Monday, November 30, 2009

FOODIE: Kitchen Hacks

So, I'll admit, I'm a bit crazed when it comes to reusing and recycling. I hate to waste anything, even in the kitchen. I try to find a reuse for all food containers and if I can't, I recycle even the smallest parts. What food I cannot salvage, we compost in our backyard container. I've found some pretty unique ways to use kitchen items and thought you might find these hacks helpful too:

1) Wash and save plastic butter tubs, large yogurt containers, coffee cans and the like. They are great for sending home leftovers with your dinner guests, decorating with wrapping paper for holiday cookie giving, or a homemade drumset for your toddler.

2) Keep old egg cartons to use as paint "palettes" for kids craft projects.

3) Wash and snip up leftover fresh herbs before they go bad. Put about a tablespoon into an ice cube tray and fill with a tiny bit of water. Freeze overnight. Pop out the cubes and store in a plastic baggie in the freezer. It's great for when you need a bit of parsley, basil or cilantro for a recipe!

5) Also a good use for ice cube trays: pour in the old coffee left on the pot that you didn't drink. They make yummy ice cubes for making your own iced coffees the next day.

6) Small cookie cutters are excellent for fun with Play-Doh as well as make perfect stencils for art projects.

7) Invest in a pair of kitchen shears. I use these things for everything, from opening packages to trimming fresh flower bouquets to cutting up pizza into bite-sized pieces for Alice.

8) Save the small clean brown paper sacks that fast food restaurants always give too many of. They are great for packing work or school lunches in later.

9) Another easy way to save fruits and vegetables that are getting too ripe or about to go bad is to dehydrate them. Slice up the apples you didn't get to eating or the abundance of tomatoes from your end of the season garden harvest. They make delicious dried snacks.

10) Use cloth napkins. I find sets at thrift stores or garage sales and keep a basket on my table of mis-matched ones for everyday use. They are also super easy to make out of scrap fabric and make great gifts. It's also way more eco-friendly than the paper ones.

These are just some of these hacks I've stolen from others (like this fantastic website of tips from parents, learned from friends or discovered myself. As always, I'm up for tricks or thrifty ideas to save money, time, and resources.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

CULTURE: Rocking Out to Records

Not only am I a fan of vintage things and ways of life, I am seriously old school when it comes to technology. Some of my aversion comes from nostalgia and preference (like I will never read on a Kindle because I love the smell and feel of old library books in my hands) as well as cost prohibitive (um, seriously My library card is FREE). Plus, I don't really like the compatibility issues and how quickly gadgets get upgraded or outdated; it's too complicated for me (my book doesn't have to be plugged in, fits in my pocket, and all I need to know is how to turn a page). And I like my music the same way. Enter the centerpiece of our living room: The Crosley Traveler Stack-o-matic Turntable:

I've had a record player as long as I can remember. My parents have a heavy old console one with a radio also embedded within the giant, lovely piece of furniture. I got a new "stereo system" of my own, my first, as a gift for my graduation from junior high school. It was from JCPenney and had a turntable, radio and tape deck. I replaced many a needle on that thing and rocked out to my NKOTB tapes and Beatles records for years and years. It finally broke for good about twelve years ago, when new record players weren't yet being made and getting my old one repaired in rural Oregon was impossible. I sadly parted with it. When we moved to Minneapolis I found the Crosley Stack-o-matic at Restoration Hardware in St. Paul and was so excited. It took us a while to save up for it, as it cost around $200, a lot for two grad students. I loved the look of it, with the tan vinyl covering, how it stacks and drops up to six records at a time, and the fact that it is portable and can be folded up and carried like a suitcase. Also, the two small speakers spout the old school gritty lo-fi sound that I love about playing vinyl.

And I was also thrilled to finally be able to play my beloved old friends again, like these classics. The Annie movie soundtrack is mine from childhood, which my mom gave me more recently. She also gave me a slew of our old Disney records, like Disco Mickey and these sweet little storybooks:

Lucy loves listening to stories this way and turning the pages with the chime. I loved them, too, and have fond memories of being read to via this shiny black vinyl disk. Over the years we've all amassed quite the collection of vinyl, including the girls, mostly from garage sales and flea markets for around 50cents a piece. Of course, my favorites are my collection of Elvis albums and I'm a huge fan of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Nina Simone, lovely ladies of jazz and blues. But of course I would be remiss if I didn't have a Cyndi Lauper album or two and some ABBA represented in the collection. And a little bit of samba and some Christmas tunes. And forty or so 1950s Hawaiian albums that I got off of Ebay. And we do, in fact, tote that Crosley around, mostly to the backyard for BBQs and firepit nights in the summer months. Our guests always comment on how fun it is and love digging through the albums to pick the next one. We do too, because it is a lot more of a personal, physical, memorable and exciting musical experience than pushing the tiny shuffle button on my Ipod.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

ARTSY: Unique Family Portraits

I've never been a fan of the traditional posed professional family portrait. I typically dread the conversation about matching clothing and the thought of getting my children to behave properly while posing unnaturally. However, the grandparents really want nice photos to frame, so I usually succumb to JCPenney Portrait Studio once every year or two. As a mother of two young girls, it's also become increasingly important to me to document their growth as children with some sort of portraiture. So, about four years ago, we decided upon these:

It was around Thanksgiving time and we were taking guests to Minneapolis' ultimate tourist attraction, The Mall of America, the world's largest shopping mall. After riding the roller coaster in Camp Snoopy, the old amusement park in the center of the mall, we came upon a caricature artist and had our portraits drawn. I love the way they are quirky and exaggerated, much like our real personalities.
Of course, we get new ones of the girls done more often, since they change so much. This one of Alice and Lucy was drawn by an artist at the Western Idaho State Fair just this past summer.

I think the portraits of Eric and I are hilarious. Eric thinks he looks like a Hobbit, sporting his winter beard and cute little ears. (He also swears he never stands like this., but you get him talking about politics and he does.) The artists typically charge around $20 for black and white drawings and I got the matching frames at IKEA in Minneapolis for less than $10 a piece. They are a fun and inexpensive take on the typical family portrait and a great way to support struggling artists.