Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wrensday: Time for Easter

Front porch wreath

Front porch bench

Front screened porch dining area

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back porch shoe storage

Remember the back porch improvement project we embarked on last week?  Well, I'm still trying to improve the functionality of the space.  This week I added:

A doormat and a shoe shelf.  I bought the shoe shelf at a local store called Roses for 8 dollars.  It's made out of wood and I painted it with my favorite spray paint.  I bought the rug at Ross for $7.99 (clearance from $15.99).  I was going to go for cute, but decided to go for practical.  I already had the semi-circle rug and this rug promises to trap all kinds of evil dirt and dust and keep it from entering my home.  You can already see a lot of dirt (and one stick) that came off of the stored boots and shoes.  Where's my broom?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Motivation: Clean out the linen closet

I have to say right up front that THIS IS NOT MY LINEN CLOSET.  I wish it was.  I wish I had a linen closet.  But, I have to say, even if I had a linen closet it wouldn't look like this.  I know for sure it wouldn't look like this because I have WAY more linens than this closet owner does (disclaimer:  this closet was staged for a magazine article in Parents Magazine).  My current home doesn't have a closet so I use my childhood dresser that stands against a wall in my upstairs bathroom. 

Let me tell you what I love about this closet:
     1.  A place for everything and everything in it's place.
     2.  Baskets that work like drawers on the shelves.
     3.  Plenty of shelves.
     4.  Shelf platforms that give you a second shelf within a shelf.
     5.  Towel bars on the door.
     6.  Pull out lazy susan (it swings out) for smaller items.
     7.  Room for lots of toilet paper (I have a fear of running out of toilet paper)

Let me tell you what I don't like about this closet:
     1.  This is not large enough to store linens for a large family or for a particular housewife who loves all linens and collects them with reckless abandon.
     2.  The thought of someone hanging a wet towel up on the door towelracks and then closing the door.  Can you say mildew?
     3.  Medications in an unlocked closet that little ones could get into.  Meds should be accessable only to adults.
     4.  Items on the floor usually end up collecting dust and dirt because they are. . . well. . . on the floor.
     5.  I find folded towels stay organized better than rolled towels, but that's just my opinion.
     6.  There's only a 1 month supply of toilet paper in that closet - I'm already starting to worry and it's not even my closet.

Enough about my likes and dislikes.  Let's get on to organizing.  If you've read any of my other posts about organizing closets, then you're familiar with the process. 

     1.  Remove all items from the closet.
     2.  Wipe down the shelves, walls, and baseboards.  Vacuum the floor and clean it too.
     3.  Sort all of the closet contents into piles of like items.  (towels, sheets, toiletries, blankets etc.)
     4.  Weed out any items you no longer use.  If it's ripped, stained, or thread-bare give it a toss.  I recycle my old linens as cleaning rags, paint rags, or drop clothes. 
     5.  Place items back onto the clean shelves, like items with like. 
     6.  To find bed linens quickly, fold up the sheets and extra pillow cases and place them in one of the pillow cases.  (I personally don't do this because I only have 2 sets of sheets for each bed and one set is always in use)
     7.  Place smaller items into containers (square or rectangular is best) and set on the shelves.  If possible, label the containers so that you know what it in them.
     8.  Put away any items that don't belong in the closet. 
     9.  Stand back and enjoy an organized linen closet.

* Think twice about storing anything wet/damp in the closet like towels or cleaning sponges.  See dislike #2. 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Got Beans?

In my quest to reduce my grocery bill but still feed my family nurishing food, I'm discovering different ways to shop and prepare food.  My latest adventure is beans.  I've always bought canned beans for chilli, soup, and other recipes.  The few times I tried to use dried beans, my family ended up eating crunchy chilli.  Yuck.

I decided to research how to process beans and make them easier to use in recipes and more pleasant to eat. 

My favorite source for info is Rodale.  Their Stocking Up book is a great resource for cooking, canning, freezing, and drying food for your family.

Here's what I worked on yesterday.  I purchased three kinds of beans.  Black, kidney, and great northern.  I placed them in individual bowls in the morning. 

Here are the black beans and white beans after they've had a soak for 8 hours.  Be sure to fill the bowl with enough water to cover the beans plus an extra 2-3 inches of water because the beans will exand.  Look how the black beans turn the water black.  (don't worry, you'll drain it off)

Next, I drained the beans in a colander and rinsed them well.  Then I spread them onto cotton kitchen towels to dry a bit.  Notice the black beans in the background.

After they dried a bit (1 hour) I place them in labeled freezer bags.  I cooked the kidney beans for 2 hours and put them in the yummy chili we had for dinner.  And no, they weren't crunchy this time.  By freezing the soaked beans, they'll cook faster when I need them for my next recipe.  (probably 1 hour instead of 2)

What do you think of the centered text?  Is it hard to read? 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sweet Little Gift

My SIL recntly gave me a present for no reason at all.  Yup.  Just up and gave me a present cuz she loves me.  She's very good at thinking of just the right gift at the right time.  Here's what she gave me:

Three of my favorite things:  Flower pots, gardening gloves, and chocolate.  Thanks SIL.  You're so sweet!  Now if you'll excuse me. . . I have some gardening and some nibbling to do. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wrensday: Plant Updates

Remember last weeks little baby I planted in a coffee cup?  Well, look at her now!  In just a week's time she's turned into a beautiful grown up lady.

Her ugly stepsister, the sweet potato, has not been invited to the Ball.  She still needs to green up a bit.

Remember the seeds I started in toilet paper tubes?  Well, they sprouted and needed to go to a sunny place to live while they grow.

Hubs set up shelves and a light kit in the garage and now they are happily getting bigger by the day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Porch Construction

Our back door leads right into our kitchen and gets a lot of use.  The door is right next to the stove and I'm always tripping over boots and shoes that my family has obediently removed from their feet upon entering the door.


We had an additional sliding back door but it lead to a screened porch with no access to the back deck.  I'll  admit it was a bit random.

Hubs was not thrilled with another item added to his "honey do" list so we hired a handyman to do the work for us.  He did a great job and now we can enter and exit without a hitch.  I still need to paint the new wood. We've been busy this weekend cleaning up the mess and washing winter grime off of all our furniture and flower pots.  I'll be shopping for new door mats and a shoe holder this week.

I'm so happy to not have boots and shoes in my kitchen or strewn around the deck.  Happy, happy me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Motivation: Party Pantry

When I quickly prepared for an Open House last month, I was really glad I had taken the time to put together a party pantry.  I'm fortunate to have an extra area to store such items in the house I live in.  In our previous home, I didn't have as much space, but I still kept party goods inventoried and stored together.  I stored them in our large picnic basket.

In this cabinet, I store paper goods such as paper plates, bowls, napkins, tablecloths, and paper decorations such as streamers.  We tend to have large get togethers of 20-30 people, so I usually buy in bulk.


In an extra closet, I keep holiday dishes and extra serving dishes.  I probably should have tidied this up a bit but I'm just keeping it real for ya.  I just opened the door and took the pic.  I have a very small kitchen and I can't possibly keep everything stored in my cabinets.  This closet (and the cabinet you see above) are located in an apartment above our garage that our daughter lives in right now.  Her wedding dress is hanging to the right of the door, waiting for a special day in October. Squee!  I have comandeered part of that apartment for storage because I'm the MOM. 

As I look at this pantry now, I see a few things I need to donate to Good Will.  I'll take care of that later.  What kinds of items would you keep in your party pantry?

Friday, March 19, 2010

What's For Dinner: Three Cheese Lasagna

Last night, for dinner, we enjoyed three cheese lasagna, spinach/orange salad with poppy seed dressing. Most people must have meat in their lasagna to be happy, but my family is perfectly happy to eat this lighter version. I originally got this recipe from the American Cancer Society's cookbook but I've tweaked it quite a bit. I love this recipe because you don't have to boil the noodles before you assemble it.

I like to make my lasagna the night before, refrigerate it and then bake it the next evening for dinner. Sometimes I make two and freeze one for later. First, you assemble the ingredients. I make my sauce first. While it is simmering, I grate the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and mix the ricotta cheese mixture.

After assembling the ingredients, I cover it with parchment paper and then aluminum foil. I don't put foil directly over the lasagna because the sauce will react with it.

If you freeze the lasagna, let it thaw in the fridge for 24 hours before you bake it.

Three Cheese Lasagna
1 16oz. can diced tomatoes, don't drain
1 14oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbl. parsley, chopped
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. thyme
Dump all of these ingredients into a medium sized saucepan and simmer on medium for 15 to 20 minutes.
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tsp. oregano
Mix together in a bowl.
3/4 lb. lasagna noodles
2 cups (1/2 lb.) mozzarella cheese, grated - I use a little more :)
*In 9x13 pan, spoon just enough sauce in to cover the bottom sparingly.
*Top with noodles (I use 4 noodles)
*Cover noodles with 1/3 of the cheese mixture
*Cover that with 1/3 of mozzarella cheese
*Repeat 2 more layers
*Cover with parchment paper and aluminum foil
*Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
*Remove foil and bake for 15 more minutes.
*Remove from oven and let sit 10 minutes before serving.

For the salad, I combine organic baby spinach, mandarin oranges, and sunflower seeds. Then I top it with Poppy Seed Dressing:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 Tbl. cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 green onion, minced
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. poppy seeds
Blend together in blender or simply shake really well. I like to make this a few hours ahead so the flavors can meld. Yummy!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Etsy shop: new additions

I've been having a fun time at my sewing machine lately. Ever since I started my etsy shop on a snowy day, I've been on the look out for fun fabrics to upcycle into accessories to sell. I'm having a little problem, though. My friends are buying the items before I can even get them photographed and into the store. I keep running out of inventory. I guess that's a good problem to have.

I've made some half aprons like this:



I made a matching "Mommy-daughter" set.


I lined them with a man's white dress shirt.


Then, I turned this skirt. . .

Into this full apron.



I'm working on 5 more to put into the shop. Also in the works are some cute Posy Pins and a few purses and tote bags.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wrensday: Lenten Roses

One of my favorite perennials is the Lenten Rose or Hellebore. During the first glimmers of Spring they rise slowly from the dirt and gently unfold until you can see their beautiful faces.

A little bit of cold doesn't bother them.

Aren't they just beautiful. Thank you, Lord, for these simple beauties.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A whole lotta love for a little bit of paint

Remember my mantle decor from before? This fireplace makes me crazy because of it's size, proportion, and color. Because we use it often, I have to be very careful how I decorate it. We're not able to move the mantle down because of the vents and proximity to the firebox. Bummer!

At Christmas I hung a metal stocking over the firebox to add a bit of color.

A few weeks ago, I was frustrated (again) by the fireplace, and decided to take matters into my own hands. I grabbed a paint brush and made a custom color with odds and ends of acrylic paint. I then brushed several light coats of paint over the dark colored vents. I had to tweak the color a few times to get it right, but I feel like I matched it pretty well.

I love how it seems to brighten up the space and you don't notice the vents that much any more.

Hubs commented right away when he got home and is a bit worried about me being home alone during Spring break with the paint and paint brushes. He has no idea how many ideas are floating around in my head! What can I paint next?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Motivation: Wastebasket clean up

I glanced at the bottom of my craft room/office wastebasket yesterday and was. . . well. . . grossed out. I'm too embarrassed to tell you what was sticking to the bottom of the can but it was YUCKY. Anyway, now is as good a time as ever to have a Monday Motivation about cleaning out the wastebaskets/trashcans in the house.

This shouldn't take too long.

1. Gather all of the trashcans and wastebaskets from around the house. Having them all together in one place helps to get through the job faster.

2. Empty the trash into a large bag. Set the bag aside. You'll deal with it later.

3. Use a general cleaner to spray into the cans. I use simple green. Wipe it out with a rag or paper towel.

4. For really stubborn, stuck on items you'll need to let the cleaner sit for a while before you wipe it out. For really, really stuck on items, you'll need to scrape it out with an old credit card or scrub brush. For stubborn stains I like to use the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. They do work like magic.

5. If you have stainless, glass, or ceramic containers you might want to finish with a spray and wipe of Sparkle Cleaner.

6. To keep the cans clean you can line them with plastic bags made for the size of your can. I personally don't like the look of a bag hanging out of the can so I forgo that step (which is how my trashcan got so YUCKY).

7. Put all of the trashcans/wastebaskets back where they belong.

8. Take the bag of collected garbage to its rightful place.

9. Enjoy a job well done.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What's on my windowsill: hyacinth time

So I had to go to Wallyworld to pick up some organic fertilizer for my flower beds. I'm standing in line to make said purchase and my eye caught some little potted bulbs lined up in a row. They had tulips and hyacinths. Since I'm excited about green things popping out of dirt right now, I decided to buy one. It was only a $1.00.

When I got home I searched around for a container to put it in. All of my flower pots were too big so I started searching my kitchen cabinets. I came across this coffee mug that I was given as gift. I love the mug but the rim is too thick to sip coffee from comfortably. (does that last sentence make sense?)

I plopped the pot into the mug and set it on my window sill. It's already grown 1/2 inch since yesterday. I can't wait for it to bloom.

What's on your windowsill?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Making your own seed starting pots

I'm loving this time of year. There is just a hint of warmer weather and it is time to start thinking about my veggie garden. Every year I plan a wonderfully abundant and luscious garden in my mind. And then real life happens and I get sidetracked. My garden ends up being a hodge podge of plants. As usual, I have grand plans for my garden this year. It starts with seed starting mix.

Trying my best to reduce, reuse, and recycle I decided to make my own seed starting pots this year. I've been collecting toilet paper tubes and paper towel tubes for several months. I just toss them in a shopping bag in my utility room. Besides the paper tubes, all you need is a dish of water, a pair of scissors, your seed starting mix, and a waterproof tray. Supposedly you can plant this recycled tube with the plant in the garden and it will disintegrate over time. We'll see how it goes.

Hold the tube sideways. You'll get two pots out of the toilet paper tubes and 4 pots from the paper towel tubes.

Cut the tube in half.

Then make snips at one end. While looking down into the tube imagine making snips at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00.

Only snip down 3/4 inch or so.

Next, fold the snipped flaps down. You might need to pinch the fold to keep it from unfolding.

For extra "staying power" I dip the folded end in water for 2 seconds and the moisture helps to weight the end and keep the paper together.

Scoop up some seed starting mix with the little cup and place it in the tray. A little extra toilet paper won't hurt anything.

I was careful to order heirloom seeds this year. They have not been genetically modified.

After planting two seeds in each pot, I labeled each pot with labels made from an old window blind. I'm starting two types of tomatoes, two types of peppers, basil, parsley, red onions, and lavender. Most everything else will be directly planted in the garden in May.

I live in a passive solar house which means my home faces south with deciduous trees allowing sunlight to fill my home in the winter. Our brick floors absorb the heat during the day and stay warm for a while through the night. The seeds have the perfect warm place to sprout. Once the seeds sprout, I'll be moving the trays out to the insulated garage. They will stay under a grow light until the garden temps are more favorable.

Out in the garden, I top dressed the garden with compost, aged horse manure, and peat moss. I planted spinach, lettuce, carrots, and snow peas under row covers. This week I'll continue planting with Yukon gold potatoes and onion sets. Now if I can just keep the chickens out of the garden.

I'm linking up to Frugal Friday over at The Shabby Nest. Check out the wonderfully frugal ideas her readers have come up with (including this idea).