Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Three (Cheap!) Little Gadgets You Won't Want to Miss!!!

I've discovered three things recently that have knocked my socks off with their "wowness" factor by either making a project (or dinnertime) way easier than it would've otherwise been, or by just simply saving me time and effort. These three little gadgets have made such an impact on my domestic life, that I just HAD to take a moment to share them with you! I cannot wait for you to be as equally impressed!

Up first... Steel Wool.

So, it all started when I bought a rusty old cast iron skillet for $5 at a favorite thrift store. I looked up how to restore/refinish it on Pinterest, and it called for a couple of items including...steel wool. I headed to the Dollar Store, bought a pack of steel wool "balls" in a three-pack (for $1!) and began the de-rusting, de-greasing, and de-junking of my new skillet. After letting the pan soak in oven cleaner for a few days, I grabbed one of the steel wool balls and began to scour the pan (I had never used steel wool before because I'd always shied away from the shiny balls of scratchy metal coils afraid of what they might do to any surface they touched) something miraculous happened: with hardly any effort or "elbow grease" the gunk was literally melting off the pan! I pulled a few cookie sheets and baking dishes out of the drawer that had been covered in layers of black "tar" (grease drippings, burnt marinades, etc.) that hadn't even budged under the pressure of my blue scouring sponges or the heat of my dishwasher, just to see what would happen, and I almost passed out: the black stuff just scrubbed right off...good as new! This opened a whole new world of cleaning power to me! I felt invincible! Suddenly, things that I had never been able to get really clean seemed do-able! I boiled some water in my tea kettle, poured a thin layer of the steaming hot water onto the surface of my stove, let it sit for a minute or two, and then rubbed those stubborn crusty stains right off! My stove looked cleaner than it had in...forever! I was thrilled! Those little metal balls have become my best friend in the kitchen! In fact, my old blue scouring sponges now make me laugh just a little. Sure, they might soap up the dishes, or wipe off the counter well, but when it comes to getting tough gunk off of anything...steel wool is the way to go. (But do make sure to test any new surface before scouring away as steel wool can scratch some surfaces)

Secret Weapon #2: A Painting Edger

A few months ago I decided to paint our laundry room. We've lived in this house for almost 8 years, and although we've painted most of the walls in our home, the laundry room had remained a stained up, yucky off-white color, riddled with unused nail holes and lots of scratches. It had bothered me for years, and it was time to do something about it. I picked out a lovely purplish grey color (unappetizingly called "Wet Concrete"), took the time to tape the molding and light switches, and began to paint. Usually my husband has done most of the paint work, but this project was all me. And amazingly, I got most of it done! But although I had rolled the paint nearly up to the ceiling (or as close as I could comfortably get without actually hitting the roller ONTO the ceiling), there was about a 2 inch strip of white paint at the very top that still needed painted. And for a few months, that's how it sat. And I started to wonder if I was ever going to finish it. Because once you lose your painting groove, it's hard to get it back. And honestly, I just didn't know how to DO that part! Do I tape the entire ceiling? Do I do it by hand with a tiny brush! How painstaking! I don't have time for that! I was mentioning my unfinished painting woes to a friend (a friend who happens to be a domestic goddess - seriously, Martha Stewart would be impressed with what this girl's got going on) and she nonchalantly explained to me the secret weapon of painting: a $2.97 red plastic painting edger, conveniently located in the painting section of your local hardware store. She explained to me the beautiful simplicity of this tool. It's a little plastic square, with a flat brush/sponge on the back, and wheels on one side. You gently set this miracle worker, brush side down, into your paint, (don't push it down, just rest it gently on the top of your paint so it gets a nice thin coat on the brush), then position it with the wheels against the wall or area you DON'T want painted (so for me, I had the wheels against the ceiling), and just glide it along! I started in one corner, went along that wall, re-dipped, went along the next wall, re-dipped, finished the third wall...and the fourth. I had finished the entire room - with a PERFECT straight edged line - in less than five minutes!!! In fact, it worked so well that I realized I may never have to mess with that silly blue tape again! This thing is so great (and covers a good 3-4'' of space) that you can literally paint the main area without taping anything and then just go around the edges with this handy tool to finish everything up! And less than THREE DOLLARS, folks! It's a no-brainer!

And finally, the easy dinner solution: Pre-packaged, vacuum-packed, Organic Sourdough loaves from Costco.

We were strolling down the bread aisle at Costco a few months ago, and on one of the end caps, they had something new: a three pack bundle of Organic Sourdough bread loaves. The bundle of three separately packaged loaves was about $7. A little over $2 per loaf, but they were good sized loaves, so we figured it was worth it. Because the best part: they are sealed in air-tight packaging that has had all the oxygen pulled out which means these loaves don't last just days (like the ones we usually buy fresh from the bakery only to find them hard and dried out if not used up the next day), they don't even last weeks...these bad boys last up to several MONTHS. Fresh bread, at your fingertips, for MONTHS. No more having to call Robert on his way home to have him pick up a loaf of bread (such a hassle for one item!), no, now I have fresh bread on hand for every meal! I simply cut open a package, pop the loaf into the oven for 8 minutes to warm it up, and voila! Like I baked it myself! Perfect with soup, and the next day I slice up what's left and use it to make the best french toast you've ever tasted. So now when we go to Costco, I usually buy two or even three bundles knowing that I can use them as-needed and that they won't go bad for MONTHS! And they're amazingly delicious, too! Win, win!

So. Those three little things have literally revolutionized my ability to clean, paint, and make dinner. Less fuss, less money, and way more convenience. It truly is amazing how sometimes just having the right tool really makes the job easier. You can get all three of those things for about $10 TOTAL, and if time is money, then it's most likely the best $10 you'll ever spend.

Let me know which "tool" works best for you! And if I come across any other miracle workers...I'll be sure to let you know!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014


I dream about the day I'll have an old farmhouse on a piece of land where our kids can run around, we can have chickens roaming free, laundry drying on a clothesline in the warm, summer, sun, and where each morning I can shuffle into the kitchen, brew the coffee, and make fried eggs with gifts bestowed to us from our very own pretty hens. I have every intention of being a homesteader: learning how to sew (more than a simple pillowcase or Christmas stocking), how to can and preserve my own foods (grown by me, of course!), even learn how to milk my own cows and goats, pluck and cook my own chicken, and how to knit, among other farmy domestic affairs. The thought of bright early mornings, roosters crowing, warm wool sweaters, and duties around the home and garden that keep us happily busy from sun-up till sun-down makes my heart pound. I just love the very thought of it.

But for now...we live in a 3 bedroom house, in a cookie-cutter neighborhood, with houses on each side, so close, I'm pretty sure our neighbors can hear not only what we're saying, but even what we're thinking. I also find myself routinely embarrassed when I haphazardly stumble to my kitchen window half asleep and realize I've left my nursing tank open or when I pass by my bedroom window while getting ready for bed and realize I have no pants on and my "bedroom-side" neighbor (a young single lady, thankfully) is sitting in her living room having to see me - yet again - practically naked. Actually, she's probably seen me completely naked. Oh, hello neighbor! Poor gal. I just don't think about these things when I'm (breast)feeding babies and chasing toddlers and trying to get a million things done at once. See - a house on my own land with no neighbors in earshot (or sight) would benefit quite a few people actually! Our yard is nice; we've made quite a few improvements over the years that have really made it feel more comfortable including a bigger deck, raised garden beds (that my loving husband built himself), a taller, nicer fence to give us more privacy, and this year we added a huge patio umbrella and a covered patio swing to give us shade so we could enjoy eating all of our summer dinners outside. It helps, but it doesn't change the fact that our yard is a rather small square of grass, bordered by an alleyway and lots and lots of other houses. Standing on my back deck I can literally see into about 4 or 5 other people's homes. And when they're out in their garages, I can also hear almost every single word they say. Again, my apologies to my neighbors for the squealing, screaming, and dog barking that must seem to be on constant surround sound from our yard. 

My husband and I are both only children (I have a few step-siblings, but they were older teenagers when our parents married, and not really living at home). We both grew up eating out a lot, shopping a lot, traveling a lot, and just generally doing a lot of life away from home. As adults, those have been hard habits to break. Even having triplets didn't slow us down! We boat, we fly, we camp, we road-trip. We shop and eat out way too much. Basically, we've been trying to maintain a lifestyle that just isn't really practical with four young children. It's "do-able", but it's hard. And people get grumpy. And everyone gets tired. So Robert and I started talking about it and we realized that it's really hard to parent well on-the-go. Nap times get missed, children get in trouble for doing things that aren't really "wrong" just socially unacceptable in the grown-up situation we've forced them into or from the fact that they've been in a car too long or on a plane too long, or are just generally tired of having to act like little adults seated quietly at a restaurant table rather than being able to just run around or make a little noise! I'm not saying it's wrong to teach children how to behave well in these situations (ours are surprisingly well-trained and practically bred for such events - ha!), but that maybe these situations shouldn't be the norm of their lives. At least that's what we've decided for us. And because we are hoping the Lord chooses to bless us with more children, it's probably better that we begin to accept and embrace this reality before even more little people are added to the brood!

Surprisingly, though, I feel a sense of calm and even excitement about spending more time at home. It doesn't mean we won't ever travel or eat out, but that the majority of our life, our free-time, our meal times, will be spent together...at home. Where the kids can run and play and be kids, and where rather than trying to parent in difficult, shifting situations, there will be a certain consistency to our schedules and routines. We have chosen to home-school our children, and even that is better done when our lives are lived, you guessed it: at home rather than constantly "busy" with too many activities here and there, too many errands, too many nights out. Only by establishing a norm of "home-ness" can we really commit to setting aside the proper time and attention to sitting down and learning our lessons. I've spent my whole life filling my days with activities and errands and "doing, doing, doing" and now I feel like I'm at a place in my life that I just want to be home. Slow mornings, time to deep clean different parts of the house. Time to swing on our new patio swing with the kids and enjoy the few months of warm sunshine we enjoy each year here in the high desert. Time to snuggle each child, share a conversation or a story. Less rush. Less stuff. Less "doing" and more living. I want to cultivate in our children a love for the simple things, things that honor God and build relationship: a walk to the park, tending the garden, visiting an elderly neighbor, spending time singing songs together as a family. It's a new pace for us, and I'm excited about its possibilities.

I hope that one day our homesteading will be in the more traditional sense, on land, living a more self-sustainable lifestyle with room to romp and roam. But for now, I will be content with our tiny yard, our (super) close neighbors, and our gaggle of giggling children...right here...at home.

(This post is part of the Wise Woman link-up!)