Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Decorating for Fall on a Shoestring

Fall is probably my favorite season of the year. Cooler temperatures, colorful leaves, and a perfect mix of cozy, rainy days and bright blue skies and sunshine--but without the sweltering temperatures of sunny summer days. Hot mugs of tea or coffee, sweaters, and my heavier weight denim skirts become more appropriate, as do warm, hearty meals, days filled with baking, and fall scented candles.

And pumpkin spiced everything.

Yeah, I admit it. I'm one of THOSE people. The older I get, the less I feel inclined to apologize for the things I enjoy, whether they're things few people enjoy, or things that are so overdone you get mocked for enjoying them, even though lots of people seem to.

My husband enjoys pumpkin pie. That's it. Poor man. Such a world of pumpkin goodness, and he's missing out on it. But, I digress.

This year, I had a little bit of wiggle room in our usually tight budget, and so I squeezed out a few dollars to enjoy one of my favorite activities--decorating our home for the season.
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One of my favorite little luxuries that we've built into our lives is this coffee station. It actually sits in our bedroom, so we don't have to walk all the way to the other end of the house while still half asleep to make or get coffee (depending on if someone thought to program it to brew the night before or not). We can enjoy our first cup of coffee without ever having to leave the bedroom if we play our cards right and nobody leaves their mug in the living room. 😏 I saw this cute little pumpkin at Wal-Mart the other day, and this seemed like the perfect spot for it.

 That light-up glass (I think it's glass, anyway) pumpkin was my splurge from last year. It came from Dollar General for $10, but I have no idea if it's available this year or not. The little candle in a jar and the frame both came from Dollar Tree (newly opened in our town; I'm so excited!), and the printable was free from Teepee Girl. I love it, so pretty!

 This little bookshelf top in our living room is one of my favorite spaces to decorate, as it's one of the few that the kids will leave relatively alone. Although I did have to clean it off for this photo, because they drop stuff there constantly. 😒 The orange pumpkin came from Wal-Mart last year, but they are still available this year, and in a great selection of different designs. I want a few more before the season is over, and at 98 cents apiece, that should be affordable.The pumpkin kisses sign, ceramic pumpkins, and the tiny candle are all from Dollar Tree. I was so excited to find those pumpkins; I've admired some just like them that my aunt has, so it's great to have a set of my own. The larger candles came from Wal-Mart (I have a bit of a candle addiction), and the little lantern was a gift several years ago, so I couldn't tell you where to find one like it. The little angel lives on this shelf regardless of the season, and was also a gift, also many years old. My mother bought her for me about 10 years ago, and though I was with her at the time, I don't remember where the angels (there are 2 more, on a different shelf) came from.

 Meet the new shoe cubby bench and coat hooks I mentioned in yesterday's post. The "fall decorating" part, of course, is the wreath above the coat hooks, which came from Goodwill last year for about $3.

 This table runner is one of my favorite additions this year, made from Dollar Tree felt. . . I'll level with you; I have no idea if they're supposed to be wall hangings or placemats. But they're cute, and they were $1 each. I just laid them out in a design that suited me and used a hot glue gun to tack them together. A word of warning, though--my cats like to sleep on this table, and I've quickly discovered that cat hair likes felt. Now I need one of those sticky rollers to get the fur off my table runner. 😏

 Not "Fall," per se, but we also recently (finally!) figured out how to add some lighting over this table. The ceiling is a styrofoam-ish drop ceiling, and I was unable to find a stud behind it to hang an actual light fixture from (my first idea was to buy one of those hanging lamps that plugs in), so the light I bought quite some time ago was never hung because it was too heavy. Then, recently, I thought some of those little cafe lights from lawn and garden would be ideal. They could be hung from the ceiling in a zigzag, giving it a sort of bistro-y feel, and they wouldn't be too heavy for our weird ceiling. I got lucky and caught these on clearance online from Wal-Mart for $6 and change, with free shipping. One cheap extension cord and a pack of coaxial staples later, and our kitchen finally has light, just in time for the earlier evenings of fall and winter. 😊

And since we've recently started having a weekly family game night, this is an excellent addition. Overlook the apparent lack of chairs. For some reason, my two-year-old daughter was busily moving them away from the table. 😂

I think I've spent about $25 so far this year on fall decorations for the house (not counting the white candles, because those are my "everyday" scent, and I'd have bought them anyway), and I couldn't be happier with the results. With that, I've also bought a couple leaf garlands from Dollar Tree that have yet to find their place in the house. Since most posts out there about decorating seem to assume you have lots of money to blow, I hope this inspires you by showing you can get nice results, even if you can't drop a ton of cash.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Birthday Cakes--A Year in Review

Because I stink at blogging (but one of the things I enjoy is sharing my family's birthday cakes with you guys), this post will be a review of all the birthday cakes I made over the last year while I was failing at being a blogger. Enjoy. 😂

First off, in November, we had Michael's pokeball themed cake.
 I can't seem to find a photo for our second November birthday, Preston, which concerns me. Did I forget to take a photo, or did the kid born right around Thanksgiving never end up getting a cake last year? 😕 I seriously hope it's the former. . .

I also seem to be missing photos for Lissa's cake in October, now that I look back over things.

Anyway. . . Then in January, Kaylee requested a Minecraft cake cake. No, that's not a typo. She wanted a cake that looked like a Minecraft cake.
 Then in April, we celebrated Justin's 4th, and his current obsession is PJ Masks. This one was a doozy, let me tell you. Every time I tried to add food coloring (the icing gel kind, not liquid) to the candy melts, it would seize up like I'd gotten water in it, so I was forced to make the masks in white chocolate and actually paint it with the food coloring.
 May birthday kid happens to share a birthday with his newest sibling, so he got someone else to make him his favorite birthday dessert, blueberry bars. Sorry, Austin! Then, in June, I made this cute little Pikachu for JJ while Dad took all the older kids to the river for a few hours.
Tristan, my August kid, requested strawberry cheesecake, and for whatever reason, I didn't get any photos of that. But eventually, I'll share the recipe and walk you through making a cheesecake, because I am now sort of addicted to making them. Takes a lot of time, but oh, my gosh, are they delicious! I don't think I'll ever settle for a store-bought one again, lol.

That's all I've got for you today. Hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane as much as I have, and overlook my messy kitchen. It always looks like a bomb went off when I'm finished making a cake in there.

Meet Jacob Kolbe!

You guys. Has it really been almost a year? 😳

Well, I have no viable excuse for that. Seriously, none.

Kids are back in school after a very challenging summer vacation, and I've been giving some thought to the blog world again (partly because my Facebook page keeps guilting me). We had a new baby in May, right before summer break began for the kiddos, so I guess the first thing to do is introduce you to our newest addition. Meet Jacob Kolbe.
He took us on quite a crazy ride, beginning with a diagnosis of gestational diabetes about three months before he was even born. I had to do Valentine's Day AND Easter without chocolate y'all. I gave up fasting for Lent. (I kid, but it seriously is harder for me to follow a proper diabetic diet than to just not bother with eating at all during the day). My numbers refused to come into line with metformin, which led us to insulin and spending the last month of my pregnancy spending one day a week at my regular OB practice, and another in St. Louis being seen by the maternal-fetal medicine specialists at St. Mary's. 
It. was. exhausting.

It was the first time I've ever been "done" being pregnant, and I don't think it was the pregnancy so much as the constant medical appointments and the brutally long drive to the city and back every week.

It was also (not coincidentally) the first time I've ever tried a home remedy to try and induce labor. (Relax, I was scheduled for medical induction just a few days later.) Midwives' Brew, you guys. It took me two tries to get more than contractions that eventually went away, but it actually does seem to work. And since I'd been induced with every baby except my first, that's no small thing to me.

Then, he refused to gain weight. By three weeks old, he still hadn't regained his birth weight, despite spending all evening every evening nursing. His pediatrician suggested that we try pumping and bottle feeding, theorizing that he was burning all his calories nursing, leaving none for him to grow on. We struggled hardcore with the pumping journey, but we persevered (thank you, supportive husband and older children), and about six weeks in, I learned Jacob had tongue and lip ties, which likely impacted his ability to transfer milk from the breast when nursing. (And also cleared up the reason why my milk supply was so "barely enough" when we first started pumping; lactation operates on a system of supply and demand, and my baby's oral anatomy wasn't allowing him to "demand" it!) A friend who'd been through tongue ties with her children referred me to Little Flower Family Medicine in O'Fallon (known as a "preferred provider" in the world of tongue tied babies), and I requested a consultation. We were seen less than a week later, and, due to the distance between our home and their office, his ties were revised that same day. I'll write more about our pumping journey in a separate post, perhaps, but Jacob took back to the breast like a fish to water, and I could not be happier about that.

There has been so much this past year that I could, and should, have blogged. We've missed birthdays, and our first wedding anniversary, and some rearranging of the house around income tax time. New shoe storage bench, coat hooks, and vacuum cleaner, yay! Seriously, adulthood is weird. One day, you're cool. The next, you're excited for a new vacuum cleaner. 😕 We went with a Shark Rotator Powered Lift-Away Deluxe, if anyone is curious, and I absolutely love it. And no, they didn't pay me to say that, but hey. . . if they wanted to, I wouldn't complain. 😂 It pops apart and back together in so many configurations, and so easily. It's seriously a breeze to go from vacuuming the carpet to sucking up cobwebs on the ceiling, or dusting crumbs off the bookshelf (just me?) I haven't bought the extra filter package yet, but I will eventually.

Now if I could just convince my kids to keep their crap picked up off the floor. . .

Thursday, September 21, 2017

5 Ways We Saved Money on Our Wedding

As most of you probably already know, my husband and I, after about 3 years of working through various forms of red tape, finally tied the knot about 3 months ago. Now, being parents to a fairly large family, and raising that family on one income, we didn't have a lot of spare money in the budget to throw at a wedding. Still, we wanted to have a nice wedding. Not huge and fancy, but nice enough to be worthy of the sacrament we were celebrating.

Now, there are as many different sorts of weddings as there are couples getting married, but today, I plan to share with you some of the ways we personally got creative to cut costs on our big day. Who knows? If you're planning a wedding, some of them might work for you, too.

#1. Buy a Used Dress

This might be one of the biggest potential money savers. There are loads of places one can keep an eye out for secondhand wedding dresses, and it's possible to save hundreds, or even over a thousand dollars simply by being willing to forego a brand new gown. We knew we wanted to get married for quite some time before we were actually able to do so, which allowed me to keep my eyes open for a dress that suited my style, fit my requirements, and was a realistic size for me to be able to wear. As it happened, the perfect dress ended up sitting in my closet for over two years before our wedding. But I knew I already had that major expense taken care of, and I paid hundreds less than retail for a gown that suited my style perfectly.

#2. DIY is Your Friend

There are quite a few things associated with a wedding that you can actually do yourself, and save a ton of money. For example, my dress, amazing as it was, didn't come with a veil. I did my research and decided I wanted a drop style veil, with alencon lace that (more or less) matched the lace on my dress. Similar veils were expensive, so I decided to make my own. Along the way, I discovered that one reason the veils are expensive is because alencon lace isn't cheap, y'all. I had a 55% off coupon for JoAnn's, and we still paid close to $70 for the lace trim and a cut of sheer illusion fabric for the body of the veil. However, if alencon isn't what you're after, you can save far more than I did. Many designs are amazingly cheap for materials, and very simple to put together. One thing I would have done differently, in retrospect, is buy the lace from a seller on Etsy. There are many styles available from suppliers in China for less than half what I paid per yard. But by the time I got around to seriously shopping for supplies for that particular project, I didn't want to risk shipping taking more time than I had. 

I also opted for silk flowers, and I arranged the bouquets, bouts, and altar flowers myself. You could do this with fresh flowers, but I knew I was going to have enough on my plate the last day or two without having to do the flowers right then as well. So I chose flowers that could be purchased and assembled ahead of time.

We designed, printed, and assembled our own ceremony programs, and they turned out beautifully. We had intended to print our own invitations, using some blanks I purchased on clearance, but when we were finally able to set a date, the one we chose was less than a month away. And so, we opted to skip printed and mailed invitations, and kept the invitation process less formal, creating an event page on Facebook and inviting friends and family through social media and by word of mouth. 

I never even considered having my makeup professionally done, but I know many do, so I'm putting it down here. Ladies, most of you know how to do your own makeup; I'm not 100% sure what this trend is even about. I did buy some special makeup for the day, so I'm not sure how much I actually saved with this move, but if you're not like me (kids had demolished my makeup stash) and have a healthy assortment of makeup, why not apply your own?

#3 Ask for (and Accept) Help!

I'll be honest; I was skittish about this one. Jon was much better than I was at asking our friends and family to take on various roles as we planned our wedding, but you know what? Everyone was super excited to help us celebrate! And there's no way we could have pulled off our perfect day on a budget without our friends.

My matron of honor happened to be very handy with a sewing machine, and she did some minor alterations to my dress. It needed a better bustling style than it came to me equipped with, as our church is very small and I didn't want to utilize the train at all. She totally hooked it up, and it was gorgeous. Also, it seemed like quite a simple job, really. I can't believe how much alteration places charge for that! She also helped me make table runners for our tables at the reception (did most of the work, actually, once we realized they only needed to be serged, not turned and hemmed as well; I don't have a serger).

Jon's mother happens to be very talented with a camera, and we asked her to take our wedding photos. I really was just expecting the digital copies, but a few weeks after the wedding, the most beautiful album arrived in the mail! It was obvious she had gone to a great deal of trouble getting prints of the best photos and arranging them in a lovely white photo album for us, and I was so very touched. What a thoughtful gift! She even sent a smaller album for my matron of honor a little later. Have I mentioned that I have the best mother-in-law, ever, y'all? 

The thought of catering the wedding ourselves was just as intimidating as the thought of paying for professional catering. In the end, we decided on a compromise. We came up with a few main dishes to make, and then we asked our church family (who would be the majority of our guests, and throw AMAZING potlucks) if they would kindly bring a side dish to share instead of giving us gifts. We're in our middle 30s with kids. We didn't need fancy wineglasses or a blender; we needed help throwing a party (something I've never been all that good at). They came through with flying colors, and wouldn't even let us clean up after. And many still insisted on giving us gifts, which came as such a touching surprise.

My hairdresser (who also attends church with us) surprised me by making my hair styling a wedding gift, and another friend purchased some flower arrangements as a gift. Yet another, when told the lettered sign I inquired about was for our wedding (she makes and sells them) told me to consider it a wedding present. I'm usually a terribly independent person, but I was so incredibly touched by everyone's generosity and love.

#4 Keep it Simple

We kept our wedding and reception small and simple, and while it was exactly what we wanted (no compromises there), it also saved a lot of money! We invited only family and our closest friends to share the occasion with us, and we kept it relatively simple. There are so many trappings out there that you REALLY don't need, if you stop and think about it. We skipped a lot of excess decorations that we probably could have had, and I'm quite sure no one missed the aisle runner, pew bows, or cherry blossom wreaths I almost caved and made for the front doors. No one cared that I didn't bust out a bunch of tulle and christmas lights for the reception space (and frankly, I wouldn't have had time to do so). 

Instead of renting a separate space, we had our wedding at 11 a.m. and had a simple lunch reception in the basement of our church. We didn't serve alcohol, and we didn't hire a DJ. Lunch was served on paper plates at tables decorated with white cloths, our handmade pink runners, and dishes full of pink and silver wrapped Hershey's kisses. Some little sparkly bits (loaned to us by a friend who offered our choice of any decorations she had stashed) were just the right finishing touch. It was simple, it was pretty but still casual, and it suited the happy couple and their guests just fine. Everyone had a fine afternoon, enjoying each other's company and celebrating our wedding.

We also skipped favors. I went back and forth on this one, but in the end, favors would have been a substantial expense given our entire budget, and I just couldn't see any of our guests being particularly disappointed to not have a can koozie, fridge magnet, or votive candle with our names and wedding date printed on it. Not that I didn't consider other options as well, mind you. But in the end, we skipped it, and I've had zero indication that anybody cared. 

#5 Shop Around

We didn't do as much of this as we might have, because it was important to us to plan and execute our wedding together as much as possible, and my husband shops like a guy--he likes to know exactly what he's after, go straight in, get that thing, and be done. We spent one particular day shopping for things for the wedding. I wanted to make a trip to the Dollar Tree, because you just never know what you might find there that would prove useful. As we walked into the store, he said, "What are we here for?" I swear I heard his brain explode when I responded with, "Possibilities." 

That aside, he did do an incredible job with looking online for things. Our tablecloths come readily to mind. He found exactly what we wanted on Amazon for a fraction of the cost of buying them anywhere else. I don't remember exactly what he paid, but like $2 and change a cloth. You can't beat that!

Plus, Places we Splurged

We did agree early on in the planning that we weren't out to just cut corners wherever we possibly could. We identified a few areas that were important to us, and agreed to splurge on those items to the extent necessary.

My grandparents on their wedding day.

Rings. We knew our rings would be blessed by our priest as part of our wedding ceremony, and so we rejected the idea of "starter" rings. We wanted the rings we placed on each other's fingers on our wedding day to be the rings we would wear for the rest of our lives. And with that in mind, we were willing to spend a little more to have exactly the rings we wanted. The diamond in my engagement ring is the one my grandfather bought my grandmother in 1941. The setting it was in was not the original, and was, dare I say, ugly, lol. I've dreamed for years of having it reset in something I'd actually want to wear, and we finally did so for my engagement ring. They were happy together until his death in 1985, and she missed him every day until hers in 2000. I love having a little piece of their love story as a part of ours. Our rings are simple gold bands (we're the traditional sort, with simple, classic tastes) with one of "our" sayings engraved inside the bands (we're also sentimental saps).

Cake. I thought about making my own; I really did. I know I possess the necessary skills, having made the cake for a wedding only a few months prior to our own. At the time, I told myself that in addition to being a wedding gift for our friends, it was also good practice for our own cake. In the end, I became overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I would need to accomplish in the final few days before the wedding, and I shoved the task off on a dear friend who makes cakes professionally. Best. Decision. EVER. She made us a beautiful and delicious cake that perfectly suited our theme (and Jon's dislike of fondant), and the best part was, I didn't have to do it. Know your limits, people. I was thoroughly crazy enough without adding a fancy cake to the mix, and I knew it.

Cake topper. In addition to the cake itself, we splurged on the topper. Much like the dress, it was purchased a couple years before the actual wedding, but we found it online and knew it was exactly what we wanted. It wasn't actually a cake topper, but a regular figurine, so we could easily put it on a shelf (or dresser, as it happened) in our home after the wedding. The catch was, we couldn't find any sources in the US for it! So we ended up not only paying for the figurine itself, but international shipping from Great Britain. Worth it. 

In the end, my advice would be to know which elements are the most important to you. Where are you willing to loosen the purse strings a bit to have exactly what you want? Where can you save by making compromises that, five years from now, aren't going to matter to anyone (even you)? Do it. You're more likely to regret blowing the budget--and arguing with your new spouse over it--than you are not having live music or releasing doves after the ceremony. Or really, any number of things the wedding industry butters their bread by convincing you that you absolutely must have. Take a step back, breathe, and ask yourself if whatever it is is really necessary. In the end, nothing is except a license, an officiant, and witnesses. Maybe rings, and even that is debatable. So decide what's important to you and your love, and don't get swept away in the madness. (Which, believe me, is hard.) Do you. And do it on a budget you can live with once the honeymoon ends and your real life together begins.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Sewing Tutorial--Cloth Wipes

Hey, everyone! Today's post comes to you by reader request, and it's all about cloth wipes. Primarily, we'll be talking about how to make your own, but I'll also touch on how I use them and care for them, as well as a few ideas for purchasing them if you'd like to use cloth wipes, but prefer not to make your own. I like to make my own, personally, because it saves me quite a bit vs. buying them. So far, I've been able to make all the wipes I have by reusing items I already had, which makes them free--my favorite price. 😉

You can probably hand sew these wipes if you like. Personally, I prefer a sewing machine, so that's how I'll be showing you how to do it. The first thing you'll want to do is choose some fabric. I use cotton flannel for mine, but anything soft and absorbent should do the trick. For today's wipes, I'm using a receiving blanket. Moms, you know these things, we love them, and we probably all have more of them than we're actually using. If you'd rather just buy flannel fabric, most stores that sell fabric carry it, or if you're on a budget, you can keep an eye out at thrift stores and garage sales for flannel sheets and baby blankets to repurpose. If you're buying your flannel fabric new, you should prewash and dry  it using the same settings you intend to use to wash your wipes. If there's going to be any shrinking going on, it's best to get it over with now. If you purchased your fabric already used, I recommend washing it before use, but before or after sewing is up to you.

Ok, so. . . here's what we're using today.

One flannel baby blanket that's been kicking around here for a bit, but hasn't actually seen much use as a blanket. I like it; don't get me wrong. But I simply have a lot of receiving blankets, and I don't use them that much, if I'm honest. I have five in my cloth diaper rotation as diaper flats, and they see more action there than they ever did as blankets. So, no, I don't particularly feel guilty for what I'm about to do to this blanket. ☺

I liked the size of the last batch of wipes pretty well, so I wanted to try and match that, while wasting as little of the fabric as possible. I'll spare you the process, but I found that folding the fabric in thirds one way, then thirds again the other way gave me the best size squares. So, I did that as neatly as possible. . .

And then I used my pinking shears to cut on the folds. This gave me three (still folded) strips of fabric, which I then cut on the folds again, to yield 9 individual squares.

I was already in the process of cutting when I realized this meant I'd have an odd number of squares, and each wipe takes two, leaving me with an odd square left over. Ah, well. It's tucked away in my craft supplies waiting for me to decide to do this again. However, if you were to choose two blankets with complimentary designs, you could simply cut them both up and make the front of your wipes with one design and the back with another. Voila! Nine super-cute baby wipes. Or adult wipes (commonly known as "family cloth"), because frankly, I'm not above using these myself when we're low on toilet paper.

But back to the project. Once you have your squares all cut, you're going to choose two squares (handy hint, keep the rounded corners together if you have any) and pin them together, pretty side facing in, not so pretty side facing out.

Leaving a space on one side about 3-4 inches wide for turning, sew all the way around, using about a 5/8 inch seam allowance. Stop at the corners and make a nice, sharp turn before continuing. Your edge with the open space will look something like this:

I really should have used a darker thread color, but hopefully you can see that well enough to get the idea.

Next, trim the seams and the corners. this will help it not to be too bulky on the edges when we turn and topstitch it.

Now, you're going to turn your wipe right side out, and use something (your scissors, a chopstick, a pen, a knitting needle) to poke out the corners and smooth the edges a bit. Then, turn the edges of the hole to the inside, and pin them together to close that side completely.

This one is pinned all the way across because my first one had the entire side left open. Don't do that.
Starting on the open side, topstitch all the way around your wipe, stopping and turning in the corners. Topstitching leaves a very small seam allowance. The way I do it with my machine is simply guide the fabric where the clear plastic meets the metal at the right side of my presser foot. Once you've topstitched all the way around your wipe, you've made a usable wipe, and you can stop here if you like. Personally, however, I like to sew an X across the wipe. It keeps the layers from shifting on each other. You can use a simple straight stitch for this, but I like to add just a little more flair to mine by using a wavy stitch. If your machine doesn't have that function, no worries. If it does, and you want to use it, set your machine up for the appropriate stitch and (if necessary) change your presser foot. Set your stitch length as high as it will go (this gives you a nice, loose wave, rather than a tight wave) and simply stitch from corner to corner in both directions.

And there you have it! One handmade cloth wipe. It really doesn't take a lot of effort to have a stack, and, as with anything else, the more you make, the easier it gets.

Now before I go, I promised I'd give you a little information about using and caring for these, so here goes. A lot of moms like to use a special cleaning solution with these, either purchased or homemade. There are a ton of recipes available for the searching, but personally, I just wet them under the faucet and wring them out. That has worked just fine for me so far, and I don't have to worry about my homemade wipe solution going rancid on me, which is a problem I keep hearing about from other moms. If you'd like to purchase, there are premade solutions available, as well as solid "bits" that are meant to be mixed with water.

Washing is fairly simple. I just rinse off any solids (just get rid of the chunks; you don't have to try and make it look clean) and put them in my wet bag with my cloth diapers, then wash them right along with the diapers. They can be hung to dry or dried in your dryer.

If you really don't want to make your own wipes, there are several options out there for buying them already made. My local Wal-Mart carries single-layer Gerber cloth wipes. There are countless work-at-home moms on Etsy who make the cutest wipes you ever saw; the options are endless. And most cloth-diaper companies also offer wipes. If you like shopping Amazon, I found this pack of 15 OsoCozy unbleached flannel wipes, and Baby Bits wipe solution bits in tea tree and lavender. If I weren't making my own wipes, these would probably be my choice. They're from a trusted brand, and the price is excellent.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Little Life Hacks--Ground Beef

We all appreciate those life hacks that actually turn out to work, don't we? Small things that maybe you never thought of before, but they make your life SO much easier. Today, I want to share one of my favorite little life hacks with you--how I portion and store our ground beef to make it easy to use.

I mentioned a little while back in my post about 10 ways to save on groceries that one way I do this is by buying my hamburger meat in the largest package our store offers, which happens to be a 10 pound roll. Now, even a family of 10 doesn't go through a 10 pound roll of meat before it goes bad, unless I'm either making them sick of hamburger-based dishes or deliberately making meals that take a LOT of hamburger (like meatloaf--we use 4-5 pounds for that). So what do I do with this gargantuan roll of meat?

Simple. I bring it home, and I slice it into 10 equal portions. (A word of caution: It has been my experience that the markings provided on the side of the package are not to be trusted.) I do this by first cutting the roll in half. Then I eyeball about where the line would be that divides it into 2 pounds and 3 (with me?) and cut on that. I place the 2-pound chunk beside the 3-pound one to measure where the next cut in the 3-pound one belongs, then I divide the remaining 2-pound chunks in half. You may not get exact portions, but meh. Close enough.

I then remove the plastic from the meat, and place each 1-pound chunk in a quart-size freezer bag (I buy mine from Aldi for $1.99 a 40-pack, so even by adding the cost of the bags, I'm still saving loads by buying the large roll.) and use my rolling pin to press the meat flat, and fill as much of the space in the bag as possible with meat. When you're finished, you should have little to no air in the bag, and the bags should stack nicely for the freezer.

When you need hamburger for a meal, just take out however many pounds you need, toss in a bowl of hot water, and they'll be thawed and ready to use in no time flat! You guys, this has changed my life. I always forget to take meat out to thaw. With this trick, it doesn't matter! At least, as long as dinner is hamburger, lol.

*If you don't have a rolling pin, this is easily done with just your hands. I only recently discovered the rolling pin trick, and it does make it a bit easier, but I've done it for ages without mine.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why I Don't "KonMari"

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past couple years or so, you've likely heard at least a bit about the Japanese decluttering, organizing, housekeeping--whatever you want to call it--trend that's been taking the world by storm. It's known as KonMari, after the author of the hit book (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up) that spawned the whole sensation, Marie Kondo. And ladies and gentlemen, it's become HUGE. The following is almost cult-like. Which might be the first reason I'm not a fan; I tend to shy away from the hugely popular, for reasons even I can't quite define. If everyone is going crazy for it, I'm probably not.

Now, I'll start this by saying I haven't read the book, nor do I particularly intend to. Not reading much in this season of my life is a deliberate choice I've made, based on the fact that I tend to get sucked into a book and forget there's a world outside. Not the best idea when you have two toddlers in your care. ☺ I decided it was no longer acceptable to look up from my book and realize it's 8 p.m. and the children haven't had lunch yet. I love to read. But for now, it's a sacrifice I make to better care for my family. Not that reading the book is strictly necessary to understand the method. A quick Google search and membership in a related Facebook group or two can net you all the information you need to put the method into practice--or, in my case, realize it's not for you.

Now, if this method speaks to you, and it changes your life for the better, more power to you. But for me, there were a few problems. . .

The number one principle of the method seems to be to only surround yourself with items that "spark joy." It's like the catchphrase of the method. You declutter all your belongings--in one great big, marathon session--by grouping them all by category (say, all the books, all the dishes, all the clothes, etc.) and holding each item in your hand. If it doesn't "spark joy," out it goes.

Excuse me, what? Um. . .

I can think of a lot of items in my house that don't spark joy. But I can't just be throwing them out. Or donating or selling them either. My vacuum cleaner comes to mind. It might not spark joy--the emotion that comes to mind is more accurately described as "ugh"--but it's still pretty necessary. And I'm sure that the theory is probably that I should toss it, and buy a vacuum cleaner that does make me feel that spark. Ladies and gentlemen, I ain't got that kind of money. Pretty sure I'm not even acquainted with anyone who has that kind of money. Especially when you start adding up the necessary items in the average household that might need to be replaced if we suddenly got rid of all the ones we didn't absolutely love.

Would it be kind of nice to purge my house from top to bottom of all the things I don't love and replace them with items I do? Sure. Is it realistic. Not on your life. And I've considered this (because apparently I have that kind of time on my hands), and frankly, if I were to throw out all this stuff willy-nilly, who's to guarantee I could quickly find a joy-sparking replacement. My mismatched dishes don't inspire joy. But you know what? The ones that do are a discontinued pattern, and it's getting harder and harder to find replacements for them, at any price. So far, I haven't found a pattern that I love that's both easy to find and remotely affordable. So I soldier on with my mismatched Corelle and plastic kid plates.

Another consideration is that, unlike Ms. Kondo, I am not single. If my husband and I both agreed that our bath towels do not spark joy (and believe me, they don't, but you still gotta dry your bum), we would, in order for this to work properly, need to find bath towels that both of us love. One thing I realized early on in this relationship is we have drastically different tastes when it comes to home decor. There's usually a middle ground where we can happily meet, and he allows me a lot of latitude, don't get me wrong. But I do actually care if the house suits him as well as me. After all, we both have to live here. 😉

I'm also a mother. Now, some moms out there have had great success adapting this method to suit their homes. I still can't figure it out. The bins of kid clothes (in between sizes) taking up space in my closet do not spark joy. But they still have to stay, because I'll be darned if I'm buying an entirely new wardrobe every time one of these kids changes sizes! The Legos I keep stepping on do not spark joy. Quite the opposite. And yet, they stay.

A lot of people have loved the folding techniques that are a part of the method. Oh, yes. You have to relearn how to fold your laundry. You've been doing it all wrong, you see. Now, I do use a modified version of her shirt fold on my husband's t-shirts. It helps them fit the available drawer space better, which is the entire point behind how I fold literally everything. But as far as the rest goes? NO, okay? It's hard enough to get me to actually fold the darn laundry (a chore I find as enticing as a root canal) and put it away without telling me I have to learn how to do it all over again.

The last thing about the system that makes me raise my eyebrows is the practice of treating your inanimate possessions as if they were sentient beings. Did you just toss your pants on the floor? They don't like that; hang them up. Are you getting rid of something because it doesn't spark joy? Be sure and thank it as you put it in the donation box, for the time it has served you. Crazy organization guru say what? This mama has far too much on her mind. I can understand the value of appreciating your things and taking care of them. But I refuse to worry about whether or not the socks are tired because I folded them wrong.