Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Team Green Clean

I'm all for going green. We've done the organic co-op (it sucked), the composting (it rocked), we own one car, and produce 300% more recycling than garbage (and where is our prize??). But something I have a hard time really getting behind is the whole all-natural cleaning thing. If it doesn't smell like bleach, I don't think it cleans. I used to adore Clorox Clean-up and would still use it if Matt hadn't used it randomly several times bleaching things like pillows, kitchen towels, and shower curtains. We now use Windex Antibacterial, which is bleach-free but still has a great, chemical smell that lets me know that everything is squeaky clean. And if you keep your eyes out, you can get great deals/rebates on this product... we've gotten about 4 bottles of windex free in the past year :)

When we started trying to have a baby, we limited my exposure to chemicals because, well they're chemicals and they're toxic (I read The Complete Guide to Organic Pregnancy... great book whether you're pregnant or not). But, I would still handle the cleaning, airing out the house as needed to get rid of those wonderful fumes.

Now that I am finally pregnant (24 weeks tomorrow!!), my wonderful husband is cleaning the house. It's not only about the chemical exposure, but it's also the manual labor of it all- it's just not good for a high risk pregnancy. And we worked really hard to get pregnant so we aren't leaving anything to chance.

In theory, it's fantastic to have someone cleaning for me... but it's driving me UP. THE. WALL. for several reasons:

1. He works all week, only to come home and spend his free time cleaning and organizing. Not only is he ADHD, but he also knows nothing about cleaning. Some spots get missed and it takes him 2 hours to clean our tiny bathroom. On average, it takes him 8 hours to clean our 900sqft cottage; it's takes me 2. And I just cringe thinking that his "down time" is taken up with my responsibilities. And when he's finally done and things still aren't clean, I just can't bring myself to tell him because all I really want is for him to relax.

2. He only cleans once a week, which I think is a totally reasonable expectation for a 27-year-old man who works full-time (plus). But it grosses me out. Our place is teeny and our dogs shed like crazy. I cook and bake all week. Our house is down-right gross in 3 days - and I need a clean house. I do not function well in the filth.

So, I finally decided to problem solve. Sure, it's over half-way through the pregnancy, but to my credit, we've lived in three different places in the past 3 months so I've been a bit busy just getting life settled. How am I going to avoid cleaning chemicals/heavy cleaning while pregnant?

Four words: vinegar, water, rubbing alcohol, spray-bottle (spray-bottle is one word because it's hyphenated). Mix equal parts water and vinegar in a (new) spray bottle and you've got a surprisingly inexpensive all-purpose cleaning solution. Mix one cup water, one cup rubbing alcohol, and 1 tablespoon vinegar and you've got window cleaner. I plan on using my special cleaner everyday on the kitchen counters and every-other-day in the bathroom for upkeep. We also purchased a cheap-o lightweight vacuum that I can take around the house daily to make it a little less hairy.

I am a bit weary of these things actually working well because they're so simple. I found some other cleaning recipes that are for stronger solutions, though I really don't think I'll need it if I'm cleaning on a daily basis. I just made these today and will try them this week to see how I like the cleaning solution and process. Hopefully these substitutes will get me by until the weekend when Matt can bust out the real stuff and give the house a good scrub-down.

Friday, February 26, 2010

One Small Step for Man

I finally got this on Wednesday (it was a 2009 goal...)

AND, I checked out 2 books!! I couldn't find 8 of the 10 on my list, but they are mostly specialized parenting books or social justice reads (I'm a dork), so I'm not surprised. I love how frugal and waste-free the library is, and it's only a 1/2 mile from our house. I see many walks with the baby in my near future.

And for the books that I can't find at my library (they are not at the Stanford library, either...), I am searching for on www.paperbackswap.com (my friend, Ashley, told me about this- she's always full of great ideas). I haven't found too many of the books on my list, but I'm getting rid of about 50 books that were taking up space in our garage!! I usually just sell books that are worth $5 + on amazon and donate the rest, but with Paper Back Swap I can essentially "swap" my old books for used books I want to read (for about $2 shipping). You can also swap-out old CDs and DVDs... I love getting junk out of the house!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

She's My Cherry Pie

I stole an idea from my old-friend, Keight, (not that she's old, but we were inseparable from grades 3-7 which was awhile ago) and she stole the idea from popular blogger, NieNie. In short, it's celebrating moments in life with your family and helping create traditions for them. I've been thinking about how I can do this for awhile now but life hasn't exactly been settled enough to really get there. But this month I did two things to (hopefully) make our home a more festive and memorable place.

1. We are celebrating the Olympics in style!! Both Matt and I love the Olympics so I decided to give it a bit more umph this time. We pulled out a map and are keeping track of the medals; we made torches; and we will be making a few more things along the way. We watch every night with our American flags and talk about it constantly. In a perfect world, we will either be at the 2012 Olympics or host a big, Olympics party for the opening ceremony with our friends: the food will have a British touch and the kids can make Olympic related crafts.

2. We celebrated George Washington's birthday!! Well, kinda. I made a cherry pie (because he mythically chopped down a cherry tree). Why didn't I post the recipe and a stunning picture?? Well, because it consisted of rolling out a pre-made pie crust, opening two cans of pie filling, dumping said filling in the pie crust, topping with the second pre-made pie crust, and baking. How un-domestic is that?? Martha would be soooo ashamed... but life is just crazy sometimes and short-cuts are ok. The best part is that Matt absolutely loves the pie. He says it's the best pie he's ever eaten. Apparently, my homemade pies from last summer were all in vain :)

I love that we did these things this month. They are simple, stress-free ways to make everyday life a little more fun and enjoyable. And once we have a full family, it's a great way to include kids on what's going on in the world.

My goal is to do 2-3 of these a month. For March I'm thinking St. Patrick's Day (wear green, make Irish stew and soda bread, play some Irish music, etc), the start of spring (I'm thinking of planting our flowers on this day and making a big, fresh salad with grilled meat), and Gerdy's first birthday.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sewey McSew Pants

That's my new name (my real nickname is Prudence McPrude...). Anyway, look at what I did yesterday!!

My pillow took an hour (and a half) of private instruction at Bobbins Nest (which I love). It was a great scene of my instructor looking horrified at how little I know about anything sewing related- and yes, she knew I was a beginner. She was shocked that I didn't do any sewing projects growing up...

I did not realize that I was making a bed pillow case; my other one was a 12x12 pillowcase. Anywho, I went with the Valentine's Day fabric because a) it was on sale, and b) I didn't really want or need to make a pillow, but figured I could always pull this out in February. Or perhaps we will call it the "love pillow" and pull it out when anyone in our family is sick to feel special (sorta like a mix between the vomit bowl and the "You Are Special Today" plate).

Today I will fix the dog bed. Our youngest pup, Gerdy, destroys anything with an eye ball, button, or zipper, as documented here. Her bed is 2 weeks old and she already demolished the zipper beyond repair and ate part of the stuffing (she's 15 pounds), which makes for some "interesting" digestion situations... So, I will one-up my crazy dog by sewing the entire bed closed therefore negating the need for a zipper and hopefully, her need to destroy it.

My instructor thought it would be good for me to start with bibs and burp cloths (so if you have a baby, you can expect a beautiful piece of artwork to randomly appear in your mailbox- feel free to donate). I also got an Amy Coe pattern for a bag and some of her fabric (you should see how $$ her fabric is... I think I need to shift careers). As for my plan to make window treatments for my house, she thinks that's a bit ambitious. I will do it just to spite her. I am hoping to check out some good beginner's sewing books from the library- any suggestions??

I also need some new fabric for my bibs/burp cloths... looks like I get to go shopping this weekend!!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

If I Only Had a Brain

I have tried some new recipes in the past week and none of them have been good. I have somehow messed-up recipes that are labeled "easy" and get 5/5 stars. So it's definitely me, which is cool. I've already been adjusting my dinners; the whole "pregnancy brain" phenomenon has taken serious root and I can't really handle anything more than a main dish and maybe a side dish. Most of our dinners are one-pot meals because I simply can't keep it together enough to do more than that. I've been thinking I need to break out the crock-pot and put that to good use, too.

Another wonderful mess-up of mine is the sewing machine. I purchased it 18 months ago (along with a box full of "supplies"), took a beginners class, made my pillow and completed 1.5 projects at home. And then we started IVF and anything "extra" fell off a cliff. So, I haven't even looked at my machine in over a year.

Flash forward to now: I'm pregnant with our son; I'm nesting in our new home; and, I see these adorable bibs and burp cloths that I suddenly must make for myself. I locate my long-abandoned sewing machine and realize I cannot remember how to turn it on, much less thread the darn thing to save my life. So, I signed up for beginners class numero dos where I will make yet another pillow. The only problem is that I spend all of my free time thinking about car seats and strollers, leaving little brain space for dates/times. Yes- I wrote down the wrong day for my class, completely missing it. Luckily, the little studio (which is adorable) took pity on me and is having me come in tomorrow for an hour private lesson. They will teach me how to turn on the machine, thread it, and yes- make a pillow.

Here's to hoping I can pull it together just enough to get all my supplies in the car and to the studio by 4pm tomorrow...

Thursday, February 11, 2010


My mom is considering buying a dutch oven to make the Barefoot Contessa's Beef Bourginon... I was helping her pick out a color and I found something I must have:

Aren't they beautiful?? I have a red Le Creuset that I adore and use at least three times a week. But I think I need every piece of the Carribean Blue line... so it looks like I'd better win the lottery to pay for my new cookware (and organic meat).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Grocery Budget

Let me start this by saying that I have learned (the hard way) that all of the horseradish I ate with my yummy beef strudel gives me horrible pregnancy gas. And by horrible, I mean painful... I probably ate half a jar of that stuff, which left me barely able to stand up yesterday... so no more smothering on horseradish- bummer.


One of the absolute best things about living where we do is the wide availability of organic foods. Not only does our Safeway carry organic produce, eggs, and milk at a decent price- BUT we also live right down the street from a Whole Foods which actually stocks a wide variety of organic, grass-fed, locally grown meat. The meat, however, totally messes with my grocery budget: I purchased 3 pounds of red meat (2 pounds stew meat and 1 pound ground beef) and it was $24. Thank you for the gift card, Santa... but seriously: it made me want to purchase a herd of cattle and set up a butcher shop in our garage.

On Long Island, we couldn't quite find the organic, grass-fed, locally grown meat, but we looked for organic or antibiotic free options. We really have been wanting to make the big jump to great meat like this... the more we read about corn-fed animals pumped full of drugs on massive meat farms, the more sense it makes for us. But let's be honest: we're a one income household and my husband works at a non-profit that currently will not cover our next round of fertility treatments should we want another baby (which is much more than the standard IVF cost you see in ads on TV- trust me). How will we be able to retire if our grocery budget explodes and all our extra $$ in the next 35 years goes to meat (and babies)??

Because we want to make the better choices for our health and environment, here is what I'm thinking:

1. Look into zoning laws for the aforementioned herding/garage slaughter-house option.
2. Limit the amount of meat we actually eat and learn how to make hearty, protein rich meals that are meat-less. These meals must also be yummy. By no means would we go totally vegetarian, but this would give us some dinner options that are a bit cheaper.
3. Hold-up the Whole Foods meat department.
4. Win the lottery.
5. Research a meat share or actually purchase a full animal. We would work with a certified organic farmer in our area, pick out our animal, and he would take care of killing/butchering it. Lovely, right? We'd store Bessie in a deep freezer in the garage. Not sure the pricing for this. BUT, I love the idea of being able to support humane, organic, local farming.

If you have any ideas (or experience farming/butchering cattle) please, please let me know...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

New Recipe

I had a wonderful day yesterday. I only got up once during the night to pee; I slept until 9am; I found some great deals on cute baby clothes and Christmas decorations; I baked 2 dozen banana muffins (1 dozen for here, 1 dozen for Matt to take to work); I did laundry; I did dishes; and, I tried a new recipe.

I pulled this recipe from Rachel Ray's magazine, which is odd since I don't particularly care for her. I don't mind her, but I'm not a fan, per se. Anyway, it had so many yummy things: dough, meat, potatoes, horseradish... how does a pregnant girl deny that??

I have been trying to make it for a month or two, but the planets never aligned and it just sat on top of the recipe list. But tonight was the night- and it was so yummy!! Matt actually said, "This is my favorite thing you've made". A definite keeper (both Matt and the recipe).

Some notes on the recipe:
  • This makes LOTS of food... the picture doesn't communicate this well- it can easily be halved for me and Matt (which is great, considering how randomly expensive puff pastry sheets are).
  • Compiling/prepping all of the ingredients to go into the pastry is super easy. The most tedious part of it is rolling out the puff pastry sheet to a larger size on a floured piece of parchment paper. Make sure to flour somewhat liberally. I also marked the parchment paper so that I could roll the pastry sheet to the right size and it worked well.
  • I didn't do a formal side dish tonight (I had been on my feet all day and just couldn't bring myself to do one more thing), but I did serve it with grapes, celery, and carrots. Because the dish is so heavy, I think a great, green salad would go wonderfully as a side. Be sure to salt and pepper, as noted in the recipe. The recipe has a great flavor, but Matt and I love love love horseradish, so we spread it on as we ate, too.
Happy cooking!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Follow-Up On My Inability to Simmer and What-Not

I was lamenting my simmering saga from the Beef Stew to my oven repair man, Canady (like "Canada" with a "y" and no- I did not call him to fix the simmer, but because the oven makes the stop top super hot, which I learned is totally normal...). Anyway, he informed me that if you have a gas stove-top, one of the inner burners will be smaller than the others and that is the burner to use for simmering. Sweet. Good to know. I will try that.

My mom said that I can buy a diffuser to attach to the burner to help spread out the heat and simmer better. I will try that next.

She also mentioned that we do in fact have a family recipe file. News to me (and probably news to anyone who is in my family). My mom used to make bowls of popcorn for dinner- and I'm not complaining; I just can't imagine what's been collected over the years. Supposedly she's going to send me a copy of it (assuming she's not offended by me outing her with the popcorn dinners-which were fabulous). Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hello Paula Deen, Beef Stew Much??

Beef stew was one of those foods I avoided from age 5-18... my mom tried to make it a few times but my brother was super picky it wasn't worth the fight. And, for what it's worth, I knew that no matter how many foods I rejected, I would never be as picky as Tommy so I kinda flew under the radar on these things and ate whatever I wanted for the most part.

Anyway, now I like it and when I went to ask my mom for the recipe a few months ago she said, "Oh- I don't make a good Beef Stew". Really? I hope someone besides a 7-year-old boy who insists on eating cereal, cheese pizza, and peas and an opportunistic 5-year-old girl told her it wasn't good... Either way, I wasn't getting any from the family, recipe file (and I don't think such a file exists...).

Enter Paula Deen and her Old Time Beef Stew. It got 5/5 stars based on 381 reviews on Food Network and there was non of her typical Ms. Deen butter: how does one say no? I read the reviews and decided to add a bit of beef broth and red potatoes. I purchased all organic ingredients, including 2 pounds of organic, grass fed, locally grown beef from Whole Foods (my wallet is still crying). I was super excited.

But here's the problem : Amy doesn't know how to brown beef. Obviously, I cook it until it's some sort of brown. But, does that mean just brown on all sides? Cooked through? How long should it take? As I have the equivalent of this month's rent worth of beef cooking in the Le Crueset, I am frantically posting on yahoo's answer board... "how do I brown stew meat?". Here is what I know now...

1. Browning meat is done to seal in the flavor and prevent the meat from getting tough;
2. Stew meat should be browned, but not cooked all of the way through; and
3. One should not over-crowd the pan during browning process, as this will actually steam the meat instead of browning the meat.

Well, I went for the triple crown and botched all three of these things. My meat was tough; my meat was cooked all the way through; and my pan was super-crowded steaming the meat. Go big or go home? I suppose...

And by no means was that the end of it... apparently, I am inept at how to simmer for 1 1/2 hours on our new cook-top. I could not find "simmer" to save my life. It was either "boil" or "warm". I finally got around to adding the carrots, celery, and potatoes. I added THREE extra cups of beef broth to compensate for the potatoes (and besides, the liquid level was super low in the pot". It took 20 minutes longer to cook than anticipated because of the additions, and even though I added extra cornstarch to thicken the "gravy" as Ms. Deen calls it, it still was pretty watery.

So, we ended up with a soup that had a great flavor, but I would not give it a 5/5- obviously I messed up something (or perhaps everything). The hunks of meat and potato were HUGE and they did not fit in with the watery base.

The good thing?? We have 2 nights worth of left-overs to get through in the near future. Lucky us :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Catching-Up and Moving On

The past week has been very exciting for me and Matt... we found out we're having a little boy and my parents came in town for a weekend visit!! So, we've been busy, to say that least :) But these are great things, not only because it's family, but because they're things that make me get off my butt and get the house organized.

One of the most frustrating things about having a high-risk pregnancy is that I haven't been "released" to do much. I can walk and float down a pool on my back- I can't even do the backstroke. I can dust the house, do dishes, and fold laundry, but I can't really clean anything. And that means that Matt is stuck doing a lot of the grunt work. He's happy to do it, of course: he's the sweetest man alive and he would take on any extra responsibilities to have a child. But, I hate it. I feel useless and I hate that he spends his down-time working on our house. I have to say that he did a great job getting everything in order for my parent's visit. The house was clean and organized enough (we did just move 3 weeks ago, so give some grace!), and I feel like we're making some progress here.

Now that we know we're having a boy, I feel like it's going to be easier to get things settled and organized. I am HUGE into envisioning my future and playing out likely/unlikely scenarios for every possible outcome... Matt calls is "worrying"- I call it "processing so I can be organized". Potayto/Potahto. Anyway, now I can see our life in this little house with our baby boy so I'm more energized to get settled. I ordered a diaper bag and some clothes for our little man. As a part of my "processing so I can be organized", I'm beginning to research just how much clothing he'll really need for each stage (input is greatly appreciated). I'm starting to work on the textiles for his room... I'm thinking I might go custom, simply because I want certain things to match. I'm starting to debate BPA free plastic bottles vs. glass ones, and I even cleared a shelf in the kitchen for all of his eating supplies. The list goes on-and-on... but, I feel like I can actually tackle these things... because Baby Boy will be here soon!!

Another thing I'm getting all organized are my coupons. Since we moved in late November and life has been a cluster since that time, I have not kept up on my coupon clipping (gasp!). BUT, we purchased a Sunday paper yesterday and I plan on clipping/filing tonight while watching The Bachelor. I threw out all of the expired ones last night. We needed groceries desperately today, so I scoured the weekly circular to be the biggest opportunist I could be. I got 6 bags of groceries for 48% off with NO coupons... it was all from looking at the circular and shopping the sales. Can you imagine if I had coupons I could match with my purchases? It would have been an epic shopping adventure. Hopefully, I can build my coupon stash in the next few weeks and get back on the saving band-wagon.

So, life here is getting organized to a point where I might actually be able to blog about some of it... don't hold your breath.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Goes the Sloth

Well, the house is making progress -- not much progress, but some. I thought we'd have the bathroom together by now, but it's been a bit hap-hazard. Here's a summary of the progress:

The Bathroom
This was supposed to be the "easy" room and I thought it would be done in a period of 24-hours. All I needed was new hardware for the cabinets/walls and a shower curtain. Easy, right? Matt was more than happy to tackle the hardware (yea!!) and I was certain that I could find the right curtain. And I did- it was only $20 at Marshals- score! When Matt was ready to install the hardware, I went to Home Depot and picked it all up- sans the 6th and final cabinet handle I needed. Wouldn't you know it- they only had 5 and even though I stop by regularly, they haven't restocked. Matt finished the hardware installation in a matter of days (sans the final handle, for which I'm still searching). I washed, ironed, and put up the curtain. Barf- it was horrible. Just awful. I can't believe I paid money for it. Time to regroup.

I looked at the bathroom for several days and finally realized (and embraced) what it really needed: a new curtain (obviously), new towels, and new "accessories". I hate thinking about buying all that "junk", but what we currently own just doesn't work with our current situation. Matt agreed, so I started to look around. The only one I liked that would work in our bathroom was from Pottery Barn and not available to ship until the end of February. And since I want the towels to match, I'll have to wait until that arrives and I can match them right. I'll then pick-up some nice, polished nickel accessories to pull everything together. Heck- maybe Home Depot will actually have my 6th handle by then. But until that glorious day when everything is here, our bathroom is in a tacky transition.

The Kitchen
Oh the kitchen... it's a beast. Our dishwasher won't arrive until the end of January, so our counter is constantly littered with dishes that are drying. And where there aren't dishes, there are clusters of random junk that hasn't quite found a home, yet. Our oven (hello, 1970) is getting replaced this week. And our kitchen table is too big for our kitchen, so we're waiting for an antiques place to come appraise/sell it for us. In the meantime, it's not-fitting-so-well in our dining area, covered in a jumble of junk ranging from baskets, to q-tips, to bills (which I need to pay, but I can't find stamps). So, give me two weeks and maybe- just maybe- it'll be ready.

The Master Bedroom
This might actually be the first place ready for photographs. We have the new sheets on the bed, and our white bed-skirt finally arrived (now I just need to wash/iron it...). We're using our current furniture, so all we need to do is sort/organize our clothes and actually find a way to have it all make sense. (Oh- and somehow find our lamps. Where did they go?) And there's this other problem: window treatments. I'm drawing such a blank on this area, that I'm considering hiring a decorator. I don't know where to start...

The Living Room
Well, it's functioning as of this moment. All of the furniture that we needed for the space has arrived and half of it is assembled (thanks, Matt!). But also in this room is a whole bunch of random boxes full of random stuff. Once we get everything put together and get rid of all of the junk (and for-the-love-of-all-things-holy iron our rug), I'll feel a lot better. But this room has the issue of window treatments, too. Maybe Mama Huff can help when she's in town next week.

The Nursery
This room is currently the "catch all" room. All of our "misc" stuff is in there- and there's a lot it. The good thing is that I'm only 4 months along so we have awhile to really pull it together. It's nice to have this room to just put things and sort through them slowly. Needless to say, this room won't be ready for a long time- even longer if Baby Franck continues to be modest/secretive about his/her gender. Oh- and there are window treatment issues in this room, too. Bottom line: don't expect photos until the baby's almost here.

So, that's where we are... it's a crummy place: I feel like we're never making progress on anything! But, we have loads and loads and loads of things for goodwill, so that's a start.

Monday, January 11, 2010

2010- I Made It

Not only are we finally in California, but we're also finally in our permanent home. I've been moving since the beginning of November and my body, mind, and house can feel it.  It's time to get sorted and organized. It's time for all 5 of us (me, Matt, Hula, Gerdy, and BABY!!) to settle.

I'm super-excited about the un-pack, because for 2 1/2 months I have not really been doing anything house-wifey... just playing the getting-by game. And, typical of me, I have a plan for this: we're going one room at a time.  Tonight and tomorrow is dedicated to finishing the bathroom/hall closet.

Oh- and I actually made a menu for the week- go me!! It's not exciting (lots of easy favorites), but it feels good to be settled in this area for the week :)

Monday: Chicken/noodle casserole
Tuesday: Homemade (but not from scratch...) Tomato Soup
Wednesday: Dinner out to celebrate finding out the gender of our baby!!
Thursday: Beef Strudel with Green Beans
Friday: Black bean and chicken soup
Saturday: Shepherd's Pie
Sunday: Brinner

Hoping my daily organizing/unpacking goes well enough to get some good pics :)