Category Archives: ideas that work

The Tale of the Toga

Staying ahead of schedule is not my forte. There are many reasons for this, some good, some not-so-good. Regardless, at 12:30am on Tuesday morning I found myself in the unnerving position of needing to come up with a toga costume for the Spring Musical…in less than 7 hours.

One of the reasons for this dilemma was that the white sheet I had mentally tagged for this task was covered with paint. Having been used as a drop-sheet, this was disappointing, but hardly surprising. I tossed the sheet aside, went upstairs, and started evaluating my assets. White pillowcases are too small and I didn’t really want to sacrifice the set. The flat sheet was too big and I felt the same way about sacrificing that. Pink housecoat was not going to cut it, neither was the Princess Merida Halloween costume.

Although I don’t have a bunch of material lying around the house, I do keep some worn out clothes, especially t-shirts. In the past I have made some really fun stuff out of old t-shirts, and we just happened to have one of Darren’s white t-shirts that had shrunk in the wash and was now unwearable. This was promising, but it wasn’t long enough, so Darren scoured his dresser for another plain white shirt worthy of sacrifice to a good cause.  I pulled out a long black velvet ribbon from my hoarded collection of old things (I’m pretty sure it dates back to high school) and added a vintage necklace to the collection.  I did a Google search for some reference photos, brushed my teeth, prayed for inspiration, and went to sleep.  Just before I drifted off, I had an idea….

Here’s what I did.
  1. Iron the shirts.  They are going to get completely wrinkled, but it helps to start with everything looking nice.

  2. Use the longer of the two shirts as a skirt.  Luckily, the neckhole of Darren’s shirt fit perfectly around Cate’s waist. You can either leave the sleeves as is or tuck then in.  I toyed with the idea of cutting them off, but then you would have been able to see the holes. And besides, leaving them is less work.

3. Put on the shorter shirt like a regular shirt, but put it on backwards.  This gives the costume a drapey look, just that much more removed from Hanes. It also has the benefit of coming down lower in the back, which is very classical looking.

4. Cut the sleeves up to the neckline.    This allows the sleeves to fall open, revealing the shoulders.

5. Tie the black ribbon around the waist, adjust the folds so they lay nicely.  

6. Put on the necklace.

7. Put the hair up in a clip. You know, cause they had plastic hair clips in Ancient Greece. How else do you think they kept their hair up?

I was actually really astonished with how well this turned out. Darren came upstairs to take a look and he was really impressed as well.  And Cate? That face says it all!!

Summer MacGyver-ing

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Well, a rather rainy June managed to end with a blast from the sun’s fiery furnace, and as a result, my family has been juggling fans, blinds, and curtains in an attempt to stay cool. In view of the weekend forecast, I thought I would pass on a couple of strategies that have worked for us.

1. Close the blinds

Well, this one is rather obvious, just a reminder that you should close the blinds on whatever side of the house is getting sun.  Conversely, open the blinds (and windows) on the side of the house not getting sun.  If there is no wind you might feel like there is no point, but if there is wind, you will be rewarded. You might even feel a little bit like Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch.

2. Cold water bottles

Apparently I’m not the only person to think of this, but if you send the kids to bed with a hot water bottle filled with cold water, they will be cooler, they will go to sleep more quickly, and you, the parent, will be happier!  But watch out, if you have two waterbottles of different sizes, there will be fights.

3. Turn off the lights!

Another “well, duh” but what happens when you need to use the extremely heat-generating thrice-halogen-lighted washroom for long periods of time to give the kids a cooling bath before bedtime?  Or what if you want to take a shower at 8:00 in the morning when it is already getting hot?  You…

4. Break out the LED camping lantern!!

It is bright enough to light a small space, even when on the “Night Light” setting, the kids love it, and it doesn’t generate NEARLY as much heat as halogen lighting.  Ours is currently living in our main bathroom and good money says that it will stay there for the rest of the summer.  We started using it on the second really hot day last week and we really noticed a drop in the overall heat level of our top floor.

Does anyone else have any good ideas for keeping yourself (and your house) cool when it gets hot?

Most Beautiful Thing: Literature and Imagination

A few days ago Jason Borkowski, the principal of Benno’s school, wrote about upcoming changes to our school library on his blog, CatholicPrincipal.  For those of you who may not have time to read the post, the gist is that because our school is offering two classes of kindergarten next year instead of the regular single class, space is at a premium in our small school.  As a result, the library will be temporarily displaced.  Mr. Borkowski asked for parent feedback and, in a fit of inspiration, I replied to his post with the following behemoth. Coincidentally, my reply happens to fit in nicely with my Monday posting about “The Most Beautiful Thing”.  Ah, serendipity…

I think downsizing the library is a good opportunity to “refine” the book selection available to make sure that our kids are reading beautiful, uplifting, interesting, and creative material that will feed their imaginations and their intellect.

If the universe was mine to control, or the CCS library selection at least, I would keep all the books that are original works and temporarily archive all the books that are spin-offs of other media. For example, keep “Asterix and Oblix” but pack away all the Star Wars books (my son loves both, by the way, so I am not making these comments based on my child’s preference, but my own). If the book came first, keep it. If the book is a merchandising spin off, box it up for a year.

From their first poop in a “Winnie the Pooh” newborn diaper to their first “Thomas the Train” swimsuit, from their first pair of “Dora” runners to their first “Transformers” school backpack, our kids are bombarded with profit-driven merchandise that demands their allegiance to a particular product. Maybe instead of reinforcing these patterns in our school library, we should give their brains a rest from all this profit-driven advertising and, just for a single year, give precedence to original creative works.

Original works of fiction have the ability to open up our imagination in surprising and delightful ways. I first read “The Lion. The Witch, and The Wardrobe” when I was in grade two. I was a voracious reader, I was home with a cold, and I was bored to death of everything else in the house. I remember looking at my parents’ bookshelf at the end of our hallway, picking up Lewis’ work, and going to the living room to curl up on the couch to read and feel wretched. (I may have asked my Mom’s permission to read the book first – I can’t remember that part). As I began to read about the Pevensies and their adventures I was transported away from my home on Fairfield Island in Chilliwack to wartime England and then to Narnia, that most magical of worlds. When my Mom called me in to dinner that night my body may have been at the dinner table with the rest of my family, but my mind and my heart were with Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy as they struggled to defeat the White Witch.

To this day, I love being utterly captivated by a good work of fiction (just ask my husband and my kids!). A good book has the capacity to change us, to transform us into better people, to turn our hearts towards the good, the beautiful, and the true so deftly and silently that we hardly realize the transformation until we finish the last paragraph, close the cover, put down the book, and give a sigh of contentment. When I’m reading to my kids, it isn’t Strawberry Shortcake or the retelling of Disney’s “Cinderella” that holds my interest. For the most part I suffer through the stilted storylines and mundane illustrations. It’s “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Pinkalicious” and “The Hobbit” and “The Hungry Caterpillar” and “This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall” and “The Boy Who Ate Books” and all the other myriad of original works that sparks my imagination and makes reading to my children a joy rather than a chore.

Why not use this opportunity to encourage our children to explore creative and original works of fiction, rather than reinforce media-driven literature? Now that would be truly counter cultural and would, I suspect, substantially help the school to live out its mandate* of teaching our children about truth, goodness, and beauty.

*(“Statement of School Philosophy”, page 4, CCS Parent Handbook)

Tale of Two Cakes

I miss chocolate. After I finish this post I plan on ignoring the dietary recommendations from my naturopath and eating a chocolate brownie before bed. In the meantime I have two stories for you that involve chocolate. We will begin with the sad story.

During my last visit to the naturopath I finally got the go-ahead to try carob. My cravings for sweets have been manageable (once you identify what is making you feel like a zombie it is actually pretty easy to avoid it), but I was longing for a little variety in the dessert department.

After careful consideration, I decided that I would try a carob cake made with almond flour. Darren has been making fresh almond milk for me (SOOOOOO much better than the store-bought stuff, and usually cheaper) which means that every week we have a bunch of almond meal that just gets chucked. I figured that if I could salvage the almond meal and use the carob I would be killing two birds with one stone. Sweet treat for me and using all the buffalo…almond. I found a recipe to adapt and got to work.

I’m not going to walk you through the carob almond cake because it was ultimately a failure, and in more ways than one. It had a very promising start. Carob tastes like a close cousin of coffee and chocolate, different but not unpleasant. The batter was good, but things took a turn for the worse when the cake fell apart as I removed it from the cake pan, despite having lined the pan with parchment paper. Then I tried a piece and within half an hour I had staggered upstairs and conked out on the bed. It tasted alright, but not good enough to become a voluntary narcoleptic.

So that was rather sad. I haven’t tried carob again, although I probably should because I have a sneaking suspicion that it may have been the stevia rather than the carob that knocked me out.

And now the happy story. In some ways, this story is the inverse of the carob tale. As you may know, I really enjoy making from-scratch birthday cakes for my kids (or other relatives). Ben’s birthday was in the beginning of December, and I knew that I wanted to do something special. He is really into Lego, specifically StarWars Lego, and so after learning that he wanted a chocolate cake with vanilla icing, I decided to try a Death Star Cake.

The Death Star in A New Hope

This required a round cake, so I decided to go for a chocolate layer cake. My “go-to” chocolate cake recipe is from Betty Crocker – a real cake, not a cake mix. I like it because it uses cocoa instead of melted chocolate squares (WAY less work) and it comes together very quickly. In fact, it looks an awful lot like a boxed cake mix when you put it together, but you use all fresh ingredients and there are no preservatives. I can’t find the recipe online right now, so let me know if you want me to add it here and I will. (I’ve had a couple of requests for the recipe, so I’ve added it at the bottom of the post).

Now, in the carob cake story I made reference to lining the pans with parchment paper. When I was prepping the pans for Ben’s cake I thought, “These are non-stick pans, they should be fine. Not a problem. I’ll just skip the parchment paper.” This was a mistake. The cake batter came together nicely, the cake baked just fine, but when it came to getting the cake out of the pans, I was in big trouble. I think one of the cakes may have just about split in half, and there was definitely a coating of chocolate cake left on the bottom of the pan after I finally pried the cake out.

Incidentally, when everything is going wrong did you ever get the feeling that you were destined to make this horrific mistake and all you could do was to continue doing whatever you are doing as quickly as possible just to get it over with? That is how I felt when I was removing the cakes from the pan. Doomed to crappy cake.

Once the cake crumbs had settled, I realized that this cake would require some heavy-duty help if it was going to make it to the birthday party in one piece. Enter Chocolate Fudge Superglue. The whole recipe is probably pretty good, but it is the “whipped fudge filling” that you want to focus on. Just three ingredients: chocolate, whipping cream, and corn syrup. To say it is delicious is an understatement, but the most important element for me was that it provided a solid, stable centre for my sad almost-disintegrated chocolate cake.

I was glad that Ben wanted vanilla icing because with all that rich chocolate, chocolate icing would probably be overkill. I find that chocolate works well when it has something to bring out its flavour, something for contrast. (I also love chocolate just on its own, but always dark chocolate. Milk chocolate is too sticky and you get a sugar kick instead of a serotonin kick. But I digress.)

I checked my recipe box and surfed the web and decided to try a new buttercream recipe. This icing has a higher proportion of butter than I am used to. My regular icing recipe has more sugar, and I was always a bit disappointed when I lost the delicate butter flavour in order to maintain the proper consistency. This buttercream does not disappoint – light, sweet, and buttery, I think I have been converted!

I cemented the cake bits together with the fudge filling, put on a crumb coat and let it set up in the fridge for a bit, then iced the cake. The buttercream had a lovely texture and I was able to smooth it to perfection.

Then came the decorations. I was going to use the same sprinkle/shading technique that I used for the Mario Cake. Unfortunately, as the day grew closer, I realized that I really was running out of time, and the mental gymnastics were just a bit much for me. I swallowed my pride and went with the classic: chocolate chips and Lego figures.

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Here is the cake, alight for the birthday boy.

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And how did it taste? Unbelievably delicious. Vanilla buttercream, rich, moist chocolate cake, fudgey filling, almost like a truffle. This stuff was worth the subsequent narcolepsy, which actually wasn’t nearly so bad as I had expected.

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Will I be making this again? You bet. But Benno’s not getting the next one. I am.

 

Betty Crocker Chocolate Cake

2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup baking cocoa
1 1/4 cups water
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 large eggs

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees, one 13×9, two 9″ rounds, three 8″ rounds, grease and flour pans AND USE PARCHMENT PAPER!!!!!

2. Beat all ingredients with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly.  Beat on high speed for 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.  Pour into pan(s).

3. Bake rectangle 40-45 min, rounds 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool rectangle in pan on wire rack. Cool rounds 10 minutes, remove from pans to wire rack, cool completely, about one hour.  (Okay, obviously I am not the best at removing cakes, so either choose to follow these directions or just do the best that you can.  Remember, icing can cover a multitude of sins.)

4. Frost.

 

 

Wreath, or, something from nothing

This past weekend I helped out at the annual Christmas Bazaar at our parish.  This year I was in charge of coordinating the white elephant (the premise of this is that people give us their junk for free and we re-sell it.  One person’s junk is, after all, another person’s treasure.)

One of the final items to come in was an old Christmas garland.  I took one look at it and thought, “Yuk, who is going to want that!”  And nobody did want it, it just sat there under the Christmas table.  Near the end of the day I saw another person checking out this garland.  There was something about the way she was looking at it that got me thinking. She didn’t end up taking it, so I went back for another look.

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It was pretty bad. Just a length of burlap twine with faux berries and pine bits, pinecones, and bunches of sticks wired on at regular intervals. The sticks, in particular, were pretty gross.  The garlands still had the price tags on them, so obviously they had never been used. and for good reason.  The whole set up was just very, very awkward.

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I feel compelled to point out that they looked a lot less attractive in real life.

Obviously I ended up buying the ugly garlands in question.  My Master Plan was to unwind the various components from the burlap twine and then use the leftover bits and pieces to create something nice and Christmassy. And I actually got around to doing it.  I bent a wire coat hanger into a circle, de-stringed all the pinecones, etc, and started attaching the stuff to the coat hanger.  All the slim cones went on the outside and all the mini cones went on the inside of the circle.  Once i had them arranged properly I glue-gunned the heck out of them.  Next, I attached the fake berries with wire and then filled in all the empty spaces with the faux pine bits.

I didn’t take any ‘in progress” photos, but this is what all the bits now look like, minus the gathered stick bits. Those got thrown in the trash.

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Isn’t that nice?  And doesn’t Darren do a lovely job of holding the wreath?  Such a gentleman.

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Seriously though, I am really pleased with how it turned out. Much better than the random burlap string garland. And I should note, I didn’t glue on the berries and pine because I thought that when the time comes to change up the wreath, I could just take off all the extras and spray paint the pinecones underneath.

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Now that’s just silly.

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And here it is, in action, outside in the dark. Hmmm,  really must get a shot of this during the day.

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One of the more exciting parts of the project is that I still have ALL of the plump, round pinecones left to use.  I’m thinking about dipping them in white paint and making – you guessed it – a garland. Oh, the irony.

Mario Cake

This is a bit of a brag post. Not very humble of me, but oh well.

A few weeks ago my sister in law asked me to make a birthday cake for my nephew. He is really into Super Mario right now, and so he had requested a Mario cake.  I knew that there was no way that I could draw him freehand, especially as I don’t have the right tools and those Cakemate Scribblers are hardly accurate enough to write “Happy Birthday” let alone draw a cartoon. I didn’t really want to resort to the “toy-on-top-of-the-cake” strategy, especially as we don’t own any Super Mario toys and I am the world’s cheapest cake decorator.

But I do own sugar, and food colouring, and a printer.

So, I made up my own coloured sugar (found through Pinterest, obviously) and found a good picture of Mario. It had to be old-school because the new versions of Mario have too much shading and I’m not that dedicated!  I figured out which colours I needed (yellow/skin tone. blue, red, and brown – cocoa powder) and made up the coloured sugar. Then I printed out four copies of the picture and cut out a different colour from each sheet. These were my templates. After the cake was ready (a from scratch silver-white cake with marshmallow frosting) I started to put Mario together.

The marshmallow frosting was a little sticky, so I started out by dusting a light layer of icing sugar over the surface of the cake. (I should say that the icing sugar was Darren’s suggestion. Smart man). The icing sugar layer allowed me to put the paper templates on top without messing up the surface of the cake.

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Then I started with the coloured sugar. Yellow sugar, then the red, then the blue, and finally the cocoa powder.

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I ended up using the white Scribbler icing for Mario’s hands. They aren’t exactly as they were in the cartoon, but close enough. And it looked a whole lot better than outlining the hands in green Scribbler, which was my first idea. (By the way, I started to write “Happy Birthday” on the bottom of the cake in green Scribbler, but it looked so absolutely awful beside the amazing Mario that I scraped it all off and re-dusted the cake again with icing sugar. Yep, I’m that picky about my cake fonts.)

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So here it is, completed.

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The cake was a hit. And how did it taste? I have no idea. Ben was sick that day and we had to rush home because his fever had spiked again. Poor kid.

My favourite thing about making this cake was that I was able to make a great looking cake without spending a fortune on decorating supplies. Take that Cakemate and Wilton!

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Incidentally, I hope that when I am 85 years old I will be able to celebrate with an Egyptian-themed birthday party and epic cake.

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Keepin’ it real.

 

Rehydrating Play Dough

A couple of days ago, Cate asked if she could play with play dough. No problem. It’s a great tactile toy and a wonderful way to keep kids entertained. Yes, it does make a bit of a mess, but unlike plasticine, play dough will dry into little solid bits and you can vacuum it up.

We’ve had our play dough for a few years and it has been getting a little worn out. I knew I needed to seriously address the issue when only two out of about twelve pots of play dough could be squished easily through a mold.

If you look online for advice on rehydrating play dough, including the official Play-Doh website, you generally get two pieces of advice: 1. Wrap the stuff in a damp paper towel and leave it overnight and 2. Add water, one drop at a time.

I had tried the damp paper towel trick, which was moderately successful, except that I forgot about the paper towel and had to pick out bits of dried paper towel from the play-dough the next time the kids played with it. I then tried the “add one drop of water at a time” trick, which worked pretty well. However, the next day the play dough was still kind of dried out. You could tell that the water hadn’t really incorporated into the whole lump of play dough.

All except one container. This was the container that had been in total bits and pieces and the only way I could put it together was to soak it in water and squish the bits together. This batch was almost as good as new.

Then the penny dropped. The secret to REALLY reconstituting play dough is increasing the SURFACE AREA that comes in contact with the water! So here’s the process.

  1. Use one of the “official” methods to get the play dough soft enough that it can fit through the “spaghetti-maker” extruder-bit. You know what I’m talking about.
  2. Make play dough spaghetti. Like this:

Alternatively, you can give the semi-dried out play dough to your one and a half year old to tear into bits and throw on the floor. Gather up the bits and ta-daaa, separated play dough with lots of surface area.

3. Pick up the spaghettied (or disembowelled) playdough in your hand and hold it under a running faucet for a couple of seconds. None of this pansy “one drop at a time” business. (By the way, this is a really good time to combine similar colours of play dough. We had 12 half-full pots of play dough and I was able to reduce that to about 7 full containers.)

4. Shake off the excess water and then squish the wet play dough in your hand. Start kneading.

It’s going to look nasty.

Told you so. Ignore it and keep kneading. It will get better.

See? Not quite as scary.

Almost there… (quick, name the movie reference!)

Well, look at that! See how the play dough absorbed all of the water?

5. Test your rehydrated play dough for squishyness.

There it is, all nice and pretty.

Poke.

Squiiiiish.

Ta-daa! The play dough has been successfully rehydrated. And it’s still going strong. Last tip – after I did this I found that my hands were pretty dried out, so make sure you moisturize or the feeling will probably drive you crazy. Oh, and if you try this at home, let me know how it turns out!

Bite 35: Declutter Your Wardrobe

You may have caught my post about buying e-books and helping out a family in need. As I mentioned, one of the e-books was Tsh Oxenreider’s One Bite at a Time. The book presents 52 bite-sized ideas that will help you to simplify your life.

I am starting with Project 35: Declutter Your Wardrobe (and focus on your outward appearance) mainly because I have been meaning to get this done for quite some time. With the coming of real fall weather, figuring out my wardrobe has become a necessity. What with a couple of winters spent pregnant and some additional time in “transition” clothing, it appears that my body has finally reached some sort of equilibrium. Unfortunately, this also coincides with the majority of my clothing being too summery, too beat up, or simply disintegrating. I submit Exhibit A: old, beloved shirt + exuberant washer = sadness.

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The basic principle behind decluttering your wardrobe is that you get rid of (give away, store, etc, etc) all the clothing that doesn’t fit you properly. Thus you are left with only the items that you will actually wear, rather than a bunch of clothes that kind of fit. This process is easier if you spend a little time educating yourself about what kind of clothes work for you and what doesn’t. Forget about trends, just stick with what works. For example, I borrowed (and photocopied relevant sections of) my sister’s copy of The Science of Sexy, which breaks down your body type and gives you suggestions based on your measurements. As much as I would love to be an hourglass, I am a tall, medium rectangle. I need v-neck shirts (goodbye beloved crew-neck t-shirts!) and clothes that define my waist (thank you Spanx!).  I also know that I look good in purple and beige makes me look like death.

So, last Thursday afternoon my Mom watched the kids and I ventured into the bedroom to edit my clothing collection. It was surprisingly exhausting and took a lot longer than I had anticipated. But I did it. I weeded out the maternity clothes, the summer clothes, and the transition clothes. I put some clothing aside for alterations. I also ditched a bunch of stuff that just didn’t fit me anymore. This included a couple of items that I absolutely adored, including a heavenly white angora sweater and a beautiful blue sheath dress. I just can’t handle angora anymore and after three kids I am just not “hourglass” enough to pull off the sheath dress. Ah well, I am working on making sure they go to good homes. The dress may have an owner, but let me know if you are interested in the sweater.

Of course I forgot before photos, but the “after” picture of my tops should give you a good idea of how much my wardrobe has been reduced. I think I used to have about 5 empty hangers. (This evening Ben used some of the spares as bows and arrows and as a special skinning knife – we’ve been watching Edwardian Farm lately and I think he got that idea from the part about the leather tanner). Oh, and the stuff on the right is the sloppy-stay-at-home section.

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I learned three things from this little experiment.

  1. I really do need to go shopping, otherwise I will be very cold this winter.
  2. Having only stuff that fits you in your wardrobe actually works! This Sunday was incredibly wet, so I needed something more protective than a skirt to wear to mass. I threw on a pair of grey dress pants, a black tank top, a grey blazer that I just recently purloined from my sister, a scarf, and a pair of black flats. And it worked! I should have worn a rain jacket, but I was comfortable and moderately stylish. It was a heck of a lot better than hunting around for a new outfit, trying seven things on, rejecting them all, and then ending up with the same thing I had worn three weeks in a row.
  3. Look at how much unwearable stuff I had in my wardrobe!! That is a lot of visual dead weight. Every time I went to get dressed I had to mentally discount whole sections of clothing. Better to just admit it doesn’t fit and get rid of it rather than holding on to a bunch of wishful thinking.

Hopefully this simplification will relieve stress not only for me but for Darren, who cringes visibly every time he sees me standing in the closet with a pensive look on my face.  And I’m looking forward to actually being excited to put an outfit together and being creative with clothes!

Secret Recycling Nerd

English: Recycle logoI have always been a bit of a recycling nerd.  When I was in elementary school the municipal government had a series of industrial recycling boxes located throughout the city.  There was one just down the road from our house. I remember taking all the recyclables (newspapers, cans, glass, and possibly plastic) down to the big green bin and dumping them in.  The crash that resulted from tossing the glass was particularly satisfying.  We may have even fought over that job.  Probably.

But my interest in recycling extended beyond the neighbourhood depot.  In grade seven we needed to raise money for out outdoor education program and so we did a couple of bottle drives.  As we were walking through the streets canvassing for empties I thought what a good idea it would be to get people to sign up for regularly scheduled pick ups.  Imagine the money we would make! (Imagine the inconvenience to our parents!)

I probably can’t take credit for our current system of weekly recycling pick-up, but I can at least say that I did think of it before it was implemented.  Regardless, it was only a few years later that I got a chance to see the weekly pick-up system in action.  My aunt and uncle live in Victoria.  I’m not certain of how the recycling program came about (and Google was less then helpful this morning), but I seem to recall that our province’s capital was one of the first municipalities in BC to implement a blue box curbside recycling program.  I remember being really impressed, and somewhat jealous.  All they had to do was put out their recycling with the trash – we had to lug ours down to the recycling bins!  It was a day of rejoicing for all lazy and well-meaning teenagers, myself included, when my hometown introduced their own blue bin program.

For years we have been putting the recycling out with the trash, but this fall we will be adding a little something to the refuse: organic waste materials!  This means that any uneaten food, paper that has had food touch it (like pizza boxes), yard trimmings, etc, will all be picked up by a separate truck that – get this – runs on compressed natural gas (CNG) and emits 23% less carbon and 90% less air particulates than a regular diesel truck.  And on top of it all, the organic waste that these trucks pick up will be used to produce the fuel that makes then run.  Based on calculations done from the pilot program, diverting organic waste should reduce a household’s garbage by about 50%.

All of this sounds extremely cool, and I really hope it works as well as they say. If you can’t tell, I am very excited about all of this.  I even catch myself mentally sorting the organic waste from the garbage and thinking, “In October this won’t be going to the dump!” Now that’s nerdy.

Seven Dollar Smile

I am grateful for Costco. I once calculated that our membership pays for itself in the savings that we get from purchasing Harvest farmer sausages there rather than at any other grocery store. Seriously, at Costco they are $12 for eight and at Pricemart they are $7 for three. That’s roughly 50% cheaper. Consider this your shopping tip for the day!

The difficulty is that everything at Costco tends to be rather large, this also being the point of a bulk discount store. So when one purchases a two litre bottle of neutral grapeseed oil for a fabulous price and it doesn’t fit in one’s cupboard, one keeps the grapeseed oil on the counter beside the stove. And it looks pretty ugly after a while.

Enter the oil cruet. While I was at Home Outfitters picking up a wedding present I checked out the cruets and was surprised to learn that a basic cruet was only $2.99! You can get fancy ones that mix oil and vinegar for you, but all I needed was a basic cruet. Into the shopping cart it went. That night I washed them out and filled them up. I now have two cruets of oil (one grapeseed, one olive) as well as a bottle of balsamic vinegar sitting on a glass fish plate just to the left of my stove. And it looks SO much better. I got to use the olive oil cruet on Sunday night. It was extremely exciting!

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I am continually amazed at how visual clutter just eats away at me. It sits there in the back of my brain, nagging away. And my brain just keeps plugging away at it until it arrives at a solution. I know that this probably takes up a lot of mental energy, but it is worth it. I get such a feeling of satisfaction when I come up with a solution that works. And the best thing is that I didn’t need to spend $30 to fix the problem. Just seven dollars, including tax.

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