Sunday, February 28, 2010

Monogrammed Dishtowel

One of the bad things about not having the same last name as your spouse is that it's difficult to monogram things because you have different initials. Fortunately for me, M is one of my initials and W is one of Chuk's. I found a great font (Algerian) that looks good both as a W and as an M, depending on how it's turned.

I'm practicing the satin stitch by monogramming a set of dishtowels. This is my first time using the technique; normally, I back stitch everything. Clearly, I need a lot of practice, but I have several more to do, so hopefully by the final one I'll get the hang of it. I also want to add more detail so it's more like the original font, which is partially outlined.

What did you do this weekend?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Membership has Its Privileges

One of the difficulties, I find, of living frugally, is finding ways to have fun without spending a lot of money. One way to cut activity costs, support a good cause, and have fun all at once is by becoming a member of certain tourist places. Typically membership costs a fee equal to approximately two visits and grants you unlimited access to the site for one year, a discount in the gift shop, perhaps a gift (like a calendar) or an invitation to a members-only event, and is often at least partially tax deductable.

Currently Chuk and I have year-long memberships to Mt. Vernon and Shenandoah National Park. Because we often have guests from out of town who want to visit us and see all the sites around the nation’s capital, we go to these sites on a regular basis. We’ve found our memberships to be an excellent value because every visit after the first two are essentially free. For years, my mom, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, has alternated between having a membership to the Legion of Honor and SFMOMA. Because she changes her membership each year, she never gets fatigued of one museum.

If you’re on a budget but still looking for a way to still get out and do things and support a local non-profit, consider becoming a member of a park, museum or historical site in your area. It’s a win-win and it works for me.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Healthy Taco Salad

For once this season a blizzard hitting the east coast missed us, but we’re still having wind storms like you wouldn’t believe. Yet again, I’ve turned to colorful, comforting food to cheer us up when the weather is cold and gray.

Taco Salad

For taco meat:
1 lb. lean ground beef or turkey
3 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 small-medium onions or 1 large onion, chopped

For salad:
1 head romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
1 bell pepper, diced
1 can corn, drained
½ can kidney beans or black beans (I used garbanzo because that’s what I had)
4 green onions, diced
½ can black olives (whole, sliced, chopped, it doesn’t matter)
Sour cream

Throw all the taco meat ingredients into a pan over medium high heat, breaking up the meat and incorporating the spices. Cook until browned.

Layer salad ingredients on your plates and top with a few spoonfuls of cooked taco mixture. Serves 4 generously.

This is a healthy and filling meal. If you’ve given up meat for Lent, you can still make this by leaving out the meat and adding more beans. Season the beans as you would the taco meat, but only using about half the amount of each spice.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Negotiating for Lower Bills

I have two words to say to you: negotiation works. On our most recent statement, our cable bill went up, from $139.41 to $169.28 with taxes and fees and all that jazz for our TV and internet. That’s more than a 20% increase on a bill I already thought was too high.

We were both ready to cut back to basic cable and shop around for a cheaper internet service provider, but we wanted to explore the path of least resistance first. (The TV and internet bill is basically our whole entertainment budget since we are homebodies.) I read this great post from The Saved Quarter about negotiating your bills. I am a formidable negotiator in the marketplaces of developing countries, but I had never thought to negotiate with my service providers.

This was right up my alley. Unfortunately, the cable bill is in Chuk’s name so I would not be able to do the haggling. Now, my husband has many wonderful qualities, among them is that he is extremely laid-back; this is great 99% of the time but the other 1% of the time, like when I want him to get us lower rates on our bills, it’s not so great.

I emailed him the link to the Penny Saver’s post and, with much doubt in his abilities, left him to do the dirty work. To my surprise and delight, he was successful! He negotiated the rate down to $130 per month which is locked in for 12 months and they added Showtime, Cinemax, TMC and faster internet connection to our package. We’re getting more for less and all it cost us was one 10 minute phone call. I’m so proud of him. He’ll be ready for the souks any day now.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Storing Homemade Bread

Fortunately, my bread baking experiments have improved since my first disastrous attempt. (Remember this?) I think the keys have been 1) Ignoring the recommended 4 hour rise time and letting it rise for 36 hours instead, and 2) Making it in a loaf pan rather than a free-formed boule.

Now that we have figured out the mechanics of baking, we’ve had to figure out how to store the bread to retain all of its freshness. After some experimenting, the method works best for me is wrapping the loaf in a sheet of parchment paper and letting it sit out on the counter. The parchment paper prevents staleness, but doesn’t make the crust go soft the way a plastic bag does.

How do you store your bread?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Weekend in New York

This week, for friend makin’ Monday, Amber wants to know what we did this weekend. I’m so glad she asked. I went to New York City this weekend!

Some friends of mine from China (by which I mean they lived across the hall from me when I lived in China; they aren’t Chinese; Christine is Australian and John is from South Carolina) are visiting New York this week so Chuk and I went up to see them.

We took the bus from DC to New York early Saturday morning and got arrived around 11:00 am. We checked into our fantastic hotel, which was a steal at $119 for a four star hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The hotel is totally in the art deco style and we had a corner room on the 26th floor with windows on two sides and a view to the south and west.

Chuk and I walked around downtown seeing Ground Zero, Wall Street, the Old Federal Building, and Chinatown. It was the perfect time to visit Chinatown since it is Spring Festival and everyone was celebrating. We chanced upon parades and people setting off confetti bombs in the street. I treated Chuk to his first bubble tea, which he liked.

Then we met up with my friends, who had never met Chuk. We all walked around Little Italy and then went back up to Midtown to see Grand Central Station, Bryant Park, the public library, Times Square, the Ed Sullivan Theater and the Hello Deli, and finally had dinner at the Carnegie Deli. The deli was expensive, but the sandwiches were as big as they are rumored to be. It was certainly an experience.

Chuk's pastrami on rye.

We said goodnight to my friends, who were staying with another friend of theirs’ in Brooklyn, and Chuk and I headed back to our hotel. Our room had a big, deep, old fashioned bathtub, and I took a nice, long soak after all that walking.

Sunday morning, Chuk went out and got us authentic New York bagels and then we met up with John and Christine again to do some more walking. We saw the Empire State building, the Chrysler building, the UN headquarters, Rockefeller Plaza, Radio City Music Hall, had lunch at an Italian restaurant where Chuk and I split a pizza, and then we went to Central Park.

Chuk and I had to catch our bus back to DC, so we said goodbye to John and Christine, which was sad, but I’m sure we’ll see them again soon. We went back to our hotel to pick up our bags, stopped by Gray’s Papaya to get some hotdogs and papaya drink for the bus and then caught the bus back home.

We had so much fun. I’ve been to New York lots of times before, but this was Chuk and my friend Christine’s first time really being there, so it was great to sightsee through their eyes. Everything was exciting for them, which made it exciting for me too. We did a lot of walking and eating junk food, but it was great.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Free DIY Air Freshener

I’m one of those people who are really sensitive to smells. My olfactory sense is overwhelmed by most artificial scents and as a result I don’t like plug-in air fresheners, reed diffusers, room sprays, those cardboard car air fresheners, strongly scented candles, fabric softeners, etc.

In my home, this is not really an issue. I open my windows to air my apartment out all the time. It’s a natural air freshener and as a result my home smells like nothing most of the time which I think it great because then yummy cooking smells and the smell of fresh flowers (if I have them) aren’t masked.

In my car, I’ve noticed more of a problem. I think it was the more than 4,500 miles of driving we did in a month last fall as we took road trip after road trip after road trip. The car doesn’t smell bad; it just smells kind of stuffy, like a room that’s been closed up for too long. I rarely drive, so the car does get closed up for long periods of time.

The frugal way I’ve found to combat this is to use those little perfume and cologne samples that come in magazines. I just rip the advertisement out of the magazine, open the little flap and then shove it under the seat of the car. It doesn’t really matter what the scent is because you can’t really smell it per se, the car just smells good. One keeps the car smelling fresh for a couple of weeks.

I only use one at a time because I don’t want a strong smell, but if you like stronger odors, you could use more than one. If you don’t get any magazines or catalogs with perfume samples, I bet you could use those little cardboard scent sticks that you get at perfume counters for the same effect.

This same idea also works well in drawers in place of potpourri sachets.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Olympics

Chuk and I have been watching the Olympics every night. We have a little American flag on our coffee table. We cheer "USA USA" just before an American competes and then high-five when he or she has finished, regardless of outcome.

Yesterday was a good day to be an American. I'm inspired as I watch these athletes who have devoted their whole lives to fulfilling their dreams achieve them and so proud to know that they represent my country. It feels like it's my victory too.

(photo credit, photo credit, photo credit)

I'm Over It

I'm going to tell you a secret. In the last two weeks, I've had two dreams about having a baby. I haven't told anybody about it, until now. I was questioning everything. Is my biological clock finally kicking in? Does this mean I'm ready to have a baby? What if Chuk doesn't want to have a baby now and I do? What if my eggs are getting too old? I've been torturing myself thinking about it all the time.

Not anymore. This morning the cat peed on the carpet in the hallway because I wasn't giving her what she wanted--wet cat food. Then this afternoon she knocked a turd out of her litter box when she was trying to bury them and I had to clean that off the carpet too.

It was enough to cure me of my baby fever. I can wait some more.

Incidentally, the best way I've found to clean up cat pee on carpet is to soak it all up with lots of paper towels. You have to step on them to really blot it well. Then when it feels dry and you can't see the mark anymore, pour a 50/50 solution of rubbing alcohol and water on the spot to eliminate the smell and keep the cat from re-marking there.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Natural Mood Improvement

Sometimes I just don’t feel like myself. I’m not as cheerful as I want to be. I feel melancholy and lethargic. I just have the blahs. A lot of it results from circumstances that are beyond my control; in the last two years, I’ve lost both a parent and a grandparent and have been dealing with chronic unemployment.

How I deal with these feelings is within my control though. The following three homeopathic remedies for non-clinical depression have worked for me and the results are supported by emerging science.

Vitamin D: According to Michael F. Holick, M.D., Ph.D., vitamin D is essential to the brain. "The new research is confirming previous observations that vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of depression." (source) Vitamin D is particularly helpful for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin D increases levels of serotonin, a hormone in the brain that alters mood. (source) According to Dr. Marcelle Pick, most medical practitioners agree that normal neurotransmitter function depends in part on adequate vitamin D synthesis. (source)

You can get vitamin D from the sun, but if you work inside or live where there isn’t much sun during the winter months, you may not be getting enough. I take a supplement of 400 IU of vitamin D each day, though the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Food and the US Food and Nutrition Board both say that one can safely have up to 2000 IU per day. (source) I’ve noticed a change in my mood even with this relatively small dose.

B Vitamins: According to Dr. Hall-Flavin, B vitamins play a role in the production of certain brain chemicals that are important in regulating mood and other brain functions. (source) The first clinical effects of insufficient vitamin B complex are mood changes, insomnia, and changes in appetite. B vitamins play an important role both in alleviating depression and in relieving the anxiety and restlessness which often accompanies it. (source)

B vitamins are a group of compounds that are similar in structure but chemically distinct. I take a supplement of vitamin B complex, which includes each of these eight different compounds in amounts very close to the recommended daily allowance.

Exercise: Exercise releases neurotransmitters and endorphins in the brain, which may relieve depression symptoms. (source) One study showed that after sixteen weeks, patients who exercised reduced their depression symptoms as much as those taking antidepressants. (source) “Another study examined how much cardiovascular exercise was needed to see changes in mood among those with mild to moderate major depressive disorder. Those in the group that exercised at moderate intensity three to five days a week for about 40 minutes showed the biggest decrease in depressive symptoms compared with those who exercised less, or just did stretching.” (source)

I don’t get nearly the exercise I should because I’m one of those people who hates exercise. I have recently recommitted to resuming walking for at least thirty minutes a day, five days a week. It’s free and should help me boost my vitamin D levels too.

I am not a doctor; I’m just telling you what has worked for me. Depression is a serious medical condition and if you suspect you have it, you should talk to your doctor about it. However, what I describe falls within medically accepted parameters for health and nutrition with few side effects for an otherwise healthy person. It has improved my mood and may help you too.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pitfalls of Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Within a few months of moving into this apartment, we changed all the light bulbs from incandescent to compact fluorescent. It was a pretty big investment for us, probably around $100, but we felt it was worth it for the environmental benefits and the long-term savings potential.

We saved all of the old incandescent bulbs because at that time we only planned on living here for a year before buying a home and we wanted to take the expensive compact fluorescents with us. Obviously, our plans changed, but it’s fortunate we saved all the old bulbs because we stored them in the boxes from the new bulbs. This has been handy since all of those expensive bulbs have been burning out like crazy after just a year and a half. They are supposed to last seven years!

By reading the boxes the bulbs came in, I learned that the bulbs have a two year warranty. Even though I didn’t keep the original receipt, I called the phone number on the package and told the representative the problem. She asked for numbers on each of the bulbs and the store where I bought the bulbs, but that was it. No receipt was required. I should receive replacement bulbs in two to three weeks.

Now, I have a bunch of bulbs full of mercury I need to dispose of. I know, so much for the environmental benefits. By going to I was able to find a store less than two miles from my home that accepts CFLs for recycling. Hooray.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine's Day Chez Nous

For Valentine’s Day, I’m trying to keep it sweet and heartfelt without spending a bunch of money. I made a cheesecake, which is Chuk’s favorite, and because we all know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I’m going to make lasagna tomorrow. Lasagna is a sentimental choice because that’s what I made him our first Valentine’s Day together.

I don’t really do tons of seasonal decorations, but I wrote some of the lyrics to “our song” on the chalkboard we have in the kitchen. Along the same lines, I’m going to borrow this idea and write messages to Chuk in the shower. I didn’t want to go out and buy Crayola bathtub crayons, so I did a little experimenting and found that dry erase markers works on the tiles in my bathroom. No pictures of it because 1. I’m waiting until tomorrow to do it and 2. I plan on writing lewd things. ;-)

Even though I’m trying to keep costs down, I did buy a few inexpensive things to celebrate. I bought a package of lunch bags from Target’s dollar section that are printed with Disney princesses. I’ve drawn on speech bubbles so the ladies are saying cheeky things to my man. I plan to fill the bags with candy and present them en masse.

I made a simple card using a piece construction paper and two small candy canes leftover from Christmas. Inside, I wrote a verse from our other song. I wrapped his “real” present in occasion-neutral gift wrap that I bought after Christmas from Ikea for 60% off.

I think he’ll be happy with it all, and that makes me happy. I like making him feel special without breaking the bank.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Experimenting with Pennsylvania Dutch BBQ

When I read Margo’s recipe for "barbeque", I too had been snowed in for a week and was in need of comfort food using only ingredients I had on hand. I mean, I couldn’t very well go to the store with an unplowed street and about 3 feet of snow on the ground. As soon as I read her recipe, I knew I would make it. I had a package of ground turkey in the fridge (leftover from our aborted Super Bowl party) and a lot of onions.

She doesn’t lie. The recipe is delicious and comforting and makes your house smell wonderful. I made the recipe as she posted it (except for substituting ground turkey for ground beef) on Thursday and served it with a carrot salad. Then tonight I mixed the leftover meat with some rice (leftover from another meal) and stuffed it into bell peppers and baked them. It was delicious that way too.

If you’re looking for a yummy, homey meal, give Margo’s recipe a try.

Little Bit of Love

Our first Valentine's Day together, while we were messing around in my kitchen, Chuk spontaneously wrote me this stream-of-consciousness poem out of conversation hearts. I framed it in a shadow box and now it sits on the bookshelf in our living room.

Last year, on Valentine's Day, he made me this sundae.

I've got a few tricks up my sleeve for this year that I'll share tomorrow. I'm off to bake now, because at our house, love is spelled C-H-E-E-S-E-C-A-K-E.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with our two "first dance" songs from our wedding. Yes, we had two and it was fabulous!

Computer Crash

Unfortunately, my computer crashed the day before yesterday for no apparent reason. Maybe the fact that it's almost six years old had something to do with it? Fortunately, I married someone who is much more computer savvy than I am and he was able to fix it (by reinstalling Windows) without losing any of my data.

It is a scary moment when you can't get your computer to turn on, even in safe mode. It is a scarier moment when your husband has your computer case opened up on the floor and is pulling out handfuls of wires and circuit boards. I hadn't backed my data up since November. He had to pull out my hard drive and hook it up to his computer before he could copy my computer's data onto our external hard drive. Lesson learned. I need to back up more frequently.

How often do you back up? If you don't have an external hard drive, I highly recommend you get one. It makes backing up so much easier, and in the case of an emergency, you can just grab the hard drive and run out of the house, which you can't really do if you have a desktop computer.

Another recommendation about computers: I think it is wise when shopping for a computer to buy the absolute best one you can afford even if it is overkill for your current needs. That way as technology improves, you can grow into your computer instead of needing to upgrade. Had I bought a basic computer six years ago, I would have already had to replace it. I expect to get another year or two of life out of this one (I did install more memory last fall) which is much longer than most people keep their computers.

This is also a good strategy because it reduces cyber waste, which is a significant environmental problem. PBS aired a great Frontline special about this several months ago. If you're interested in the topic, you can find it online here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I Heart DC

This spring will mark my sixth year in the Washington, DC area. It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere other than the little town I grew up in. And although I talk about moving all the time (my grandmother used to say I have “itchy feet”), the truth is I really love it here. Here are the top five things I love about this area.

1. It is beautiful. People don’t give this area the credit it’s due for being a pretty city. It is chock full of natural beauty and gorgeous architecture. Sure, everyone knows about the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin, but there are lots of different kinds of flowering trees all over the city that bloom throughout the spring. There are parks everywhere, which means you’re never far from a green space, even in the heart of the city center.

The architecture is truly amazing, too. The first place I lived in Washington was on Capitol Hill. I commuted to work on the metro and every day when I got out at Union Station and started walking home the north view of the Capitol would take my breath away. Every day, for two years, it never got old.

2. The diversity in this area is unrivaled by almost any other city in the US. I dare say it is more racially integrated than any other city. But I’m not talking about just racial diversity. There is socio-economic diversity, political diversity, diversity of sexual orientation and diversity of nationality.

I find all the protests and rallies fascinating. I love that within blocks of my apartment I can get Afghan food and Ethiopian food. I love seeing people speak ASL on the metro and in bars. I used to live a few blocks from Gallaudet University and I would think about all the deaf students who came from all over the world and were perhaps isolated because of their hearing impairment, but in Washington they made a thriving community. I think that’s the magic of this place: no matter who you are, you can find a community to support you here.

3. There is always something to do and it is probably free. The Kennedy Center has free performances every night of the week. All of the Smithsonian museums are free. Various embassies have free art shows frequently. Think tanks have lectures that are free and open to the public. If all else fails, you can go to one of the many parks (see above) and people watch or play bocce ball (my favorite) or volleyball or tennis or basketball or softball.

Last weekend, we went to the zoo. Cost = $0. It was awesome.

4. Lots of public transportation. It’s cheap and convenient.

5. It’s centrally located. DC is great, but if you do want to get away, there are lots of places to go within a day’s drive including: Philadelphia, New York City, Amish country, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and Shenandoah National Park. I even drove down to Charleston once. There are also lots of quick, cheap flights to Europe and the Caribbean.

So even though we have bad weather approximately 360 days a year (just kidding…sort of), I am so grateful to get to live in a place that millions of tourists pay to come see every year. Washington is full of history and culture. It really is a wonderful place to live.

Linked to Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers.

Well, Hello, Dolly!

Hello, Dolly! Well, hello, Dolly!
It's so nice to have you back where you belong!

Hello Dollys are a cookie bar that are sometimes also called 7 Layer Bars or Magic Bars. I call them Hello Dollys because my best friend used to make them all the time in high school and he called them Hello Dollys.

In my opinion, they are one of the fastest desserts to make because you don't even really need to measure; you just dump all of your leftover baking odds and ends in a pan and throw it in the oven. They are absolutely you can probably tell by the mostly eaten pan above.

Hello Dollys

1 stick of butter
1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup pecan pieces
1 14oz. can of sweetened condensed milk

Preheat your oven to 350F. Melt the butter and spread in an even layer across the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish. Next, spread the cracker crumbs over the butter. Press them in to form a bottom crust. Sprinkle on an even layer of coconut, followed by the chocolate and butterscotch chips and nuts. Finally, pour over the can of condensed milk in as even a layer as possible.

Bake for 30 minutes and allow to cool before cutting.
The condensed milk should have cooked into dulce de leche and allowed everything to stick together.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Quiz

This week's Friend Makin’ Monday is about the Super Bowl.

Did you watch the Super Bowl?
Yes, I watch it every year. My husband loves football. We have a party every year for it. This would have been our fifth annual Super Bowl party but a big blizzard this weekend forced us to cancel. We were snowed in and our friends were snowed out. We carried on with our plans for food and decorations though because I know it’s an important day for Chuk. We called it the VIP party…and we were the VIPs!

If so, who were you rooting for?
I was rooting for the Saints. My extended family is all from Louisiana, so I have ties there and I felt like New Orleans needed a win after all that’s happened to that city in the last several years. Besides, it’s kind of Cinderella story with it being their first time to the Super Bowl.

Where did you watch it/not watch it?
At home. I can’t go anywhere until my street is plowed!

What did you eat?
I made a big taco bar with hard and soft tacos with all the fixins. For dessert I made Hello Dollys.

Favorite Super Bowl commercial?
I really liked the Letterman promo with Leno and Oprah, just because it was so unexpected, but I also liked the Snickers commercial with Betty White playing football.

Least Favorite?
I didn’t like any of the Go Daddy commercials. I didn’t like most of the Bud Light commercials either. I thought a lot of the commercials yesterday were pretty sexist and I find that type of humor offensive.

What did you think about the halftime show?
Total snooze-fest.

Who do you wish would have been the halftime show?
I wish it was some unexpected combination. Like when Steven Tyler and Run DMC partnered up. I want to be surprised and wowed.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chicken Fajitas

When there are white-out conditions outside, it’s nice to have a colorful dinner inside. Fajitas were just the thing to make us forget the blizzard outside tonight.

Chicken Fajitas

2 chicken breasts
2 bell peppers (any color)
2 onions
3 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. chili flakes

Start by disconnecting your smoke detector. If you don’t, I can pretty much guarantee it’s going to go off and I think that noise has got to be one of the most obnoxious sounds in the universe. Now turn on your exhaust fan, the second most annoying sound in the universe.

Heat the oil in your pan over medium high to high heat; you want to stay just under the smoke point of the oil. The best pan for this is a large cast iron skillet because you’re trying to caramelize the food and cast iron gives a lot of color. If you don’t have a cast iron pan, you can use a wok, and if you don’t have that, use your biggest pan as long as it’s not non-stick.

Meanwhile, slice the chicken and vegetables into approximately equal strips. You won’t get caramelization if you crowd the pan, so I usually just brown one thing at a time. Throw the onions in the pan with about a third of the spices. They should be cooked in about two minutes. You want them to lose the raw taste but to still have some texture.

Pull them out and set them aside. Repeat the process tow more times with the peppers and then the chicken. You will be much more successful at browning if you don’t fiddle with the pan too much while the food is cooking. Don’t stir, flip, or toss until you see the first side is really browning. Don’t let the smoke scare you into messing with it.

When you see the chicken is nearly all the way cooked, add the vegetables back in and toss it all together for about thirty seconds. To serve, wrap the filling in warm flour tortillas. I like to serve it with lettuce, yellow corn, and sour cream. Serves 4-6.

Don’t forget to turn your smoke detector back on!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Inexpensive Custom Drawer Organizers

Because we keep getting snowed in, I’m becoming more motivated to start thinking about spring cleaning a little early this year. (I’m looking at you closets!) I’ve done a couple of drawer clean-outs and what I’m noticing is that the drawers that are labeled and have compartments so we know where to put things away are the neatest drawers. It’s the ones where the rule is “Oh, just go put it in the top drawer on the left” where chaos reigns. (Please tell me it’s not just me who is perpetually asking her spouse, “Do you even live here?” He doesn’t know where anything goes or where to find anything. We’ve lived in this apartment for almost two years. Seriously, pay attention.)

Anywho, have you priced adjustable drawer organizers lately? They’re pricey, like $20 or $25 each. When we first moved into this apartment and I was trying to integrate my stuff and Chuk’s stuff and maximize our storage I came up with a cheaper solution: Origami. Well, I didn’t come up with origami, but I came up with an idea to use it for storage.

I make origami boxes to fit into the drawers so everything has its own little compartment and we don’t have to dig through a mess to find something in the drawer. You can vary the sizes of the boxes depending on what size paper you use to get a custom fit for your drawer and for the items you’re storing.

I’m not into paper crafting, so I just used newspaper for big boxes and scrap paper from the recycle bin for smaller boxes, but if you scrapbook, I’m sure you could make some really cute dividers with patterned paper. And if you have kids, this would be a great project for them. You could set up your own little drawer organizing sweat shop.

There are lots of instructional YouTube videos about how to make a box. This is one of them. (I'm sorry; I can't get it to embed.) Unfortunately, there is an obnoxious ad at the beginning of it, but it only lasts a few seconds.

Free custom drawer organizers work for me!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Friday was my last day at my temp job, so I'm back to being a housewife this week. I had big plans to get my apartment back into shape, but that really hasn't happened yet. (It's been woefully neglected. Sadly, I think I may just have to accept that my husband will never notice when the TV remote needs to be wiped of its grime or when the kitchen washcloth needs to be changed.) I've gotten some things done, but not as much as I've wanted to.

I had to go to the doctor yesterday for the first time in two and a half years. (Please tell me I'm not the only one who tries to eat and drink less than normal before a doctor appointment so they'll weigh less.) I've been having pretty intense pain in my neck for the last couple of weeks. There is a hardness running vertically down the back left side of my neck; when you touch it it feels like I have a second spine. The doctor said he's never seen anything so severe, which is not comforting.

Apparently I'm having muscle spasms except it never unspasms; the muscle is just remaining taut. It feels like a pinched nerve or a charley horse in my neck that never goes away. Anyway, he's prescribed some muscle relaxers which seem to be helping a some, but they're knocking me out. All the rest is hindering my cleaning and organizing, but I'm trying to be ok with it. I can only do what I can do.

In other news, today I skipped my afternoon dose of muscle relaxer so I could go to an orientation for a new volunteer program I'm participating in. It's for a really great organization with a mission I am passionate about. I'm hoping it will be a good opportunity for me to get experience in the field I'm trying to enter which will in turn help me get a job, and be a place where I can meet new friends. So, I'm excited about it.