Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

I was surprised when I picked up Jen Hatmaker's 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess from the hold shelf at the library. Surprised, that is, that I requested it in the first place. If you check out the other reviews I've done you'll see that the idea certainly fits within my usual genre of interest. The basic idea is that in order to simplify her life after being called rich by a poor young hurricane victim who is staying in her  home, Hatmaker decided to simplify seven areas of her life. She resolves to spend one month on each of the areas--food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste and stress--boiling it down to the number seven by only eating seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, spend money in seven places, etc.

My first problem with the book, and the reason I was surprised that I picked it up in the first place, is that religion is very front and center throughout the book. Since I'm not religious, this is a turnoff. I can't say this was hidden, however, if I'd clicked on "read more" in the Amazon description, or even read a bit about the author, who is active in the running of some new-agey church in Austin and is on the Christian author/speaker circuit. In other words, I should known, but I missed that little snippet.

Intrigued by the book's premise, I decided to read it anyway. And if you're a heathen like me who is turned off by a bunch of religious talk, let me warn you, it's sprinkled pretty liberally throughout the book as Hatmaker views her foray into simplicity as a way to get closer to God. There were several paragraphs and pages I skimmed right over cause, no offense to the believers out there, that stuff resonates with me about as much as tales of Santy Claus. Once you get past the first chapter or two though it does die down a bit.

The second problem, however, invades the entire book, and that's the core concept itself. Sure, it's intriguing to read about someone choosing to simplify their life by sticking to a severe limit, in this case, eating the same seven foods, wearing the same seven items of clothing (stick that in your craw you less-than-100-thing- wannabes). Could you do that? Could I? But more importantly, why bother? Because in the end it just feels like a giant gimmick, ahem, another giant gimmick, for a book that doesn't make a whole lot of sense in reality. Let's face it, the simplicity genre does love a good gimmick, and a lot of the books I've read employ them. Though, in retrospect those are the books I tend to enjoy least with the exclusion of the Moneyless Man, but the whole gimmick for a book thing isn't really working for me anymore. What does sticking to seven foods really teach someone that sticking to a budget limit, or a healthy-eating plan, etc, would not? In fact the latter ideas seem more edifying to me, but to each their own. And wearing only seven items of clothing? Well that was just silly really, especially where she shuns wearing a coat during a freak Texas cold snap because it's not on the list, and instead complains frequently about it. Just go get your freaking coat already!

It's not all bad of course. Hatmaker is a good and humorous writer. She manages to make even telling the mundane details of the book entertaining, and unlike some simplicity books I've read, the quality of her writing only enhances the tale. While any way of spreading the simplicity message is a good thing to me if it resonates with readers, this one just didn't resonate with me. Sadly, I can't say Hatmaker's book has inspired me to make any additional changes toward simplicity and isn't one I'd recommend.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Can't We Stop for 24 Hours?

image from Tommy Ironic 

A fast food restaurant sign proudly exclaims, "We are open on Christmas!"

A hair salon observes normal hours on Christmas Eve.
A toy store stays open for 24 straight hours until 10 pm on Christmas Eve.

Yesterday I made a rare trip to the salon where, while chatting with my stylist, I found out the salon is open during regular hours on Christmas Eve and she had to work the whole day. She also only had one appointment for the entire day, but wouldn't be allowed to leave early regardless. Now my stylist wasn't complaining, I was asking the questions and she merely responded. But I think this is ridiculous.

When I was little, which wasn't so long ago, most businesses were closed on the major holidays of Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. Today, more and more businesses are staying open on holidays for the "convenience" of their customers. Is this really progress? Has society really gotten to the point where we can't even take one entire day off? A day off from shopping, from eating out, from going to the movies, from getting our hair done. A day off from consuming.

When will we say enough is enough?

Can't we close all non-essential businesses (sorry doctors, police and firefighters) for one single day and let everyone, not just those in certain lucky positions, enjoy the holiday with their families? Or just have an extra day to spend as they want? And if this issue doesn't bother you, would you feel differently if you were someone who got stuck working every holiday?

I guarantee you that the world would be just fine if we all took a day off. The procrastinators would finish shopping on December 23. Those who refuse to cook would learn to heat up leftovers or make a sandwich. We would all survive and maybe, just maybe, we'd be a little happier, and a little more rested if we took a day or two off to relax.

When I lived in Norway, everyone knew the shops would close from noon on Saturday until Monday morning, so they planned accordingly. Few stores were open until late at night on weeknights. At the time I resented the lack of entertainment options at all hours, (what can I say, I was a teenager) but now I think it would make a refreshing change. Maybe our lives wouldn't revolve so much on rushing, doing, and consuming during those off hours. Maybe we would slow down and focus on the more important things in life.

Is such a change even possible?

Yes, but I doubt it will ever happen. In order to cause such a change we would need to work together to force businesses to close by not patronizing them during the holidays. Petitions aren't going to work in this case. Businesses respond to profits, or lack thereof. If customers stop patronizing them on holidays, and it become more expensive for them to stay open then to close, then and only then would they act differently. But sadly I don't have a lot of faith in this ever happening, because it seems like if a store is open someone will shop there.

Would you stop patronizing non-essential businesses on the holidays in order to give everyone time off?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cabinet Painting: Gun, Brush, or Roller, Choose Your Weapon

It's a lovely 60F day in Ohio in early December, and I'm glad it's raining. Why? So I have an excuse not to spend most of the day sanding and painting cabinet doors, guilt free. When colleagues and friends ask what we did over the weekend and I reply, again, painting cabinets, their overwhelming response is, 'you're still painting cabinets?' Yes, yes we are, and we've still got a long way to go-- at least five more coats on some doors. ARGH! I just want the doors to be done and back in my kitchen already.

Of course I have no one to blame but myself. This is what happens when you start a painting project in fall that has to be done outside and you live in the northern hemisphere. With the short daylight hours and the late fall temps, we're only able to paint one coat per day if we're lucky.

We could be done by now if we'd (a) started earlier or (b) were willing to paint the doors with a brush or roller, which could easily be done indoors, anytime. I tried to brush and roll the doors, I really did. This is part of what made this project take so long. First I tried Benjamin Moore Advance paint, because I saw rave internet reviews about how well it self-levels while still being water-washable. I brushed it as carefully as possible, tried rolling it with three different kinds of mini-rollers (they don't call me a perfectionist for nothing), but we weren't that impressed with the results, especially not for the price.

Then we tried Cabinet Coat, which leveled much, much better. On a small area with a carefully applied brush  Cabinet Coat looked almost sprayed on. When dealing with an entire cabinet door we couldn't quite replicate those results, but it was still an improvement over the Advance. I figured the painting application issue was resolved and we started moving forward.

Then we had a chance to borrow and try an airless paint gun from friends. You can read more about that here, but basically, the airless spray-painted results were amazing, but so was the mess caused by the overspray. After seeing the smoothly-painted surface achieved by spraying, however, the idea of going back to brush marks was very unappealing. Luckily, the boyfriend was able to borrow an HVLP gun from work, and finally we had our answer.

In the meantime, while between borrowed paint guns one day, I tried a hybrid solution. I rolled on primer, which we could do inside before spraying the finish coats. That was a DISASTER. I used those little, white high-density foam rollers that other DIYers rave about. I must say, I don't get it. The results were just awful. Am I just super sensitive to the texture rollers cause or am I a rolling buffoon? I don't know, but the resulting texture on the doors resembled the peel of an orange and it took 80 grit sandpaper and an electric sander to get all that blasted texture off so we could re-spray them. If I wasn't able to spray paint the doors, I would brush them, no question. Those little white foam rollers are pure garbage.

these are the devil - avoid them at all cost

So when it comes to painting cabinets, for best results, my solution is:

  • Spray-paint with an HVLP
  • Use Cabinet Coat
  • Don't wait until fall
What's your recipe for painting success? And if you love those dastardly foam rollers, what's the secret to using them?!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Adventures in Spray Painting

When last we left the kitchen cabinet painting project, the boxes were painted and the doors were sitting in the garage waiting for warmer weather. After experiencing the pain of painting the cabinet boxes, we decided to try spray painting the doors. Luckily, some friends had an airless paint gun they weren't using and this weekend with highs in the 60s and 70s we had perfect painting weather.

After sanding, filling, then sanding the doors again last weekend, they were prepped and ready to go. I washed the doors so they were clean and dust free, and hung plastic around the garage.

I was already nervous that morning about whether we could make the tight timeline needed in order to prime and paint 18 doors and five drawers. Because who knows how many more 55+ degree days we'll see in central Ohio between now and next spring? And I know me; I will not make it through winter with door-less kitchen cabinets.

The boyfriend is the dedicated spray painter around these parts. He even painted his car himself and it turned out really well. Even with his skill, my anxiety only increased after seeing the first sprayed door. I expected glass-like smoothness, but what I saw was an orange peel-like texture.

The boyfriend kept spraying, but another problem was soon apparent. The airless put out so much overspray, that there wasn't enough room in the one+ car garage to both shoot and have drying space for the doors. And the overspray was getting everywhere. Any little strip of floor that I hadn't covered was now white instead of grey. The paint buildup was enough that we left a trail of white footprints from the garage to the driveway. Suddenly I understood why, despite better results, more people don't DIY with spray paint.

Ghost footprints? Nope, overspray casualty.
Anyone who knows me knows I hate a mess, and this was turning into a mess of epidemic proportions. I was ready to terminate the project and just go back to painting the old-fashioned way (ok I was freaking out), but the boyfriend wanted to press on. Soon the driveway was littered with empty kitty litter buckets with freshly painted doors drying in the sun. This proved to be less than ideal as, you know, it's fall, so there are leaves and debris falling everywhere. Eventually the boyfriend agreed that the current setup wasn't going to work and we packed it up for the day.

At that point I was already planning this post in my head. The title was going to be, "Spraying Painting Cabinets: Epic Fail," but then I saw the next-day results of the spray painting. Even though only the primer had been sprayed, and not our fancy self-leveling cabinet paint, the finish was amazingly smooth. It was 100 times better than even our best results with brushing previous doors. Some of the doors weren't perfect of course, but that was easily remedied with a little light sanding. Suddenly the mess of spray painting didn't seem quite so bad, and the idea of going back to brush marks galore was a lot less appealing.

Our new plan is to try the HVLP spray gun the boyfriend can borrow from his job since he assures me it will produce much less overspray. And they're calling for warm enough weather next weekend that we can paint outside again.

So what have I learned kids?
  1. Don't wait until October to start painting if you live in a northern climate. You're probably thinking, duh, and I don't blame you. Part of the wait was my own laziness and procrastination, and part of it is due to a really hectic work schedule this summer. Either way getting a late start has complicated everything.
  2. Cover EVERYTHING if spray painting. And I mean everything, every speck of floor, wall and anything else you don't want to get paint on. It's way easier to tape off and cover everything then clean and repair the mess later. Use a tarp or heavy duty plastic on the floor that you don't mind throwing away, thinner plastic is okay for walls.
  3. Take it outside. Before we started spray painting I was thinking I could possibly set up a spray area in the garage, but after experiencing it firsthand I would never ever attempt it. This is an outside-only project in my mind.
  4. As usual everything will take three times longer than expected, so give yourself plenty of time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Holiday Decorating: Do You Bother?

Do you decorate for different holidays? I don't, with one exception, Christmas.

It seems as if every few months the stores are stocking their shelves with aisles of decorations for the next holiday. There is something for for everyone: Valentine's Day, Saint Patrick's Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and, of course, Christmas. The amount of stuff that is manufactured, and which presumably some people buy, is astounding. Flags, doormats, pillows, blankets, tablecloths, mantle decor, towels, dishes, cookie jars, candles, candle holders, wreaths, outdoor lights, indoor lights, soap...the list goes on and on. Billions of dollars are spent on this stuff each year.

This right here? Gives me hives.
Then you have the magazines, blogs, Pinterest, and more, filled with photos of each hostess, and some hosts, trying to outdo the next with their own creativity and quantity of decor. Right now there is a flood of pretty, but elaborately decorated tablescapes. Seeing these give me hives because I think, who has the time, and actually enjoys, shopping for, buying and arranging all that stuff?!?

I'm not trying to spoil anyone's fun here; by all means if you enjoy decorating for the various holidays, then don't let me stop you. I enjoy decorating for Christmas and having all the pretty lights to look at for a month, but that's where the urge ends for me.

I remember decorating my first apartment. I had fun making it pretty and adding my own touches to create a comfortable home that I enjoyed spending time in. But then came the holidays, and suddenly it appeared that my job wasn't done. I began to wonder, with all the neighbors decorating not just for Christmas, but for Halloween, Easter and Thanksgiving, shouldn't I join in to? So I began to collect a black bat here, and some pumpkins there, but I really didn't enjoy it. Finding these things, putting them out, then storing them just felt like yet another chore to me. It wasn't until I started decluttering a few years ago that I finally gave myself permission to get rid of my paltry collection of Halloween decor and to admit that I didn't like it, nor need to keep or display it.

Even after giving up on the manufactured stuff, I still clung to the idea of natural decorations. I bought pumpkins, gourds, Indian corn and the like, but I didn't really enjoy that either. So this year I bought nothing and didn't miss it at all.

That's what minimalism is to me, in a nutshell. Re-examining the way we live, the things we do and the stuff we buy and keep, to make sure it's still working for us. Not for society, not to impress your neighbors, just for us and our families. Letting go of the stuff that isn't working? Totally worth it, I promise.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Review: You Can Buy Happiness

There are many things I like about Tammy Strobel's book, You Can Buy Happiness (and it's cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too. Strobel is the creator and author behind the popular blog Rowdy Kittens, and in my mind she's one of the few simplicity bloggers with a big audience who hasn't totally sold out.

First, the book has a light happy tone, which contributes to making it an easy and pleasant read. You won't find any doom and gloom here and it lacks judgement of those of us who live a more typical American lifestyle, which is a major plus in my mind. But the best thing about this book is that Strobel included lots of stories about people who have simplified their lives, in addition to her own, some radically and some much less so.

You Can Buy Happiness did not make me want to run out and move to a tiny home, but that's never been one of my goals. I think this book will be more powerful for those who are new to the idea of simplicity and minimalism, but the personal stories make it interesting even to those who are voracious readers of the genre.

Friday, October 26, 2012

How's a Fragrance Junkie Supposed to Get a Fix?

flickr user: Dennis Wong
Eucalyptus spearmint, pearberry, brown sugar & fig

These are words that fill my heart with glee. Why? Because to me they mean one thing: yummy smells. I love things that smell good.

Plus, when you live with three cats and a boy, well, sometimes there are bad smells that need to be dealt with. And I'm sorry, but opening a window rarely cuts it. Plus, in my neck of the woods that's only a plausible solution about 20% of the time; it's usually too hot or too cold.

But if you've taken, or read about taking, even the smallest steps to free your life from toxic products, then you know that the vague term fragrance is a big, bad no no. It's code for toxic, carcinogenic chemicals.

I made what I consider to be major progress. I weaned myself off my favorite dealer, Bath & Body Works. No more plug-in air fresheners, spray or candles. My lotion is Burt's Bees and my shower gel has natural fragrances. I even stopped buying candles and switched to natural form of fragrance: essential oils. And everything was working pretty well actually.

Then I begin to see the cracks in my plan.

The Burt's Bees and Say Yes products I like (not love) may be 97-98% natural, but they still list the ever vague fragrance. Whhhyyyy?

And then the real kick to the gut. My beloved essential oils, that I've been using in everything from my homemade all-purpose cleaning spray to diffusing, are (may be?) toxic to cats. At least according to some sources. Toxic as in kill them if a drop gets on them. And even having them breathe in the diffused oils can be dangerous.

If you have cats in your home and are an essential oil lover, did you know about this? And if so, what did you do next? Now my choice is between killing the cats quickly with natural oils, killing us all slowly with synthetic fragrances, or dealing with a stinky house? Ugh.

I'm already jonesing to smell something good and it's only been a few days.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Update: The World's Longest Kitchen Reno

Well, I did manage to finish painting the kitchen cabinets (cabinets only, not the doors) during my week off. If you missed my earlier whining, it was six fun-filled days of sanding, scrubbing, scraping and, oh yeah, a little painting. And afterwards I didn't touch a paint brush or piece of sandpaper for nearly three weeks.

I guess I was suffering from DIY overload. Still am really.

I love seeing the bright white cabinets, however. So much better than that hideous midnight blue.

the before
But there's still the issue of all those drawers and doors. Living without them has just proved that I really couldn't live with all open shelving. Seeing all that stuff all the time drives me NUTS.

But apparently not nuts enough to rush the door paint job.

I finally got back on the horse this past weekend and we tackled the trim issue. When I say we, I mean the boyfriend. After a post-work sanding session last night, the doors are almost ready for paint. Just in time for a cold snap. Did I mention the unheated garage is our makeshift paint studio? Maybe I shouldn't have procrastinated quite this long. Sigh.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Getting Real About DIY: Painting the Kitchen Part I

The before: the navy blue light-sucking interiors must go.
Zoom in if you love chips and peeling paint!

Today is my last day of a week of vacation, but it felt more like time served for bad behavior. My crime? I decided to repaint my kitchen cabinets, a critically-needed step in the world’s longest kitchen reno.

This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. I’ve hated the navy blue insides of these cabinets since I first saw them when touring the house. They just suck all the light out of the room and are hideous. But worse than that, is that the white paint covering the outside of the cabinets was chipping and wearing off -- not a good look.

So the big paint job started on Monday. In retrospect, I should have started earlier and done more over the weekend. I did some packing and removed some of the shelf liners, but there was much, much more prep to be done.

Here’s the thing about DIY. Most TV shows and blogs gloss over the gory details. I mean sure, we all know projects take longer than the 30-60 minute show, and way longer than you plan for them to take, but who talks about just how horrid they can be at times? For the amount of work involved, I think there is far too little whining going on. Cause kids, this stuff can really suck. Taking painting kitchen cabinets for instance. I’ve been working on my kitchen about as much as I do at my regular job each day, only the kitchen work is much more physically demanding. It’s also messy, disruptive and causes you to need to bend in weird ways for long periods of time, which for me equals a lot of soreness. Which calls for a lot of booze, purely for medicinal purposes of course.

Here’s the breakdown of the work so far:

What chu doin to my kitchen, Willis?

Monday - Finished packing and emptied pantry. Have various kitchen crap stashed throughout house. Removed all hardware (by hand cause I can't find the darn drill!), doors, latches, drawers, and shelf liners (the adhesive kinds of shelf liners are the devil!). Used half a bottle of Goo Gone trying to remove the adhesive from those devilish shelf liners. Can we all just agree to never use those again? Finally, hung plastic and started sanding in the afternoon. After work the boyfriend removed some molding, filled holes and gaps and made a couple trips to the home improvement store while I continued sanding.

Tuesday - Spent five more hours sanding and scraping cabinets! That’s a helluva lotta sanding people - I ended up looking rather smurf like and was covered in blue dust. This included an inordinate amount of time spent trying to sand off remaining adhesive from those blasted shelf liners. Stop the insanity with the shelf liners! Started cleaning around four in the afternoon and finished wiping every cabinet, surface, appliance and mopping floor around 7:30 p.m. before hobbling to the shower.

Wednesday - Scrubbed cabinets with TSP for FIVE HOURS. Spent a ton MORE time scrubbing off remaining #%$(^U*(!!! adhesive. Dreamed of ways to kill whomever put down the damn shelf liner in the first place. Used de-glosser liquid to de-gloss a few more spots that I couldn’t reach with sander. Finally started painting around 4:30. Boyfriend came home and helped me paint for a few hours, and thanks to that we got a primer coat on everything but two cabinets. The carpal tunnel is really kicking in tonight, hoo boy.

This is also when the cats really started to rebel at being trapped in the basement. I don't understand it, there is an entire other living room down there, it's hardly Alcatraz, but they scream bloody murder half the day. At one point I thought someone had broken in and was dismantling the basement, but no it's just a pissed-off cat apparently attempting to shake the door of its hinges. Door wins, for now.

We's exhausted!

Thursday - Took the morning to recoop, but still managed to get a second coat of primer on all the cabinet boxes. Was starting to feel better about things, but then I remembered I haven't even touched the 14 doors and 4 drawers that need to be painted before kitchen is really back to normal. Beg boyfriend to go get more booze so I have beer to cry into.

Friday - Sanded and scraped a few drips from priming (oops). Time for the real paint which is exciting, but my motivation is at an all time low. Tried out a new roller cover and the results almost made me cry they were so horrid. The thought of two more days of painting is almost more than I can take. Finish getting coat of paint on cabinets thanks to help from boyfriend but am dismayed that vacation is officially over and I have at least another solid day of painting left. Dear god let it end soon.

----to be continued....if I make it.....

Friday, September 7, 2012

Stop the Insanity: Stuff Pushing Parties

1960s Tupperware Party, Wikipedia

It starts out innocently enough. A friend invites you over for a party. There will be snacks, lots of friends and family and, oh yeah, the opportunity to try some really great products!

There's always a catch.

Maybe I've just been sheltered, but it feels like the stuff pushing party circuit is picking up steam again. First it was Tupperware starting in the '50s, today it's Pampered Chef, Longaberger, Thirty-One, IT Works body wraps (I shit you not, that's a real thing)...the list goes on. Different brands that all rely on the same model: guilt your friends and family to come over and buy crap, so the hostess can get some free crap or a little extra cash. It all smacks of socially-acceptable peer-pressure drug-dealing parties, only the drug of choice is overpriced crap you don't need.

The whole scheme is dripping with guilt. Some of my friends feel they must absolutely accept any invitation they get, unless they have a conflict. And if you go, well, then everyone knows you must buy something, and it's not likely to be cheap. Out of guilt, I've browsed the stuff catalogs and have yet to see one things I would want to buy. In the Pampered Chef catalog and was unable to find a single kitchen gadget for less than $15, which is kind of pricey in my book for a vegetable peeler. Or take Thirty One, where you can get a monogrammed plastic lunch bag for double to triple the price you would pay at your local Target. Or maybe you need a not-so-stylish purse for $140. I'm gonna repeat that: ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY DOLLARS. I felt guilty last week when I paid $20 for a purse I really liked after weeks of fruitless purse hunting trips at the thrift store. But hey, if you wanna be organized and trendy, you're going to have to shell out the cash.

We're supposedly in an economic downturn, with budgets slashed to the core, and we feel it's perfect okay to ask our friends and family to buy extremely overpriced (mostly useless) crap so we can make a few bucks? Sometimes I just want to ask if I can give the host $20, keep my Saturday afternoon and we call it even.

I'd love to know how much money people really make in these ventures. I've never hosted any of these parties, so maybe it's a lot more than I think. But even so, aren't there better ways to make extra money than  direct-selling stuff to your friends and family? Do freelance, work overtime, slash some luxury items from your budget, sell some clutter, cut cable, anything, anything seems preferably to joining the home-party circuit.

Maybe it's just me, because I hear a lot of people waxing ecstatic about how awesome these products are. Some people gladly line up to fork over their hard-earned cash for a $20 flat iron cover. Don't get me wrong, if you absolutely love any of these brands and are dying for the latest and greatest, then by all means, shop til you drop. But I personally wish people would re-think the "guilt-the-people-you-love" business model.

Does the entire concept of stuff-pushing parties bother anyone else?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Getting My Kitchen Organize On

If you thought organizing the medicine cabinet was fun, and who didn't, then this is going to blow your mind. Today I give you two words: cutlery drawer.

Did someone order a hot mess?

I've hated this over ten-year-old cutlery organizer for awhile, but I didn't find anything that seemed any better. Until my magical shopping trip a few weeks ago where I spotted something different that I thought my help.

Not only does it just look a lot prettier, it also functions better. No more pushing the blue cutlery drawer back into place everytime I open the drawer. Ahhh... it makes my little OCD heart proud. Although I initially balked at the $17 price tag of this item, I think it's worth it. Especially if it lasts 10 years!

The blue beast didn't die though, it got repurposed to help me organize an even bigger mess.

I give you: the utensil drawer

We actually still use this all this stuff, so I stored some seldom used items, like the cookie cutters, in a different place and reorganized what was left. It's not perfect, but it's a vast improvement, no?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Medicine Cabinet Makeover


Once upon a time my medicine cabinet looked liked this. It's a small cabinet inside an even smaller bathroom that lacks storage. Still, it usually wasn't too cluttered, as you can see, but what you can't see unless you click on the picture and view it in a larger size, is that the white finish/veneer on this cheapie cabinet was worn and discolored. It was actually starting to creep me out.

I wasn't sure how well a coat of paint would hold up to the moisture of toothbrushes and whatnot, so I decided to cover it with contact paper instead.

I found this paper at Big Lots and thought it looked cheerful. Putting it up was easier than I thought, and I'm terrible at cutting or hanging things in a straight line.

It looked pretty good even when filled, but it wasn't perfect. Things would fall out frequently and you had to move some things to get to others. Still, I didn't give it much thought until we happened to see a medicine cabinet organizer while shopping this weekend. I didn't buy it when I first saw it. I hated the thought of spending $8 on a big hunk of plastic. But I thought about it all night and the more I thought about it and searched for other options online the more I thought this one was perfect for our needs. So I went and bought it this afternoon.

Now not only is more stuff than ever officially stored in there, but things are easier to get to than ever. And it makes me happy just to look inside the cabinet now. I just love organized spaces!

What's the last thing you organized?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Green Hypocrisy

After today's trip to the grocery store I'm left wondering if I am just a big, giant hypocrite? The short answer is yes, of course I am. Most of us are hypocrites to some extent. Religious zealots who preach love and kindness, yet kill in the name of religion or treat homosexuals like murderers. Wannabe greenies like myself who claim to care for the environment yet drive and use central air con. You get the idea.

I thought I was on-board with small, green changes at least, but now now I'm not so sure. When we walked into Kroger for our quick weekly shopping trip, I was dismayed that half the lights were out. It was also almost as warm inside the store as it was outside. Great, I thought, they must be running on a generator. I jumped to this conclusion because following a freak storm a week ago Friday, more than one million Ohioans were without power and our neighborhood was hit pretty hard. Some still lack the magic juice. But everyone seemed to be shopping normally, and I wanted food, dammit. So onward we went. 

I was a bit apprehensive about the perishable foods, like dairy items. The coolers seemed to be running normally, however, and I was pretty sure they wouldn't be if the store was on generator power. But that's when we noticed another strange event; the shelves were mighty bare. There was a giant hole on the shelf where the Chobani yogurt usually sat. The boy wanted Gatorade, but there was nary a bottle to be found. Same thing with our usual brand of lunch meat, my beloved feta cheese, and hummus. The fruit that was on the shelf was past its prime. I began to wonder if the stock crew was on strike.

By this point we were in produce and I was getting irritated. I asked an employee what the deal was, and he said the store was trying to conserve power because of the recent outages. He had no idea why they were out of so much stock, however.

Now, there was at least one day last week where our local electric provider, AEP, asked customers to conserve energy to prevent rolling blackouts as they brought more storm victims back online while some equipment was still out. If we didn't conserve, they warned, they would have to shut off some customers to keep the equipment from being overwhelmed. So I thought maybe there had been another call for conservation, but I hadn't heard a thing about it despite being online most of the day. After searching the issue online when I got home, I found absolutely no mention from our power company of further immediate needs to conserve power. So was this really a move to conserve energy, or was it a move to cut the company's costs?

Some of Kroger's conservation methods seemed better than others. Unplugging the extra displays of cold items that were set up in secondary locations to promote sales made perfect sense. These were no big loss since you could still find the items in their primary location.

At this point the boyfriend asked if I wanted to abandon cart and head to another Kroger, but I hate grocery shopping and we'd already invested time in that store. So I voted for pressing on.

By the time we checked out I was grumpy enough to think about shopping at a competitor in the future if the conservation program was going to stay in effect. Maybe it was the bare shelves that pushed me over the edge, but I didn't enjoy shopping in a hot, dark store either. Which made me wonder, am I being unreasonably grumpy about a change in the status quo? Is it really that big of a deal to be a little warm for our 45 minute weekly shop if it saves energy? And what about the employees who had to work all day in a warmer than normal store? Our cashier had a red face and looked even more grumpy than I felt.

We left with less than half of our normal groceries and I was in a bit of a huff, with a head full of questions. What do you think, do we need to start giving up some of our comforts today so we don't lose all of them in the future? In other words, am I being a giant baby who just needs to suck it up, or are there other ways my local Kroger could implement to conserve energy? I'm really interested in your thoughts.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: A Year Without Made in China

I spotted A Year Without Made in China by Sara Bongiorni while browsing at the library. It immediately caught my interest as another pick to help satisfy the green/sustainable/simple living kick I've been on for months now.

Bongiorni is a journalist, so it comes as no surprise that her writing style is enjoyable, humorous, and easy to read. I took the book home and quickly starting flying through the pages.

The concept is pretty simple. After seeing how many gifts and items in her home come from China during one holiday season, Bongiorni decides to kick the Made in China habit and on January 1, 2005 starts a year-long experiment to not purchase any items that are made in China. The main goal of the experiment isn't really to make a political statement, but rather to see if it can be done.

There are some caveats, of course. Gifts, trash and hand-me-downs are an exception to the made in China rule. Nor is the author going to rid her life of previously purchased Chinese goods; the project applies only to future purchases. All of which makes total sense.

Anyone who notices the "made in" labels on products will know this won't be an easy undertaking. China has the market in electronics, toys, and cheap crap in general entirely corned. It isn't long into the first chapter when the first purchase trouble strikes as the author's husband tries to find pegboard hooks so he can organize his workshop. But, alas, all the hooks are made in China. The next troublesome purchase slash mini project is when the author's son outgrows his shoes. Apparently China has the market cornered on shoes too. So the author details her exhausting search for a new, non-Chinese pair, which takes two weeks.

We make it until page 34 until the project starts to really wear on the author's three-year-old son. He wants a new, Chinese of course, game, but Bongiorni manages to distract him with the toys they already own. But on the very next page, after a weekend filled with the zoo and the circus, there is another toy standoff. This one is over a $15 plastic sword for sale at the circus. This time she says her son can buy the sword with his own money, or he can skip it, save his money, and she will buy him a new, non-Chinese toy.

I think it was around chapter four that the project began to wear on me. The books feels like it devolves into a chronicle of one purchase after another and the struggles to make sure those purchases are China-free. Many of these purchases are toys. In fact, it may have been the author's standoff with her husband over their "need" to buy their kids a new plastic pool for the summer that made me question their project entirely. What is the value of not purchasing items from China over, say, just making a few less purchases. What difference does it really make if one buys more plastic crap from Taiwan and less from China?

At this point, my reading speed slowed considerably. The book lingered on the shelf as I started and finished first one, then two other books. The family's purchases start to become more grating. Why are their choices to either break their rules and buy Chinese holiday decorations, or go without decorating altogether? Haven't they decorated in the past and, if so, couldn't they simply reuse those items? Or could they make their own decorations? Using a bit of creativity outside of shopping skills might have helped them make it through the project and make for a better book.

In fact I only finished this book in order to be able to write a review and return it to the library before the due date (after many renewals, natch).

In summary, A Year Without Made in China isn't a book I can recommend. Even if you're just borrowing it from the library, I would leave this one on the shelf. Sorry, Sara.

Rating: 2.0/5.0

Sunday, July 1, 2012

YMOYL Book Club: Managing Your Finances (Step 9)

This is the ninth and final week of the Your Money or Your Life Online Book Club, where we are tackling the nine steps of the YMOYL program. Get more background info. and a complete list of the steps here.

We made it people! This is the ninth and final week of YMOYL. Well, more accurately, some of you made it, not me so much.

Step Nine

Step nine is about becoming knowledgeable about long-term, income-producing investments. It's also about learning how to manage your finances in order to create a consistent income sufficient to cover your needs over the long term.

The final chapter of Your Money or Your Life is intended to provide advice for those who arrive at the crossover point. Since I'm using the updated version of the book, the advice given in this chapter is different than Joe Dominguez's original advice to invest just in US Treasury bonds. The updated chapter includes the very basics of other investment vehicles including mutual and index funds.


For me, step nine raises more questions than it provides answers. Investing is the area of finances where I'm the weakest. I know how to save money. I know how to evaluate my wants and needs and find a good deal, but investing? There I'm pretty lost. So I have more questions than answers for those of you who are still with me.
Do you have a long-term investment strategy that you're confident about? If so, care to share the basics? (e.g. do you invest in stocks, index funds, bonds, etc.)

Overall, do you feel the YMOYL program has helped you financially?

What are your favorite and least favorite pieces of advice in the book?
Thanks to the handful of regulars who stuck with me throughout this online book club, and especially those who stuck around even after the long hiatus between chapters 6 and 7. Ya'll rock!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Attacking My Clutter Hot Spot

This post on Small Notebook inspired me to attack one of our clutter hot spots: the cabinet under the kitchen sink. Go ahead and go check it out, I'll wait. Have you ever seen such a sparse under-the-sink area? I haven't.

My own under-the-sink cabinet is just slightly more cluttered.


the quality control team inspects the rejects

Despite what it may have looked like, the sink was mostly cluttered with bags, dirty cleaning cloths and a few items that belong in the basement. Once I cleared out those items, and did a quick cleaning of the crumbs and whatnot, it looked much better.

Voila! Although my cabinet will never be as empty as the one featured on Small Notebook, it looks much better with empty space and organized items. Now it makes me happy every time I open the cabinet.

What are your clutter hot spots and when did you last attack them?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Clutter-Free Dental Care?

This week I am on a staycation, aka a sanity break from work. And what exciting activity did I have planned for my first, long-awaited vacation day? I went to the dentist, cause I know how to par-tay.

by flickr user denniped

If you're thinking that I must feel differently about going to the dentist than the majority of the population, never fear. I hate the dentist just a much as the next person. Now though, my hatred has muted from the normal childhood fear of hating the dentist for fear of cavities, to absolutely loathing the forced interaction with whichever hygienist is stuck scraping my teeth this visit. 

Is dental hygiene a popular career for people who can't get into law school? Because I seem to be grilled about my oral hygiene habits on each visit by an over-eager hygienist who acts like she's a prosecuting attorney hell-bent on discrediting a witness during cross-examination. I will freely admit that I am not perfect in the mouthcare department. There are times I fall asleep reading before I brush my teeth at night. And while I floss fairly-religiously on week days, my weekend routine leaves a little to be desired (you should see my hair!).

Hygienist the Hun (aka HH): How often do you floss?

Me: Five days a week or so.

HH: And what about around your permanent retainer? Do you have problems flossing that? (said in a way that suggests I so neglect my mouth I may not have even noticed I have a permanent retainer.)

Me: No.

HH (looks gleeful): Do you have floss threaders?! (I can practically see her thinking 'A-ha! I have you now you nasty-non-brushing-disgusting-non-flosser! Because without them, there would be no way I could properly floss several teeth)

Me: Yes.

HH: (Glowers disbelievingly).

She then went on to explain about how my permanent retainer is attached to my teeth and how I should properly floss around it. At this point I should have probably asked for a mirror so I could see just how terrible a job I had done because the permanent retainer I've had since I was 13? Um, yeah, we've met. I've been flossing that bitch for 20 years now, so I don't need a lecture on how to do it.

But that wasn't all, I also got asked how I brush, instructions on how to brush properly since she suspected I completely missed my gums (again, no, last time I checked I'm neither 2 nor mentally challenged.). Then as I was leaving she gave me a package of said disputed floss threaders, "just to be sure I have plenty." WTF?

Oh, and when the dentist came, despite the hygienist's lectures and the stern warnings about "needing Doc to look at tooth #20, something is going on there!" the dentist said everything looked great. She also welcomed me to the "cavity free club" for another six months. High five, yo!

Now, I'm tempted to ask anyone who might still be reading if I'm the only one who gets the riot act from their dental hygienist, but I had a nice long run there with actual human beings who didn't treat all the patients like naughty kindergartners. But then that dentist sold the practice and moved. Jerk.

The other thing I hate about the dentist is the hard sell. Do you use Sensodyne Sensitive toothpaste? Not just sensitive toothpaste mind you, but this brand! Well, you should. Here, try some Listerine Zero with fluoride! We want you to start using this every night. Plus, the fluoride treatment hard sell by every single employee I came into contact with. And don't forget, we have the best prices in town on electric toothbrushes, they will change your life! It wasn't bad enough I had to hear the chick give the patient next door the same spiels, I got my own as well. So instead I say no, no, no and probably have a rep as surliest patient of the year. 

flickr: DESQie

I can't help it really. When I was a kid I went to an ancient dentist who was well past retirement age. His equipment was even older. He didn't have TVs to distract you. For entertainment I counted his ample nose hairs and tried to decipher if his hems and haws meant the drill was imminent or not. There wasn't a fancy suction tube, you spit in the sink next to the chair and watched it float down the drain. Dear god, do I miss that spit sink. My dentist didn't crack a smile until the very end when he declared me cavity-free and let me pick out a sucker before I skee-dattled the heck out of there. And he most certainly didn't load us with a goodie bag of unnecessary toothbrushes and miniature floss packages and a fricken envelope of floss threaders. And WE LIKED IT!

Ahem, sorry. I got a little sidetracked there. Where was I? Oh yes. Fluoride.

The fluoride thing is always a conundrum for me. Do ya'll go for the fluoride? I'm not sure where I stand on the whole fluoride thing, but, when in doubt, I try to stay away uncritical chemicals. I tried researching it a year or so ago, but found as much literature for as against. So in the meantime I abstain from the extra treatment, but still use toothpaste and other products with fluoride. Although maybe I should rethink that since when I was a kid they made use rinse with fluoride in school and I never had a cavity until my late teens.

Seriously though, am I the only one who has this much fun at the dentist?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

YMOYL Book Club: The Crossover Point (Step 8)

This is week eight of the Your Money or Your Life Online Book Club, where we are tackling the nine steps of the YMOYL program. Get more background info. and a complete list of the steps here.

First, please accept my apologies for the long, unexpected hiatus from this weekly book club. Life trumped blogging for so long, that I thought it was pointless to continue, at least until one of you inquired about it and I thought, might as well finish eh? So, on with the show.

Step 8: Capital and the Crossover Point

Each month, apply the following formula to your total accumulated capital and record the result on your wall chart:

capital x current long-term interest rate / 12 months = monthly investment income

After you begin investing your money, start entering your actual interest income on your wall chart. After trends become clear, project that line to the crossover point; you will then have an estimate of how much time you will have to work before reaching financial independence.

I have to admit, I've totally fallen off the YMOYL wagon. Being in the midst of several home improvement projects made tracking every expense cumbersome and depressing. These are definitely not typical spending months. 

What about the rest of you? Are you still tracking every expense? Are you updating your wall chart regularly? If so, do you find that worthwhile?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Repair Before Replace

One of the key tenets to green and simple living it to take care of the items you own. Unfortunately, I have a low repair tolerance. When something breaks, my first instinct is to worry how much a new one is going to cost.

I've made progress, however. Now when something breaks my first instinct is to ask the boyfriend if he can fix it. And if he can't, well, then I move on to, "Oh great, now I have to buy another one." Baby steps.

Luckily for me the boyfriend is handy. He's fixed more things than I can remember around here, saving me boatloads of money and stress. Plumbing, mowers, cars, holes in floors, even the washer were no match for The Boy. The last washer repair was quite impressive. He replaced the belt and pump and it's working like a champ again. I was sure it was a goner. He even blogged about it in case anyone out there has to make the same repair.

Being able to repair your own stuff not only saves money and helps the environment, it's a major confidence booster as well. Today I managed to save my duvet cover from an early death all by myself! (cue my 'I'm a big girl now' smile).

I noticed my comforter had a rip in it the other day, one that my go-to solution (iron-on fabric tape) could not repair. The final nail in the coffin was an unsightly staining incident (gotta love cats!). I was pretty sure that if I tossed it in the washer without repairing the rip things would only get worse. My first thought, of course, was to go to IKEA and pick up another since it's not an expensive cover. But something came over me and I decided to try and salvage it instead. Now, I'm not exactly known for my sewing skills. The last time I sewed something other than a button was in my junior high home economics class. Still, I managed to repair the (admittedly small) rip by hand, and, surprisingly, it doesn't even look half bad! Then I attacked it with some Shout stain remover (I'm sure Shout is toxic as hell, but it has impressed us to no end with the stains it has removed from fabric) and washed it and voila, it's almost like new again.

What's the last item you saved from the dump by repairing it?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Perfect Summer Weekend

my outdoor living room
We had a great weekend. The weather was amazingly perfect. Last weekend it was sufferingly hot, in the 90s with high humidity and high pollen. I was miserable and hid out inside in the AC all weekend.

This weekend was the complete opposite. Highs in the 70s, low 80s tops, low humidity and a much more forgiving pollen count. In June no less! No AC was needed, and the windows have been open all weekend. It's even been cool enough in the evenings to require snuggling in a blanket. In short, it was perfection. And we definitely took advantage of it.

We finally planted our summer vegetables, three kinds of peppers (Habanaro, Jalapeno, and Cayenne) for the boy and three kinds of tomatoes (Early Girl, Golden Girl, and Patio) for me. I also planted a ton of flowers and a flat of strawberries. I finally slapped a coat of primer on the pantry doors, and we took a long bike ride today, 15.7 miles!

Alex is such a diva. Check out that back leg.
There was also plenty of time for R&R on the deck, and a Sunday nap.

If only the weather would stay this perfect all summer.

How was your weekend?

p.s. Can anyone identify this flower for me? I planted Sweet Alyssum seeds but this is a giant compared to any other Alyssum I've seen.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Lost Art of Leisure

If you've forgotten how to chill out, watch a cat; they are experts!

I've spent my long, four-day Memorial Day weekend being anything but productive. I didn't paint the new pantry cabinet shelves and doors as I had planned. I didn't go to parties, or swimming, or shopping, or out to eat. I didn't plant tomatoes and peppers, or garden, or prune the shrubs as I had planned (thanks to overactive pollen allergies and extreme heat). In fact, we've barely left the house.

Instead I've read, watched movies, surfed the net too much, slept quite a lot and enjoyed several great meals. I did clean, because I find it much easier to relax in a clean house, and did laundry. I don't know if it's the fact that I've been going on overload, or if I'm just being lazy, but either way I couldn't be happier with having four whole days to relax.

Sometimes it seems like we've completely forgotten how to relax, to enjoy life, to just be rather than constantly doing something.

We value more, bigger, better, faster. The internet, TV, magazines--media of all types--are full of tips on how to be more productive and fit more into already busy schedules. We reward workaholics and take fewer vacation days than ever even though we aren't granted many to begin with. It seems as if there is always something productive we should be doing with our time.

But why?

Why must we fill every moment of every day being productive, making money or getting things done? We have to realize that there will always be more work; there is no finish line for the jobs of today. Eventually you have to let it go, make time to enjoy life, relax and recharge.

We've all heard the cliche that no one ever wished they had spent more time working on their deathbed. What is the point of working so hard if you never get a moment to enjoy it? If you haven't already, take a moment to just enjoy your life. Quick, before the holiday weekend ends!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Getting Cat Pee Out of Laundry

I know it's hard to believe that one of these little angels (har har) would pee on laundry, but once in awhile, especially as two of them have reached their mid-teens, it has happened. The good part is that so far it has happened in the part of the basement that just has a cement floor, so the only casualty thus far has been laundry.

In the latest incident, a drop cloth, my favorite bathroom rug, and some towels were the victims. The drop cloth was immediately trashed, but I wanted to at least try and save the rest. In the past, the boy has tried washing pee-soaked laundry several times in a row to now avail. Obviously I needed to take a new approach, so I turned to the all-knowing Google.

As always happens when one consults Google, I found varying opinions. Some said vinegar would work, others said if the urine was dried (as it was in this case) the only chance was using an enzyme cleaner, and even that might fail. I decided to try using things I have on hand, which worked perfectly.


  1. Soak laundry overnight in washing machine with one cup of vinegar. Set water at lowest setting possible that will cover laundry.
  2. Next morning, rinse laundry and spin out all water. Add detergent and 1/4 to 1/2 cup Borax.
  3. Hang clean laundry outside in in sun to dry.
And, voila, I got my laundry back.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pantry Sneak Peek II

Wow, it's been awhile since I reported on the pantry progress. We're coming towards the finish line now, but I'm going to catch the blog up. When we last left the pantry, it's bare bones were up.

Next the boyfriend made doors that are a pretty exact match to the rest of the 1950s kitchen cabinets.

It's already looking so good, but we have many more plans to come!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Finding Peace in the Chaos

The last couple of weeks at work have been insanely busy, and sometimes stressful, hence the neglected blog. The sad thing is that I am entirely to blame for my work life going from a manageable 40 hours a week to a hectic 45+. And I really miss those five extra hours or more of my free time.

What happened? Well, I accepted a temporary position doing the job a level above addition to keeping my own full-time job. How is this possible, you might be wondering, for the blogger who wrote this post about being satisfied not climbing the career ladder and in fact wants to work less? It's a question I've been asking myself ever since.

I guess I was flattered that out of several people, I was asked first to take over a fairly critical function for the next several months. It would also give me a chance to see what having this position would really be like, as well as what working in our parent organization would feel like. And the work is more interesting than what I'm dealing with in my regular job right now, but like I mentioned I have to do that too. But the whole situation is also one big unorganized mess.

I considered this carefully before saying yes, talked to a lot of people I trust, then eventually decided to take the plunge. And ever since I've been scrambling to keep my head above water and trying not to panic.

At first I was fine working the nine and ten hour action packed days. I think I was feeding off of adrenaline. But that has worn off and I'm already getting tired after just a few weeks, so how will I stand it for a few more months? I started feeling pretty sorry for myself around mid-week, but last night I decided that I got myself into this mess and now I have to deal with it. I can't wish my way out of this one. And you know what? That mind set plus a few other tricks seem to be working.

Here's how I plan to survive the chaos:
  1. Take Breaks - Wednesday night I came home weary and frazzled. While the boyfriend made dinner, I stayed outside to plant and weed in the garden. I was probably only gardening for around 30 minutes, but it completely refreshed me. So whether you recharge by spending time outside, reading, watching your favorite movie, taking a long bath, etc., make time to do that. You need it!
  2. Less venting, more action - I'm a venter. Wait, I'm not sure if that's a real word, and Blogger doesn't seem to think so, but you get the idea. After I get my feelings out I usually feel better, but in this situation I kept venting to everyone I saw which was cutting into my work time. Today I resolved to buckle down and get busy, absolutely no venting allowed. I was able to get things done and cross them off my to-do list, which made me feel better than venting ever could.
  3. Write it down - There is something about writing my feelings down in my journal that makes me feel instantly better. Just thinking the thoughts does not have the same effect. Plus journaling instead of venting to someone spares some poor soul another of my tirades.
  4. Let some things go. I'm sure we all have work tasks that are nice-to-do but not absolutely critical. When time is short and stress is high, you may have to let some of the less-critical stuff go. This is hard for the perfectionist in me.
  5. Wait, then assess - I have a tendency to freak out first, then reason later. So it's better for me to wait before talking to anyone who can really help with these issues. I'm giving myself two weeks to get the lay of the land before I assess whether another plan is needed to get the job done while retaining my sanity.
  6. If all else fails, cry uncle - I used to think my previous bosses would see when there was a major work problem that was affecting me, but now I know better. I know no one in charge is going to automatically see that I'm overworked, if I can't handle the workload, I'll have to speak up. Because the one thing I'm not willing to do is to spend my entire summer working all the time.
Do you have any tips to add? How do you handle being overwhelmed at work?


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