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Category Archives: What’s Cheaper Than Cheap?

Only Took Nine Years

As of August, we have officially been the owners of this house for nine years.

For nine years, I’ve thought about hanging family photos. I have hung precisely none. Not only do I not take many pictures (and let’s not even talk about having photos done by a professional), but the commitment of how to frame them, and what size? Color or black and white? Ugh. Too many choices!

So, the kids came home from Grandma Camp this summer with the most adorable self-portraits on canvas. Oh my gosh — too much! They went straight up on the mantel. Then, I started thinking that it would be cute to have actual photos beside them. Fun, right? And don’t forget, I was still riding the high of hanging the kids’ other artwork. Things were happening! But here we go with the choices again. Never mind — I dove into the files online to peruse.

And that’s when I discovered that I’d lost several years worth of photos. Noooooo. I’d transferred them to an external hard drive, which appears to have somehow fried. I can’t even think about it without wanting to cry. My favorite picture of Joey on his 6th birthday, with a bottle of root beer in one hand and a piece of pizza in the other, and the happiest little face? Gone. Gone gone gone. OK, where was I? So looking for pictures, discovered many years missing, decide to print some of the remaining and give them a better life immediately.

Which brings us to today, when I framed them and hung them on the wall in less than half an hour:

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I am too excited to have brought this idea to life! The photos of the kids captured them at about the same age; I think Bridget was almost four, and Joey may have been in Kindergarten. I had really cute ones of them at exactly the same age, which would have been perfect, but the photo size wasn’t good for printing on one of them or something like that. Whatever. We’re not going for perfect, here. If we were, I surely would not have hung these using push pins. Yes, push pins, and yes, there are about five holes behind each frame. Hey, this method was good enough for my apartment, and it’s good enough for this place. Also, I got the frames for $3.99 at Hobby Lobby, and just used pieces of scrapbook paper for the background. Totally easy and affordable.

[In case you’re wondering, Joey is wearing a hat in his painting…and a monocle. And is holding up a mustache on a stick. Why not?]

In the Bag

The first week of the 2014-15 school year is a thing of the past, and we are officially off to the races! It’s funny how quickly we slide back into the non-summer routine; after the first day, I almost forgot what it was like to still be in bed at six. On the other hand, it’s surprising how exhausted we all were when the week came to a close. Especially me, considering I should be feeling so rested and accomplished, what with both kids on the same schedule now, right? Well, not so. Maybe after a couple more weeks it’ll be a different story, but so far every day has had something new to keep me hopping. That’s not a complaint so much as an observation — it was a great week!

In gearing up for the big first day, I went to the school and purchased the big pallet of supplies for each kid. Sweet fancy Moses! Once the “spirit day” t-shirts and planner (for Mr. 4th Grade) were added on, we were in over a hundred bucks. Now, I know this isn’t any big shocker, because I know how much I’ve paid just for the boy’s stuff every year, and yet…my brain failed to double that and prepare me for the grand total when I stood at the table three minutes after entering the cafeteria.

I’ll say that for buying the supplies from the school: It’s efficient.

All that to lead up to today’s crafty story. Given the expense of all the other stuff, you can imagine how ridiculously pleased I was with myself for saving Joey’s kindergarten tote these past three years. Waste not, want not! Never mind that the savings is a whopping $7.00. Pay no attention to the tiny holes in the bottom (which I failed to notice in my excitement of having found the tote exactly where it belonged and in “perfectly good” condition.) See, every kindergartener is required to carry said tote; no backpacks are allowed. This allows the teachers to quickly identify them…or somethin’. And they encourage you to doll them up and bling ’em out! But for all my craftiness, I’m not one much for bling. And I couldn’t wrap my head around any other ideas, and that spells trouble as far as executing something not totally embarrassing. I know when to holster my glue gun, friends. It was bad enough that I jumped right into this task at the spur of the moment, and promptly cut the fabric without adding the proper seam allowances. Doh! This is why taking several seemingly unnecessary days to plan and ruminate are key. Then again, I managed to skimp a little and still get the job done, so maybe there’s a good middle ground. Who’s to say?

Instead, I took thirty minutes today and killed two birds with one stone:

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Note the addition of the fancy, rainbow-hearted lining, completely non-standard issue*. You may also note that the blue heart totally matches the blue bag — love it when a plan comes together! I remembered Betz White upcycling totes this way, so this bag may even have a third life turned inside out after this year. I don’t have that high of hopes for its durability, but it made it this far so who knows.

Even better?

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I found the iron-on name tags from two years ago, right where they belonged!! Done and done.

 

*Here’s another thing non-standard issue: the bag itself. Yes, sometime in the past three years, they stopped adding the black bottom to the bag, so Bridget’s is the only one not like the others. Oops. She likes that hers is easy to find amongst the twenty other bags hanging there — good enough for me!

One Thing Leads to Another

Now, if you had a three hours all to yourself on a Saturday, what would you do?

Read a book?

Watch a movie?

Start a fun new project?

Me? I pulled a Frankie Heck and started taking care of random crazy home improvement projects. If you give a moose a muffin….

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We were doing a family pick-up in the living room before the rest of the crew took off, and came across this fine piece of Joey’s artwork. There’s no way “Pig of Glory” (yes, that is the official name he was tagged with by the artist) was going in the trash, so I stashed it in the closet for later.

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Then I realized that “The Winter’s Night” — from winter — was still sitting on a shelf, waiting for me to come back to it. Hmm. OK! No time like the present. I grabbed a couple of canvases and just wrapped the paper around the edges, tacking the sides down with electrical tape*. Quick and dirty, but thanks to a couple of push pins, they were up on the walls within the hour.

Next up: finally changing the lightbulbs in the chandeliers. The situation in the workroom was particularly bad, because it was hard to see, and kind of depressing. The ugly smoked glass domes were so dusty. Rather than try to dust them, I took them down to clean them. Two and a half hours later, I had to leave, and the globes were only half done. Look, though!

First, fine 70s glass. I really don’t know if they came this way, or if they were just coated in the thirty years of the original owner’s cigarette smoke.

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Either way, kids, don’t smoke. Look at the next stage, after a soak in a vinegar bath and some time with the pot scraper:

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Can you see why I couldn’t stop?! Wait — there’s more:

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TA DA!! And you would not believe what a difference it made. This room is BRIGHT. I had no idea it was so bad!

Funny thing, though, rather than be sad that my peaceful hours were wasted on this kind of madness, I think this was the best Saturday in weeks. Now the only question is how else can I transform this house for zero dollars?

 

Much Better

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As it turns out, there’s a certain amount of getting what you paid for when it comes to those cheap stacks of hand-towels on the end cap in Housewares. Eight years ago, when I was setting up housekeeping here, I grabbed a pack of white ones and figured they’d surely do the trick. Also, since they were white, they could easily be bleached and made good as new whenever I pleased.

OR

They could become crummy almost immediately, and cause me to want to tell guests to our powder room, “No, really — the towel is clean! I just changed it today!”  For the next eight years.

Then I came across this genius idea, and new I had the answer to my problem. Actually, two problems, the other being what to do with the faded chenille-like Shabby Chic bath towel that was losing its chic and heading straight for shabby.

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One short year later, I got down to it. Since it was a bath towel, rather than a beach towel, I was only able to get two generous hand towels out of it. The borders used up a piece of fabric that has been on my shelf FOREVER, just mocking me. You would laugh at the happiness these towels have brought me. Already, they have been completely streaked with markers [why won’t kids rinse their hands properly?!] — seemingly within hours of me hanging the first one — and came out of the wash pristine. They just feel so…fancy…compared to the old thin ones.

We’re nothing if not fancy.

Love is In The Air

The second her teacher said, “Wear your prettiest Valentine dress on Thursday!”, I could tell by the look on my girl’s face that I was hosed. See, she does not have a Valentine dress — not a specific one, at least. Silly me, I thought that her favorite red and gold sweater dress would do just fine. It’s red, it’s gold — it has short sleeves! Short sleeves rule!

But no.

“Mom, I need a dress for my party.”

The next morning:

“Mom, don’t forget my pretty dress. Oh, I can’t wait to wear my pretty dress for the Valentine party!”

Oh boy.

Okay, so a mom who is not super cheap would just mosey on down to Target and get whatever glittered heart madness they’re churning out this year, but I’m not always that mom. It was cold yesterday. So, so cold. Better to hit the fabric shelf and see what I could come up with…except I didn’t want to make a dress. More importantly, I don’t know how to make a dress. My only trick is attaching a skirt to a t-shirt, and I didn’t like any of the options on hand.

And then

I took one more look in her closet and found this:

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A $6.00 H&M dress with a spot on the front. Well! This looked promising! After a quick peek at the Pinterest files, I came across some reverse applique instructions, cut a sleeve off of one of my old shirts, and was off to the races. A couple of hours later, voila!

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Best of all, the young boss loved it! (I wasn’t sure it was going to fly, since she’d already said that the red and pink tunic she was wearing would be “crazy” for her to wear, due to the black and grey in the color scheme. Imagine!)

Bolstered by this success, and drunk with ideas after the whole Pinterest perusal, I also cranked these out for the kids at my AWANA table:

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They were…well, less than enthused, but I bet they’ll use them sometime. Or leave them to get smushed up at the bottom of their bag. I really am trying not to overthink these things. They certainly weren’t going to be any more excited over the stuff that I’d thought about doing two weeks ago and never did, so there we go.

Two more bookmarks are in the works today for the two at my breakfast table. Theirs will be stuffed into new books, so that ought to be worth something. Not that they wouldn’t prefer them to be sticking out of the top of a Lego box, but come on. Speaking of Legos, we saw the movie on Saturday and thought it was terrific. I think Kevin and I laughed more than the kids. Anyway, one of the great points the movie makes [spoiler alert, but not really] is that there are so many creative things to make with those little bricks that aren’t on the instruction pages. True! But then what’s with all the movie tie-in sets? I mean, I know what’s with it — cha ching! — but it really offended my sensibilities.

 

Whatever

What day is it? With all the crazy “snow” days interrupting our regular schedule, and all of the other stuff making our days a little cuckoo, I’m feeling even more scattered than usual. But that’s winter for you.

Still, we press on! This weekend we made ninjabread cookies (thanks, Ms. Heather!):

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Later, I gave new life to one of Bridget’s old faves, thanks for this tutorial:

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She was so happy. I, of course, spent the next hour wildly looking for more ruined long-sleeved shirts in my stash to try that trick again.

And then yesterday we had Cold Day (which is when they close the schools on account of the weather, and then it doesn’t actually do anything), so I decided to make good on the beef bones in the freezer and whip up another batch of stock. Oh, it simmered away all afternoon, and I had big plans for french dip sandwiches and pot pies in our future. Finally, I lovingly strained it into my largest bowl, and caught the bottom of the pan on the edge of said bowl, tipping it over and dumping the entire contents down the drain. I mean straight down the drain, as though it were being vacuumed down the disposal. AGH!! It was just disgusting. So I washed the nasty, greasy dishes and closed the kitchen for the night. Or maybe FOREVER! Ugh.

 

Kitchen Wiz

Right off the bat, let me apologize for the lack of pretty pictures, or — more accurately — any pictures. I meant to take one of the beautiful bowl of chopped veggies waiting to go into tonight’s soup, and then I got to talking on the phone, which caused me to completely forget about snapping a shot before making said soup.

You’re not missing much. Imagine a square quart-sized glass bowl filled with a chopped rainbow of vegetable goodness. Ahhhh. There you go!

Now — back to business. This week, I have been killing it in the kitchen! Now, to put that in perspective, I’ve not yet broken even with those who actually cook all their meals at home and swear off all things processed. Oh my, no. However, by merely putting on my apron and bossing myself around a bit, so far I’ve:

  • caramelized a big batch of onions (because that’s the only way anything onion-y is going to make it into any of my food)
  • baked three loaves of artisan bread
  • cooked up a pot of applesauce*
  • made a half-batch of jambalaya
  • roasted tomatoes and garlic for sauce, thus salvaging the tomatoes that I could almost watch going soft on the counter
  • froze some chocolate covered banana bites for snack
  • baked up a tray of Coconut Granola Bark

Dinner was a pot of creamy any veggie soup [scroll down – it’s the second recipe on the page]. I make this soup about once every two weeks or so, and it really is a little bit magical. It looks absolutely terrible, though, but everyone at my table slurps it down. Tonight’s combo was pretty wild — broccoli, carrot, tomatoes, Swiss chard, black radish, and golden beet — and it still worked. Our youngest member complained about the spice, but that wasn’t until the last bite. (It wasn’t spicy.) This soup is a terrific way to clean out the crisper and any other annoying leftover drips and dabs in the fridge, including any last cups of stock you might have.

Speaking of stock, I loved reading this post, especially the part about the chicken stock hanging over her head. I can relate! A couple of weeks ago, my mom and I were talking and I was telling her that I just couldn’t stand the thought of fooling around making a pot of stock and having to mess with straining it and all that. She agreed, but then she said, “It’s really not that hard.” What just happened? Totally the opposite of agreeing! But she was right, and just hearing her say that made me think, “Oh yeah! It isn’t that hard”, so I put on the pot and — four hours later — froze several quarts of stock.

The hard part is facing how often I’m just unwilling to put in the time, and how easy it is to sit and think for hours on end about how hard “it” is. Yikes.

But that’s not today! Today we dined at home!

 

*I didn’t have any apple juice in the house, and as a result almost didn’t make the applesauce for the third week in a row. Then, I remembered that we do have running water, and subbed that. Still delicious. The key to kitchen success: Know when not to be a slave to your recipe!