Why throw away your mom’s sweaty, old, ripped-up sock when you can make it into a sweater for a four inch hippo who likes to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

Why throw away your mom's sweaty, old, ripped-up sock when you can make it into a sweater for a four inch hippo who likes to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

‘Cause that just happens to everyone, right?
No seriously, i just took a sweaty old ripped-up sock and my mom made it into a knit turtleneck.

Sometimes, you just can’t resist.

(P.S: Remember to wash it so it’s not all sweaty.)

At Least 100 Items ~ By Kaia

In the last week or so, we’ve been going through closets, toy boxes, etc. and looking for “At Least 100 Items” to donate to charity. Right now, we’re probably around the 150 mark (including all the stuff we threw out, because it was garbage). Because I have big sisters, some of the stuff they didn’t want they passed on to me.  While going through our piles of discombobulated whatnot’ I’ve received, and I quote (you should be scared, as I got ALOOOOOOOOOOT OF STUFF):

~A fringe shirt with a heart

~a pink squishy-thingamabob

~an Easy-Bake oven (tools, mixes and all)

`~a binder (maybe 5 inches, BTW [By The Way] !)

~ and I forgot the rest. Hardy-har-har.

Maybe you can try the At Least 100 Items Challenge, too!

The Master Plan ~ by Sam

I mentioned in my last post that, this year, I am making a concerted effort to (FINALLY!) get our home organized.  To that end, I have been zipping around the internet perusing lots of articles on home organization.  I have been poring through catalogs for IKEA and the container store, visiting the closet organization sections of places like Home Depot and Target, and wracking my brain for ideas of how to better use the stuff we already own, and pare down some of the clutter.  The “100 items” challenge has helped a lot with that last piece of the puzzle.  We are currently at 93 items and counting.  

As I started weeding through all of our stuff, I was struck by how disorganized our home is.  I thrive on order, and I know that kids do, too.  We need to know where things are.  I feel like we waste a lot of time ~ and cause ourselves a great deal of stress ~ just be being disorganized.  Way too much time is spent trying to find stuff an panicking because we KNOW we have it, but we just can’t find it!!  (“I saw it yesterday!  Was it in the laundry room?  Maybe it’s in my car…Did you check all of the bathrooms?  How ’bout the back porch?”)  So, in an effort to conquer the disorder, I have decided to focus on major problem each month.  That might not solve all of our organization issues, but I am sure it will not hurt.  

So, this month, I have decided to go through and reorganize all of the files and paperwork I have around the house.  Between the kids’ schoolwork and artwork, my teaching supplies and materials, our household files, home improvement ideas (I keep paint chips, brochures, and other things that inspire me in a file for future reference), receipts, medical information, reports cards, and all of our craft/art supplies, we are literally drowning in paper.  As I started to go through everything, I saw evidence of my many attempts over the years to get organized.  I guess the news is at least I have tried.  Unfortunately, through all of our many moves, I have not managed to maintain a single system.  As a result, I might have three different filing systems for the same things.  Today, I discovered that I had three separate systems for sorting different types of paper.  Since we are crafty, and we have a teacher and three students in the house, we generally have plain white printer paper, coloured printer paper, lined paper, graph paper, construction paper and a variety of craft papers in our home at all times.  The problem is that, when it is not organized so that we can easily see what we have on hand, we end up panicking and buying more when a project crops up, only to discover later that we already had some.  Thus, the drowning in paper problem.  Just by reevaluating the situation, clearing out all of the unnecessary garbage (we don’t need to keep every spelling test the kids have ever taken, for instance), and consolidating like items into a single space, I was able to completely rid the house of one set of paper trays and repurpose another 3-tier tray to sort items like page protectors and report covers.  We now have all of our plain white printer paper on one shelf, construction paper on another, lined paper on another, and coloured printer paper on another (we are out of graph paper, but it will most likely live on the 3rd tier of the aforementioned tray).  
The hardest thing about this system for me is staying on target.  It is so easy to get distracted by other problems I see and try to tackle them, but I promised myself January would be the month I use to get all of the paper and files organized, and establish a system that I think will work for our family.  In the meantime, the laundry room and the closets are KILLING ME. Actually, Shane spent time this weekend installing shelves in Justice’s closet, because she has the smallest closet int he house, and hasn’t really been able to fully move in to her room because she desperately needed more storage options.  However, we are discussing how to go about all of the this, and I am coming up with a list of things that need to be done.  It is a work in progress, and I make no guarantees that is will actually happen in this order, but here’s what we’re thinking:

January:  paper, mail, household files, etc.
February: closets
March:  bathrooms
April: kitchen 
May: laundry room
June: bar
July: craft/school supplies
August: party room
September: sewing supplies/fabric
October: garage (maybe…if we feel like tackling this)
November: photographs/scrapbooks
December: we’ll be too busy partying 🙂

Well, that’s the rough plan, anyway.  We’ll see how it pans out.  I have no problem working on some projects ahead of schedule, as long as I don’t leave anything undone.  Also, I think it is important to note that we may not stick strictly to this schedule.  Depending on weather, time, budget, etc., we may change the schedule, but those are the projects we really want to accomplish by the end of the year.  Wish us luck!  even if it doesn’t end up perfect by the end of the year ~ even if we don’t get done everything we have planned ~ I think we can plan on being much better organized in the long run.  

A Return to Order ~ Sam

Perhaps, I should have called this “The Quest for Order.”  “Return” makes it sound like we once had order.  I guess we have, but I don’t really feel like we have hit our stride in that department since we moved to the new house.  Yes, it’s still the “new house,” even though we have been here over a year.  It’s going to take a while for me to get used to this whole home ownership thing.

Anyway, today, the kids all went back to school after their 3 week long Winter Recess.  I LOVE the long recess.  It makes me so happy.  This year, we didn’t get to do everything we had planned to do over the break, but we did a lot of great things.  We celebrated Christmas in our new home (our 2nd, but the first that really felt all put together, since we moved in 10 days before Christmas).  We spent a few days in the mountains with friends, where we played games, hung out, walked and talked together, cooked and shared meals, exchanged gifts, and the kids all got to go tubing in the snow.  This last weekend, we even managed to treat the kids to dinner and a movie.  That wasn’t easy, since we had to schedule it around a shopping trip for closet/bedroom storage/organization supplies, and a thorough “going through” of all of our tremendous volumes of stuff.  Because, see, we are actually making an effort to get the place organized and figure out how to live in it and make it work for us.  It’s hard, because we all have different hobbies, interests, needs, priorities.  We have a lot to figure out before we really feel like we’ve got it right.

When we bought the house, things were so up in the air right up to the last minute that we didn’t manage to clean, organize and pack like we usually do.  We’ve moved a lot, so we had a pretty good system, and it involved weeding out extraneous stuff, donating, recycling, throwing away or selling all of the stuff we didn’t need, and only packing the stuff we really wanted to keep.  Because we moved often, this system has helped us manage some of the volumes of stuff in our home (there are 5 of us, so it does tend to pile up).  However, we had lived in the last house longer than we had lived anywhere else together, so we’d had more time to accumulate stuff.  Add to that the fact that we weren’t even sure the deal on the house was going to go through, so we didn’t really get down to the business of packing until very late in the game ~ and the fact that Shane unexpectedly had to leave town while we were moving, so the girls and I had to finish by ourselves ~ and you get a very disorganized move.  So, if 2013 was “the year of the new house,” and I am unofficially declaring 2014 “the year of organization.”  I am determined to find a place for everything, and put everything in its place.  The first logical step, to me, seemed to be to get rid of some of the unnecessary clutter.

Recently, I happened to see something online about setting aside time to find 100 items that just aren’t needed in our home.  I liked the idea.  I presented it to Shane and the girls, and they agreed.  Between the five of us, we reasoned, we easily had at least 100 things around the house that were just taking up space.  So, Shane brought home a big box, and we set up a tally sheet near it.  Then, we all got to work the day before yesterday.  At first it was easy ~ so many pairs of shoes and clothes that don’t fit anyone.  Baseball caps no one wants.  Purses, wallets, backpacks…how many of those do we need?  Is this an entire unopened package of bungee cords?  Don’t we have a bunch of other bungee cords?  Why do we have 5 bins, each with two items in it?  If all that stuff fits in 1 bin, we can get rid of 4…  We reached the 50 mark very quickly.  Then, at a certain point, things started to slow down.  Currently, we are stalled at 81, but I feel pretty good about that number.   Yesterday, I looked back at that thing I had seen online (‘ll try to find a link to post here), and I realized that, in the original generation of this idea, items that were disposed of (thrown away recycled, etc.) were counted along with items that were being passed on to someone else.  We didn’t count a single item that was thrown away or recycled, and there were a LOT of items in that category.  So, in the end, if we don’t hit the 100 mark, I will still consider this endeavour a rousing success.  Aside from cleaning the house and getting rid of a lot of extraneous stuff, we managed to unpack at least 6 boxes that had yet to be unpacked.  In addition, we were able to consolidate and organize a number of items.  We also located quite a few long-lost and missed (or completely forgotten, but loved, now that they have been rediscovered) treasures.  I would say we are well on our way to a cleaner, more organized home.

Oh, and then, on Sunday morning, I got up before everyone else was awake, and made this dress:

ModDresssmall

As you can see, I am kind of tickled with it.  Oh, and I haven’t taken down ALL of the decoration, because there is a ginormous paper snowflake right behind my head there.  Anyway…  The fabric I used here was on the sale table at Jo-Ann for $6/yard, which I didn’t think was terrible.  I looked at a few tutorials online, then used a dress I own that fits me well as a guideline for cutting this.  I made a tunic a few days ago using basically the same process, and will post a tutorial as soon as I have time to sit down and write it.

Despite the busy weekend, we managed to get all of the kids off to school on time today, well-fed, clean, and ready to greet the day.  Now, I am working on getting the house and yard whipped in to shape. Shane took down all of the Christmas lights outside, and I packed away most of the decorations indoors (he took down the tree), so it seems like a good time to do some cleaning and organizing.  I taught two classes this morning (on a volunteer basis, but, hey, teaching is teaching, right?), then came home, and, in between loads of laundry, watering roses and running sprinklers, I used the elliptical machine out on the patio, and spent a few minutes hula-hooping.  So, I am feeling pretty accomplished today.  Still looking forward to the day when we can finally make-over our bedroom closet, so we can figure out the best way to put away all of our clothes, but, for now, I think the year is off to a more orderly start.

UPDATE:  1/19/14
We have now reached 91 items in our give-away boxes (we had to add a second box, because the first was overflowing), and we are not quite done.  Shane is spending the day installing more shelves in Justice’s closet, and she expects to find even more stuff for the box as she reorganizes, unpacks boxes and finally gets everything really moved in to her new (1-year-old) room.  I am still going through kitchen cupboards and household files.  Found my favourite old coffee grinder (which I thought I had lost two moves ago), so I was able to pass on the new one we purchased a couple of years ago.  I’m pretty sure there is more stuff in boxes we have yet to unpack.  We may hit that 100 mark yet.

An Ounce of Prevention ~ by Sam

Remember how I said we are working on our “do it yourself” skills?  Remember how (I think) I also mentioned that we are NOT plumbers?  (Seriously.  We have a documentary television editor and a former drama teacher here.  We have skills…just not plumbing skills.)  Well, since we became homeowners ~ yay, us!  We’re homeowners!!  Sorry, I still get excited about that ~ we have had a number of plumbing problems.  What number, you ask?  hmmm…Well, if I had to put a monetary value on it, I think it would fall in the $5-7000 range.  I’d have to look at receipts to be sure (and those receipts frighten me with their giant numbers), but it’s somewhere in there.  We are lucky in that our Home Warranty (provided for the first year by our fabulous realtor) covered several “simple stoppages.”  However, we ended up having a few more major issues.  We had a huge part of our sewage line replaced, as well as the mainline in and the mainline out.  Those, we could not have done anything about.  We have 60 year old pipes.  Whaddaya gonna do?

However, having had some less than super attentive landlords over the years (not exclusively ~ we have had some EXCELLENT landlords, as well), we have picked up a maintenance skill or two that might help save a little wear and tear on your pipes, and save you a little money, so I thought I would share.

Here are some things we know that might help you avoid a call to your plumber:

Things that should not go in to your garbage disposal include:

potato peels (thanx, Kathy!)
rice
artichoke leaves

(trust us on this)

To keep your garbage disposal’s blades sharp and working well, run a cup of ice through the disposal once in a while.  (Also, to freshen your disposal, run an orange, lemon or lime through it.)

To clear a slow drain, and for regular monthly maintenance for your sink, shower and/or bathtub drains, pour one cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1 cup of white vinegar.  Let sit for 15 minutes-1 hour, then flush with hot water for 10-15 minutes.

To avoid clogs in the first place, invest in a good strainer for each of your drains.  Make sure it has small enough holes to catch all of the hair and debris, that it fits your drain well, and that you clean it regularly.

If, despite your best efforts, your still end up with hair in your drain (you may notice that it is draining slowly), try one of these tools:  http://www.amazon.com/Cobra-Products-00412BL-Zip-It-Cleaning/dp/B000BO9204/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389124086&sr=8-1&keywords=zip-it+drain+cleaning+tool  It is super cheap, and, while rather disgusting to use, it works.  I keep one in each bathroom that has a shower (so a two-pack did it for our household).  When I notice that the drain seems slow, I use this tool to clear as much junk as I can, follow with baking soda/vinegar, flush with hot water, and admonish everyone to remember to make sure the strainer is in place over the drain before showering, for cryin’ in the mud!!!

Also (and this may sound silly), invest in and learn how to properly use a good plunger.  Here is a video I found that may help http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NR2JpeidOo , and you can find more information online.  I recommend watching several, to make sure it makes sense to you.  There seem to be several different variations on the basic method, so it’s worth doing a little research.

So, that’s all I’ve got.  You know, my dad repiped the house I grew up in, and, while I wish we had those skills, I know we don’t.  When that time comes (and it is on its way ~ remember, we have 60 year old pipes), we will hire a professional.  The advice I have for that kind of decision is to do lots of research online about different materials options, get many estimates, use online review sites and (in my opinion, THIS last one is the most important step) get personal recommendations from people you know.  Think about it: if your neighbours had similar repairs done and were thrilled with the company and quality of work ~ and if you can actually take a look at the work that was done and see the result for yourself ~ you can enter into a business relationship with a certain amount of confidence, IMO.

So, there you have it.  No earth-shattering new info., I guess, but a few things we didn’t know, right from the start, and thought might be helpful to others.  if you have any other great plumbing-saving (and, therefore, money-saving) tips, please pass them on in the comments here.  We would love to hear from you, and we can always use a few more tips.

EDIT
One last note, based on events of the day:
It also might be a good idea to invest in a drain snake, and learn to snake your own drain.  While I still recommend working hard on preventing clogs before they happen, it’s nice to have one more trick in your bag, before you resort to calling the plumber.  We are lucky that Shane has acquired this skill (and a drain snake).  Now, I guess I get to learn, so I can handle any clogs that crop up when he is not home.  Oh, boy.

Doing It Myself ~ by Sam

Are you sick of hearing from me yet?  

What can I say?  It’s feast or famine around here. 

Today, I have two photos on which you may feast your eyes. I want to show you both, so you can see that sometimes my efforts produce exactly the result I had planned, and, sometimes, they really don’t.  For me, that’s part of the fun of trying to do it myself.  If it works out ~ wahoo!  If not…um…well, okay.  We can probably fix that.

The first photo I have for you today is evidence that pulling out a cute piece of fabric and a skirt that fits you to use as a guide can sometimes result in a cheap and perfectly adorable skirt.  This was my first attempt at just kind of winging a more tailored skirt with a zipper (as opposed to a simple gathered skirt, or my favourite, a circle skirt).  I wish I had taken photos as I was working, so I could post a proper tutorial.  Because this one turned out so well, I will be making more, so I promise to come back and post a step-by-step for this.  Basically, I used a skirt I owned as a pattern, cut two pieces (front and back) stitched all the way up one side and part way up the other, attached a waistband, installed a zipped, and hemmed the thing, finishing with a cute decorative stitch.  It really was easy.  And it turned out like this:
Image 

Not bad, eh?  

This second photo is evidence that, sometimes, when you bleach your own hair at home, you turn out looking like Ponyboy Curtis when he was hiding out at that church in Windrixville.  

Image

Boy howdy.  

Maybe tomorrow, when I have on a lick of makeup, and it’s had time to settle down and get used to living on my head like that…or maybe I will tone it.  I used Clairol Nice n’ Easy Born Blond Maxi, because my roots were dark, so I needed a bleach that was really going to lift a lot of colour.  I followed the directions, applying it to the roots and leaving until they were almost as light as the previously bleached hair, then applying all over and letting it sit until I thought it was light enough.  I think I could have left it a tad longer, but not a second less, because I tried that, and it was super-brassy.  Not a good look.  Worst case scenario, now that it is so light, I can dye it any colour I wish.  It’s not that bad, really.  I think.  We’ll see.  Most likely, I will just throw on a little lipgloss and “stay gold.”  For now, anyway.  

Money Matters ~ by Sam

I want to begin by apologizing for not keeping up better with the blog since we moved.  The first year in our new home has been busy and exciting.  I wish I had done a better job of updating here.  I can tell you that we are hard at work on our “do-it-yourself” skills, in an effort to save money while making our home uniquely ours.  I think it is safe to say that we have saved a good bit of money by knowing when to call in the professionals, too.  There no better way to waste money than to do a job horribly wrong, and then have to call in the professionals to fix it.  For instance, we are NOT plumbers, so we didn’t even try to make any of those repairs on our own.  However, we have done all of our own painting, and the girls and I have made curtains for the house.  Shane made all of the window screens, and built a raised bed for the vegetable garden.  We maintain our own lawn and garden, but, when it is time to cut back the giant mulberry tree, we will call in the professionals again.  As time goes by, I am sure our skill set will grow, and we will become more and more confident.

This month has marked a couple of milestones for us.  We officially begin our second year in our new home.  We have had to renew our homeowners insurance and our home warranty.  By the way, I highly recommend the home warranty.  Ours covered several plumbing calls and as well as an electrical repair.  The first year was a gift from our realtor, but we found it so useful that we decided to renew.  The house is looking and feeling more like ours every day.  each of us has celebrated a birthday in our new home, and Shane and I have celebrated an anniversary.  We hosted our first Thanksgiving, as well as a number of dinner parties and our best-ever Tree-Trimming.

This was also the month that we received our highest-ever gas bill.  Yikes.  I guess that’s what happens when you are suddenly heating a space that is almost twice the size of your previous living space.  That vaulted ceiling in the party room may look fabulous ~ in truth, I still lie on my back just gazing up at it at least once a week ~ but it also sucks all the heat up to the rafters.  Time to check the setting on that ceiling fan, make sure everyone has nice, warm jammies and double check all of the windows and the flue each night.  ‘Though most of our windows are new and double-paned, the largest window in the house (the sliding glass door to the patio) is old and leaky.  I have recently added some heavy drapery liners to help block the draft there.  In addition, all concerned parties have been instructed to bundle up, wear slippers, drink lots of tea and hot chocolate, and tough it out as long as possible before turning on the heat.  I’ll let you know how that works out for us when I see the next bill.

Around the same time as that incredibly high gas bill, we did manage to stage what feels like a financial coup.  Having used money Shane earned working on a recent side project, we were able to completely pay off our American Express balance, which we had run up while buying the house.  I know, I know.  We always advise against carrying credit card debt, and I swear, we never meant to.  The plan was to use credit cards while we were in escrow, in order to leave as much cash in our accounts as possible; and then pay off that debt as soon as we got settled.  Then, we had a few major plumbing emergencies, so the debt just kind of hung around.  I am proud of us for getting it paid off by the end of the first year (we paid it in December).  While we are still carrying a small balance on our CitiCard, we are one step closer to being credit-card-debt-free.  If we continue to make the scheduled monthly payments on that bill, we will meet that goal by November of this year.  Paying off these bills and freeing up some funds will allow us to do things like finally secure health insurance for our family and travel to my hometown to see all of our friends and family back there.  In fact, we have started a travel fund, and it sure feels good to know we are on our way to reaching that goal.

Because things have been so crazy here, we haven’t done as great a job of keeping track of our spending as we had been, so, this year, we are trying very hard to get back on track.  I am going to begin the new year by saving all of my grocery receipts for the first two months and tracking our expenses in that department, so I can arrive at a workable, realistic budget to which we can really stick over time.  I will be updating at the end of January and again at the end of February to let you all know how much we spend, on average, on groceries.

I am still trying hard to stick to my “carry cash, spend bills and save up the coins” plan, and that seems to be going well so far.  Debit cards are just too easy to use, and I tend to overspend with them, while cash seems more “real” to me.  I guess I am old-fashioned.  The one exception I will make to that rule is to use my Target Debit Card when shopping at Target (which I do much less often these days), because it does save me 5%.

Because I mentioned hot chocolate, I’ll share a recipe we have been using to make our own mix.  It’s much cheaper than buying those little packets, and saves on waste going in to the landfill, too.  We use the “Basic Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix” recipe I found here:  http://www.sheknows.com/food-and-recipes/articles/977499/homemade-hot-chocolate-recipes  I store it in a big glass jar, and the kids love it.  I hear it is especially good stirred with a candy-cane, for a minty chocolate treat.

I guess that’s all for now.  I will try to be better about updating, and will try to remember to share our money-saving tips ~ and I will try to get Shane and the kids to pop in with a post now and then.