Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chalkboard wine glasses

This is my first post on a Christmas gift project idea for the year.  I am okay with posting this one because it is for a family member, not a friend.  You see, my family DOESN'T read my blog ;-)

My dad and his wife love hosting parties and they love wine, as does much of my family.  However, they always have the problem of who set their glass where, and am I drinking someone else's wine?  There have been many solutions to this problem, like wine glass charms, different glass styles, and the like, but when you are at a particularly GOOD party, and are half in the bag, its hard to remember if you were blue or green or if yours had that funny flourish thingy on the stem.  One thing you are unlikely to forget is your name, regardless of how drunk you are.  You get that at keggers with those little red cups and a sharpie, but that doesn't translate well to the world of wine.  I needed a real wine glass that was writable, preferably rewritable, and elegant.

So I set about making some glasses with chalkboard paint on them.  I was kind of unconvinced that it would come out well, but I figured with some goodwill glasses and the multi-surface paint I already had, it was worth a shot.  They came out pretty well!

I will say that I don't think the chalkboard paint will last forever, but I can totally scrape it off and reapply.  It wasn't a terribly labor intensive process, so I wouldn't mind spiffing them up every now and again.  I wouldn't recommend washing them in the dishwasher or leaving them to soak, but a gentle hand washing and drying seems like it wouldn't be a problem.

Supplies needed:
all surface or glass Chalkboard paint (I used Martha Stewart paint, available at Michael's)
paint brush
Wine glasses - go to the dollar store or goodwill and save yourself some money!
Xacto knife
contact paper (the kind you use to line shelves)
a nice pretty template (I used 2 for fun, found here and here)

Step 1:
Find your template and print it out.  Cut it out and use the inside piece to trace onto the contact paper as many times as needed for the number of glasses you are making. Make sure to leave enough space between tracings for a good solid border.  You will need at least half an inch (preferably more) around each template to mask off the glass.  Cut them out into individually rectangles.

Step 2:
Carefully cut out the middle of each template using your exacto knife.  Gently peel off the backing and adhere each one to the glasses, trying to keep the top aligned with the upper edge of the glass.  I found that using four fingers one on each corner, and pulling taut was the best way to keep the shape even.

Step 3:
Carefully apply the paint to the glass.  I used a natural bristle brush because it was what I had, but it royally sucked.  I think a synthetic brush would have worked better.  Mine left awful streaks.  Let it dry thoroughly between coats (at least an hour according to the bottle).  I used 4 coats.  I think a good rule of thumb is holding the glass up to the light with the painted part facing away from you.  When you can no longer see light through the painted part, you have sufficient coverage.

Step 4:
After letting the paint dry thoroughly overnight, its time to peel off the contact paper.  BE CAREFUL!  If you have ever painted anything and left the masking tape on, you know that the paint will peel up just as easily as the masking.  First, take your exacto knife and score around the edge of the shape.  Then, use the edge of the blade to gently push away the contact paper from one edge.  Cut out to the edge of the contact paper, and use that point to start peeling up the masking.

Score around the edge,

Pull away one small section and cut the template to the outside edge.

Then peel off carefully.

Step 5:
There will be some small spots where the paint bled under the masking.  Use the exacto blade to scrape off any excess and clean up the edges (sorry for the REALLY bad photo).  Next, rub chalk over the surface of the painted portion (to prime it and make it easier to write on), smooth it out with your finger, and write something clever.  Voila!  You're finished!

Pretty simple, right?  And at a dollar a glass and about $4 for the paint, its a pretty cheap gift, too!  I will stress, be careful about the scoring and peeling part.  I botched one of the glasses, but I figure its not that big a deal since they wont last forever anyway.  But just to make you feel better in case one of yours don't turn out either, here it is :-)

Crap.  Well, lesson learned.  Be careful. :-)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Budget Friendly Living: Use less

Lately I have been a little fed up with the excess we are so used to (and EXPECT) in this country.  But really that is not what this post is about.  I am just taking a second to say that I will be hand making almost all my gifts this year, with a few exceptions that I got second hand over the summer.  I urge you to read my post about charitable gift giving if you haven't.  I know I posted it WAY earlier than people wanted to think about Christmas, but it corresponded with my birthday, so yeah. :-)

ANYWAY on to the meat of this post. My husband told me an interesting anecdote a while ago.  The Tabasco makers were trying to figure out a way to increase revenue by 30%, and all the corporate execs were totally stumped.  No amount of cutbacks, outsourcing, and the like would make that kind of difference.  They had no way to squeeze blood out of this turnip.  So they opened it up to all employees.  And lo and behold, a factory line worker came up with the surprisingly simple solution: make the hole in the bottle 30% larger.  WOW.

Aside from being a cute story (which may or may not be true), it exemplifies my point - businesses are in the business of selling their product.  So when it says "lather, rinse, repeat" it may be less for the health of your hair than the health of their bottom line.


Put simply, the manufacturers of soap, detergent, shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, Tabasco, or any consumable good want you to go through their product faster so that you have to buy more.  Often the recommended amounts they give are way more than you actually need.  For example, your laundry detergent says "washes 100 loads" on the bottle.  But when you read the back label, it says that for normal loads you only need to fill the cup 1/3 full.  How many of us don't read it and just assume that 1 cup= 1 load?  Most of us.  Break that down further into what is ACTUALLY needed to get your clothes clean (and not have a ton of soap left in them after the wash cycle to boot) may be even less than the 1/3 cup recommended.  My advice to you today: Experiment.  Try using a little less of everyday things. I am not saying skimp and spread germs or don't get things clean, but do you have to have the water on full blast to rinse your hands?  Or even worse, when you are lathering up?  Do you need a full pump of soap to get all happy and sudsy?  I know I only use about a half pump of liquid soap and it is still plenty, plus I use less water rinsing off all the excess.  I know not everyone can get on board here, but I don't flush the toilet overnight.  It started when I was pregnant and I got up at least 3 times a night to pee and it would wake up my husband when I flushed, so I just washed my hands quietly and snuck back into bed.  And it kind of stuck cuz then it would wake the baby.  And now we save water that way.  I wash the toilets every week so it doesn't seem to make any difference in the cleanliness of the bowl, but hey, I understand if you're not on board.  Everyone has their limits.

And don't just do it in your home, either.  Think about how much soap and water and paper towel and toilet paper you use in public bathrooms (though I highly recommend flushing...).  I saw a "bumper sticker" on a paper towel dispenser in a bar in San Francisco once that changed me.  "Paper towels come from trees."  That was it.  And it totally blew my mind.  I think about it literally every time I see a paper towel.

So now my challenge to you.  I use less toothpaste, less soap, less shampoo, less water pressure, less laundry detergent, and less dishwasher detergent.  What can YOU think of to use less of?  I am totally up for new ideas to save both money and the environment.  It's SUPER Green (and yes, that was an obscure nerd reference.  Bonus points to those who caught it.)

Friday, November 2, 2012

These are a few of my favorite things... zester/grater

A zester beyond all zesters.
The Microplane grater; I love this thing.  It is SUPER sharp, pretty inexpensive at about $12, and is incredibly versatile.  It will grate Parmesan into fluffy mounds (bye bye Kraft cheese-like dust!), grate chocolate into a gorgeous powdery topping, grate fresh nutmeg (WOW!) or ginger (I hate mincing), and zest any citrus to perfection.  Take care when cleaning; the back is very sharp because it is such a thin piece of metal, so don't slice your hand open!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Holiday gift giving to charity

My birthday was yesterday, which of course spawns the question: what do you want?  While most people are not yet Christmas ready, I have vowed to begin my preparations early this year in an attempt to not screw up like I have the last 2 years and confirm everyone's assumptions that I am a schmuck... :-) (hmm am I allowed to use a Jewish term to describe my lack of Christmas gift giving?)
All this birthday Q and A got me to thinking about my charitable gift requests.  I am the typical American adult: If I want or need something, I go buy it (or in my case, possibly make it).  I love giving handmade gifts because it is something that people would not or could not get for themselves.  However, in the spirit of Christmas in particular, we are inspired and expected to help out fellow man.  So what better to give someone than the gift of helping others?  I want to both give and recieve this way, at least in part, this Christmas.  With any luck, everyone on my list will get a small home made gift AND a charitable gift.  The best of both worlds!  Well, wish me luck!

My list of charitable gifts:

Donate blood.
I can't donate blood (weight restrictions) so this is something I always ask my husband and close family to do.  It saves lives and it takes a little planning which makes it really special to me.

Heifer international
I LOVE LOVE LOVE this organization.  They have a shopping catalog where you can choose animals to send to countries in need.  My family has done this at Christmas for years.  We pool the money in the center of the table (so no one can brag about how much they gave versus anyone else), one of the kids adds it all up (bonus: math skills) and then we thumb through the catalog and choose what to buy as a family. Its a wonderful way to help others, and make charitable giving part of your ritual.

Meals on wheels/Food pantry volunteering or donations
I have always had a soft spot for the hungry.  As a kid, things were not always easy with my mother, who did her best.  Lucky for me, my parents had shared custody and my dad actually paid my mom child support, so things were not SO bad, but we still had some tough times.  Thinking of the millions of hungry people right outside my door breaks my heart, and since I love to cook, this one is near and dear.  I always want to feed the world!  Donating is a great and simple way to help others, and you can pick out stuff in the grocery store with your kids to teach them how to give.  Or even better, give your time on a holiday or just on a weekend to package or sort canned goods or serve at a shelter.  There are TONS of places out there to do this, so don't be limited by the ones I linked to above.  The best part: this way of giving directly impacts YOUR community, making your neighbors and friends happier and healthier, even if you don't know they are in need.

Adopt a child - World Vision
My dad did this with me as a child from about 5 years old - I had a sponsored child that was about my age and we exchanged letters and school progress reports as we both grew.  Over time, her letters went from being written by someone else, to being translated, to being written in English.  It was amazing to see her grow and learn and I was inspired to be as good a student and as strong as her.  What a great gift for a kid!

There is no specific organization for giving your time.  But local churches, soup kitchens, animal shelters, thrift stores, or any number of charitable organizations are ALWAYS strapped for volunteers.  Ask at your church (if you have one) for a list of shut ins, and go have tea with someone who could use the company.  Since I don't have a car, I write letters to two of our church shut ins once a month.  I hardly break a sweat (and I brag about my baby; win-win!)!  Gift someone a scrapbook of photos from the day(s) and a handwritten note about what happened and what you did, and dedicate your donation of time in their honor.  This is especially good for parents or grandparents.  Take your kids and have them write about what they learned and how giving made them feel - a guaranteed tear jerker!

Give used items like coats and toys
When little man gets older, I plan to have him donate old clothes and toys that are in good shape to local charities on birthdays and Christmas to remind him of how little others have.  We are so consumed with greed in this country and to remind us of the true reason for the season, I plan to both shop for a new toy together for something like Toys for Tots, and give away some of our favorites that we have outgrown.  Just make sure nothing is broken or recalled and that the items are in good shape so they can be used.

Habitat for Humanity
Thus far I have not gone on a build, but I did donate to them a few years back in honor of my dad.  He is a handyman/contractor, and he often donates his time to this organization since he has that particular skill set.  I am all thumbs with a hammer, but I hear they are GREAT at teaching, as a friend of mine (also a girl) said she discovered she was a natural with a table saw!  This idea would be great for adults and teens, where the real meaning of community involvement hits home.  This organization does more than just sell people affordable homes.  It helps to turn questionable neighborhoods into lovely communities by making residents have pride in their property and take action when sketchy stuff happens where they live.  Home ownership does something to people... its almost like magic.  We don't want weeds in OUR flower bed!  Another great opportunity to help improve your immediate community!

Rescue an animal
Lots of people get a pet during the holidays.  Instead of buying an animal at a pet store, try your local shelter or humane society.  Don't let the cost deter you.  Pet store animals are often mistreated and come from puppy or kitten mills where the parents are treated like money makers, not pets, and purebred animals are often inbred and result in genetic defects that will create lifelong problems like hearing and vision issues, hip problems, and a shortened life span (read: higher vet bills).  Also, pet store animals usually are not spayed or neutered and don't have their shots.  Rescue animals will be put down if not adopted in a reasonable amount of time (except at no kill shelters) and are fixed, up to date on all shots, and will not be adopted out until they are completely healthy (no eye, respiratory, or urinary tract infections, which are common in pet store animals).  Typically, they are already housebroken as well.  If you have your heart set on a particular breed, most have organizations specific to finding homes for that breed, both purebred and mixed (Google search!). If you don't want to get a pet, or want to see how your family does around animals first, volunteer your time and walk or play with the dogs, or pet the cats in the cat rooms.  Its SO much fun and doesn't even feel like charity!  I volunteered to play with the cats as a teen, and I begged to stay every time!

These are just a few of the causes nearest and dearest to my heart.  Of course there are TONS out there.  Find a cause that means something to you and ask for donations of time or money as a gift, or find something you think a friend or relative would like and make a donation in their honor.  Many places will send a card to your recipient saying that you made a monetary donation in their name, and you can donate online in most cases.  Doesn't get any easier than that!  No fighting lines at the mall! And you can do it at 11:59 on December 24th with no issues!  And of course, for those interested, there are tax benefits to donating to charity.

SO, fight the commercialism of the holidays this year and inspire yourself and your family to be more giving-centered and less getting-centered.

Monday, October 1, 2012

These are a few of my favorite things... Dutch Oven

Le Creuset, eat your heart out.
I so badly wanted a dutch oven.  I NEEDED a dutch oven.  I had to have something that I could start on the stove and transfer to the oven to finish without worrying about what temps were okay and handles that might melt off.  Not to mention a large pot that wasn't non stick.  I needed to create a fond once in a while, like for a soup or something, but I just can't bear metal pans that I burn everything to.  I wanted an enameled version instead of the traditional cast iron, so I didn't have to worry about acidic foods reacting with the metal and making an icky taste.  At the size I wanted (5.5 or 6 quarts at least!), a Le Creuset would run me about $300.  Even at the discount "seconds" store. Ouch.  So I did some sleuthing and found another company that has made the cast iron version for a long time, and recently did an enameled version.  I actually bought it at Walmart for $50 (not available there anymore, but amazon has them on prime) and I have fallen in love.  It may not last for 4 generations as the famed french version, but I can afford to buy 6 for the cost of one frenchie.  The Lodge Color dutch oven has worked amazingly well, and I have not been kind to it.  Against the manufacturer's recommendation, I even took it camping and used it over an open fire.  I have had it at least 3 years now, I use it at least once a week, and no chips.   There is some staining and the enamel has crackled inside, but it is only cosmetic.  At first, the cracking of the enamel on the bottom worried me.  I wasn't thrilled at the idea of chunks of enamel coming off in my food.  However, it has had all that for at least 2 years, and it doesn't affect performance at all. I think its just the look of the finish that has cracked and not the actual enamel.  Bottom Line: a must have for every home cook, I swear! (I also broke down and bought a traditional cast iron version for about $30 I think, and it rules, too!)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Budget Friendly Living: Designer WTF?

Okay, just bear with me today.  I had to rant.  I am SO sick of shows, magazines, websites, etc claiming to save me hundreds while revamping my home, closet, etc.  Why, you ask?  It seems so great!  A cheaper alternative when redecorating, getting a new wardrobe, and so on.  Why WOULDN'T I want to save big money?

Well, then we read the fine print.  And we realize that we will be buying something from DSW instead of BCBG or from BCBG instead of Gucci.  I may be in the minority here, but I still can't afford $80 shoes, and the $300 or $3,000 options never even ENTERED my mind.  I have couture taste, don't get me wrong, but I often consider PAYLESS to be too expensive.  Sigh.  I guess there just is no helping me.  And I guess that is why I have this blog.  Because when I figure out how to make Jimmy Choos myself, I will want to share it.  :-P

I don't quite know how it happened, but it seems like from birth I have been a sale hound.  I like resale stores, I like clearance racks, and I LOVE garage sales.  I often complain about paying full price for anything, with the exception of food, perhaps.  I complain that resale stores are too expensive for my baby clothes.  Garage sales are awesome, because I love to haggle.  I always challenge the seller to make me a deal, and I have no problem asking for a discount, especially when I buy more than one item.  I figure, its up to them to say no.  But I am not a miser (I can give things away like nothing).  I just like to spend my money judiciously.  I refuse to go crafting without a coupon, and my mantra is NPFP - never pay full price.

It never occurred to me that this was abnormal until I was shopping at JC Penney with an equally budget conscious friend a few weeks ago, and I balked at buying 2 dresses off the regular racks, and went straight to clearance.  Her response was "I don't have the patience for the clearance rack."  Blew. My. Mind.  She is so careful with her money, saving on groceries and has a crazy detailed budget like me.  She is a stay at home mommy of 2, so that single income is stretched thin!  And here she was, thinking nothing of buying off the regular rack!  Ha ha.  I had an epiphany right then and there.  Maybe it was okay to spend a little money here and there!  I always thought my husband was spoiling me, offering to buy me both when I couldn't decide between 2 $5 items.  I AGONIZE over purchases, making sure I am getting the most bang for my buck, that I will not regret my purchase, and that the item is both incredibly useful and essential.  And I do mean agonize.  I lost sleep and cried over purchases when planning my wedding.  It was hard for dollars to leave my hands.  So, now the revelation: maybe I'm a little too eccentric.  I have lived on a shoestring for ages, but perhaps relaxing a little is okay here and there.  Its a great thing to watch your spending, but you can be irresponsibly thrifty, too.  My lesson of the day: it causes stress to not watch your money, but its just as stressful to be too tight.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

These are a few of my favorite things... garlic press

My garlic press.
I admit, I stumbled on this one.  I was at a kitchen store and just happened to pick it up.  It RULES.  The Zyliss garlic press has a hinge on it so the garlic doesn't squirt out the sides or the back where there is a gap because of the arc in the pressing motion... If you don't understand what I am saying, go try your grandmother's garlic press.  Then come back when you are covered in garlic juice and still have to mince it, and buy one of these.  Its not the easiest to clean as it doesn't have one of those plug backs that forces the garlic back through all the little holes so you can remove the leftovers, but I just force it out with water pressure by putting it flush with the faucet or use a brush.  I don't care if there are tiny bits left.  It only gets used for garlic after all. Truly this is a staple of my kit hen. Seems like everything I make has garlic in it!

These are a few of my favorite things... cookbooks

It occurred to me the last night as I murdered yet another can with my crappy (and new... and expensive) can opener, that I have some strong opinions about products. Like most people, I'm often dismayed by items that don't perform, and a little put off by the sea of crappy choices in many categories, like appliances (both big and small). Places like amazon are great because you can read product reviews, but reading hundreds of reviews on 10 or 20 items is exhausting and leaves me with information overload, and often no clearer picture of what to buy. Personal references from friends are great but sometimes I don't know anyone to ask or my friends don't have the same needs from a product. So I thought, maybe by listing stuff I like here and why, I can help people who are like me to find reliable products that fill their needs. I am really lame, I know, but I have to try... manufacturers suck...  So here is the first in a series of many (hopefully).

My favorite cookbook.
The New Best Recipe from America's Test Kitchen is fabulous on so many levels.  First of all, it is HUGE (over 1,000 recipes).  There are very few recipes for "normal" food that aren't in there.  Second, it reads like a book, not a cookbook.  Each recipe has an introduction telling a little about their expectations for the dish (which is good because if yours are different you can modify to suit you; ie: spiciness), many have preparation tips or tips on how to choose ingredients, and interspersed are product reviews on the best kitchen gadgets and tools.  If you have ever seen their TV show on PBS, it reads like an episode (if you haven't, check it out!).  Third, it teaches as it gives you the recipe.  I have become SUCH a better cook after cooking with this book because I understand the science of food, I know new terms, and I know new techniques.  Dishes I used to think were hard are commonplace meals for us now, like beef stroganoff or french onion soup.  I will issue one slight word of caution.  If you fall in love with this book, don't buy any more in the series.  I am not sure about the light and 30 minute books, but I bought the baking book and it was all the same recipes as in this one, with maybe a handful of new ones.  This book is all you need.  My friend recommended it to me and she lovingly calls it "the bible" and its kinda true.  Its a reference book as well as a recipe book. I LOVE IT!

Note: I don't get money from these people.  Although I do GIVE them a lot, buying these things for myself and as gifts for people I like...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nerdy Halloween costumes for a family

Ahh it's that time of year again.  The only reason I will EVER look forward to fall is because of Halloween.  Well, maybe when kidlets are older I'll look forward to school starting, but for now, it's Halloween or bust.

And this year we have a new person to dress.  Much like Ren Faire this year, the thing I am looking forward to most is the costume for little man.  Sure, I am making something awesome for a friend of mine and I am working on a quilt/duvet cover I have been commissioned to make (and I am CLUELESS by the way), but the thing I am thinking about most is a cool costume for my son.  And of course, I want to go as a themed family unit, so now I am pondering the options for all three of us.  And I have GOT to start sooner this year so I am not making a costume right before we leave for the party like I did last year while preggers.  Although I have not completely made up my mind just yet, Hubby seems to really like the idea of little man going as Mario, so I think that is what will end up happening.  But here are some of our family themed ideas. WARNING!  They are incredibly nerdy, and most are video game related. :-)

(Order: Mother, father, baby/child)
Samus, Space pirate, Metroid larva (from Super Metroid) <-- My personal favorite
Zelda, Link, Young Link or Navi/fairy
Mrs. & Mr. Pac Man with a dot or a ghostie
Princess Peach, Mario, Toad
Princess Peach, Bowser, Koopa Kid/Bob-omb/Koopa
Maid, Butler, Child in frilly gown or mini tuxedo/suit
Wendy, Peter Pan, Lost Boy
Three nesting tetris blocks

These are only those I could remember off the top of my head.  I can't seem to find the piece of paper I wrote all my ideas down on.  Oh well!  I may post more in the future, just for fun.  Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Budget Friendly Living: Simplify

Recently I did a post about planning and how it can help you with your budget. I was looking around at what else we do that really makes an impact and I got to thinking about the way we approach our lives.  I almost think that is more important than any other "tips" I could give.  When I think about my life, I try to make it as uncluttered and uncomplicated as possible.  We are busy and do a lot of things, but the more complicated life gets, it seems the more expensive it gets.  Here are just a few examples:

We like the simple things in life.  Hubby and I often take a walk together to spend some time chatting about how our day or week has been going.  Its nice to reconnect, get in some exercise, and be outdoors a little (even in the heat wave we are having).  However, its also much cheaper than going to a movie, watching cable TV, or going out to dinner.  We do go out, don't get me wrong, but sometimes, the simpler activities make it easier to reconnect than shouting over restaurant chatter or whispering between scenes in a movie.

We also don't have phones with data plans.  I find technology has really stressed me out over the years.  I never had a cell phone as a teen because I didn't want to be that accessible to people.  I didn't like Facebook (although I admittedly got a profile a few months ago...) because it was too impersonal and I didn't want people I don't like/from the past to find me and bug me.  I like my privacy.  A data plan, especially for Hubby because of work email, means that one more layer of my privacy and my "alone time" is being stripped away.  I am constantly accessible to people.  We have cable internet at home, and we have some mobile devices that can connect to wireless, but we don't have it on the go, which means we can "unplug" sometimes.  And frankly, we have the cheapest cell phone plan of anyone I know.

We don't have a lot of stuff.  I am not trying to live like a nun, but we don't OWN a lot of things.  We have Netflix (streaming only) and Redbox instead of owning a lot of DVDs, and we have and use a library card (this is new for me and I am still SUPER excited about it).  We only keep the things we use, and we buy high quality stuff for the things we use a lot (for me its kitchen gear - shocker, right?) so we don't wear them out and have to replace them all the time.  We save up for the expensive items slowly over time, and then we have it pretty much forever.  This reduces spending AND waste.  Yay for the environment!  Some of this stems from my hatred of clutter after leaving my parents' houses (they collect EVERYTHING and it makes me crazy!!), but a lot of it is because we don't attach our self worth to what we own, and we don't shop as a hobby or to make ourselves happy.  We probably have a smaller TV than most people, but we also have no debt except our home.

And conservation. We try to conserve everything here; water, power, gas, waste, time, stuff... And I think the savings really add up.The really easy ones are water and electricity. We save in lots of ways. For example, we don't run our dishwasher very often to save on both. It makes life a lot simpler to just do dishes as they come.  And yes, I do a LOT of dishes, but that is part of life.  We also plug everything into a surge protector.  Last winter we had a bad ice storm that took out our power and ruined everyone's TV except ours because we had a serge protector.  And at the end of the day, we turn everything off at the switch so it doesn't passively draw power, but we don't have to constantly plug and unplug it.  Simple, right?

The options are endless and these are just the things I was thinking of today... and I am ALWAYS open to suggestions. :-)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Budget friendly living: Plan

Hubby and I do pretty well on a single income. Granted he works in the tech field so he makes more than some, but we still have to budget like crazy to keep things running smoothly. Because hubby is such a wonderful nerd, we operate our household on a fiscal year, from Aug to July, rather than a calendar year. As EOF approaches (end of fiscal) and we set about making our yearly budget, I am reflecting on the ways we save money. I thought maybe I would start sharing some of the strategies we have used over the years that have worked the best. I'll try not to list the commonly cited ones, for example adjusting your thermostat (although we do that too), so you aren't reading the same old tips again.

I started making a list of everything we do and realized that it was WAY too much to handle at once.  So I think maybe I will share them here and there when I am scrambling to get out a new post in a timely manner... Hey, I am being honest here!

So for my FIRST tip:
Before everything, Plan.
Hubby and I are planners by nature and we admittedly take this mantra to the extreme, but having a plan is super important. For everything. Funny, but most of this one ended up about food... Sorry about that :-)

Plan your menu a week or two ahead and make things that use common ingredients. I am notorious for buying a whole quart of buttermilk or opening a carton of chicken stock or a bottle of wine for about 1/2 cup, and then trying desperately not to waste it the day before it is sure to go bad and cooking 1,000 random items just so it doesn't go to waste.  Throwing away food is like throwing away money, so waste as little as possible.

Plan grocery trips for once a week and STICK TO THE LIST to avoid impulse buys. Hubby and I have been slipping on this lately and it shows in our overbudget grocery bill. If you have a REAL list made out from your menu plan, you can really cut down on the time spent in the grocery store, and if you only make one trip a week, you will only be tempted to go off list (and have to resist) once.

Plan your errands and outings so you can do them all at once and in the same area. This saves on time and gas. Just be sure you don't eat out during your string of shopping trips.

Plan on eating your leftovers in your weekly menu, or better yet take them as lunches so you don't have to buy groceries for another meal.  Freeze leftovers to avoid waste if you know you wont eat them in time.

Plan your budget well in advance.  Hubby and I do it yearly, which is pretty weird, but we have been doing it a while and know our spending habits enough to do it that far in advance.  Some people say do it weekly, but I think monthly is the very shortest increment I would advise. That way you aren't tempted to build in splurges, you can plan better for monthly bills like rent/mortgages, and you can start thinking long term about spending and saving.  How do you build a budget? Start off by tracking your spending for a few weeks or months, categorize it, and then figure out how much you need for different things.  This will also show you where you can cut back.  Don't go cold turkey on spending, but adjust it every time you make a new budget until you meet your goals.

Plan for the future.  If you save up a down payment for a house, save up to buy a car in cash, and plan for other large purchases like furniture and appliances, you will save a ton of money in interest.  Don't wait until your dryer dies and then scramble to pay for it.  Keep a budget for replacing large items.  Car paid off? Keep paying yourself the car payment, and then you will have enough in a few years to buy one in cash.  This is a common recommendation, but it is SO important, and most people still don't do it...

Plan for the unexpected.  If you have an emergency, you have to cover it somehow.  Having an emergency category to your budget is critical to saving money, because you will not have to dip in to savings or even worse, borrow.  Get insurance for your car, your property (home owners or renters), your body (health insurance and life insurance), and anything else valuable.  Don't skimp on insurance unless you are starving.  It will come back to bite you! When budgeting for vehicles, make sure to build in maintenance costs so your car doesn't break down.  Take care of your investments so they last longer, and it will cost less in the long run.

Well, that is all I have on my mind today.  I guess this ended up being a lot of silly stuff after all (and I feel ridiculous now that it is all typed out) but I am posting it anyway.  Sigh... :-)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Baby ren faire costume complete!

I was really proud of myself this year. I had a couple projects to make for ren faire and I wasn't sure I was gonna get them all done in time. Hubby and little man gave me lots of help with housework and "me" time so I could get it all done. And I must say, I was really proud of the results!

Me and Little Man
I officially finished my friend's pouch that he wanted for LAST year, but it didn't get done.  Sigh.  I try- I really do.  Then I worked on Little Man's outfit, and it came together quickly and BEAUTIFULLY, much to my surprise.  I must be getting better at this, because his outfit was almost a no-brainer. And last but not least, I made some upgrades to my outfit.  Mostly it was structural improvement as the weight of the dress was creating too much stress on the seams, but I also made myself a French Hood in the early Elizabethan style.  I was hoping to get to Hubby's pants since he had been wearing the pants from his musketeer costume for the last 2 years with his upper class surcoat, and I had hoped to get to making some hose (basically stockings or long socks) for Hubby and my friend, but alas, their legs must show a little longer.  These were not REALLY on my list, but were just an "It would be awesome if I got to it" addition, so I don't feel too bad.  After all, I have to have something to do next year.... :-)

Group Photo

What is the next big thing then?  Well, my friend asked if he could commission me to make him a Fantastic 4 costume for Halloween.  I have the blue stretch material already... Mwaa ha ha...

Update:  I now have these for sale at my Etsy shop here!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Baby Ren Faire Costume Continues

A while back I shared some of my research on period appropriate renaissance faire costumes for children, specifically babies. I am really just doing my best guessing here as I am neither a historian nor an anthropologist, so don't come back and say how wrong I am.  This is just what I have been able to gather together, so yeah... Don't hate :-)  Anyway, disclaimers aside, I finally got started last night!  Its only been 4 months since my first post on that.  Sigh, lag time sucks. But I found a pattern I could adapt, and while this is not exactly what I had in my head, its what I can reasonably make in 2 weeks knowing that it will probably be worn twice at the most.  So I made some concessions on fancy-ness and decided to do something a bit more "mini me" since my husband really liked the idea of our son in the same fabric as him.

I had simplicity 5813 from a baptismal outfit I made for our godson, and I figured it would be perfect for adapting to the ren faire vibe.  I am using the dress (A/B) along with the slip which can be seen in the line art - the sleeveless thing, as well as the cap without a brim.  I am using the dress pattern as the gown and the slip pattern as the shift.  Of course, I had to make a lot of changes to make it period appropriate.

For starters, the dress opens in the back, but I wanted a Spanish surcoat sort of look for whatever reason, so I decided to make it open in the front and closed in the back.  This also follows my husband's doublet style, making it match him that much more. I decided to go with loops for the buttons in the front rather than making a placket, again to match my husband's doublet.  I also wanted long sleeves for the gown, but I decided to make them of another fabric and make them detachable since we are having such an awful heat wave here in Wisconsin.  I also cut the front and back of the bodice twice since I am leaving off the collar and need a way to finish the neck and armhole edges.  I will make one cut the facing and the other the fabric.  If this gets too thick, I may find a lighter fabric to line it, but for now, that's the idea.  For the shift, I decided to keep the extravagant length so it could be worn in future years, since our son cannot walk or crawl yet anyway and it is unlikely to bother him much.  It may be a pain to carry him with all that fabric hanging around, but its my own fault!  I also had to add sleeves to this, so I borrowed the sleeve pattern from the sweater and hopefully it will work out okay.  For the hems, I think I may take up some of the excess with the idea that it can be let down later.  I may not since he isn't crawling or walking like I said, but if it seems like WAY too much fabric, I have options at least.

Now for the I hopes.  I HOPE to make the sleeves detachable, but I also hope to make the sides and shoulders adjustable so he can wear this next year.  I am thinking that I will add eyelets to them both and leave a little pleat of slack in the side of the skirt so when cinched up tight you can't tell, but leave that bit of room to make it adjustable in the future.  It will only be adjustable to a point, of course, but it at least gives me the hope that this can be worn more than once!

Well, that is as far as I have gotten as of today, but I will keep you posted on how it turns out!  And I will learn from my mistakes at Easter and have frequent fittings with the model!

my heap of pattern pieces all cut out.  If little man takes a nap, I know what I am doing this afternoon!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Taping your presser foot to sew on PUL

I love Pinterest.  It is an amazing way to share and bookmark ideas.  Or I should say, that is what it is at its best.  Its also another way to spam me, annoy me with pointless and meaningless sayings and memes, and waste my time with things that aren't helpful or useful.  But with a little concerted effort, its a great way to share and and find revolutionary ideas.  Well, this may not be exactly revolutionary, but man did it help me out tonight.

A long time ago in a blog post far far away, I made a diaper pail liner using PUL as well as a wet bag.  PUL is difficult to sew on because it is a plastic-y, sticky material.  The presser foot snags on the fabric rather than gliding over it, creating an endless source of problems ranging from puckers in the stitching, missed stitches, bunched stitches, bent and broken needles, messed up timing, and even damage to your machine.  A way to avoid having this problem is to place something between the presser foot and the fabric, such as tissue paper, or even regular old printer paper.  While this really does help, it doesn't completely fix the problem and can open a whole multitude of its own issues, like getting it torn off and all those little bits stuck under the thread out without damaging your stitching, loose stitches because of the extra material being sewn over, and not being able to see the line you are stitching very clearly.

Enter Pinterest.

I saw a pin about a trick for sewing on vinyl and thought I would give it a try with PUL.  My foray into sewing stuff for my son's cloth diapers led me to use Joann's PUL which met with mixed results.  I had to replace some of the items I made after the PUL self destructed, but other items made with a different bolt of fabric is still going strong!  Anyway, This method recommended taking a small piece of scotch tape and taping the bottom of your presser foot to make it slippery.  I was pretty skeptical, but I figured I would do half the new project with paper and compare the experience and the stitching to the tape.  You do have to make a hole for the needle to avoid gunking up your needle and subsequently your machine and make a slit down the middle in the front for the thread to slide through, but it worked pretty darn well!  The presser foot slid nicely over the fabric, with only a fraction of the friction.  WORLDS BETTER than using paper or tissue paper or any other method I have found thus far.

So now we know.  Scotch tape for sewing on sticky fabrics works! Not only do you not have to deal with paper, you can see what you are doing and it leaves your hands free for removing pins, keeping your fabric aligned, and all those other things you do NORMALLY.  Go Pinterest.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cheap and easy party favors

I have an etsy shop, and one of my most popular items are wedding veils, which I just love to make. However, veils are round and I end up with tons of leftover tulle "corners" that are fairly large bits of fabric, but that I have little to no use for. As a crafty person, throwing it out is tantamount to throwing dollar bills away- except that it has no immediate use... And I have a craft room full of things like that. Bits of ribbon, old bras, torn jeans... You get the idea.

Well every now and again it comes in handy to not throw stuff out, and I finally found a use for all those unused corners of bridal illusion tulle! Of course, you can always just buy a yard for about 2 bucks... Oh and did I mention I didn't use ALL my corners? Darn.

Sorry for the lack of photos. I didn't have the presence of mind to take them while making the stuff and I was too lazy to recreate it... Oh well. You get what you pay for ;) I'd be happy to answer questions if things are unclear.

Bridal illusion or other tulle (How much you need depends on how big you want your favors and how many you want)
Ribbon (fabric or curling ribbon is fine, just make sure it's fairly narrow)
Card stock
Printer paper
Bulk wildflower seed
Plastic baggies (the fold top sandwich kind) or other barrier to keep seeds inside the tulle
Hole punch

1) lay out your tulle. Cut into squares about 10x10 inches or as big as you want them. Just eyeball this. No one can tell if they aren't perfect once you tie them up. You can cut circles if you really want, but it is WAY more work and doesn't look any cooler, trust me.
2) fill the 2 bottom corners of the sandwich baggies with seeds. Cut the bag in half, leaving enough on each side to hold the seed. Tape them around the top to hold in the seeds. Trim the excess Baggie off the top.
3) To make tags, cut the cardstock into 2x3 inch rectangles. Cut the paper into 1.5x2.5 inch rectangles. Glue the paper onto the cardstock. Write any sayings you wish on them. Mine were for a baby shower so I put things like "watch our family grow" and "we love our little sprout" on them and on the back wrote "plant me" like the "drink me" from Alice in Wonderland although I don't think the guests caught the reference. Oh well. I tried! Finally, hole punch the tags so you can thread the ribbon through them.
4) Take the tulle squares and place a bag if seeds in the middle. Grab up the sides and tie with the ribbon. I just knotted mine a few times, but you can leave enough to tie a bow if you like. Take a tag and loop it through the ribbon and tie another knot or two or tie your bow. Boom you're done!!

These went really fast and were pretty cheap. The tulle, paper, and ribbon I just had lying around. The seed I bought for about $8 and it made around 30 favors worth. If I shopped around I could have gotten it cheaper but I was too busy to go running around to garden stores so I just a large packet of wildflower and cut flower seeds from Walmart. Still, it comes out to about $.27 per favor.

They are pretty small though, so it's not super dramatic if you are looking for a centerpiece type favor. Although I am sure you could make them larger if you wanted. I initially wanted to make seed bombs, which would be bigger, instead but I didn't have the time to dedicate to it. Maybe next time!!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pacifier Clips

I recently discovered a cool new craft website for supplies:  Not only is it an inexpensive site, it offers FREE SHIPPING on orders over $28.  Why $28 and not $25 or $30?  Who knows... but its an easy number to hit once you see how much awesomeness there is!  They also do a %5 back rewards program as well as offer incentives for referring friends (you will all cite me as your referring friend so I get free stuff, right?)  I got snap pliers from them for future diapering ventures as well as the plastic snaps to go with, but I also found pacifier clips.  PLASTIC ONES!  That are specifically designed to be pacifier clips!  And they are really cheap compared to Joann's suspender clips which is what I had been using.  At $0.33 a piece instead of $1.50, it is easier than ever to make affordable stuff for yourself or to sell and still make a profit.  Not to mention plastic, although less durable perhaps, seems like a better material for babies since its not full of sharp edges and they are so much lighter.  They also come in colors, so plain jane silver metal is totally out!  I got the clear ones to test out, but I plan to order more if they work well.
Anywho I made a few for the baby shower and decided to post a tutorial for them, although there are lots of tutes out there for these.

Grosgrain ribbon wide enough to just fit through the clip (check this as it varies!!)
Narrower grosgrain ribbon in a coordinating color/pattern
Suspender clips or plastic pacifier clips
Sewing machine and coordinating thread
Snap pliers/press and snaps OR Velcro dots and a hot glue gun

Step 1) Cut both ribbons to about 8 inches. This will result in a somewhat short paci clip, but it won't pose a strangulation risk to your baby. Bonus :)

Step 2) Lay the narrow ribbon over the top of the fatter ribbon. Pin in place down the middle of the wider ribbon. Stitch across one end to hold the ribbon in place, then stitch down one of the long sides, across the other end, and back up the other long side. Be careful not to shift the ribbons or they will pull and pucker or curl.

across the end

down one side

across the other end

and back up the other side


Step 3) Snip both raw edges to make the ribbons even. Fold over the raw edge of the ribbon by 1/8"-1/4" and stitch. Fold under again and stitch, encasing the frayed edges. Repeat on the other side so both ends are finished.

Fold over raw edge

Fold over again

Stitch again.
Step 4) Thread the ribbon through the loop of the clip. Pull it through about half an inch and stitch. Make sure the clip will be right side up before you sew; the top of the clip should touch the right side of the ribbon as you see.

Step 5) Fold over about one inch of ribbon on the other end. Mark where you want your snaps or Velcro to be and apply, staying close to the finished edge on the one side. My photos show me adding snaps, but also show the kind of velcro I used for the first batch, just in case you wanted to try that route.
I used hot glue to affix Velcro to the ones for my son to augment the adhesive that comes on them because I didn't think it would hold up on its own. With daily use, drool, spit up, and chewing, it lasted about 6 months before I replaced it with the more durable plastic snaps. But I could have just re-glued it and been fine or replaced the Velcro. Just FYI...

Once you have the snaps or velcro done, you have a complete Pacifier clip!

Bottom Line:
Ribbon scraps and a roll bought at the dollar spot: $1
Snaps: really cheap once I bought the press and all.  I think its about $5 for 100.
Clips: $0.30
Total cost: less than $1

Total time: about 30 minutes, maybe less.  I made three at a time, so its hard to say how long one would take.
Retail cost: about $4 for one of those munchkin clips that I honestly think are too wide anyway. They always seem to bunch up around the pacifier.
Total savings: $3.  That's enough to make 3 more! :-)