Sunday, February 28, 2016

Power Outage and Cowboy Coffee

This past Thursday we had a big snow storm come through, and while the amount of snow wasn't too bad it was HEAVY snow.

Unfortunately, this caused a power line or transformer to fail and our power was out for almost 24 hours. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but during Winter it is always tough losing power. It is tougher when all your appliances are electric and you are unable to cook or bake!

Our furnace is gas, but electrically powered, so of course that was out too. Yes, it got pretty cold (down to 55 degrees F) but remember how I converted the fireplace into wood-burning? It sure came in handy! We were able to keep nice and toasty

I even made cowboy coffee... well almost. True cowboy coffee is basically just boiled water with grounds thrown in. I made more of a "coffee tea bag" where I tied up the coffee in a filter to make a bundle and steeped in the mugs. It was a bit weak, but hey, it was coffee.

Lunch and dinner were also heated up in the fireplace. Thank goodness for a stocked freezer and canned goods.

Dessert was also served over the fire, but roasted marshmallows and open fire just go together!

Thankfully, before the lights went out I got one small project done.

A friend was looking for some donations for a silent auction and as long as I was making birthday cards, I thought I would make up some stationary to donate.

To the right is a set of 5 cards with a spring theme. I put on a cute little tag and stamped a fern leaf and a dragonfly on each of the envelopes.

Here is a set of 8 cards that could be used for anything from invitations, to thank you notes, to personal correspondence.
A simple strawberry is printed and embossed on the card, while a watermelon decorates the envelopes.

This last set of 6 is a favorite of the guys. (I guess the other ones were too girly for them.) They have an "antiqued" look with a golden key stamp at the top combined with some faux travel stamps to finish the look.

Hopefully they will raise a little bit for the preschool which is the beneficiary of the silent auction.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Spring Cleaning the Pantry (and more)

In my last blog post I talked about how setting aside a whole week for Spring Cleaning is impractical for a full-time working couple. I also mentioned that I am following along with A Bowl Full of Lemons 14 week organizing challenge.

Each week you are supposed to tackle a different area of the house. Well the very first room, the kitchen, took me four weeks to complete. I'm going to make the excuse that it is the toughest room!
Well I finally got to move on the the next area... the pantry. I didn't move far, but at least this one was a small space.

Well, I thought it was a small space, but look below to see how much stuff fits in there! This is after I threw out the 5-6 expired items. Because of the small pantry and only two people in the house, I can usually keep tabs on what is in the pantry and toss old items.

Figures that as soon as I got the kitchen cleared and cleaned, it gets all cluttered with pantry goods. You can see I did have my little helper, Eva, as always. However, her time was split between checking on me and snoozing in the sun spots.

The thing that has always bothered me with this pantry is the instability of the shelves.  Only two little plastic clips are holding each shelf in the back. Too many cans on one shelf and it would start to "bow" and become bouncy. Every time I placed a home-canned jam or sauce on the shelf, my insides would cringe as I envisioned the shelf falling, glass shattering, and all my hard work and love splattering over the tile floor.

 No more! While permanent shelves would be nice, I like being able to "see through" the shelves so I can see everything in the back. So using scrap wood I had on hand, I build shelf supports and screwed them into the studs on the back wall of the pantry. While the shelves still bend a bit under a heavy load, they are more stable, and my heart doesn't flutter every time I stack apple butter.

It was pretty easy. I just measured and cut the wood to length, used a studfinder to mark where screws should go, pre-drilled holes and screwed the boards in place.

The funny thing? I painted some screws white so they would blend in a bit better. However, when I was installing them I found that longer screws worked better on the ends. Well, after that photo was taken I did a short-cut cheat. *Shh don't tell!*

To hide the gray screws, I actually used white-out to "paint" them so they would blend in better! Normally that is a bad idea because it won't match perfectly, but you really don't see these screws much, and I didn't want to spray paint them and ruin the wall paint. Silly, I know but sometimes it works.

I also added yellow plastic place-mats to two if the shelves. They really help to keep the cans from tipping over.

It still looks a bit cluttered, but most of that is due to the leftover chips from our Superbowl party. Dear Husband (DH) told me I was buying way too many chips but I wasn't convinced. Needless to say, he was right.

Now, week three (dining room) and week four (launch pad) were pretty easy for me so I was able to clear and clean them more quickly.

Our dining room is on the half of the house we don't use as much. I still had a large pile of items for donation that I culled out of the kitchen, so I really only had to put things away where they belonged
I still need to paint and put up curtains, but I am STILL working on removing the wallpaper paste. (Worst. Project. Ever.)

The "launch pad" is the area where you drop all your stuff when you enter your house. Some people have a mud room, others just have a few hooks on the wall. In our case we have two areas; one by the garage door for us, and one by the front door visitors.

This was was a closet I converted into a mini mudroom and the first space I redecorated when we moved in. Removing the bi-fold door made it much easier to use, but it is still very difficult to photograph due to the tight space. To the right is the view when you walk in from the garage. Coats, shoes, and mail goes there.

On the other inside wall you can see where we hang our keys and sunglasses.
I also see a peek-a-boo puppy who is spying on me!

Here is the one by the front door where guests can hang up their coats and sit down to take off their shoes. (Don't mind the ladder, that is for removing wallpaper paste. Ugh.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cleaning the Kitchen

Growing up as a kid, my mom would always reserve an entire week in the summer when we would all Spring clean as a family. While it was a pain back then, it instilled valuable knowledge and habits that I appreciate as an adult.

Unfortunately, with Dear Husband (DH) and I working full time, my attempts at Spring cleaning have failed miserably due to a lack of concentrated time. So this year I am trying something different.

In January, I started a house cleaning/purging challenge by following along with A Bowl Full of Lemons blog. It is a 14 week challenge, where you tackle a different area of the house each week.

Well, that has been going well... and poorly. I started off on-schedule cleaning the kitchen week one, but also into week two.... and then weeks three and four. Oops.
Yeah, the kitchen took way longer than expected, much to Dear Husband's (DH) chagrin.

I started off cleaning the fridge (it was the day before grocery shopping so excuse how empty it is.)

Then I cleaned the dishwasher, microwave, and oven. I hadn't cleaned the oven in the 3 years we have been living here and while it wasn't terrible, it certainly wasn't fun.

First I tried the overnight ammonia trick, but that didn't really help all that much. In the end it all came down to good ole' baking soda, water, and elbow grease.

In addition to cleaning, I also did some clearing. Can you believe I got rid of all of these plastic storage containers to the left?!

In the end, these few to the right is all I kept.

Yes, I was able to get all that done in a week, but what took so much longer was cleaning and refinishing the cabinets.
Being over 25 years old, the cabinets were dull and a bit faded.

It is really tough to photograph, but see how the cabinet on the right side is a bit dull? In comparison, the cabinet on the left is one I had treated.

So what did I do?
First I cleaned. I am convinced that the only thing to clean wood with is Murphy's Oil Soap. Not only does it clean really well, it doesn't dry or fade the wood. (And the scent reminds me when I was little and would crawl inside the cabinets to clean them.)
The only bad thing is that you still have to rinse after washing.

The next step is to use Howard "Restor-A-Finish." Let me tell you... this stuff is magic! See how the treated cabinet has more pronounced wood grain? It looks so much better after this stuff. So what's the big deal? It is basically a solvent and a stain in one. So it penetrates through the finish of the wood, to re-stain underneath. This means you don't have to strip the finish! Ok, so it wouldn't work on lacquer, but on most natural wood finishes it would work.

Then to give it a protective, natural glow I finished it off with Howard "Feed-N-Wax." It's a combination of oil and wax, very easy to apply. It even smelled really good.

Since I had the doors off to clean and finish them anyway, I went ahead and replaced the outdated 90's hardware and hinges with more modern brushed nickle handles. I think this made the biggest difference and gives a bit of pop to the cabinets.

As long as I was at it... I also wanted to deal with our trash can that sits just outside of the kitchen, in the dining room. Who wants to look at a trash can when they are having a nice meal in the dining room? I wanted it concealed, and through my purging, I was able to clear enough room to install a pull-out trash can in one of the cabinets.

Normally the doors swing open, so I bought some Rev-a-Shelf hardware (which was super easy to install) and a special bracket to mount the door on the front.
It's silly how giddy this makes me. Sometimes it's the small things in life.

So between washing, rinsing, staining, wiping, waxing, then buffing, I had to go over every square inch of exposed wood 6 times! No wonder it took me four weeks. This was the only time I have ever hated having so many cabinets in the kitchen: 40 doors/drawers total!

The pictures don't really do it justice, but I think it looks so much better. I forgot to take a "before" picture so this one was already partway through the process.


The only thing left is to get rid of the 90's border and tomato red. But that is for another day.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Christmas Apple Butter

So I know this is a bit late, but did you have any idea that you can make apple butter in the crock pot? 
I had no clue until I was looking into making apple butter for home made Christmas gifts! 

Turns out it is super easy, it just takes forever. I'm sure you can use whatever recipe you want, and I found out my mom had nana's "secret" recipe which does have a surprising secret ingredient... shhh I can't tell!

Anyway, I did just a half batch at first to see if it would work and if it would actually taste like Nana's. I was a little surprised, but it actually tasted right!
So how do you do it?

1. Prep everything and throw it in the crockpot in the morning.
2. Set it on low for 8 hours and leave it alone. Dear husband (DH) said it made the house "smell like Christmas." Gotta love that!
3. Mash with a potato masher or immersion blender. You still want a few small chunks in there, don't make it too soupy with the hand blender like I did the first time.
4. Leave the lid off, and let it continue to cook on slow for 5-6 hours to thicken it up. You can help speed this up by thickening on the stove, but just make sure not to burn it. 
5. Package and enjoy! You can freeze, refrigerate, or can it in jars. I canned it so I could gift it for Christmas.

We gifted a jar to each of our family members, our close friends, and as host/hostess gifts for the holiday parties we were invited to.

It was great to just have a bunch of these on hand for the holidays, ready to gift if a situation came up!