Friday, February 12, 2010

Lately I have a obsession with creative storage solutions. This may be driven by the fact that our rather small home is bursting at the seams with stuff. Every size, shape, and sort imaginable. Purging is in the near future, but before then I wanted some ideas to store the remaining items that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg. I am more a function kind of gal rather than one who demands matchy-matchy coordination. If I can reuse some items I already have for a new purpose, even better.

I came across some ideas that really caught my attention and thought maybe they would interest others too.

Use a weekly pill box to corral all those small bits and pieces that otherwise float around and get lost. I love this idea for scrap booking eyelets, especially that they actually attached a sample to each slot for easy reference. Simple, inexpensive, and effective. You could do the same for any small bits-buttons, screws, charms, earrings, fishing hooks, pins, needles, game pieces. These containers close tightly which makes them perfect for these tiny items to keep them from spilling all over your drawer or purse for that matter.

OK, so technically this isn't really organizing, but original all the same. I see so many out there repurposing dressers, TV stands, etc and you could easily incorporate this in those pieces. Make yourself a custom bed out of foam and some fabric, tuck in the bottom space and you have a great spot for Fluffy to retire. Beats tripping over the dog bed for sure. I found endless variety of this project done in everything from kitchen cupboards to freestanding furniture. My cats would go nuts for this idea. Now all I need is a dog..sniff..sniff..

I LOVE THIS! Nearly all of these terrific ideas were found at the Better Homes and Gardens website. This one said they used Velcro to attach the forks to the wall. I think this would be a perfect solution in the kitchen for a couple things. First, I see this idea on a back splash to hold a recipe card up out of the mess while cooking. Second, how about on a cupboard door (either inside or out) to hold those appointment cards or takeout menus, or coupons for the next shopping trip. Upside down or right side up they would be adorable and functional. I also love them reused as garden stakes to hold the seed packets in the garden for each row.

Hold the phone! Literally! HA HA HA!! Seriously, run to the nearest thrift store, grab one of those bread boxes right now. Take it home, paint it, decorate it, drill a couple holes for your cords, and you have a brilliant charging station for all those crazy electronics. I bet I could even coral Prince's cordless drills, screwdrivers, and scissors in one of these big boxes.

OK, how many uses can you think of for a used mint tin? A million right? How about a fancy business card holder? Spiff it up with some paper or ribbon that coordinates with your cards, brilliant! Much better than a boring old box on your desk, or that pile floating around in the bottom of your purse isn't it?

My absolute, total favorite of them all. Use tacks to fasten binder clips to a bulletin board you jazz up any way you wish. Perfect holder for your business cards, takeout menus, grocery list, coupon organizer, to do list, whatever your heart desires. Creative, stylish, cheap, and useful.

Ok, so these aren't organizing, but since I'll have more room I want to spiff up the space I will have when I finish.

Perfect for all those furniture projects out there everyone is doing. Bling up your new desk or table with some coordinating ribbon around the edges. Ribbon comes in every shape, size, and color so there are endless possibilities.
OK, now it's your turn. What creative storage solutions have you come up with for your home? Please share!

What do you do with all those books piled all over the house, garage, in every corner? Am I the only book-a-holic out there? Take some hardcover books, remove the insides and attach the covers to a headboard or a piece of plywood! Yeah, yeah, I HATE to ruin a book, but seriously, sometimes they are past saving. If you can't part with your own, pick up a box on the cheap at a garage sale. Can't find the colors you like? Whip out the trusty spray paint, add a sealer, custom color books!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cupid's Curse

Are you tired of the stereotypical, overpriced, and well, frankly boring Valentine's Day expectations? Ya? Well, me too. I don't know how the one holiday designed to honor a special someone who holds the key to your heart became such a predictable, thoughtless endeavour. A box of chocolates, a dozen roses whose cost could equal your car payment, a giant stuffed monkey professing his love that in no way will fit into your everyday decor, or a mass produced card dripping with sentiments that would never in a million years pass through the lips of my Prince. Yep, I have received each and every one of the items mentioned. I will admit at the time I was ecstatic because I knew each one was chosen with love and good intentions. Sure, I do enjoy the normal items adored by nearly all red blooded women out there, fresh flowers, chocolate, etc. What I don't enjoy is the fact that these are nearing "required" status just because a silly calendar says it's the day to hand out overpriced nonsense to show someone how much you love them.

I personally find it MUCH more romantic and special when love is expressed in individual ways, and for no particular reason except you care. A bouquet of grocery store flowers when I am having a bad week. Someone grabbing the trash bag from my hand as I head out into the rain to empty the trash. A romantic gesture of heating a can of chicken noodle soup brought to me when I'm huddled on the couch with a cold. A card that says I love you waiting on my pillow when I've been away on business. These things rock my world!

So, how do you plan a romantic, individual, spectacular celebration of love that doesn't include all those "normal" things? I have a rather unique challenge when planning this special day to celebrate my Prince Charming. He is a genuine, certified (x-rays and scars), AARP card carrying cowboy. I love each and every inch of this man and would not trade him for anything in the world. That said, let's be honest here shall we? Cowboys don't appreciate flowers, something about sticker weeds not good for horses..... Cowboys don't appreciate over sized stuffed teddy bears, something about ruins their image with their friends. What I have discovered is two things. First is they are rather sentimental souls. I think Prince has every single card I ever gave him tucked in his dresser drawer, hidden of course under his socks, but saved all the same. He dutifully reads each one, gets a bit misty eyed, and rewards me with a giant bear hug and kisses. He doesn't care if it is a store bought or home made version, in fact he likes the home made ones best. He finds it fascinating someone can whip up something from a few bits of paper and ribbon and make it come out looking good. Maybe a admiring quality for a man who can fix anything with bits of junk laying around the house.

The second one is pretty standard, in fact I am pretty sure you don't even have to marry a cowboy to hit the mark on this one. The way to a man's heart is simple folks-through his stomach! If I want to impress Prince Charming all I have to do is make a spread of his favorite culinary delights and it is a home run every time. Now comes the catch. I couldn't just marry a cowboy. Nope. I had to pick one with diabetes and heart disease. All those years of hard living have caught up to him in a big way. No more daily indulgences of meat, potatoes, and sugary sweet confections. Which of course happen to be at the top of his favorite list of things to eat. Does that mean we don't indulge on this special day? No way! Everything in moderation is the key. We have eaten light all week, chicken, veggies, fish, the usual healthy menu. This allows him to indulge a bit on special occasions and not be sick for days after. He always offers to take me out as a "treat" on Valentine's Day so I "don't have to work so hard". He finally learned that my cooking is WAY better, we get what we want, and we don't have to wait for hours or pay a massive amount of money. It isn't really work as I get to make his favorite dishes that are table ready in about 30 minutes. Our menu this year is simple. Grilled rib eye steak and shrimp on skewers basted in garlic butter (all bought on sale and in the freezer waiting), roasted red potatoes (toss in olive oil and Italian seasoning spread on a cookie sheet), steamed broccoli or green beans, and likely a bowl of French Onion soup for a starter. Desert will be a chocolate bread pudding cut into a heart shape and served on one plate for sharing. I have a bottle of cheap pink champagne chilling to which I will add a splash of pomegranate juice and a handful of seeds.

Now, for the gift. I plan to give him what he ALWAYS wants and asks for, me. He gets my undivided attention for the day. No work, no laundry, no running errands, no reading books. I will spend the day in the moment with him. I am planning a day long scavenger hunt to add a little adventure to this gift as well. I will start the day with a note explaining he will be treated to a day of adventure, anticipation, and excitement. He will then be instructed to follow the clues to the next note for further instruction. The day will begin with a breakfast, either at home (if I get my fanny out of bed in time) or a restaurant. He will be led to the car for another clue, which will read "sit down, shut up, buckle up, and hang on" and I'll take him for a drive to see the country side somewhere. At some point we will get out but I'll drop another clue in the car to check the back where he will find the necessary items for a picnic lunch. Of course the basket will have another clue to lead us home again. I will be renting some romantic and funny movies and we will enjoy one of those to relax for awhile before dinner. Dinner will be at a romantic table set with real china, white linen cloth, and candles in every room of the house. He really hates the candle thing says he can't see what he's eating, but he loves me an humors me anyway ha! After dinner, another note will appear for the remaining evening adventures....... Because it is Valentines day after all, the last note will be attached to a package on the bed containing a new slinky red outfit just my size of course...aahh hmmm....... Ok, you get the idea.

There are a million ways to express your love that don't have to cost a fortune and will mean the world to those you love.

  • Make a coupon book of gifts for your special person and tailor them to their likes: good for one back rub, good for one weekend of free reign over the remote, good for one breakfast in bed, good for one round of golf, whatever they like

  • Plan a picnic for a meal in a place that has meaning to you, or somewhere the other person has always wanted to go but hasn't. A sunrise breakfast with a great view would be a great start to the day. Lunch in the car near an airport to watch the planes for a pilot. A sunset desert to see the city lights.

  • Make a card, write a poem, create a scrapbook-tell them all the things you love about them and how much they mean to you.

  • Make all the food for the day red or heart shaped. Cookie cutters make great egg shapes, sandwiches, brownies, etc. Red foods are berries, apples, beets, beans, tomatoes etc.

  • Give a miniature rose plant which will last a whole lot longer than that bouquet.

  • Draw a heart to frame their face in the mirror and write a special message. Lipstick works, but trust me a dry erase marker will make cleanup much easier....... How about a chalk message to greet them on the sidewalk or driveway? Heck a post it on the remote is just as effective, on the coffee pot, on the milk in the fridge, wherever you want.

  • use food coloring to write a message in the snow in the yard

  • leave a romantic message on their cell phone or voicemail at work (careful here..)

  • set delayed delivery text messages to be delivered on their cell phone every hour saying I love you!

  • change the sheets to ones that are satin or higher thread count if you have them on hand.

  • Pick up a couple white pillow cases at the thrift store and embellish with fabric paints in the shape of hearts or write a romantic message.

  • Get some fortune cookies and carefully remove the fortune with tweezers and insert your own fortune. Dip the cookies in bit of melted chocolate and candy sprinkles for a unique desert

  • make your own chocolate covered strawberries with melted chocolate chips, whip up some REAL whipped cream and feed your sweetie for a little fun.

  • bake up a batch of their favorite cookies, bread or cake

  • play romantic music, dress up like you were going out, and dance on your kitchen floor.

  • turn off the lights and watch TV or a movie in the dark. Have popcorn and some chocolate kisses handy for a snack.

  • serve your kids sparkling cider or apple juice for breakfast, pop in a cherry or strawberry

  • make heart shaped pancakes, or make a heart design in the batter with chocolate chips. serve with melted strawberry jam for syrup. buy bulk sausage and shape in heart shaped patties. make heart shaped burgers-cut heart shaped "buns" out of thick slices of french bread.

  • freeze cranberry juice for ice cubes to float in the sparking cider or champagne

  • use a paper heart doily as a stencil to sprinkle a pattern with powdered sugar or cocoa on a cake or cheesecake

  • make a heart shaped pizza with the family's favorite toppings, or a giant heart shaped cookie and decorate it like a cake

  • Looking for a creative way to combine that chocolate/flower gift into one? Have a look at this idea.

Really the ideas are endless if you just take a bit of time to to think it out. If all else fails, just give the gift of yourself. Stop and be present in the moment, hold hands with your partner, read to your children, play ball in the backyard, dig out those board games, whatever you enjoy doing together. Tell them you love them and show them it isn't about money or gifts. It is about what is in your heart each and every day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Homemade convenience mixes

I am trying to be a bit more budget friendly in my grocery bill these days. I stumbled upon these and thought perhaps others may be in the same situation and so I wanted to share. The terrific part is these items are usually the ones I am out of in the pantry when trying to throw together a quick meal, or are a big part of the recipes I use. This makes it easy to have them on hand in "bulk" to use as needed.

Homemade "Cream of" soup mix recipe

2 c. non-fat dry milk
3/4 c. cornstarch
1/4 c. Instant bouillon, prefer low sodium chicken, beef, or vegetable or combination of all three
2 tbsp. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. dried thyme, crushed 1 tsp. dried basil crushed
1 tsp. pepper

Combine all ingredients until well blended. Store in airtight container.

To make soup, use 1/3 cup of dry mix, add 1 1/4 cups of cold water in saucepan. Heat and cook until thickened to desired consistency, add 1 Tbsp. butter for smooth sauce. To use as substitute for cream of mushroom, add desired amount sauted mushrooms. For cream of celery, add sauted chopped celery. The variations are endless so feel free to add ingredients to suite your taste or recipe.

Homemade Chocolate Pudding mix

3/4 C powdered milk
7/8 C cornstarch, (1 C minus 2 T)
1 1/2 C sugar
3/4 C cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt (generous)

Combine all dry ingredients and store in airtight container.

For pudding, add 2/3 cup of mix to saucepan. Add 2 cups milk, whisk well to combine. Heat to a boil, reduce heat, continue cooking until thickened. Pour into serving dishes and cool.

Homemade onion soup mix

1 1/2 cups dried minced onion
2/3 cup beef bouillion granules
2/3 cup onion powder--not onion salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Combine all ingredients and store in airtight container. Use 4-5 tablespoons of this mix for each envelope of soup mix in a recipe.

Homemade Whole Wheat Baking mix

5 cups unbleached white flour
4 cups whole wheat flour
1-1/2 tablespoons salt
4 tablespoons baking powder
2 cups solid vegetable shortening

Add all dry ingredients in large bowl or mixer. Add shortening and mix until thoroughly combined and resembles coarse crumbs. Store in airtight container. Use mix as instructed for any recipe using that expensive store bought biscuit mix, you know the one I mean..... Only this one is way cheaper and gets the added bonus of whole grains, less sodium, and easy to whip up.