Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Visions of Sugarplums?

I just managed to learn what my mom is getting me for Christmas and I'm far too excited about it to not share with everyone else because, 1. it's exactly what I asked for and, 2. it's not something I would have splurged on myself until after my Holiday bills were paid. No, it's not a vacation and it's not jewelery, it's laundry detergent.

Here's a quote from the website,
"Hi! I'm CrunchyClean Gal - aka
Ashley! I am a wife and new
mom of a baby girl. I started making our
cleaning products over a year ago
in an effort to cut down on our exposure to
chemicals and be friendlier to
the earth. As my zeal for living a green life has
increased with new
motherhood, I have worked on my recipes and made them
Go check it out!

My mom is getting me both a Regular Detergent and a Diaper Detergent. I should mention that I absolutely adore clean, fresh sheets and clothes; fragranced detergents are a passion of mine, but my husband and two kiddos have sensitive skin and various allergies, so I have had to be very careful in my detergent choices. Add cloth diapers to that, and I sometimes feel limited by my options. I have started filling the fabric softener dispenser with plain water and adding 2 drops of essential oil to "spice up" the unscented detergent that has become my staple.

However, in less than 2 weeks time, I will just add a scoop and walk away. I'm extra appreciative because, by all accounts, the Diaper Detergent rinses so clean I will be able to eliminate the extra rinse cycle and save on my water bill! It simply can't get any more awesome than that! I will certainly keep you posted on the performance once I receive it.

For the record, I know it was alluded to above, but I feel it bears repeating: this is not a paid advertisement. I am receiving no compensation for this post. Although, CrunchyClean Gal, if you read this and feel inspired to send a free bag of detergent as a gift of goodwill, I would certainly welcome it!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Easy-Peasy Curtain/Shade

Long time no see! I've been off remodeling (almost finished now!) and not doing much of anything useful.

I did, however, make a curtain for my guest bathroom. It was just about the easiest curtain ever to be made, and yet look how cute:

How did I accomplish this feat?

Instructions for the Easiest Curtain Ever:
  1. Measure window.
  2. Add a few inches to the top and bottom for pockets, and about an inch to each side for seams. Cut fabric accordingly.
  3. Hem all four edges.
  4. Fold over a couple of inches on the top, plus a wider amount on the bottom, and hem again, creating a pocket for the curtain rods.
  5. Place curtain rods into pockets. (I used dow rods: cut one slightly wider than the width of the curtain for the top, or slightly shorter than the curtain width for the bottom. I also used a larger rod at the bottom to give it more weight.)
  6. Hang curtain.
  7. Cut two lengths of ribbon approximately 3 times the height of the curtain.
  8. Tie ribbons around the curtain vertically, tying however you like (I did simple knots, but bows would be pretty).
Bonus: You can roll up the bottom rod to expose part of the window. Simply tie the ribbon shorter, and voila!

Yes, this is the most crafty thing I've done recently, and it's so simple anyone with a sewing machine (or the patience for hand sewing) can do it. To make it even simpler, you could use some Stitch Witchery or similar product and heat bond it together, eliminating the need for sewing altogether.

(Hey, I'm about to have a baby. I need to keep things simple. But on the other hand, look forward to diaper bag projects and cloth diaper reviews in the coming weeks.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

I'm an official seller!

I just haven't made any sales yet...

Check out some of my wares! Seriously, I would love some input. Do you think I need some different pictures using a more scenic background, or posed with a model (especially in the case of my bags, which are NOT crooked as the pictures may suggest)?

So check it out, all you readers, and tell me what you think. What should I do differently to get people to look more closely?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hello Again!

I have had quite an exhausting two weeks. I had plenty of material to share with you all, but my time was limited. I think Jeff and/or I have had meetings or other obligations at least 5 nights out of each week recently. It's not easy being married to a politician... (that's kind of a joke, he is on the city council and it does take up a fair amount of time, but he's not a politician in any sense of the word.)

I have recently had not one, but two sick children. Jamison was actually sick twice. The ear infection fron two weeks ago just didn't get knocked out with the first round of antibiotics and we had to go back to the doctor on Monday only to find out both ears were infected and he has tonsillitis. Poor baby. I had truly hoped that exclusive breastfeeding would help prevent ear infections but I concede he has the same genetic predisposition towards ear infections/allergies and sinus infections as his brother. Josephine was also sick with a flu-type virus. I knew it was serious, she willingly skipped a birthday party.

I have been trying to complete various craft items for donations. The first was an item made for a benefit for a local family. A local business owner and all-around nice guy had been suffering from a brain tumor for almost a year and the local community really got behind he and his wife to help the family through a tough financial spot. He passed away a few weeks ago, and I made a purse for this weekend's silent auction affair in his honor. I wish I had taken a picture, it turned out awesome; black denim with a flame orange and red front pocket, black motorcycle lining with red swirl interior pockets. It was not my typical "pretty" bag, but it sure was eyecatching! I also completed a bag for my church's annual bazaar. I'n not as thrilled with it, I may have to add some details, like a crocheted flower, to draw the eye away from some less than perfect details.

Jefferson is requesting a new fleece hat. I made him one two years ago, which I have started putting on Jamison. Jefferson looked at it and solemnly stated, "That's my hat". When I agreed and pointed out it no longer fit him he then sadly said, "I don't have a hat now". Looks like I need to make some hats.

Meatballs have been made and frozen. Halloween projects are in the formative thinking stage. My front door wreath has been redone in fall colors. Sweaters and corduroy have been located (yes, I am wearing my corduroy maternity pants, shut up, they are comfortable). I'm officially ready for fall!

What are some of your upcoming projects? Are there any seasonal preparations you do to herald the changing weather?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Meatballs!

I have a full week's worth of ideas for fast and frugal dinners using my meatballs.

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Empty frozen pack of meatballs into heating spaghetti sauce. (I don't tend to heat (canned) spaghetti sauce very long or at very high temperatures, so I usually microwave the meatballs in the opened bag for 2 minutes before placing the meatballs into the sauce.)

Meatball Minestrone
This truly doesn't even need a recipe, consider it a suggestion.
Combine like amounts of water and beef broth in stockpot. Bring to boil, add favorite pasta (I frequently use spaghetti that has been broken into short pieces but it would be fun to use shaped pasta, as well) when about 5 minuted remains on pasta cook-time, add favorite frozen vegetables, when water returns to a boil, add a pack of meatballs. Feel free to add additional seasonings to taste.

BBQ Meatball Sandwiches
I love to use my crock pot for cooking. Usually, I'm running late for work and need something super fast to throw together. This is a family favorite!
Prep crockpot with non-stick cooking spray. Dump in a couple packages of frozen meatballs, mix your favorite BBQ sauce with a small amount of water, pour over meatballs.
Cook on low for 4 hours.
Place on favorite bun and top with favorite cheese.

Meatball Grinders
Same as above, but use spaghetti sauce instead.

Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Place meatballs in microwave-safe container. Heat (covered) for a minute ot two, then turn meatballs and heat another minute or two if necessary (you know the power of your microwave best, it aslo depends how many meatballs you are preparing at once). Add sweet and sour sauce, heat additional 45 seconds.
Arrange creatively on a plate, then spear meatballs with a toothpick and serve as appetizers, or
to prepare as a meal, cook oriental-mix vegetables seperately, combine with meatballs, add sweet and sour sauce, microwave for additional minute, then serve with rice.

Swedish Meatballs
It might be kind of a cheat, but I'm going to mention my Swedish Meatball recipe again.

No drippings? Heat meatballs for 2 minutes in microwave (they don't have to be heated all the way through). To skillet, add about 2 TBSP. of vegetable oil, mash a (thawed) meatball or two into hot oil then follow the recipe as I have listed, I generally make this with two to three frozen packs of meatballs.

Meatball Stroganoff
Heat meatballs. In oiled or sprayed skillet, mix 1 can cream of mushroom soup with 1/2 cup sour cream, add small can (or freshly sliced, if preferred) mushrooms. Add meatballs and stir frequently until mixture is heated through. Serve over cooked noodles, rice, or baked potatoes.
(If you don't care for mushrooms, they can be omitted and you can substitute cream of celery soup).

Cheesy Broccoli Meatballs
Heat meatballs. Cook broccoli until fork-tender. Combine in soup pan or microwave-safe container. Pour can of cream of cheese soup over mixture, stir. Heat evenly. Serve over cooked noodles, rice, or baked potatoes.

There you have it, eight easy meals. Lots more possibilities exist. Clearly, you wouldn't want to make all eight meals in a row, as there are similarities (spaghetti and meatballs, marinara meatball grinders, etc.) But I hope I gave you some ideas. Some I've never tried (cheesy broccoli meatballs and meatballs stroganoff), so you may need to adjust thickness by adding milk, but you have a basic starting point. So go on, eat some meatballs!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Favorite Meatball Recipe!

I'm going to share my secret meatball recipe. It's versatile and delicious and it's the cornerstone of many different meals.

Theola's Meatballs
(units per 1 lb of hamburger)
1 c. bread crumbs
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 c. milk
1/4 c. minced onion
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 clove garlic
1/8 tsp. italian seasoning
few shakes Lawry's seasoning

Mix ingredients and shape into balls. Brown in approx. 2 TBSP. of oil until cooked through.

Which brings us to another recipe. I always make this on "meatball day".

Theola's Swedish Meatballs
Remove meatballs from skillet, reduce heat.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, prepare baking dish for cooking.
To skillet drippings add:
2 TBSP. flour and stir to form a bubbly "paste" (roux)
Slowly stir in:
1 1/2 c. beef broth
1/2 c. milk or light cream

Stir frequently. Add salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg to taste. Bring to a gentle boil and stir constantly, gravy will thicken within 1-2 minutes. Consider it done when the gravy clings to the back of a spoon without dripping.

Place meatballs in baking dish, cover with gravy then bake for 30-40 minutes.

Excellent served over rice, potatoes or egg noodles!

My favorite recipe! However, when I make meatball, I make them in bulk. I don't make 1 pound, I make 5-6 pounds at a time. With that in mind, I have discovered a time saving alternative:
turn heat up on skillet, brown outsides then place into prepped baking dish. Once all meatballs are browned, place baking dish into 350 degree oven and bake for approx. 20 minutes and check for doneness. (Cut in half, is it pink or brown?)
(I know it still doesn't save tons of time, but I've found I can generally clean the kitchen in the time I would have been standing over the meatballs while they cooked in the skillet, just DON'T wash the skillet until after making the gravy!)

Saving out just enough for supper, I count the meatballs out into plastic bags and freeze. I have found that about 14-16 walnut-sized meatballs works well for my family's spaghetti dinners; if a recipe needs more meatballs, I grab two bags instead of one.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Little Greener

Lately I've been more focused on the environment. I'm far from being a tree hugger and I'm certainly not an activist (although there is nothing wrong with either), but I'm concerned and trying to be more responsible.

Raised in a farming family, I've always been conscious of the earth; especially the soil and the water. Small family farmers generally have a very logical approach- if you contaminate soil, crops won't grow; if you contaminate the water, animals die. The use of pesticides and/or fertilizers are carefully considered; what will have the best results with the least negative impact.

Being from Iowa (a 5-cent deposit state) I have always recycled my aluminum cans. When my husband and I moved to Kansas, we discovered that our city had recycle service. As we already saved our cans (to bring in to our local metals recycling facility, where I am the office manager) it took very little effort to set-up a second bin for plastic and glass. Paper and cardboard went into the largest cardboard box we had available and it's been no problem to keep it going throughout the years. Our children have no problem with it (sometimes our three year-old gets confused, but big sister helps him out). They are going to grow up to recycle because it is just going to be habit. I actually feel taken aback when I visit someone's house and see aluminum and plastics in their trash; I want to lecture them. I don't even see recycling as "green", it's just responsible and it saves the community money*; it makes sense.

Almost out of the blue, a number of things have STOPPED making sense to me.
1. I got frustrated with disposable diapers. They cause so much waste, are so expensive and contain stuff that I really don't want next to my baby's skin: wood pulp and chemicals. Remembering the cloth diapers and rubber pants my mom used on my three half-sisters at home, I really didn't think I had an alternative.
2. Every time I go to the grocery store, I cringe when I realize I'm going to have to choose between paper and plastic. I really don't care to use either. Plastic is less inclined to tear, but I always feel slightly sick when I look at the empty bags and wonder how long it will take for them to break down.

Somewhere along the line, I had an epiphany; if something makes me feel guilty or ashamed, don't do it because it's not the right choice for me.

So following that line of thinking I:
1. started using cloth diapers at home. The new options are a lot cooler than you would imagine. They are so not my mom's cloth diapers!
2. am in the process of making a few market bags. It will give me a fun way to show off my creative sewing abilities and ease my conscience in the check-out lane.

I'm still not an environmentalist, but I believe I'm just a little greener than I used to be.

What about you? Are you green? Are there any small changes you could make? Are there changes you have made that you would like to share? Weigh in, people!

* The city is charged the landfill's tipping fee for all of the refuse brought to the landfill. Recycles are brought in separate loads, the tipping is free. Prisoners from the area correctional facility sort out the material for recycling and the solid waste facility is able to sell the material to processors. This not only keeps many tons of trash out of our landfill, it also helps to keep the city's trash fees lower as less refuse=lower utility costs.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cloth Diapering Version 2.0

Theola has already spoken of her experience with cloth diapers. She's been at it for a few weeks already, using prefolds and covers.

Me, I intend to cloth diaper when Baby gets here in December, and I'm already collecting a stash. For my first experience with diapers at all, I've decided to go with a more expensive, but hopefully easier route of using pocket diapers, or All-In-Twos (which are the same as All-In-Ones, but with an optional insert). What's more, I'm being very picky about it and getting only One Size diapers, preferrably with snaps rather than Velcro.

The difficulty of all of this is that, well, by setting such restrictions on myself, I'm drastically limiting my options. Even worse, I'm buying all of this before Baby gets here, so it may turn out that the diapers I get don't fit her, or don't work very well for her, or leak, or perhaps she just won't like them. That's the risk I'm taking. Considering all of this, the plan is to collect a variety of types rather than just a bunch of one type. And since I'm still researching what's available, I'm continually finding more that I want to try.

Right now I only have 12 bumGenius 3.0 diapers. And I'm going to have to get at least 4 more, because they just came out with 4 new colors. It's a start.

I've also decided to go with cloth wipes, because 1) if I'm already doing the laundry, I might as well throw in the wipes with the diapers, and 2) disposable wipes are never substantial enough for me to do anything with, so I just know I'll end up making a mess, and no one wants that. So far I've got 12 bumGenius Flannel baby wipes.

Just as a note: I ordered the bumGenius diapers and wipes from Cotton Babies. I placed the order on Monday morning, and they were at my house by Wednesday evening. Front what I've seen, prices on cloth diapers are fairly close everywhere you go, so there's no real deal anywhere (unless you buy used, which I'm not at the time), and Cotton Babies has pretty good package deals, and free shipping on orders over $75. They also sent me a detailed email about how to care for my new cloth diapers, which is good, because they do require special care, and I need all the help I can get. In other words, Cotton Babies gets a thumbs up from me.

Other diapers I want to try out include Rump-a-rooz®, which look fabulous to me mostly because of the double gusset, the option of either snaps or Velcro, and the option to upgrade the inserts to hemp fiber; Blueberry(TM) One Size Deluxe snap diapers, and a few of their Minky counterparts; and BumWear One Size pocket diapers, which have some adorable prints and colors available. There may be others that I try as I find them, and I definitely want to try at least some hemp product at some point.

My plan is to have about 30 diapers and at least as many wipes by December. I figure I'll end up buying a few more after seeing what works best for my baby, and I'll be sure to post reviews as I go.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Frugal Parenting: Lesson One

Hand-me-downs are a blessing. Say that to yourself, “Hand-me-downs are a blessing”. I’m not talking about “Brady Bunch” era Peter pan collar shirts and plaid pants (which are somewhat stylish again), I’m referring to gently used baby and toddler clothes. It is so easy to get carried away with all of the delectable clothes available. After all, your child is the most precious, beautiful person you’ve ever seen and you naturally wish to showcase your little jewel in the manner best befitting him or her.

Keep in mind though, babies and small children need a lot of clothes. There are constant messes and wet spots and it’s impossible to guess the direction of the next projectile attack. If you can afford to foot the bill for all the adorable outfits your child will wear three times before outgrowing then you have a far more lucrative career than I do.

I recently hit upon “The Mother Lode”. A friend (with excellent taste) asked if I would be interested in the baby clothes her son has outgrown. (Would I? Do bears… well, we know what bears do in the woods. Right?) One week later, she came to my house bearing four boxes of clothes, sized from six months up to 18 months. (Four boxes!)

As soon as I opened the first box, I knew I was in love. The brands ranged from Carters and Old Navy to Gap and even Sonoma Lifestyle! I was entranced by the softness of the sleepers (inside and out) and the charming prints of the sturdy play clothes. There were a number of impossibly cute sweaters which I never would have purchased on my own, although they assuredly would have caught my eye.

Imagine my surprise when I thanked my kindhearted friend and she acknowledged, “Some of those were hand-me-downs from [another friend]”. Being open to gently used clothes from others can free up the funds to buy a few special guilt-free pieces (for your child or for yourself)! And the best part- when your child has outgrown the clothes, you can pass them on to someone else. It’s truly a circle of fashion!

Next time someone offers you free clothes, graciously accept. Don’t allow pride to get in the way. Even if you aren’t as fortunate as I was, there would certainly be enough to suit your taste to make it worth the time to look through it. Likewise, if you have a friend with an older child, don’t be too timid to mention, “If you want to get rid of his (or her) outgrown clothes, I would love the hand-me-downs.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Company picnic

My husband and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary a day early this year. We went out of town, to our favorite restaurant for lunch. The meal was fabulous. No fancy-schmancy food for us, the portions were generous and the overall feel to the food was Sunday dinner at Grandma's- if Grandma was a hefty German woman... who happened to live in a microbrewery.

Afterwards, we drove to the cabin owned by my husband's boss, Gale. It was the first time we had ever been there and my husband had left the directions at home. The drive took a bit longer than necessary and involved more frustration than I really wanted to experience on the eve of a monumental day, but oh, it was worth it.

I was too awestruck to take pictures and for that, I apologize. We turned off the highway onto a well-traveled path through a corn field. After a low clearance water-crossing, we found ourselves in a completely different world. I really didn't think we were in Kansas anymore! Acres of sunflowers guarded large hills. The gravel road curved along the edge of one such, limestone filled hill. Cattle grazed contentedly at the top and despite the beauty of the scene, I was frustrated and beginning to think the cabin didn't exist. Suddenly, on our way down the opposite side of the steep hill, the hidden valley came into focus.

My words can't express the awe I felt. A small, lovely cabin and matching garage seemed right at home surrounded by trees and lush grass. The large deck on the cabin's front stood sentinel overlooking a small pond festooned with paddleboats. The cabin itself had plenty of storage, yet was no more than a small family needed. Clearly, it was a get-away in the truest sense of the word. My husband was most pleased about the pool tables in the (heated and air-conditioned) second story of the garage. This was truly a place for resting, relaxing and entertaining. It had everything we needed and it brought all of us a little closer together.

I have never seen a more compelling argument for downsizing belongings and living a richer life and I look forward to future visits.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Decluttering 101

I've never been much of a packrat, or at least that what I tell myself. I'm not one to hold on to items for sentimental value, or even because I may need it one day (if I haven't needed it in the past 3 years, chances are I won't need it in the next 3).

But now that I'm in the midst of decluttering my home pre-baby, I'm finding that I have a lot more stuff than I thought.

Fortunately, when I do go through my collection, it's usually easy for me to let go of things. The bad part is that I don't let go of nearly as much as I need to. If I want to live the minimalist life I'm envisioning in my head, I've got to get serious about getting rid of all the junk.

And I am trying. I've even discovered a few tricks along the way.

The number one, most useful, easiest, best trick I've found is this: instead of pulling out items you want to get rid of, pull out only the items you really want to keep, then get rid of everything else.

I'm finding this tip especially useful for books, because I don't habitually reread books, so there are very few I actually need to have on my shelf. But if I go through looking for books to toss, I'll fall into the trap of thinking, "Oh, I liked that book all right, I think I'll keep it," or even, "I never got around to reading that book, I'll get to it eventually." WRONG. With Baby on the way, I'm about to have less time to read than ever before, so if I haven't gotten around to reading it yet, chances are I'm not going to.

But it also works for other things. Take clothes, for example. Most of us have more clothes than we really need, and I, at least, wear only a select set of them on a regular basis, and what's more, we know what that select set is (hint: look at your laundry basket for a couple of weeks). The trick is, which ones DO you wear, not which ones do you think you might wear? That's the tough part.

Of course there are going to be things you don't wear on a weekly basis, or seasonal items you won't wear for another few months. I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about the shirt that's slightly uncomfortable, or that makes you sweat, or that doesn't quite fit, or that you're not sure if it's really your color. All of those, out they go!

It's not as hard as it seems, and it's actually quite liberating. I'm looking forward to getting rid of more stuff this weekend.

After the football game, of course.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

One Week and Counting!

I guess I can officially claim to be a cloth diapering mama. I’ve been at it for one week now and I can officially say- it’s gotten easier. Am I over the learning curve? No. No. And for good measure, heck no.

Although the process seems much easier now, I am still eons away from being an expert. I have finally stopped hearing a little voice in my head saying “you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into, just declare it a loss and put on a disposable” every time I change my baby’s diaper.

My baby has also gotten used to cloth diapers. He seems happier with them now than before, when he was clearly trying to figure out just what the new texture and additional moisture were all about.

Granted, I still use disposables at night. That may continue indefinitely. It works well because baby has his biggest “constitutional” in the morning. It can be kind of explosive and… never mind. It is kind of nice to get that out of the way, wrap it up and never deal with it again. (I know, except for the fact that it ends up eventually leaching into the earth and poisoning the land for future generations, but please, give me a break because I’m trying.) I also still use disposables at daycare. I just don’t know about switching them over, and too, I need to give my credit card a rest for a while.

Current Observations-Prefolds
1. As I previously mentioned, get plenty of covers. Get different kinds because they fit differently and you need to learn what works best for your baby. Invest in wool- even if it’s just one cover. It really is awesome! To keep costs down, I knit my own and it’s already my “go to” cover.

2. Buy a few different prefolds to find the best fit. If you can, try to purchase singles in a few different sizes. I had initially thought to buy a bit bigger than baby truly needed to maximize the investment, but they didn’t fit well and diapering was way more difficult and frustrating than it needed to be. Basic cotton prefolds are not terribly expensive; it’s worth it to find and buy the correct size. Both you and your baby will be much happier and it’s going to keep you from reaching for the disposable out of frustration.

3. Be realistic about your needs. Over the weekend, I found myself washing diapers daily. I wanted to rush right to my computer and order more. When I thought it out, I realized that 5 days a week, I’m only going through 4-5 diapers a night. Two dozen diapers meet our needs just fine. If I were to go to full time cloth diapering, I would definitely order another 1-2 dozen. I should also mention I grab cloth diapers when a spit-related emergencie arise (no pun intended). We go though extra diapers that way, but they absorb so well they are a must have.

Monday, August 18, 2008

And we're off!

The remodeling of the dining room has officially started! Most of the walls are stripped, with the final section getting stripped either this evening or first thing tomorrow. Also tomorrow, they're coming to install our new sliding doors. Then wiring, insulation, and drywall. And THEN . . . we're off to start the nursery.

I cannot possibly explain to you how excited I am about that.

Also of note, there was a bit of decluttering and rearranging done. In an effort to stay away from the plaster dust during the wall destruction, my mom helped me clean out the upstairs bathroom closet. I weeded out a ton of old sheets, expired medicines, and toiletries I'm never going to use. Plus we got my makeup and other currently used toiletries moved into the closet and the vanity in the spare room/soon-to-be-nursery cleared out.

More importantly, we moved the towels and sheets to the lower shelves in the closet, and the toxic-if-ingested stuff up and away from tiny fingers. It's won't be important for another year or so, but I figured we might as well do it now while we're at it.

And then on Sunday, I went through my closet and the two dressers in the spare room and weeded out clothes I no longer wear. They are now packed up and in the back of my car to drop off at Goodwill. It's harder to do it at this point though, because I can't judge anything on the basis of what fits, as nothing at all fits me right now except the few new maternity items I own. But it's also easier to declutter in a way, because I have a reason to get rid of stuff and make room.

Still left to do: go through shoes, handbags, the storage boxes under the bed, and the dresser in the master bedroom. And really, the shoes and handbags are the biggest part of that (which isn't saying a whole lot--I love shoes and handbags).

With any luck, that will be done this week, because next weekend we're setting up our baby registry.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cloth Diapers: Financials and Figures and Shopping- Oh My!

I had been tossing around the idea of cloth diapering since my youngest was born. I have to admit, it’s only been three months, but in that time we have already spent far more money on disposable diapers than I could stand. At $17.00 per week, the expense adds up quickly. I realize that babies gradually start to need fewer diapers per day as they grow. Diaper companies realize this too; larger size diapers have fewer per pack. I’m still spending about $15-$17 per week.

My older two kids were in disposable diapers until they were a little over two, then I switched them to the disposable training pants. The training pants made cleanups simpler, but didn’t really do much to encourage potty-training because the children were so comfortable in them. The cost of training pants? About $15-$17 per week.

Josie and JR were both considered trained at 32 months. Multiplying 32 months by 4.3 (weeks in a month) brings us to an approximate age of 137.6 weeks. Multiply that by $16.00 (the average cost of diapers a week), and you’ve spent $2201.60 just on diapers. That doesn’t include wipes- $2201.60 on poop collection alone!

If that number does not seem staggering to you, I need to mention that I live in a tiny town in a not hugely populated area of the Western Plains. The closest WalMart is a 70 mile drive and the closest mall is 100 miles (sobs). Buying diapers in town is fairly costly, local retailers mark them up several dollars over discount chains. Running low on diapers invariably means a trip out of town to purchase diapers, wipes and a bunch of stuff we really didn’t need but couldn’t pass up because it was a good deal. Frequently, we also eat out once or twice. Suddenly, $75 for a month supply of diapers and wipes just quadrupled. I know what you are thinking, “Buy local, idiot”, but who wants to take the easy way out?

So after months of comparing and researching, I decided it was time to tinkle or get off the potty and I invested $150.00 into cloth diapers. It amounted to 15 prefolds, three covers, wool yarn to make a few of my own covers, 5 diaper liners for bedtime or excursions, a Snappi and a few cloth wipes. I had the weekend to experiment with cloth diapering and overall, it went well but I am still very much in the learning curve. I did decide that the diapers I had were a bit full to fit in the covers the way I wanted, I really wanted to fold the diapers in thirds and lay them in the covers, and then just secure them when I wrapped the cover onto my baby. Unfortunately, I got the diapers so big they would not fit well in that manner. I have since ordered a dozen smaller diapers, another Snappi and a wet bag. Total investment at this point is $200.00.

I have been using cloth diapers at home for the whole week. Since I work full time outside of the home, I have been using a disposable diaper at bedtime, just for the convenience of guaranteed dry sheets in the morning (providing my breasts did not leak in the night). The first few evening of cloth diapering were fraught with mistakes. There were several times all three of the purchased covers were in the wash because I didn’t manage to get enough coverage to the necessary locations. But it has been getting easier with every passing day.

My biggest recommendation is to get plenty of covers. I would have done less diapering laundry if I had gotten just a couple more covers off the bat.

I’m still waiting for the smaller diapers to come in, and I’m getting more proficient with the larger ones while I wait. I will still use the larger ones as a back-up to be able to space laundry out an extra day and they really do make excellent burp cloths and changing pads! Besides, he will grow into them. They are still worth every penny. (Not to mention the fact that I'm not positive I'm done having babies and I will be able to use them for another baby later.)

I haven’t progressed to the point where I’m positive I’ll be doing this at daycare. I would prefer to switch over completely, but I want to have enough experience with it that I can present it to the attendants with more knowledge. I want to make it simple enough for them that it would be considered “just another diaper change” and not "a completely unfair task demanded by the dragon lady". Provided I make the switch, I would probably invest in some one-sized pocket diapers for their convenience. It would mean a pretty heft investment, so I want to make sure it will be a wise one.

Yes, I will still make occasional trips out of town. I would go mad if I didn’t! But hopefully I could spread them out a bit more and spend significantly less overall. If my predominant purpose for going were removed it would no longer be a “shopping excursion”, it would just be a happy family outing. We would have a lot more time for museums and events instead of trying to navigate a wobbly shopping cart through narrow aisles. My husband is already breathing easier.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

New Ride

I just got a sweet new ride!

At various times in my life, those words would have evoked different images. In college a “sweet ride” would have made me think of my friend Doug and his shiny red Dodge Daytona Turbo Z. It was fast and it looked great with my hair. It was an incredibly cool car for college students in the mid-90s.

Several years later, in the mountains of Colorado, my friend Shannon had a “sweet ride” with her Audi Quattro. She also had a trust fund.

Doug’s mom is now the Lieutenant Governor of a certain state and Shannon still has a trust fund and I’m just grateful to be further up the food chain than the ’78 Ford Fiesta I drove fifteen years ago.

My newest acquisition is a used Chrysler Town & Country. I traded off my All Wheel Drive gas guzzler for a vehicle where my 9 year-old daughter would no longer complain about her brothers’ car seats taking up too much room. I would be free of my three year-old son yelling that his sister was touching him. I would have plenty of cargo space for the stroller for my 3 month-old son, with enough space left over for diapers, wipes, toilet paper, school supplies and bargain clothes. There would be enough room left over for weeks of groceries!

(As it turned out, “weeks of groceries” lasted approximately 5 days. I will be grocery shopping this afternoon. I can show off my vehicle locally.)

I love my minivan, which is good; I’m going to be driving it for a long time. I won’t even mind if they start complaining about the van. I will be able to drown them out with my steering wheel mounted audio controls!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Decluttering, Part I: Baseline Analysis

In my heart, I am a minimalist. I have only what is absolutely necessary. There is no clutter on my countertops or tables, there is only one bottle of body wash in my shower, and I don't have any clothes in my closet that I don't actually wear.

In my reality, things are a bit different. My countertops and tables are cluttered about 3 days after I make the effort to clear them off once and for all, I have about 6 types of body wash (most of which I actually use, but none of which I would call "absolutely necessary"), and most of the clothes in my closet haven't been worn in months (if not longer).

My heart leaps at images of clean, open spaces and sleek, crisp lines. My inbox is clear, my To Do list is short, and my desktop is as free from icons as I can reasonably make it.

My house, however, is inhabited by two large dogs, two fluffy cats, a packrat of a husband, and hand-me-down (i.e. not in any way minimalist-looking) furniture. Not to mention any number of remodeling projects and other assorted tasks.

And then there's me, somewhere between ready-to-throw-out-everything-I-own-and-start-over and I-don't-care-what-it-looks-like-I-just-don't-want-to-think-about-it-right-now. Throw in the standard allotment of not-enough-hours-in-the-day, work a full time job to which you commute 40 minutes to and from each day, add a baby girl due in December, and make sure that approximately nothing has been done to ready the nursery (which still needs such basics as wiring, drywall, and new windows), and you'll have a pretty good idea of where I'm at.

Yet I still read decluttering and minimalist blogs on a mostly daily basis. I still go through spurts of throwing out boxes and bags of stuff I don't need. Occasionally I even manage to convince my husband to get rid of a few tee shirts I've never seen him wear in the 4 years we've been together, or pants that haven't fit since his college days, or the rollerblading gloves he hasn't used since high school. And in those very rare moments where the longing for a minimalist abode is so great I'm willing to give up anything, anything at all just so I don't have to have it on my conscience any longer, I'll even clear a shelf of my greatest treasure: books.

Today is significant in that we've had to clear most of our dining room in preparation for remodeling. We're replacing a set of windows with sliding doors and adding a patio and stairs outside (so we can actually get into our yard without having to walk all the way around the garage), updating the wiring, and replacing the cracked plaster walls with drywall. I'm still undecided on whether or not to refinish the floors (they need it, but we can't really do the living room at the same time, so they won't end up matching).

The problem with all of this is, what do we do with all of our stuff? There is simply too much of it. Our house, while not huge, is a decent size (about 1650 square feet plus a full basement), and yet there is more clutter than two relatively young people would ever have a need for. We did manage to get rid of an extra desk (technically, it's sitting on the front porch until we can figure out exactly how to get rid of it), but everything else just got shuffled around. And the china cabinet and buffet are still in the dining room because I don't have anywhere to put them in the meantime. I could not, however, manage to convince my husband to let me get rid of the "puppy couch," or the torn up, stinking, 1987-patterned bachelor couch he had long before we met that the dogs are allowed on (hence the term), even though my grandmother recently gave us a perfectly decent sectional. Both of them are still in the living room. Along with all of the furniture from the dining room.

I'm blaming my current mood partially on my pregnancy. I'm over halfway through (22 weeks), and I feel like I haven't accomplished a single thing. Sure, I've got about $400 worth of baby clothes that various people have bought me (I myself spent only about $23 and bought exactly ONE dress), and my mom has crocheted 4 afghans and unearthed a bunch of stuff from my own babyhood, and we have finally secured the financing to start the remodeling which will start with the dining room and eventually include the nursery. But as of right now, I have not cleared a single item of my clothing from the dresser that will be the baby's. I have not begun to clean out the bathroom closet that will house my toiletries instead of the desk in the spare bedroom, which will be the nursery. I haven't bought a single diaper, or chosen a fabric or pattern for the diaper bag I intend to make, or selected a crib, or anything.

It's all so overwhelming, and I don't know where to start.

So I'm just picking something. Obviously, the dining room, which is waiting for the hired help (i.e. my father and brother, who actually are professional construction-ers) to show up and do their thing, is one step. As for the nursery, it will begin with the cleaning of the bathroom closet to make room for the rearranging I have to do.

Step 1: declutter (i.e. get rid of junk I don't need).

It begins tonight.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

And me too.

I'm the other one. I'm Elisha, and I'm new to this whole parenting thing, or perhaps not quite there yet, depending on how you want to look at it. I'm currently pregnant with my first child, and due in December. (The speculation says Baby's a girl, and no, we have not yet agreed on a name.)

I'm married to a mostly wonderful guy, Steve. We live in an ongoing remodeling project in the mountains of beautiful West Virginia with our two dogs and two cats. He's a city boy, and I'm most definitely a country girl, and right now we live within the limits of a relatively small town, so sometimes things get interesting, but we're doing our best. As an added bonus, I also work full-time outside the home.

My primary intests, considering the impending baby, are parenting and homemaking, but occasionally I'll wander to topics anywhere from health and nutrition to designing handbags. I'm often torn between the convenience of modern options and the natural, organic, minimalist lifestyle I would love to be living. In my dream world, I would be the apron-wearing, "Leave It to Beaver"-type stay-at-home-mom, and I'd do it all while saving money and staying "green."

But this, unfortunately, is not my dream world, so I'll just have to make do with what I've got.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Have we met?


Well, come on in, sit down and let’s visit for a while. My name is Theola. I have three kids and I’m married to my best friend, Jeff. After life in the mountains of Colorado, we moved back to the Midwest and we now live in Jeff’s hometown in Kansas. In addition to being a wife and mother, I also work full-time outside of the home.

My primary interests are parenting and homemaking. When I say homemaking I’m not speaking in terms of the apron-wearing “Leave It to Beaver” lifestyle. I mean juggling the cooking, cleaning, laundry and decorating on top of any other obligation you have. Martha Stewart makes it sound simple and easy. Love her or hate her, I think Martha Stewart has super powers that cannot be matched by mere mortals such as myself.

I can’t maintain my house, husband, job and children and still have enough time left over to bake bread from scratch then slather it with freshly churned butter from an organically fed dairy cow. Yesterday I didn’t even remember to remove the burp cloth from my shoulder until a co-worker commented on it, 15 minutes after dropping my kids off at daycare!

So forget Martha Stewart. (Hey, I’m not bagging on Martha Stewart, like I said, the woman has super powers. Quite frankly, I’m scared of her.) Let’s make life a little more attainable so we can actually sit down and enjoy it. At the very least, we can get a laugh out of it!