Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cleaning - Fish, You're doing it Wrong

First, I would like to say that I never wanted fish. And I fully expected them to die quickly. However, after we picked out fish I discovered these little guys (betas) are going to live up to around 7 years! WHY?!

Why indeed. We got the fish to teach the 5 year old and the 6 year old responsibility. They have to take care of the fish in order to 'upgrade' to other types of pets. Gerbils are next on the list. Daddy is going to be cleaning it - because Mommy has been cleaning up after the fish since day 1! Anywho - that is the point - too much cleaning!

Anyone that has a fish will tell you fish are easy to keep. They are lying in hopes that you will suffer through water changes as they have. The betta fish require especially require a great deal of water changes the smaller the bowl. And then as you research you find that you are a horrible person if your fish is in a bowl smaller than 2.5 gallons. This is where you feel guilty until you upgrade.

Things are complicated when you have more than one child - it is a rule of the universe that they will want the fish that cannot be placed in the same tank. Let us look at Betta fish math: Male+Male=Dead fish. Male+Female=Dead fish. Female+Female=Dead fish. Female+Female+Female=Your only one tank solution. Well. That sucks. Moving on!

In order to get a larger tank that would keep both fish happy and keep them in the same tank without them dying (We have one male and one female, I wouldn't recommend this with two males since they would stress each other out until one dies) I got a divider and split the new 10 gallon tank. I probably should have split it LONG ways but...I wasn't thinking at the time. Should have, could have, would have. Now I'm glad I didn't. Because it means a better way to deal with water changes.

Before the bigger tank, I was doing a water change every other day (All the water) for both fish bowls (1 gallon). The fish were boring and didn't have much room to swim. Enter guilty feeling mommy. After about two months of this - I was really sick of water changes. I upgraded to the 10 gallon tank. Now, I do a 10% water, every day or every other day. "This is getting old fast" I have been saying for about 4 months.

I have looked into a lot of stuff - all things that complicated things and cost even more in maintenance, equipment we didn't plan to need for 7 years and lots of science. I'm a smart mommy - but I don't want to get all sciency up in my fish tank that I hate cleaning. I needed something EASY that required little or NO cleaning. Enter "the clams". 

I got clams for the tank, fresh water. It was really strange ordering 'live clams' on ebay but whatever. They got here - the female fish ATTACKED one and killed it about thirty seconds after I put it in the tank. We figure the female has some suppressed aggression issues she's struggling with. I think she needs help. But for now, I moved all the clams into the male side of the tank. His approach is "Whatever" and leaves them alone.

This has increased the 'bioload' of the tank which means I'm still doing daily water changes. Bioload - the simply explanation, is a bunch of animal waste in the water. Fun. The water on the male side of the tank is very clear. The clams are really doing their part! But for whatever reason, it's not helping the female side of the tank (Probably the divider) and there are still large particles caught in the rocks on the bottom of the tank. The problem? The clams need a current and I don't have a 'current' in the tank and I hadn't really planned on giving them one. When I add water to the tank, I do it on the male side to kick the water up and give them a daily current so they get food floating by them. So far it is workin g a bit. But not was well as I wished it was.

Now - what is a Minimalist Martha like myself to do?! I have all these water changes I'm doing, still siphoning water out of the tank almost daily and I have to haul a bucket of (slightly appreciated) nutrients out to my balcony garden. Personally, the garden doesn't *need* it and I don't need to carry buckets of water like this is the 1800's. I'm not wearing a prairie dress here, am I? I didn't think so.

I have been researching aquaponics for a few months. My over all opinion is the following:
  • No more water changes - OH MY GOODNESS WE HAVE A WINNER
  • It takes care of itself - YES!
  • No need to water the plants - This is AMAZING!
  • The set ups are ugly - Oh. That sucks.
  • It's not really designed for a livingroom side table - Double bummer.
  • The set ups are notoriously expensive - Not cool, man.
  • They require a bit of engineering - Hmmm...I have some brain power.
  • They are a more substantial investment then just getting the filtering system for the fish tank and maintaining that. - Extra not cool. More money, different science, same maintenance almost.
Then you go the DIY route and the aesthetics gets REALLY unsightly. I did find this cute little number and I *WANTED* it, almost ordered it but the thing is - we would need TWO. That means roughly $120 for two. Hmm....not cool. 

We're back at the same investment as just getting the tank filtration system and cutting the betta's water down a bit. That would bring back the 'small tank guilt syndrome'. 

But while watching the video they provide, I saw what essentially made it work - a tube leading up is pretty obvious but the part that is difficult is the container on top. How do I suspend the plants above the tank without a really ugly look. It doesn't have to look space-age, but I don't want a wooden structure build on top of my fish tank in the livingroom. During some of the footage, for about 5 seconds, you see someone place a board on the top of the tank with holes cut into it. It is just barely bigger than the tank and that's how it stays up. Lightbulb moment for anyone else?

I had some foam board I save for random projects - well, this seemed worthy. I got the DIY bug and started looking at how I could grow stuff with this information. 

Then I came up with the following in about 20 minutes:

That is a piece of foam board ($1 at the dollar store - I love making stuff with foam board) cut slightly larger than the top of the tank and with a place cut out for a 'disposable' strawberry container. I plan on cutting the lid off incase you were wondering! I also wanted to make a shell that comes down about 3 inches all around the tank out of foam to sort of hide the hanging strawberry baskets. I'm not sure if I want to put that much effort in just yet. 

Now I still need a pump (being ordered) and some tubing for the pump, and a 'tee' split for the hose so it can water both strawberry containers - but in general, I hope that the finished project really will result in ZERO water changes ever again and lettuce/spices growing out of the top. Hello! I can get behind that!

Lastly - I still have to cut a hole in both sides of the little white 'frame' to feed the fish. Not a big deal!

My roughest estimate is that the pump, the air/water hose, the tee split and maybe some little clay bead things to place in the containers will run about $40. Not bad. No maintenance beyond feeding the fish. If I decide I don't want the pump on all the time, I can set it on a timer to run for 15 minutes on the hour.

So far - Minimalist Martha is planning on crossing "Clean Fish Tank" off the list of things to do - Forever!

I hope that this has sparked an idea or at least given you a warning about the illusion of 'easy to care for fish'!  My suggestion? If you really are going to get a tank - start with this optional DIY add on and save yourself the daily chores that goes along with fish!

Get Smart - Get Lazy - Take back some Mommy time by getting rid of or simplifying one chore at a time!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Kids - DIY Preplanned Craft Kits

I have sworn off my craft room. Every bead, every feather, every stamp block with a surfing dog on it, and all 400 of those skinny markers that never work and are always dried out. You are dead to me.

But girls must craft!

The Problem:

  • I never have a craft ready for the girls
  • When I try to craft with them, we are always missing pieces
  • My craft room was so messy I wouldn't go in for weeks unless forced to
  • Crafting made me cringe because it was/is a giant problem
What I DREAM about:
  • Telling the girls to go 'pick a craft' and have an instant craft already ready
  • Having instructions included so that if I'm not there, Daddy knows exactly what is needed and can read the instructions for every and any craft
  • If I'm not there, Daddy isn't taking stuff I need for another craft to do something with the girls
Moment of Inspiration:

$5 and Below store - They have those chintzy best friend bracelets and other strange kits all ready to go with extra pieces that give you nightmares about. And they are only about $5! Pretty sweet! I wish I could just buy 400 of these for the entire summer...*brain begins working*

The Solution:
  • I want to get rid of the Crafting mess (part of decluttering)
  • I want ready made craft kits with enough pieces for each girl to do one craft
  • I want instructions in with each craft so Daddy can pick a craft to do with the girls too!
  • PrePlanned craft boxes means Daddy won't be able to take stuff meant for other crafts - he won't need to!
  • No more stressing about finding a craft idea - we already did that!
  • Solution for Craft Kit Ideas - Amazon (whatever is selling) and Pinterest!
Possible Complications:
  • What to organize the craft kits in? - I don't want to go and buy 100 clear organizer boxes and stack them in my closet...Answer: Cereal Boxes turned inside out
  • What happens to any extra pieces? - I think we'll donate these to the teacher but over the summer they will be thrown out! Answer - Throw extra pieces out!
Random Observations - We eat a LOT of cereal in this house lately!

Now - How did we do?

I have decided to take a resource that we have a constant stream of - cereal boxes - and turn those into the Preplanned Craft Kit boxes. However - I think the outside is ugly. So I took apart the seams and turned it inside out and glued it back together with a hot glue gun. Very easy. See picture below (if I remembered to post it!)

How I am going to approach the Preplanned Craft Kits - I'm going to go into the craft room and pick something. Anything. And then look for what can be made, easily enough, with as few items as possible, with that one item. If we have everything for that craft idea then everything needed will go into the kit - enough for two, and I'll print out instructions for the kit.

*Tip* If you don't want to use cardboard boxes or cereal boxes - little zip lock baggies work just fine! (And you can see in them much easier). Entirely up to you! I am organizing my crafts by month - to be sure we're not doing Christmas crafts in July!

Now, how to label? You have to print out instructions so you might as well print out a picture of what the craft is supposed to LOOK like. Use some tape and tape it to the outside of your craft box. Kids love pictures!

How to keep up with them? Let your kids help you pick on Pinterest! Make a list of what you need for 5 or 10 projects that have very similar components (if possible) and go shopping for now many pieces you need. Just make it a craft shopping trip - we do it for groceries, don't we? Let them help choose, sort and store the kits! Which pictures go with which craft? Do you have all the pieces? Do you have a checklist? (in the instructions) Or do it when they are sleeping if the thought of sorting 10 craft kits with kids rummaging through everything you bought makes you panic - like me!

I hope that this has given you some ideas and inspiration! This idea takes a little bit of planning ahead of time but is a fantastic way to clear out your craft mess for good. Try a 'use it all up' before you buy anything for a 'new' craft project approach. Then you won't feel so bad about your new minimalist crafting approach. But be careful you don't lull back into "But we might need that some day...."!!!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Decluttering - The Craft Room

This is how my craft room mess made me feel....I say ENOUGH!

My craft room is not a dedicated craft room. It is partially my office. But in general, I have lots of 'crafty' stuff in there. When I inherited the craft room (from my mother in law, a long story!) it is/ was a GIANT mess! I'm sure this is like most peoples' craft rooms, full of odds and ends of crafts long ago dead, done or forgotten. I'm a pretty fantastic organizer and it even had me stumped! I spent about two months trying to redesign layouts, find organizers, figure out what should stay, what should go.

Almost always I heard someone in the house saying "But we could use that some day..." and that, my friend, is the crutch of hoarding and clutter! My minimalist extremes kicked in and I said "That is ENOUGH! It has a purpose or it ALL has to go!" and that was about two months ago.

But with renewed determination - I am tackling the craft room with a VENGEANCE! (Hey, I might be able to do an ACTUAL before and after picture! Isn't that something!?!)

My strategy is simple - It is a tool, appliance or in a kit then it stays. And I'm going to do an entire post about kits, don't worry! As far as odd and end pieces, if it doesn't fit in a rather tall and limiting drawer system (I may get rid of that too!) then it has to go.

Now, most of you crafty types (I swear, I'm crafty) are cursing and swearing me off. I'm basically saying 'throw it all away! It can't be organized!' and no, that is not what I'm saying. My approach is geared towards families with children (not you notorious scrapbooking types!) that have wobbly eye things and tongue depressors coming out of your ears.

How do I get rid of everything in my craft room that doesn't have a purpose but still have crafts to do?!

This is the part where you shake me and scream "Make sense!" and I'm getting to that part. It's a whole other post but I'm getting to it.

The problems that goes hand in hand with a 'craft room' or a craft area at all is as follows:

  • Everything is a mess - nothing has a place
  • Every organizer on the planet but still not organized
  • Lots of some craft items, hardly any of others
  • The kids raid the craft area and don't always put things back or wastes things
  • Clean up is so much work - I'd rather not (Me!)
  • You have tons of things pinned on Pinterest but nothing to craft
  • Whenever you sit down to do a craft you are always missing at least ONE thing
To me - this sounds like you LOVE to give your kids crafts to do but HATE the clean up, figuring out what you have enough pieces for, and dealing with finding homes for all the pieces. Well, I hear you!

My epiphany moment - Our mall recently got a $5 and Up store (or whatever it is called). In the very back of the store is a wall of craft things. These are those bracelet kits, keychain kits, all those 'kits' with the pictures of teen girls just having SO much fun putting beads onto plastic stretchy bracelets that always say friend forever. You know what I'm talking about? Let me try to find a picture...

Bingo - right on the money! This is one of those kits exactly! Of course, Amazon is listing this at $15 but the kits at this $5 store are roughly $5 which is pretty good! Now, if I have each girl pick one a week, that's about $50 a month in crafts. Why is it worth it to me to do it this way? Because I don't have to think, they get to pick and I will absolutely not feel bad about tossing all the extra pieces afterwards.

But just can't be so reckless. (And we probably won't do that but once or twice). Sometimes you want to try and salvage what you can of what you already have. (Did that make sense?)

My final Solution for the Craft Room:

I am going to take ALL of my craft materials and separate them into planned crafts (enough for each girl). All the rest of the pieces will be thrown out unless it is something I use often for random crafting - like ribbon or fabric or something.

This will get rid of a bulk of the TINY things that are just floating around. If I have extra pieces, I will have to either donate those to a friend, a thrift store, or just toss them. Of course, I could just have a junk bucket with random craft bits but WOW could that get out of hand fast!

You have teachers - you could always donate a bag of crafting goodies to your kids teachers once a month! If you can't organize it - pass the mess on to someone more able to handle craft stuff galore!

Solution Summary - 

  • Convert the Craft room into PrePlanned Craft Kits containing all items needed for each child and clear instructions with the craft stuff
  • All extra pieces need to fit in a restricted/small area of craft storage or be donated/gifted/thrown away.
  • When purchasing craft items in future - purchase for a craft you are planning, get all the pieces all at once, and know how you are going to handle the extra pieces before you bring them home i.e. donate, gift, add to another craft kit.

  • Sometimes, compartmentalizing a mess just complicates matters instead of making them easier.
  • If you are over compartmentalizing your mess and it is still causing you nightmares, it is time to stop trying to find another organizer and face the music - the size of the mess is too big to organize and must shrink.
  • Kids love gluing and cutting and beads - if it is just a pile of glue and feathers they will still have fun making a mess. Stick it in a kit and call it a craft monster project and let them destroy until the feathers fly! (And then make them pick up their mess!)
  • Need ideas for Craft Kits? Look and see what is for sale. Don't like the price tag? They list what is IN the kit. Make a list and pick it up for a fraction of the cost at the craft store with more personalized options. Now you're ahead of the game! If the kit is on the shelves, it is something your kids will love whether it came prepackaged or mompackaged.
Want to know more about Pre Planned Craft Kits? We've got a post on that!

It all comes down to how much mess you are prepared to deal with. If the clutter starts to get under your skin or you look at it and have to close your eyes because it overwhelms you then that is your cue! 

No time to organize it? Clear out all the craft mess that you don't have a home for and give it to a friend - and go get a $5 craft kit and call it a day! Crafting is about memories - not about headaches and more cleaning. Say no to the extra cleaning - say no to the Craft CraziMess.

Cleaning - Schedule Schmedule

I don't always stick to my cleaning schedule. And as far as schedules go - I've had half a dozen or more. My usual task list is usually a micromanaged list of every single thing I need to do - but cleaning sucks. I would rather spend my energies doing other things -anything other than cleaning. Sound like you?

I don't have a magic wand - but I do have a schedule that I have finally gotten to work for *me*. I hope that it will work for you but don't feel like you have 'failed' if it doesn't work for you - you just haven't found the *right one* yet!

For me - this is the right one - finally! But sometimes, I still just don't clean anything. It's not your fault, Schedule, sometimes I'm just not in the mood despite your awesome color scheme. Want the Schedule? Download by following the link below the picture or follow the link of the photo/schedule!

Why I love this schedule - because it breaks up my cleaning into roughly one or two things a day that are fairly easy given my decluttered lifestyle. If there was clutter - yes this would be harder. Have clutter trouble? Check out the decluttering section!

Where did I find this schedule? Because I didn't make it! I found it on Pinterest. Then again, I found the other half-dozen there too.

Oh - right - back to *Why* I love this schedule!

At the very basic - all this schedule is saying is the following:

  • Monday: Dust your house from top to bottom. 
  • Tuesday: Wood! - Anything that needs wood polish gets a good shine (Yay! Jokes on you schedule! NO wood!)
  • Wednesday - *Counter Top Day!* Wipe off all counters in the kitchen and bathroom!
  • Thursday - Appliance Day! Run self clean mode on oven, wipe down the inside of the microwave and do a quick wipe down the shelves in the fridge.(I don't always do the fridge - extra lazy Thursdays!)
  • Friday - Glass Day - mirrors, windows, glass frames, shower glass (I have none), anything that's glass.
  • Saturday and Sunday - Upholstery Day - vacuum sofas, curtains, chairs, anything fabric and spray with Febreze. 

Now - this *Looks* like a lot but that is because of all the detail. If you delete all the detail wording it is less scary. Give it a look now...

  • Monday: Dusting ALL of the Things!
  • Tuesday: Wood Polish ALL of the Things!
  • Wednesday - *Counter Top Day*
  • Thursday - Appliances Day
  • Friday - Glass Day
  • Saturday and Sunday - Upholstery - Febreze ALL of the Things!

Why is it that this schedule works for me where others have failed?
I have a theory but it is just a theory. When I actually manage to get *motivated* to clean stuff it usually fades after about 30 minutes. So I'm good for about 30 minutes before I become depressed from cleaning.

What seems to work is that I only have to find ONE thing to clean with, be it a duster, wood polish, appliance cleaner, a wash rag for each counter, or the windex and a squeegee, or Febreze! Now if I had to find ALL of that stuff on one day and clean ALL of the Things for ALL of the day - I would strike. I mean I would actually strike stuff, like a ninja! (Kidding!) But in seriousness, if I only have to find one thing to clean with and just do that one thing - I'm usually pretty good. Honestly, today I did the appliances on the right day on accident - just because I wanted to clean the microwave.

Oh - and I still have some tips and tricks for cleaning things! Microwaves? Easy cheesy! Check out the post on microwaves and make the Microwave clean itself (almost).

When it comes to cleaning, you really need to figure out how you *like* to clean before you try to force yourself to clean on a schedule. And I really recommend decluttering!

I keep my weekly cleaning schedule in my 'household binder' (which I started this week - cleared out all my coupons *gasp*). But you can just stick that one weekly schedule on your fridge - the side even - and just look once a day. If you cut your cleaning time down to 15 minutes a day you won't stress over cleaning and you'll have loads more time for other things.

As with all things in life, it is easier said than done. I hope that this has motivated you in some small way. If this schedule doesn't work for you - I hope it has encouraged you to find a method that works for you and helps you keep a tidy house on your own terms and your own time. Saving more time for YOU and sacrificing less time to the cleaning of the dreaded MESS!

Cleaning - Microwave Monster

The microwave used to be a beast, a monster, a nemesis. I used to wear my cleaning agents on my hip and shoot from across the kitchen with one eye closed and praying for the best. Just kidding! But I dislike all cleaning so why would I suddenly enjoy cleaning the microwave? Well - easy is pretty pleasing to me.

I don't mind cleaning the microwave ever since I figured out how to soften up all that stupid microwaved on food without giving myself a sprained elbow or wrist from scrubbing (I'm short, that angle also is unpleasant).

I found on the delightfully pinteresting Pinterest of course a fascinating way to clean your microwave faster and easier. I didn't pin it and now there are a lot of posts on Pinterest with this idea so you might have already read it but I'm going to cover it anyway because it is an easy way to clean.

A word of caution: I have heard that some people have had the water explode on them. Please use caution and if you microwave for 5 minutes, be sure to wait one minute for the steam to really work on the inside of the microwave before you open the door. Don't wait *too* long or everything will 'harden up' again. Kind of a pain. I use a thick ceramic bowl but I use closer to 2 cups of water and I sometimes microwave for upwards of 10 minutes depending on how dirty the microwave is. Again - caution, Hot! It might explode!

Remember that every microwave is a little bit different - be careful!

How I clean:

A bowl or cup (needs to be microwave safe for up to 10 minutes!)
1 cup of vinegar
2 cups of water

Other variations:

Just Water


Water and sliced/juiced lemons

Now, if you are like me you will try this out at least once. It works for me, even when it is a really messy disaster which is when we need it most, right? I was surprised to read about people blowing water up in their microwave so seriously, be careful please?

I hope that this has helped you a bit with messy microwaves and helped tame the beast that was!

Remember - don't put so much effort into cleaning! Work smarter - Not harder!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cleaning and Decluttering - The Clutter Catcher

Image Source: Clean Your House in Ten Minutes by SheKnows

"Quick! My husband is going to be home in an hour and the house looks like a disaster!"

My definition of disaster is not the same as most people's level of disaster - because I have decluttered to the extremes. But here is the best way to fight clutter and the quickest way to apply a bandaid to creeping clutter (clutter that is moving from places it SHOULD be into places it SHOULDN'T be is "creeping clutter")

I have a small laundry basket that sits near our basement door. Whenever I feel like the clutter is starting to creep and I don't feel like 'cleaning', but the husband is on his way home - I grab that basket (hopefully empty?) and go through the entry spaces: entry way, living room, dining room.

I pick up anything that doesn't belong in the room and put it in the 'clutter catcher': My laundry basket. It should take five minutes. Your only question is "Does it belong in this room - yes or no?"

Now, set the basket down and deal with it later. I didn't say put stuff away! (Unless you have time for that.)

The fun part is that if you are using the Uh-Oh box and you picked up any children's things - shoes, clothes, toys, what-have-you, you can transfer any of that stuff straight into the Uh-Oh box from your Clutter Catcher and 9 times out of 10 that cuts down what you need to put away by at least 40% or more.

The Trick? Dont get a BIG laundry basket. This is the exact laundry basket I use for this:

If you get a basket that is TOO big, then you are going to have a beast of a mess to put away. If you keep your basket small, then when it gets full you know you have to sort things out (start with that Uh-Oh box!) before you can use your clutter catcher again. But the basket is small enough that it won't be a nightmare to deal with.

I love my clutter catcher. I can quickly look like I've picked up, 5 minutes before company or the husband or the mother in law shows up, and the basket disappears during the visit and gets sorted when I get to it.

Be in charge of the mess - don't let your mess walk all over you and stress you out!

Now go find your new best friend and give it a cute name like "Clutter Catcher"!

I hope this helps you fight the clutter monsters! aka children...

I better post this and snatch up my clutter catcher - the husband will be home in an hour and I want to do other things besides clean...*wink*

Declutter - Dual Purpose Silicone Ice Trays

I greatly dislike ice trays. They are a pain to refill, they pop out really funny, the trays take up too much space in my freezer, the shapes are boring, and you have to use half a tray for one cup of something cold.

I love cute things. That doesn't need much explanation.

I saw this video with Martha Stewart (my favorite Felon!) while trying to find a solution for our ice cube issues and I have to say that it was pretty darn awesome!

However, I love minimalism and by default - I love things that have more than one use. I also prefer silicone ice trays because they don't crack, they are easy to clean, and they feel cool. While I love Martha and all this Ice Sphere awesomeness, I don't like One-Use-Items or "dodaddy" as she calls it. (I have a tip to add on to her 'balloon' meat hook idea - read tips below!)

So I still wanted silicone - not One-Ice-Cube solutions stacked up in our freezer. Now - have you ever tried to get ice cub trays that are silicone at the store? Ours doesn't carry them. We've checked. However, I find a ton of silicone muffin/cupcake molds that are adorable but I always tell myself "These are one time use! How can I justify this?! I need 40 of these!" and of course they get tossed into my 'organization' system in the basement when not in use so that they don't clutter my kitchen (into an organizational tub for the holiday).

But if I can use it for TWO things...well then, that sort of changes things...

I have to thank my Mother for this because she sends me things against my will all the time. And my Mom really knows stuff so she she sent me this valentines day mold...I had to rethink because I just thought it was so cute...and then it just sort of clicked because we were looking for a better way to do ice.

If you're like my family, you are okay with USING the ice cubes but filling up the no fun. Often, we had no ice. Instead, when we needed ice we were filling the ice tray up and commenting on how much we disliked the ice tray.

What did I do? I took the heart mold you see above, I placed it in a baking pan(to give it support - these things are wobbly without any support!) like this (see photo below)

And then I filled the mold, not the baking pan, with water and popped it in the freezer. Check it after an hour (or forget it - no harm) and pop them into your ice bin (we have a bin that we put made ice into) or dont, just pop them out of the silicone thing as you need them. I like to make a bunch back to back sometimes just so I can get the baking pan out of my freezer, but it's up to you.

Have you seen any cute holiday molds lately? Any ideas of how cute they would look in a drink?

Hands down, every guest we've had has commented on the ice cubes and has loved them. It's the little touches that make you look awesome and it's the secret you hold that it was easy that makes your smile just a little bit bigger!

Also - according to Sur la Table - "Clever [Tovolo] ice mold combines art and science to make a creative, ultra slow-melting ice ball". Hmmm something to think about. Plus that looks pretty cool!


Just a Few General Tips:
  • You can use most muffin tins but metal tins can sometimes be harder to work with though more stable in the freezer. Ice stuck? No pounding! Just set the bottom (only!) of your muffin tin in some warm water for a few seconds. They should loosen right up!
  • Can't decide what molds are best? Just go by your season! Muffin/cupcake silicone trays go on sale offseason and can be picked up for a inexpensive penny or two. And you only need one or two as each ice cub is big enough for one drink! One tray means 6+ drinks instead of 1 or 2 drinks.
  • Always look for food grade silicone and be sure to rinse between uses!
Want to Dress up your Ice "CUBES" even more? Here are a few videos that add a flair of fancy without much extra work!

Tip: How to make those Spheres without "Meat Hooks" as Martha Stewart References

Tip: Adding stuff INTO your Ice Cubs! Add mint leaves, berries, or fruits in the ice molds for a sophisticated touch! (Just be sure to warn guests so they don't choke if they don't notice your fancy touch!)

Tip: Making Ice Cubs out of Juice and not just Water!

Tip: Take different juices (the photo has kool aid ice cubes!) as above and add the cubes to Sprite!

Tip: How to Make Crystal Clear Ice Cubes

Hosting a Party with a bowl of Punch? Take this idea to the extreme! Silicone molds for cakes are very common and very cute! Get a large enough (not bigger than your punch bowl or so big that no one can get punch!) cake mold that can sit right in your punch bowl! It will take longer to melt and will look AWESOME! (The whole video below is a recap of much of what I've already talked about but if you watch the whole thing- this guy knows his ice!)

I like a bit more flair than the traditional so if we're being completely honest - I would go with the FUN cake molds (not a bunt pan) and look at stuff like this:

And if you have a significant other that really loves sports - you can make sports night a real treat! Get a punch bowl or whatever beverage the party calls for then make a giant football ice cube!

I hope this has sparked some ideas. Ice doesn't have to be boring and you don't have to get something JUST for ice cubes! We got rid of our trays and we use our heart mold for our ice 'cubes' regularly because they are just that cute.

Thanks for Reading! I hope it adds to your holidays and daily beverage delight. And next time you find those holiday silicone molds on sale - give them another look! Nothing screams 'Summer!' like giant frozen roses with mint leaves and berries in them!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cooking - Cookies that Last 6 months

A quick note on this post: I have a deep freezer (small size). That is how I freeze so many things. I choose to freeze things because I find it easier than canning 99% of the time. I kind of moan and groan if I have to can stuff. (Except jam, that is awesome or pickles which I'm attempting this summer).

We got our freezer on Craigslist (caution! danger!) for $75 the first week I came to New York. I looked at my fiance's tiny messy freezer and said 'this is not going to work'. Thus, a freezer was acquired.

If you don't have the space or money for a freezer, you could still follow this post! But maybe not everything I post for freezer stuff is something that will fit into your life. Just pick and choose of course!

I love homemade and I love working smarter instead of harder. That being said, we also don't eat a lot of desserts. All things in moderation! The girls and I do have lots of little tiny tea cookies to go with our tea, but we don't really do the over indulgent desserts after every or even every other meal.

So how did we get cookies that last 6 months? And how stale were they?

If you haven't put it together yet, I mixed up a 3 dozen batch of cookies with the 5 (then 4) year old in December. This was a LOT of mixing - I don't have a mixer! But cooking that many cookies and then freezing them or eating them...not the best of ideas. And I was CONVINCED (still am) that these are the best cookies (those fabled Neiman Marcus cookies) I've ever had. I'm sure it's due to all the butter.

Instead of baking 3 dozen cookies and making the family sick with so much wonderful, the 4 year old and I made cookie balls and set them out on baking sheets and froze them. As each sheet was frozen fairly solid (about 20 minutes) I would pop the cookie balls off the baking sheets and toss them into a freezer ziplock bag. We did this for an hour or two until all the cookies were frozen into little balls. Of course we baked a few :D

So here it is in June, 6 months later, and we have 4 cookies left! We are a family of 4 and anytime we felt like a 'treat' we just popped the cookies in the oven (4 at a time!) for 20 minutes at 325 F.

This was such a success after only a few hours of work that I plan to make a few more batches of frozen cookies soon! This is a great way to bake - one time that lasts you 6 months. And this is my cooking strategy. I try to find ways to batch cook without killing myself (these cookies were pretty easy! though I might change my mind after mixing again) that pays off in 'dividends'.

Things that I like to batch cook in this way:

Cookies (duh) - I recommend at least 2 dozen or more at a time not more than 4.

Hand pies - With fruit or leftovers in them! It's all about finding an easy dough recipe and having your filling pre-selected and pre-made!

My Breakfast Mix - Instead of cutting vegetables every morning, I cut a few things up once, fill a ziplock bag, and have a mix that will last a month.

Breakfast Burritos - a stack of tortillas and some scrabbled egg mix. Fold up those burritos and freeze them! The trick is not overfilling them - my struggle!

Bread - This one seems strange but I like to double rise my bread, form it and then freeze the rolls or little loafs. This makes bread with dinner super easy. I set the dough out on the counter and let it thaw - I pop it in the oven for 30 minutes or so and we have fresh bread with dinner! Takes a bit of work but if you're already making bread - making extra is easy!

The trick is to find something your family would want to eat regularly (who doesn't love cookies?!) and something that can be frozen for a while and pulled out as needed to suit your needs!

How can you become like the Minimalist Martha? Find something you could make in bulk and freeze - and make something every week or two. Soon enough, you have a Baking Day (like Saturdays!) with the family and you are pulling a long list of 'homemade' things out of the freezer whenever you want. Guests coming over? Tell them "It's all home made" and choose to keep or spill your secret on how you manage the time!

Once a week or once a month, it's the little things that make life a little easier. I haven't made cookies in six months, but we eat them all the time and they are always fresh out of the oven every time!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Declutter - Special Occasion Cards

While it is not Christmas, I know that there are a LOT of birthdays (mine included) during the summer so this is a perfect time to address Cards! Cards are something that are fun to get but usually end up in a shoe box or envelope stashed in an attic. This is the OPPOSITE of decluttering.

While I'm a fan of all things digital, I haven't been able to find a way to keep Birthday and Holiday cards digitally yet. However - I have a solution that will have you decluttering at least a bit. 

My first step is always to 'centralize' the mess and for the most part that is what we are going to be doing. We're just going to 'centralize' the card problem that way it is a manageable problem.

I found this solution while looking on Pinterest some time ago. I can't find the original post (Sad face - I didn't remember to pin it) HOWEVER I found a post just like it as this is fairly popular.

Dress It Up
The image above is just how ours is done. We just hole punch and stick our cards on as soon as they come in the mail. Easy peasy is the way I like it! But you could dress it up. I've seen scrapbook style 'covers' (cardboard type pieces all dressed up with the family name and frills). If you get the inclination you should absolutely get creative with it! But...if you don't want don't have to! The cards are pretty enough on their own!

How Exactly Do I Make This?
For $1! (I think) I got our little snap ring things at the dollar store. But I only got about 1 in rings (I'll have to get bigger ones in a couple of years). I recommend getting the larger size snap rings especially if you get a lot of cards. We only used 2 rings per 'bundle' though I've seen some use 3 or 1 per bundle, depending on if you want it as a book or to lay on a table splayed out for display. It's up to you! The bigger the ring, the more cards it will hold!

Just for Christmas? Of course not!
I don't use this just for Christmas either. I do this for ALL of our special occasion cards. I separate them by the event of course. We have a family Christmas card 'bundle/book', we have one for each birthday in the family and we have an Easter card collection too. Oh, and Mother's Day and Father's Day of course!

Fun tip? I like to take the mailing addresses off of the envelopes that the cards came in and tape them to the very back of the card (where you normally see printing information). This way I have a place I can look for all the addresses as I get ready for the holidays the next year. Or if we send out our cards late - which has been known to happen. 

But what to do with these bundles?
I love organization and we have our holidays organized by tub/tote in the basement. Christmas is the biggest of course and December is the busiest since we have three birthdays in December. But each holiday gets at least one tote/tub and each birthday gets a tub/tote. Guess where the books/bundles go? Right! In their respective totes. So when mommy gets the tubs/totes out to decorate - Viola! I set the bundle out on one of the side tables leading up to the holiday as an easy decoration item (since cards are so pretty anyway!) and the girls get to look through all their old cards. 

Don't Forget!
To add your own family Christmas card to your bundle each year! This will be a treasure for years to come!

I think the birthday cards are the girls' favorite and they love adding their birthday cards to their bundle. This will be something they will love to look through for years to come. And it makes it easier on YOU to keep all those little birthday cards in one easy to find spot so they can take those memories with them wherever they go in life.

Declutter Dark Spaces - Faux Stained Glass

I'm a minimalist. There is no doubt about it. If it were up to me I would always choose less versus more. That's not to say that I would give up quality - I will always choose the highest quality possible. And then there is the purpose of the item - the function. I will always try for dual/multipurpose.

I'm placing this under 'declutter' because a dark room is going to be a DUNGEON without light - so I needed to brighten the living room up - FAST!

The Chore Flowers: I wanted something to brighten up the apartment. I wanted the girls to have chores. Enter - the chore flowers. Both decoration and functional item in one.

Now here is a second example I haven't talked about before - the faux stained glass window I created one afternoon.

First I identified the problem - our living room was dark as a dungeon even though it had two fairly bright lamps in it. (Note: We rent). We have a really big window in the living room but the floor to ceiling blinds are ALWAYS drawn closed. Why? Neighbors are Nosy. And we like our privacy.

My first reaction was to just ignore the neighbors...and then I learned how very nosy neighbors could be.

My second reaction was to look on Pinterest. I found some window clings but the dimensions were all wrong and the designs were not fantastic. To get a really great looking window cling was going to be pricey because our window is roughly 5 feet by 4 feet and we have smaller windows below as well that open. I love stained glass windows and the girls are young enough that Disney style stuff is right up their alley.

The fact that we rent meant I didn't have a lot of leeway with what I could really do to the window. But finding a way to let the light in while keeping the nosy neighbors away was the goal. I settled on creating my own stained glass window with what I had on hand.

Hit or miss - it does the trick and the girls love it. It might look a tiny bit cheesy but I am still proud of what I created with a little wax paper and some sharpie markers.

Having a graphic design background, I took the Disney Beauty and Beast design and added it to a Photoshop document that was exactly the dimensions of our big window. I then stretched, mirrored and fine tuned the image until it looked exactly the way I would want our window to look.

Next, I printed it out in black and white on a regular everyday printer (numbering the pages as they came out so I could lay them out on the carpet like a big puzzle) for a total of about 32 pages or so. Once I had them printed out I took wax paper and did one row of pages at a time (so 4 rows). I taped the pages to the wax paper (carefully) and had four long strips of wax paper with pages taped. Double checked my work to make sure all pieces were in the right spot. Then it was a matter of patience and ignoring the hand cramps. I went over all the lines with black sharpie marker, tracing onto the considerably translucent wax paper.

At this point, the family was pretty confused about mommy's latest crazy project which no one could really visualize. When the love of my life left for work he must have thought I had lost my mind, pieces of paper everywhere, wax paper stretched out on the dinner table and there I sat coloring in line after uninteresting line of sharpie marker.

Finally I had everything colored in (and this did take me forever). The hardest part was coloring, it really was. Then I had to put it on the window. What did I use to 'mount' the wax paper? Simple! (the best solutions are) I used regular old double sided tape. This meant that all the seams could match up perfectly and the double sided tape is clear so there was no worry about it messing up the window. After the wax paper was up, I then colored IN the roses and the leaves (I had only done the black outlines). That took a while as well. A tip - paint markers would have probably worked well for this (if they are a bit thin). But I stuck with markers.

The girls insisted that we should be worried that someone would try to steal our window out of jealousy. But they LOVED it! They think we have the best looking window in the neighborhood and want to make sure were taking it with us when we move next year. I assured them that we would! (Good thing I can slice right down the center of that design and put it in two different windows if need be!)

Would I recommend this? Yes - I think it is a GREAT way to dress up a window if you are picky, love personalized, want something you can do yourself and even if you do a one page version - they are fun to tape up in a window and make a fun stained glass looking piece of art! (The girls want to do the Disney princesses in their bedroom windows now).

And my goals were reached - it dressed up our living room (needed more color!), gave us a LOT of light now that we can have the windows open ALL the time, and it made our living room a little bit Magical but still looks 'nice'.

When looking at any problem - try to find a solution to as many problems as you can in one if you can. Even if that means stopping a while and just thinking, letting the solution come to you instead of rushing into something you can't stand.

And don't be afraid to get creative! If it's not permanent...what's the worry? Try, Try again!

P.S. If you drive by this window - it's mine! Only one like it...anywhere really!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Kids & Cleaning - The Chore Flowers

We decided it was time for the girls to have chores. But we didn't want to start them on an allowance because we believe every person in the family needs to contribute to the family. These are called 'responsibilities'. But we still wanted to reward the girls if they go above and beyond.

What Problems Were We Facing?

  • I didn't want another chart on the wall
  • We were having problems with the girls picking their toys up
  • It needed to add to our decor, not clutter up the house
  • I needed the chore list/chart to be adaptable - adding and taking away chores
  • I needed to incorporate an Uh Oh box but again - no random slips of papers
  • I needed to add an incentive/reward type system that wasn't going to clutter the house up
These were many things to consider and I spent about two weeks looking online for a solution. I found many individual solutions but not really anything that would work together. I needed to minimize all the pieces and 'moving parts' that would lead to essentially more clutter and confusion.

I took several concepts and put them together or changed them.
First was the Uh-Oh box. This is something very cute that I found on Pinterest but I didn't like the slips of papers (could be lost, have to print them, would float around the house). 

Next, I wanted a Chore Chart. I found many clever ideas but nothing suitable. They all involved charts, lists, clipboards and such. But I didn't want more lists and charts. This stumped me. I came up with something all my own for this solution.

Last, but not least, I needed a reward system. Again, we didn't want to give an allowance. We wanted them to feel as though they are working toward something. I adapted the Uh-Oh box and mixed in a ticket punching system. 

All three of these things were incorporated into our Chore Chart solution which I ultimately came up with on a whim. They are "Chore Flowers". 

Why Chore Flowers?
  • I can tell what each flower is for - small purple filler flowers are uh-oh box chores, Big red glittery roses are Reward Box chores, Pink tulips were chosen by the 6 year old so those are all her daily chores and the red tulips were chosen by the 5 year old so those are all her daily chores.
  • These are placed in three vases. One vase per child and one vase for mommy (it holds the red roses and filler uh-oh flowers). 
  • These decorate the house while secretly holding chores. How? The bottom of the flowers are hotglued to Popsicle sticks. Each Popsicle stick has a chore written on it.
  • Anyone visiting just thinks the flowers are pretty, they don't realize they are chores!
  • This means getting rid of a chore chart, a reward chart, uh-oh box pieces of paper and adds a splash of color to the apartment which was much needed.

Reward and Uh-oh Chore flowers - Mommy's vase!

How I chose the chores:

Uh oh chores - these were chores that are not fun, slightly tedious, but don't take more than about 15 minutes. Examples: wiping down the walls downstairs, cleaning baseboards, cleaning and organizing the end tables in the living room, etc.

Reward Box chores - these were chores that make mommy's life a little easier. It is something I wish I didn't really have to do - like cleaning the toilet (I have a way to make this fun for kids!) or sweeping and mopping the kitchen (we use a kid-friendly Swiffer). There is another step to this though - each chore gets a hole punch in their ticket. (Getting to that)

Daily Chores - these are things that we ask the girls to do a lot. It all comes down to age. The basics are - shoes put away, books put away neatly, backpack put away, bed made, feed your fish, toys put away,  bathroom sink cleaned, laundry picked up and put away, reading one book a day, and they each have to do 15 minutes on which they love. So if you find yourself reminding your children to do something every day, make it a flower!

How this ties into the Uh-Oh box and the Reward box.

The Uh Oh Box - if Mom finds something out that should have been picked up, then it goes in the uh oh box. It is very simple - the girls do one purple flower chore (an uh oh chore) and they get one thing out of the uh-oh box. It's a 1 flower for 1 item exchange. Very simple. If Friday rolls around, the girls have to do enough uh-oh chores to get ALL the things out of the uh-oh box before their weekend begins. NO uh-oh chores can be done until ALL their daily chores have been completed. It's a rule.

The Reward Box - for each red rose done, the girls get a hole punch in their Reward ticket. (They know where the reward tickets are kept so they can get a new one whenever it tickles them). The reward ticket has 12 places for punches (it's a lot but the prizes are pretty cool). After they get the ticket punched all the way (12 chores) they get to pick whatever they want out of the reward bucket. This is how the girls' earned their beta fish. Same rules apply - all daily chores must be done before any reward chores can be done.

What do we use for an Uh-oh Box and a Reward tub?
Target had plastic treasure chest tubs for $10-$20 and we got a red one which was perfect for our Reward tub. We use a CLEAR tub (very important so they can see what is inside without opening it) for our Uh-Oh tub and it has the standard little Uh-Oh rhyme on top.

What do we use for reward tickets? 
There is a great free printable that I found online that is perfect. Just print it off (color looks better! but black and white works) and if you don't have a hole punch and are going to get a new one anyway I suggest getting a FUN hole punch. I got one that punches little tiny hearts instead of circles. The girls love it!

Special thanks to Fabn'Free: Free Printable Chore  Reward Tickets

Where did I get the flowers? 
The dollar store. I let the girls pick out the flowers they wanted (I didn't tell them they were for chores) and once they picked ONE flower I got at least 12 of the exact same flower (about 3 bunches) for each girl. I spent about $20 on bunches of flowers and used a wire cutter to separate them into individual flowers. I used two popsicle sticks glued together to give height. Also - I got two plastic vases from the dollar store (matching) for the girls because they like to pick their vases up and move them around. When they get older, I'll switch to glass but for now - plastic all the way!

Where did the Uh-Oh box come from? 

Pinterst! Here is the source where you can find details about it, a list of potential Uh-Oh chores and the cute graphic to print for your own Uh-Oh box. The Uh-Oh Box Graphic.

I hope that this has sparked an idea! The chore flowers are still going strong in our house since February so... a good four months! We're getting ready to revamp our chore flowers to add more chores and get rid of chores that don't apply anymore. Wishing you the best. Love this?Share it, comment or ask questions below!