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!


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