens on your table?

And for those of you that are curious just what it is I am serving at my table, please visit the new “Aldi Queen” blog where I share my recipes and menu plans with everyone!

Be sure to visit Rocks in My Dryer for more tips & tricks from some of the best mommy experts on the net!

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Before & After: Dining Room Chairs

Awe-inspiring Meredith, from Like Merchant Ships, is a source of great inspiration when it comes to home decorating. In my opinion, you either can decorate or you can't. It has nothing to do with money, but has everything to do with being creative with what you have. She is one of those bloggers where I shake my head constantly and say, "Now that is a great idea! Why didn't I think of that?"

One of Meredith's claims to fame, in my opinion, is what a whiz she is at making furniture look new again. She has shown the tops and bottoms of pieces she does and with a piece of fabric and a few tucks here and there, she is able to recreate pieces in her home without spending a bunch of money.

In our house, our dining room set had seen far better days. When we bought it, we had no children and never gave a thought to whether plush cushions with ivory fabric would be a good selection for our furniture. After all, we knew how to eat without making a mess.

Countless playdates, hundreds of dinners on those chairs, a Kool-Aid spill here and there... then suddenly these cushions were beginning to show their age. With another child soon to be sitting in those chairs too, I knew that the situation was only going to get worse.

I ran over to the fabric store and did end up spending a mint on a little fabric to recover our chairs. Yes, I could have bought cheaper materials, but as this was my dining set, I really wanted to do this right.

The fabric is vinyl, but it is a nice faux brushed leather. The chocolate color and the wipeable fabric was just what I had envisioned with these chairs.

Spills on my chair? No problem! Greasy fingers? Easy Peasy! The difference in my attitude is night and day. Now food on our carpet is another story....but I am feeling much better about the chairs.

I hope I did you proud, Meredith!

Old Nasty Chair:






















Freshly Covered Chair:


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Lazy Sunday

Yucky weather has kept us home and I am enjoying a Sunday with our family. Tackling laundry, baking banana bread, finishing the house cleaning, working on the website and finishing up another round of bow orders. This is my kind of lazy Sunday. Fueled with a big mug of coffee (the mug & French press both courtesy of our lovely Goodwill store), I have been able to accomplish so much today already.

As I was working on the last of my bow orders, my mp3 player filled my ears & heart with one of my favorite songs. If you are not familiar with Dar Williams, run, run, run to your library and pick up her music. She is one of my favorite musical story tellers. This song pulls at my heartstrings and makes me cry like a baby every single time I hear it. As a mother of a little boy, the last verse just breaks my heart.

The song begs me to ask the question, "Were you once a boy too?"

Hope you all are enjoying a lazy Sunday too!

When I Was A Boy by Dar Williams

I won't forget when Peter Pan came to my house, took my hand
I said I was a boy; I'm glad he didn't check.
I learned to fly, I learned to fight I lived a whole life in one night
We saved each other's lives out on the pirate deck.

And I remember that night
When I'm leaving a late night with some friends
And I hear somebody tell me it's not safe, someone should help me
I need to find a nice man to walk me home.

When I was a boy,
I scared the pants off of my mom,
Climbed what I could climb upon
And I don't know how I survived,
I guess I knew the tricks that all boys knew.
And you can walk me home,
but I was a boy, too.

I was a kid that you would like,
just a small boy on her bike
Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw.
My neighbor come outside to say, "Get your shirt,"
I said "No way, it's the last time I'm not breaking any law."

And now I'm in a clothing store, and the sign says less is more
More that's tight means more to see,
more for them, not more for me
That can't help me climb a tree in ten seconds flat
When I was a boy, see that picture?
That was me
Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees

And I know things have gotta change,
They got pills to sell,
they've got implants to put in,
they've got implants to remove
But I am not forgetting
That I was a boy too

And like the woods where I would creep,
it's a secret I can keep
Except when I'm tired,
except when I'm being caught off guard

I've had a lonesome awful day,
the conversation finds its way
To catching fire-flies out in the backyard.
And I tell the man I'm with about the other life I lived
And I say now you're top gun,
I have lost and you have won

And he says, "Oh no, no, can't you see
When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked
And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked.
And I could always cry,
now even when I'm alone I seldom do
And I have lost some kindness
But I was a girl too.

And you were just like me, and I was just like you.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Cheap Dry Erase Board


It was time to organize my little corner next to our phone. Receipts, notepads, pens and stationary were scattered all over the top of the table so when I happened upon this cute organizer, I snatched it up at Goodwill (a mere $.75) to reorganize this area in my house. The organizer was certainly a diamond in the rough as it was well worn and coated in a thick layer of dust. A good scrubbing did it well and now it houses all of the craziness that was on top of our table. (Note: By clicking the picture, it will expand it in case you want to see things in more detail!!)


Now I can't take credit for this idea, as I saw it over at mother-in-law's house. She had received this dry erase board as a gift and I was so excited to add one of these to our house. All you need is a tile (I had one saved from a past craft project) from the hardware store and a little picture stand. I found this picture stand over at the Dollar Tree. Ta-Da! Instant dry erase board. What could be cuter than that? Perfect for leaving messages to each other without taking up too much space!


I did want to point out that sweet picture to the left of our daughter. This is a picture I took when she was really small and had just discovered her feet. It made the perfect picture to frame and one that I am super proud of. There is nothing better than capturing a moment like this!

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Disposing of the Disposable Items

Frankly, I am pretty tired of being home. We have been in the house for the entire month of January, due to our entire family being sick, and finally everyone is starting to feel better...and there is a weather advisory today. I had gotten up and gotten the kids ready for the day, made plans to join my grandmother for lunch, and then noticed that my son's school had been cancelled. Despite our disappointment, this feels like it has been a month of accomplishments, as we have tried to tackle some stuff around the house. Some of the things that I have gotten done are:

1. My laundry is caught up. Everything has been washed and even has been put away (only a mother would know how hard that is to do!) I even did a little ironing while I watched television this weekend. I have been home too long when I am now ironing my dish towels.


2. When I do my laundry, I throw all of our socks into their own basket. Then when I have gotten all of the loads done, I sit and sort socks. Sometimes this never happens. This week...it happened! So sad when there is so much joy over accomplishing that.

3. Organized the area around my phone as I got a "new" organizer from Goodwill and filled it with all of the random junk that had been laying on a table. I made a little message board, which I will share for a future entry, and felt a good sense of accomplishment over that.

4. I made Valentine's with my son. More on that in a future entry...

5. Ripped out our entire closet and reorganized it. My husband did all of the hard work doing the putting together of everything and then I organized all of the clothes and weeded through everything that needed to be donated to charity. I even pieced together some new outfits for my husband to give him some new ideas. I have a lot of fun doing that kind of thing and sometimes it helps to have another set of eyes to your clothes to make you realize all that you do have. With everything now being accessible without a stool (as I am five-foot-nothing) I now have everything in reach and have found items in my closet that I had even forgot I had.

6. Cleaned out every single one of my purses. Ended up with almost eight dollars in change, three lipsticks, and a pair of sunglasses. I always scoff at people who tell me that they found money lying around their house that they didn't know they had. Eight dollars of change proves that I was the one who should have been looking!

7. Wrote a new article on frugal storage solutions. I will let everyone know when we post that!

I did want to share one system that we have incoporated into our home, that might be useful to you. One of the biggest questions I get is how we can feed our family of four for only $200 a month (including paper products). There are long and lengthy answers to that, but one of the main things that I have found is to dispose of the disposable items. Now I know not everyone is up for cloth diapering, but there are other disposable items that you might be buying that are wasting precious grocery dollars. Items like paper plates, paper cups, plastic cutlery, paper bags, napkins, & paper towels can drain the budget quickly.


Instead of wasting your money on these items, do an extra load of dishes and just use the dishes you already have in your house. Paper towels can be replaced by microfiber cloths, dish towels, dish rags. Finally, paper napkins can be replaced with cloth napkins.


You can make your own cloth napkins (as my friend Shannon, from Rocks in My Dryer, has suggested) with NO sewing skills required. If you are unmotivated or just love the look of a vintage cloth napkin, check your local thrift store for cloth napkins. I can get my cloth napkins for a quarter each at our thrift store, so it is definitely worth it compared to the amounts we save.

Since I had plenty of time this week, I actually gathered all of the cloth napkins we already had and put them in a basket. The basket is resting on my kitchen counter as a reminder to us all to use these instead of the disposable napkins.

My girlfriend had suggested a brilliant idea, which has helped motivate me further to use the cloth napkins. Underneath your sink, store a basket for all of the baby bibs, dish towels, dish rags (and in our house), cloth napkins. When the basket is full, or when I do a load of towels, I just throw them in the wash. It also makes removing the tablecloth easier, as I can just fold that and throw it in the basket too.

If you are not completely sold on doing the cloth napkins for every meal, start out small and use them for dinner only. You will soon find how easy it is to care for them and the benefits it will provide to your grocery budget.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Budget-Friendly Ideas for Kid's Rooms

First, do not be intimidated by the bright colors on our son’s walls. What appeared to be a cheery Granny Smith apple shade assaulted us with its fluorescent glow instead when applied to the walls. Although the color is a bit brighter than I had hoped, where else except our children’s rooms could we be so bold?


I had been looking for some cute artwork for his room since we had tons of empty wall space, begging to be filled with cute artwork. We did not have the budget though to go out and blow tons of money on artwork so when I happened upon this clever idea in my Real Simple Magazine, I jumped right on it and was so pleased with the results.

The magazine had suggested using book cover jackets as art for your walls. As my son has received wonderful hardcover books from his grandparents, I had been removing the jackets and putting them on a shelf in his closet (for fear that they might be damaged or torn). Two of the jacket covers were for two of his favorite books, “How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight” & “How do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food.” The artwork on them was just perfect for framing.
I went to the Dollar Store and purchased two frames. I then used the cardboard insert to map out how I would frame the pictures to size them and then cut them out. For one of the pictures, I just used the picture that was on the front of the jacket. I used the back of the other cover because it contained some of the story within the picture.

My son was so pleased with his new pictures on his wall as were we! What a great way to really bring to life and share your children’s favorite stories.


The linens on his bed were also in need of being replaced. My son suffers from very bad bloody noses and I could not remove the stain no matter how many times I washed it. My mom had suggested contacting the lady over at MomAdvice to find out how to fix this (obviously I get a lot of jokes about that one!), but apparently she had no idea either.


When I hit a local thrift sale in the area though, I hit the jackpot. Tucked away in a corner was an entire Pottery Barn Kids comforter set. The set included sheets, pillow cases, comforter, shams, bed skirt, and curtains. The total price on the whole thing was only $25. The colors matched perfectly with the theme we already had so these worked wonderfully.

As a side note, you will notice that our son has his bed backwards. One of the truly great things about daybeds is that you don’t have to purchase bedrails to keep them secure in bed. Simply switching the bed around (with headboard on the opposite side) and scooting it next to the wall keeps him safe in his bed without making a bed around bedrails. We will be purchasing this same type of bed for our daughter because it has worked so great. If you are worried about when they have friends come to stay the night, you can invest in a trundle bed that can be tucked underneath and can be popped up when needed. It is an ideal space saver.

I hope these ideas inspire you in creating a special space for your little ones. Feel free to share some of your own ideas by leaving a comment!

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Works-For-Me Wednesday: Maximizing Space




I am new to the Works-For-Me Wednesday idea, but I absolutely love it and thought it was a great way to showcase some of those hidden organizational ideas that I have in this small head of mine. Thank you to Shannon and her wonderful blog (Rocks In My Dryer- how cute is that?) for letting us participate. Be sure to visit her blog for great homemaking & parenting ideas.

Our house is a good size home, but it is one of those lovely quad homes (don't ask me who came up with this stupid floor plan!) which means most of my space is very broken and choppy. Our lower level had an enormous closet in the living room that we originally used to store our various games and basically throw any clutter we had laying around the house into it. After some thoughtful brainstorming, I thought that it would be great to actually use the closet so that the kids had more playing room. We took down the closet doors, framed the closet with curtains, painted & floored the interior of our closet and moved the entertainment center into it. It gave us a lot more free space and took attention away from the monstrosity of an entertainment unit. Now the television is no longer the focal point and can easily disappear with a shut of the curtains.

This same idea can be applied into creating a little home office or a cute place to put your changing table and free some space up in your own home!

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