Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Making My Own Pre-Bagged Salad

While convenient, pre-bagged salads can be expensive. This ten ounce bag costs $2.99 at my local grocery store this week.

This bag of six romaine hearts cost me $3.99 at Costco. When I get the pack home, I chop up two of the heads, wash them, and dry them thoroughly in my salad spinner. (For me, a salad spinner is an indispensable kitchen tool. It cuts the prep time for salads down dramatically and can also be used to dry fruits like grapes and cherries after washing.)

I store the washed and dried lettuce in a gallon size Ziploc bag lined with paper towels. Seal the bag and store in the fridge just like you would bagged salad from the store. The two heads yield about 13 oz. of chopped lettuce, which makes six side salads, or enough to last my small family for three meals. I chop the other heads as we need it and when I have time.

All six heads yield approximately four times the amount of salad as one bag of store-bought lettuce, for only a dollar more. For ten minutes of work, it’s worth it to me to do it myself.

Making my own pre-bagged salad works for me. For other tips, check out We Are That Family.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Haiku Response

Chuk liked the haikus (haiku? how do you pluralize that word?). He wrote me a haiku in response. I'm not crazy about the first line, but I still think it's good.

A haiku for you
A girl too good to be true
The love of my life
Isn't he romantic?

Engagement Party Invitation

We bought these invitations from Paper Source for the engagement party. I hadn’t ever used printable invitations and was a little nervous about it, but I’m pleased to report it was much easier than I thought it would be.

In MS Word, all you have to do is change your paper size is go to file, page setup, click on the paper tab, and then from the drop down menu select the size written on the package of invitations, usually A5 or A7.

I set my margins to allow room for the design. I chose a font and font color to match the existing type. It was simply a process of trial and error; I used scrap paper so as not to waste pricey invitations. I wanted the “what, for, date time, place,” etc. to match the existing writing exactly but I wanted contrast between that and the personal information. I used the same font in a smaller size, but bold and in small caps which allowed for contrast, but coordination.

I was very pleased with the results and some of our guests thought we had them custom ordered, which made me feel like I did a professional job. We have a couple of extra invitations too, and since the style is generic, we can reuse them for another event.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cost Breakdown of Flying and Driving

Remember that engagement party we threw? The couple is getting married in Naples, Florida the first weekend in November. It’s 1,068 miles from our front door to theirs. I hate road trips and my husband’s vacation time is very limited. Jet Blue is offering a one day sale today for approximately $70 each way. A sensible couple would fly.

But a key point to living within my means is knowing that Just because something is a good deal, doesn’t mean I can afford it.

With taxes and fees, the airfare would cost us $338.40, all in. Plus we would have to rent a car, which I estimate would cost us $145.05. We’d also have to put gas in the car, and pay for transportation to and from the airport in Washington.

Driving to and from Florida in my 2004 Honda Civic would cost no more than $200 in gas, and likely somewhat less. (I regularly get 38 miles/gallon on the highway and have sometimes even gotten more than that.) We’ll probably have to eat six meals total during the roadtrip, which is an added expense though. We’d drive straight through so we wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel.

Driving will cost us $225-$250, plus wear and tear on my car. Flying will cost us $500-$550. Flying may be better for my sanity, but driving is better for my budget. We'll see you on the road.

Engagement Party Decorations

For the engagement party we threw the Saturday before last, I really wanted to recreate this fun, festive look from Martha Stewart weddings. But alas, time, budget, and putting myself in the groom-to-be’s shoes prevailed and I switched gears.
Instead of fun and festive, I went for simple and elegant. I ordered a bunch of photos of the couple from for nine cents a piece; shipping was free. I put the picture in frames we already had. I just slipped their photo in front of each of the photos that was already in there. I also framed the invitation to the party and their wedding invitation. I displayed all the framed items on bookcases and end tables. It was a big impact for only $1.17.

I got one big bunch and two little bunches of flowers from the grocery store and made five bouquets out of them which I placed all over the apartment, including the bathroom.

We scattered one to two dozen tealights (sometimes in votive holders and sometimes not) amongst the photos, flowers and food. We buy tealights in bulk from Ikea, so we already had them on hand. In my opinion, nothing adds ambiance like good lighting.

The cost for everything was probably $20-25, but the effect on our apartment was enormous. Because we moved so many things around, edited what was normally on display, and added so many elements that represented the couple we were honoring, the apartment was transformed. I think it really set the mood for the evening and made the couple feel special.

Six Months of Marriage

Happy sixth monthiversary to me (and Chuk)! We’re going out to dinner to celebrate. We don’t eat out very often, so we’re looking forward to trying out the new Italian place near our house.

Since it’s not a real anniversary, we’re not exchanging gifts, but I wrote him a haiku.

My dearest husband,
I love you with my whole heart.
Be mine forever.

I also wrote him a funny haiku (to be delivered with a wink and a cheeky look.)

You are so handsome.
I want to hug and kiss you.
Come on over here.

The funniest piece of marriage advice I have received was given by a friend of my grandmother’s. She told me, “Don’t worry, Dear. The first seven years are the hardest.” I laughed out loud.

However, her wisdom has already come in handy. Whenever I get annoyed with Chuk, I think to myself, “Only six and a half more years.”

Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Hour at Home: Chicken Satay

This is the recipe I used for the engagement party last week. It was the first thing to be completely eaten up. It takes a little while to make (because of the skewering) but it isn’t hard and I bet you already have most of the ingredients on hand.

This recipe is adapted from Tyler Florence’s recipe. (Am I the only one who thinks he's hot?)

Chicken Satay

1 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp. ginger (powdered or fresh)
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbs. curry powder
1½ - 2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into strips
30-40 skewers

Skewer the meat so there’s chicken on only half the skewer.
Mix together all other ingredients.
Pour over chicken.
Let marinade for 1-2 hours. Don’t let it sit for more than two and a half hours or the chicken will start to break down. (Don’t ask me how I know this.)

After it has marinated, cook it over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side. You can use a George Foreman grill, griddle, grill pan, or your outdoor grill. If you use an outdoor grill, you’ll have to soak your skewers in water for at least 30 minutes. If you use one of the other cookers, don’t worry about soaking them, just let the skewers hang off the side of the pan.

Serve with peanut sauce. Recipe follows.

Peanut Sauce

½ cup smooth peanut butter
1/8 cup soy sauce
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1 Tbs. dark brown sugar
Juice of one lime
¼ cup of hot water
Chopped peanuts, for garnish (optional)

Stir first six ingredients together. Pour into serving dish and top with chopped peanuts, if desired. Serve with chicken satay.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Engagement Party Menu

We hosted an engagement party for close friends of our on Saturday. It was a cocktail party for nine. Over the coming days, I’ll describe different elements of the party, but first, let’s talk about the food. That’s always what everyone is most interested in anyway.

At cocktail parties it’s just as important as at a dinner party to think about in your food. You want to serve hot things and cold things, rich things and light things, meat and vegetarian options. While it’s important to balance flavors and textures, you need to keep in mind that the more colorful the food is, the more appetizing it will appear.


Kefta meatballs with tzaziki
Chicken satay with peanut sauce
Hummus with vegetables and pita
Crab salad on cucumber rounds
Cheese plate with grapes & raspberries

Kefta is a Moroccan kabob dish. I switched things up a little bit by serving it as meatballs instead of on skewers and by making it out of ground beef instead of ground lamb. Both of these changes made my life easier and none of my guests were Moroccan, so they never knew the difference.

I served green bell pepper strips, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, and pita triangles with a good quality store-bought hummus, again because it makes my life easier and cost about the same. I think the reason most people don’t have more parties is because they find it stressful. It’s stressful to try and do too much. My guests don’t have a better time if I make everything from scratch but am harried by the time they arrive. If I’m calm and relaxed and ready to have a good time, then that energy is going to translate to my guests and they’re going to have a good time too.

For cheese trays, The Joy of Cooking recommends one fresh goat cheese, one soft fermented cheese, one blue-veined cheese, and one firm cheese. Again, we bent the rules to fit our own tastes. We lost the blue cheese simply because I don’t like it and added another firm cheese in its place. We served a plain goat cheese, Camembert, an Irish Cheddar and a finally a smoked Gouda. We chose the latter because it’s my husband’s favorite and the flavor profile is so different from Cheddar, even though they’re both firm cheeses.

The cake was a brown butter cake doused with rum and a creamy caramel buttercream. We chose it because the couple had vacationed in Puerto Rico. We bought the cake from the woman who made our wedding cake. (If you live in the DC metro area and you need a cake, email me because seriously, she makes the best cakes and her prices are really reasonable.) It was actually more work to buy the cake in this instance rather than make it ourselves because we had to go pick it up from about 45 minutes away. We thought it was worth the time and expense though because we wanted to make the cake a centerpiece. The engaged couple just bought their first home in Florida and are getting married on the beach there, so she made the cake in a cute beach theme. (The picture doesn’t do it justice.)
All in all, I think the party was a success. People stayed late and ate a lot, and that's how I measure success.

Relieving Sinus Pressure and Pain in the Shower

Are you tired of me writing about how sick I am? Yeah, well I’m tired of being sick. So we both have to just deal with it. But I promise this will be the last post about my cold.

I’ve been having fairly intense sinus pain between my eyebrows and on my cheekbones so I’ve been wanting to massage the area to relieve the pressure, but I haven’t been able to because my nose is running so much and I don’t want to get snot on my hands. (I know that is too much information and a run-on sentence, but bear with me.) I’ve come up with a solution that totally works for me.

In the shower, I can hold my head in such a way that the streams of water gentle massage my sinuses without getting any water up my nose. If you have an adjustable shower head you need to make sure the pressure is on the gentlest rain-type of setting otherwise your face is going to hurt even more. Between the face massage and the steam, I’ve been feeling better every time I get out of the shower.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Savon de Marseille

Because I'm sick, my normally frequent hand washing has gone into overdrive. I don't believe there is any better way to prevent the spread of germs than good old-fashioned hand washing. I don't like hand sanitizing gels or even anti-bacterial soap, but I love savon de Marseille.

The former strips your hands of the good bacteria your skin needs to ward off infections and often leaves my hands feeling dry. Savon de Marseille is a traditional French soap made with 72% pure vegetable oil. It gets my hands just as clean as conventional soap without over-drying my skin.

I love this soap not only because I believe it is superior in quality to all other soaps, but it is more frugal too. I believe I paid $6 or $7 per bar, but each bar lasts about a year and a half to two years so the cost per use is a fraction of what it is for conventional soaps.

The bar on the left was the size of the bar on the right, about three inches on all sides, when we began using it in March 2008. As you can see, we can still get another week or two of use out of it. Part of the reason these soaps last so long is because they are higher quality, but also because they have a low surface area to mass ratio. One big bar of soap last longer than two little bars of soap.

As the cold and flu season approaches, we all need to think about being more vigilant with our hand washing. But where I live, it is also a season of low humidity and I don't want my hands to be dry or cracking. With savon de Marseille, I can be germ-free and still have soft skin.

High quality at a low price always "works for me". Check out other great tips at We Are That Family.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Food for Sick People

We often hear that the sick should eat things like chicken soup and orange juice, which are great, but I'd like to add another food to that list. I've been eating roasted garlic the last two days and it's really been helping me to feel better.

Garlic has wonderful antibiotic, anti-viral and fungicidal properties and is a known immune booster. It's intense flavor is mellowed by roasting, yet it remains flavorful enough to taste when one has a head cold. Think about making some roasted garlic the next time you or someone in your household has a cold. I'm certain you'll be glad you did.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sick Day

How did I get so sick so fast? I'll be in bed indefinitely, with these.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy Hour at Home: Dad's Drink

Today would have been my dad's 62 birthday. I still miss him all the time. My brother and sister are visiting his ashes today, at a beach in California, and I wish I could be there too. Instead, I'm across the country and I'm going to drink my dad's drink and toast him.

Jack and Coke

2 oz. Jack Daniel's whiskey
12 oz. Coke

Pour all ingredients over lots of ice and serve.

Normally, I would tell you what kind of glass to serve it in, but let's be honest, you're serving it to a dude and he doesn't care. He won't notice or think twice about it because he will be too busy feeling manly. Seriously, you could serve it in a coffee cup and he wouldn't blink. This cocktail makes him feel that manly.

Full disclosure, I think this drink tastes like crap, but all men I've ever come across like this drink, or at least pretend they do, so you should know how to make it just in case you ever want to make a guy happy or make him think you're smart. Other things you should know to make guys happy and think you're smart is one obscure sports fact (my husband fell in love with me the first time we met after I explained to a bunch of guys what a backwards K meant in baseball scoring), one thing under the hood of a car (engine doesn't count), and how to change a tire. It also helps if you know how to make his favorite food better than his mom makes it.

But I digress. Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.

P.S. My dad taught me how to make this drink, how to throw a baseball, what all the things were under the hood of a car, how to change a tire, and he was a great cook. So, I got all this advice from the best. Dad, you are the best.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Afternoon with the President

In case you need me today, I'm meeting with President Obama now to listen to his ideas on health care reform. (Full disclosure: Some other people, like a couple of thousand of them, might show up too.)

One of the greatest things about living in Washington is that I have opportunities to be an eye-witness to history, to be there when something is happening. While others watch it on TV, I get to watch it live. It's something I'm very grateful for.

Lest you think I'm partisan, since living here, I've seen Donald Rumsfeld, Ted Kennedy, Tucker Carlson, Ralph Nader, Bill Maher, and Paul Begala speak. I've been to inaugurations for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. I've flown on commercial planes with Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger. I swear, John Kerry almost hit me with his car in Georgetown one afternoon. (No one believes that it was him.) On a separate occasion, my sister and I saw Chelsea Clinton walking down the street in Georgetown. I hardly ever even go to Georgetown.

So, if you ever find yourself in Washington DC, keep your eyes open because you never know who you'll run into (...or in the case of John Kerry, who will run into you!)

Are you taking advantage of all the opportunities available to you in your area?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mama Pads or Mama Cloths

Have you ever tried reusable feminine pads? I haven't yet but I'm very interested in them. They just sound better for me, better for the environment and better for my budget (in the long run.)

Honestly the main thing that's holding me back from trying them, other than the relatively high upfront cost, is that I'm a tampon user. If you've tried mama pads, what has been your experience with them? Do they leak? I always had leaks with commercial pads.

If you're interested in trying them, or expanding your stash, Cottage Homestead is giving away one organic mama pad.

Organizing Paper Bags

As you may know, I have a small kitchen. I have to make do with storage wherever I can find it. Which is why, until recently, I had my paper bags shoved into the crack between my refrigerator and the wall. When I finally got tired of the way a bunch of bags shoved into a crevice (it only took a year) I had to find a better system.

The solution was free, quick, and easy…my favorite kind of organizing. In fact, the hardest part was getting all the paper bags out from between the wall and refrigerator. Once I got them all out, I separated them into big (grocery sized) and small (lunch sized) bags, stacked them on top of each other and secured with a large binder clip. I put a nail into the side of the cabinet under my sink and hung the binder clip attached to the big bags there. I put another nail into the wall of my “pantry” and hung the binder clip full of little bags there.

It “Works for Me”. Check out We are THAT Family for other great tips.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hosting Game Night and Dinner

Saturday night, we invited two friends over for dinner and a game of Trivial Pursuit. A good time was had by all.

Because one friend is a vegetarian and the rest of us are not, we all made our own French bread pizzas and served it along with Caesar salad and brownies. Everything could be done ahead, except for making pizzas, which became part of the socializing. While the pizzas were cooking, we ate the salad. We ate the brownies while we played the game.

To prepare, we cut two baguettes into thirds and then cut each third into halves, lengthwise. We put all the toppings in bowls on a lazy Susan to facilitate the pizza making. The toppings we served were: cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, olives, spinach, Italian sausage, and pepperoni.

The Counter After My Husband Makes Breakfast

Chuk leaves for work before I get up in the morning. (Am I a bad housewife for not getting up with him? Wait...Don't answer that. I know the answer already.) This is what I saw in the kitchen when I got up.

Based on the dried on yellow stuff and the crumbs, I'm guessing he made himself eggs and toast for breakfast.

I'm sure it was delicious.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Easy Football Party

Sad news. Last Thursday was the official beginning of the football season. For the five months that the NFL season lasts I become a football widow. My husband loves football more than anything. Alas, I shall not see him again until February.

The only plus side to all this neglect is that we have guests over more during football season than any other time during the year. Our socializing style is pretty relaxed, so having friends over to watch the game is ideal for us.

In addition to the smaller parties we have throughout the season, every year we have a big Super Bowl party. Because my husband’s favorite team is the Steelers, this past year, for our Fourth Annual Super Bowl Party, we wanted to change things a little bit and step up our “game” some. We had a chili bar, which in addition to being very easy, was also a big hit. There’s nothing like a big bowl of chili on a cold day. Besides, it’s filling and frugal to boot!

I won’t bother to give you chili recipes, because everyone already has their favorite recipe, but I’ll tell you how to set up this easy party. We had a vegetarian chili in a small crock pot and a chili con carne in our larger crock pot, which kept them both warm and allowed people to serve themselves throughout the afternoon and evening. With the chilis, we had every accompaniment we could think of including corn bread, hotdogs, cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, onions, scallions, sour cream, saltines, and queso.

We put the crock pots of chili, all the accompaniments, plates, bowls, forks, spoons and napkins on one table. We had drinks in a cooler and cups on a table near the cooler, not with the food. Separating the food and drink at parties allows for better traffic flow. We had veggies and dip on yet another table (the coffee table) near where everyone was sitting, watching the game.

We used sports theme wrapping paper as tablecloths. This is both a frugal decoration and helps to prevent your tables from getting scratches and condensation rings. I strategically place coasters and napkins near anywhere a person could sit whenever we have people over.

For most parties, I make a dessert myself, but every year for our Super Bowl party, I buy a dozen or two of Krispy Kreme’s football shaped donuts. Who doesn’t love Krispy Kreme?

That’s it. Enough food to feed a football team but very little effort. Everything can be done in advance so I can enjoy the game, rather than serving or replenishing trays and everyone gets exactly what they want to eat. It’s a win-win and that almost never happens in the Super Bowl.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Happy Hour at Home: Dangerous Denise

This drink is my friend Denise's favorite. She even served it as the signature cocktail at her wedding, calling it the Dangerous Denise. If you follow the recipe and add a splash of orange juice, it's called a 007 because it has orange juice, orange vodka, and 7-up. Get it?

Dangerous Denise

1 oz. Stolichnaya Oranj vodka (Any orange vodka works.)
2 oz. 7-Up

Pour over ice and serve in an old-fashioned glass.

We Will Never Forget

September 11, 2001 I was staying in a hostel in Washington, DC a few blocks from the White House. I had just graduated from college in June and I was planning on moving to the District (as we locals call it) so I was in town looking for an apartment. I woke up that morning and went to the breakfast room and was eating Honey Nut Cheerios. The room was empty except for a janitor and me. A radio was on but something else seemed off. The janitor said to me, "The World Trade Center has been bombed." I said, "In New York?" He said yes. At that point, it didn't seem like a big deal. I finished my cheerios.

The rest of the morning and afternoon was a blur. I don't remember how I found out about the Pentagon. At some point the gravity of the situation hit.

I had planned on going on a hostel-organized tour of the Pentagon that morning but decided to sleep in instead.

I had borrowed my mom's cell phone for the trip and the lines were jammed all day. I knew my family would be worried and I wanted to get a hold of them. I wanted to get a hold of my college roommate too. She had just moved back to New York and I knew her apartment had a view of the World Trade Center.

That night I went to a bar in Adams Morgan with a bunch of other kids from the hostel. They were mostly British, Australian, and South African. There was a guy from Chicago there too who kept hitting on me. We talked about how strange everything felt. There were military police officers on almost every corner.

A British girl kept saying she wanted to go home. I didn't feel unsafe. I felt very connected to this group of strangers.

I went on a tour of the White House the next day. I still have never been to the Pentagon.

Where were you?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Knock Your Socks Off Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

(There are no pictures to go with this post because this ice cream disappears long before a camera can be found.)

Labor Day may be the official end of summer, but that doesn’t mean the frosty treats have to end. This double chocolate peanut butter ice cream will have you feeling like it’s the dog days of summer all over again.

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream

3 cups half & half, divided
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
3 Tbs. cornstarch
¾ cup semi sweet chocolate chips
½ cup peanut butter, divided

In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together 2 cups of half & half, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Heat until milk steams, but don’t let it boil.

In a small bowl, stir together ½ cup of half & half and the cornstarch, getting out all the lumps.

In a slow stream, add the cornstarch mixture to the heated milk and cocoa mixture, stirring constantly. Bring to a low boil, allowing it to thicken. Remove from flame.

Separately, heat the remaining ½ cup of half & half. Once it is near boiling, pour over the chocolate chips. Let sit for one minute and then stir together.

Add the melted chocolate chips to the cooling ice cream base. Cover and refrigerate until completely cold. Pour into your ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Just before you remove the ice cream from the ice cream maker, drizzle in ¼ dup of peanut butter. Don’t over mix. You want a nice ribbon of peanut butter running through the ice cream.

Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container and fold in the remaining ¼ cup of peanut butter. Cover and freeze until solid.

Try not to eat the whole thing by yourself. (This is the hardest part.)

What I love about this recipe (besides the fact that it is the most delicious ice cream EVER) is that it doesn’t require eggs. I don’t need to be stressing about accidently curdling my custard when really I want to be anticipating the pleasure of eating ice cream. Every part of ice cream should be a stress-free experience, in my opinion.

This recipe was adapted from

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Are You Freaking Kidding Me: Facebook Quiz

When I was in high school I had a subscription to Seventeen magazine. I read it cover to cover every month. My favorite part of it though was taking the silly quizzes. There still must be a part of that teenager in me somewhere, because when I’m bored, I like to take those stupid Facebook quizzes too.

I took the quiz “What Decade Fits your Personality Best?” and got the results 1960s. I chuckled to myself and showed my husband thinking he too would chuckle because clearly I am nothing like the 1960s. Here is what the description of my results were:

You are anything but're more like a flower. You are a cool,
laid-back, deep-thinker type of rebel-- one who has strong beliefs about keeping
the peace with regards to society and the world. You go against the norm and are
proud of it; you don’t care what others think because, after all, your
differences are what make you stand out in order to make a difference. You clash
with the rules and regulations of the cultural norm which stereotype you as
Class-A Rebel—but rebel WITH a cause. You are also in tune with nature and
protecting the environment; therefore you are most likely drawn to bohemian,
earthy styles (or perhaps anything that stands you out in a crowd of boring
colors). Your style and attitude POP. You are in touch with your inner-self,
feelings, and deep-seeded emotions, and love to express them with music and art.
To my shock, my husband said he thought that was about right. What?! How could my partner of nearly four years not know what decade fits my personality best? (You know, because it REALLY matters and because Facebook quizzes are infallible.) I joked a little, “Yeah, because I’m such a Class-A rebel.” Again, to my surprise he said he did think I was a rebel and the examples he cited of my rebellion were that I didn’t change my last name when we got married and that I don’t buy into society’s consumerism. He could not think of any other examples.

I think those are examples of non-conformity at most, but not rebellion, much less “Class-A” rebellion. Those are choices I made and, in the case of consumerism, continue to make, because it’s what feels right for me, not because I’m trying to make some political or social statement.

What do you think? When we make choices that are atypical for society is it necessarily rebellion? What defines rebellion? Do you take the quizzes on Facebook?

P.S. For the record, I am clearly a 1930s (or at least wish I was). The description is below.
You are strong and determined and have what it takes to get through
life's storms. You are very helpful to those around you-- be it your friends,
your family, or even a neighbor in need. You are a great leader and
strong-willed person, and take challenges as a way to better yourself...But you
also have a deep sense of warmth and nurturing for those you care about. You are
well-rounded and tough because you have to be. You aren't a "diva" but rather a
humble person with admirable character. With more hard-working, quality like
you, this world would be a much better place. By being able to turn a little
into a lot, you know how to make life enjoyable even if it's just through the
little things.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Scissor Trick

Do you ever hear a household trick and think, "That's so handy! I should try that" and then promptly forget about it? It happens to me all the time.

Well, just now I was struggling with my dull scissors as I tried to work on my embroidery and a light went off in my brain; I remembered that at some point I heard that if you cut aluminium foil, it sharpens scissors. I tried it and it works! They're not as good as new scissors, but certainly better than before.

If you've got dull scissors, try cutting foil. It's cheaper than buying new scissors or even taking them to get sharpened at the store.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Home Alone

Chuk is headed out of town this morning to visit with some of his extended family. I’m staying home because I wasn’t up to another road trip right after getting back from the last one, and I’m still not feeling very social as I’m still in mourning. He won’t be back until tomorrow night so I have two whole days alone.

I’m a pretty independent person so it doesn’t bother me. Besides, I have some things planned to keep me busy. I bought a new chair at Ikea yesterday that needs to be assembled. Last week, I found a desk chair on the street that I want to try my hand at refurbishing. (That’ll be an experiment since I’ve never done anything like it before.) I’m planning an engagement party for some close friends and need to buy invitations, as well as work on some decorations. Lest you think I’m obsessively productive, I’ll admit that I also have a bunch of movies saved on my DVR and I’ve been craving brownies for a week now, so I anticipate some vegging out will also be in my future.

What’s your home alone style? Do you get lonely? Do you tear it up Risky Business style? Do you seize the opportunity relax and watch chick flicks? Do you invite friends over for a grown-up slumber party? Other? Suggestions?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Free Song Download

Amazon is offering you the opportunity to download one song for free. The have literally millions to choose from. Hurry, you only have through September 6.

Kitchen Sink Organization

Because I live in a small-ish apartment, I want to keep my space as clutter-free as possible. While this is sometimes difficult (I’m not a natural-born minimalist) one of the ways I am able to keep clutter at bay is to keep my surfaces as clear as possible.

In my tiny (less than 9' x 9'), windowless kitchen, I use a small shower caddy above the sink to hold all my cleaning tools. I bought the shower caddy at Target for no more than $6.00 or $7.00. It had suction cups on the back, but those were easy enough to pop out. We hung it on the wall using large picture hanging hooks where the suction cups used to be. I think using just nails, driven in at an angle (don’t worry about studs), would be better because occasionally my husband and mother-in-law grab the rag too quickly and knock the caddy off the hooks, which I don’t think would be a problem with nails. For some reason my husband really wanted to use the picture hooks. You have to pick your battles and this was not something that was very important to me. It doesn’t fall off that often.

I use the soap dish part of the shower caddy to hold my sponge which allows it to dry out between uses, reducing bacteria. I hang a rag over two hooks that I’m guessing were meant to hold bath puffs, which allows it to dry quickly too. (If you don’t use both a rag and sponge, you could hang rubber gloves over the hooks.) In the part where you would normally put shampoo and conditioner, I keep a vegetable scrubber, a chore boy, an old toothbrush for cleaning nooks and crannies, the sink stopper, and a yellow squid which I don’t use very often but makes me smile every time I see it. It’s a scrubber with dish soap inside it.

Even though it’s just a small thing, repurposing a shower caddy in this way has kept my sink looking so much tidier. Keeping things clutter-free works for me.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Elbow Grease: The Most Natural Cleaner of All

At our house, we use few conventional cleaning agents. We started making the shift about two years ago for several reasons, including 1) we are concerned about the environment; 2) I am frugal and conventional cleaning products are expensive; 3) I’m very sensitive to smells.

I don’t know that I have any revolutionary ideas about cleaning products, but here’s my round-up:
All-Purpose Cleaning: I use vinegar and water as a replacement for Windex, Formula 409, Fantastik etc.
Scrubbing: Baking soda (just shaken out of the box and onto the surface I’m cleaning) replaces Comet, Scrubbing Bubbles, Ajax, Soft Scrub, etc.
Carpet: I use rubbing alcohol as a spot remover and baking soda as a deodorizer, the former may be left on to dry but latter must be vacuumed up.
Grout: First I try spraying on hydrogen peroxide to remove mildew stains. If it doesn’t work, I admit that I use bleach. This is neither good for the environment nor our health, but technically it is a natural cleaner. Chlorine is an element, atomic number 17.
Laundry Pre-Treatment: Phosphate-free dish soap works well for most spots. (Note: Many of the conventional dish soaps contain no phosphates now. The bottle under my sink now is original scent Dawn. You don’t always have to pay for the more expensive “green” cleaners; some of the old stand-bys are getting on board.) For blood stains, I use hydrogen peroxide.
Dusting: I mostly just use a damp rag/microfiber cloth. If something really needs polishing, I’ll use olive oil shaken up with a few drops of lemon juice.
Air Freshening: Usually I just open the windows, but for stronger odors or rooms without a window (my bathroom, for instance) I’ll light a match and kind of wave it around until it burns out. If you have musty rooms from being shut up (like basements or attics) laying pieces of charcoal around helps to absorb all the odors.
Microwave: Heat up a bowl of water with half a lemon in it for one minute. Remove the bowl and scrub.
Garbage Disposal: I either dump a bunch of baking soda down the drain and then pour a whole kettle of boiling water after it, or I run citrus peels through the disposal.
Floors: I use a bucket of hot water.

That’s it. My cleaning products consist mostly of hot water, vinegar, baking soda, dish soap, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and lemon. However, I think the all time best cleaning product is elbow grease. Most things can be cleaned with nothing more than hot water and scrubbing. Nothing is more frugal or more environmentally friendly than elbow grease either. That being said, the right tools make cleaning with all that elbow grease easier.

My favorite tools are my Beastie Boys CD, all-surface sponges (the scrubbing side won’t scratch non-stick pans, tiles, or the enamel on your bathtub), Chore Boy stainless steel scrubbers, rags, stiff bristle brushes (for carpet and bathtub), old toothbrushes, Magic Erasers (my newest love especially when I'm cleaning the stovetop), a broom, and my Eureka SmartVac. (Seriously, it’s a better vacuum than a Dyson and costs only a fraction of the price.) I didn’t include a mop because I prefer to clean the floors by hand. I think it takes the same amount of time and does a better job, but we do own a mop because my husband prefers it.

To learn more about natural cleaning, check out the carnival going on at Passionate Homemaking or Katie’s green cleaning tips.

Happy Hour at Home: Island Breeze

I’ve got another easy cocktail recipe for you. This was both my favorite drink in college and my brother’s favorite drink in college.

Island Breeze

1 oz. Coconut rum (Malibu and Parrot Bay are my favorite brands)
6 oz. Cranberry juice

Serve over ice in highball glass. Garnish with lime wedge if desired.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blind Pilot

My husband is totally into cycling. He commutes to work on his bike almost everyday. This is relevant because over the weekend he introduced me to the music of an awesome band called Blind Pilot. He heard about them because apparently they went on a whole West Coast tour on their bicycles. So neat!

Anyway, if you like indie rock you should check them out.

You can listen to some of their other songs for free on their website.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Are You Freaking Kidding Me: HGTV Edition

Dear HGTV,

I love your shows, but I have a bone to pick with you regarding your use of the word “green” in many of your shows. Admittedly, you frequently get “green” right when you’re referring to color, but I think you are often WAY off base when you use the term to refer to an eco-friendly home or lifestyle.

A 3,600 square foot house lived in by two people is not “green”. Pulling out perfectly functional countertops is not “green”, even if you are replacing them with recycled glass countertops. Likewise, replacing carpet that’s in good condition with bamboo floors is not “green”. Those old countertops and carpets are going into a landfill where they will leach their chemical into the earth.

There are more ways to “go green” than simply changing light bulbs and recycling. So why don’t you stop telling us about things we already know about and start talking to us about exterior paint colors, shade and wind blocking trees, using curtains as additional window insulation, and how to live with less in smaller homes. Those are the shows I’m interested in.


The Unintended Housewife