Bedroom, Before and After

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IMG_1886So when we were moving up to Ithaca four and a half years ago we stopped at an IKEA and bought these shelves.  We knew we needed some extra clothing storage in our bedroom, and these shelves ($60) seemed like a better deal than buying a whole dresser for $200. So we’ve used these shelves mostly for John’s clothes, and then once our tiny second bedroom/office room became the nursery, we moved the printer and some office-y things in.  And a stack of DVDs. And a down comforter and pillow. Not a pretty sight, though I never really thought anything of it.

Until a few weeks ago, when my nesting craze began. I realized that I hated these shelves! And that we must procure a dresser immediately! Fortunately, this urge settled in right around the time we were planning to go visit John’s parents in Maryland, so we went to IKEA and bought a dresser (which I know I’ve already mentioned, but I thought the before and after pictures were worth sharing). Excitement! Joy! The picture frames are going to be hung on the wall at some point, and yes, that is a camo hat hanging in the corner.

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Good & Cheap: Amazing Cookbook for Small Budgets

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I ran across a blog post this week by a woman who feeds her family of 7 for $300/month.  So theoretically, I could be feeding my family of 3 for $150/month.  That is definitely not happening any time soon, but I am always trying to find ways to reduce our grocery budget. In her post she mentioned a cookbook by Leanne Brown called Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day. ($4/person, per day is about what is allotted under the SNAP program, i.e., food stamps.) You can download this gorgeous book for free! Free, I say! On Leanne Brown’s website, here.  It is gorgeous, and I love her food philosophy so far: buy good quality eggs, even if you are poor; eat much less meat and many more vegetables & beans.  And use lots of spices and make things taste good! Yes! And the pictures are gorgeous (did I mention that?). She includes lots of Asian-inspired dishes, a Filipino Chicken Adobo that looks incredible, and things like cornmeal crusted veggies, Mexican street corn, smoky and spicy roasted cauliflower, and six variations on oatmeal. Anyway, this is a beautiful book, which you can also pre-order on Amazon, here. (The first edition has sold out, and the 2nd ed. is going to be released in July.)

The (Tiny) Nursery

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So this is the story of how our nursery became semi-decorated, only a year after our baby was born!  I decided to write about it because we spent next to no money on this room, it’s tiny (8.5×7.5 feet, or 2.6×2.3 meters), and we’re renting so we couldn’t paint, or at least we probably could have if we painted over it before we move but neither of us are that invested in wall color, and between the painting and re-painting when we move it would have cost over $100 probably. Also, our apartment is also on the small side (about 800 sq ft) so we still needed to use this room to store some of our own things.  So with all those limitations in mind, this is how his nursery has come together! (And yes, I use the words “come together” quite loosely, as his room is still somewhat bare and odd-looking.)

Before Will was born our small second bedroom was a combination office/guest room, but when I was pregnant we got rid of the twin bed and as much other stuff as we could, and the office-y essentials we either moved to a shelf that John built in the newly established nursery or brought into our living room (which is also our dining room and now home to our printer and papers, etc.).

I knew a regular-sized crib would feel too big, so we opted for this mini-crib.  (Although if I had imagined in my wildest dreams that my tiny, innocent baby would one day be chewing the paint off his crib I would have bought the unpainted, natural wood version of the same crib. Sigh.) We also got an IKEA dresser that doubles as a changing table (actually, crib and dresser were gifts from our parents, thank you, parents! If our parents hadn’t helped us both these things would have been bought on craigslist).

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We also had a set of white shelves (that we got from a friend for free several years ago), a little side table (that i got for free from a friend after college). We bought a swiveling, rocking recliner at Mimi’s Attic for about $50 (after John successfully haggled on the price). It has turned out to be one of the best purchases of all time.  It’s SUPER comfortable, and I’ve spent countless hours there nursing and rocking the baby.  When Will was born, that was really all that was in the room, except a sweet little IKEA mobile that used to hang above his changing table. Until his arms got long enough to pull it down. Sigh.

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(On the shelves in the picture above are some white Skubb boxes from IKEA. They’re not the highest quality or most beautiful storage boxes, but they are extremely inexpensive, and they work.  I use one to store clothes that Will has grown out of, and one for clothes that he’s about to grow into– I try to bring up the clothes that are a size bigger than he currently is so as he grows out of things, sniff sniff, I can move the smaller things out of his dresser and move larger things in.  And then once every few months I bring up the big storage bin from the basement, pack away the things that are too small, pull out new things in the next size up, etc.  I also use a Skubb box to store things for Goodwill or the consignment store, and several for toys that are out of rotation so we don’t end up with too many toys on the living room floor.)

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Anyway, the walls were pretty bare.  I just could never bring myself to spend money on decorative objects. But on a trip to Target a few months ago, the three of us together, I made John look at all the home decor aisles with me and he spotted a light blue wooden whale.  We both loved it and in a moment of reckless abandon John threw it in the cart.  I was appalled.  But delighted. So we came home and he put it right up on the wall. $20.

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Not long after that I decided I would buy A CURTAIN! Because Will had been waking up at the crack of 6:00 every morning and I was hoping that a black-out curtain would trick him into sleeping later.  For a month or two I draped an old, brown fleece blanket over his window, but obviously that was depressing and so (after 4 or 5 trips to Target) I finally bought a navy, faux velvet blackout curtain.  $29.99.

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Other things in the room: My mom made us the blanket above, inspired by a blanket my sister-in-law has! I love the vintage alphabet design!  The “You are my sunshine” canvas on the wall is also thanks to my mother, who did not appreciate the spartan aesthetic of the nursery last time she was visiting and bought this for us at T. J. Maxx. It’s also the song John sings to Will when he cries.  The pillow on the chair is thanks to John’s mother, who gave us two of those pillows from IKEA a couple of years ago. Zigzag pattern blanket on the chair was a gift from my good friend Heather. ABCs picture was made for me by the women at our church as a baby shower gift.

So that’s our nursery, simple and spare, but I love it.

Two Dollars of Joy

It wasn’t even my $2.

I was wandering around the Ithaca Children’s Garden with a friend of mine this morning (she has a child, don’t worry– we weren’t just creepy adults walking through), and it turned out that they have a little garden summer camp, and a bunch of 6 and 7 year olds were picking fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers from the garden to sell at a little farmers’ market that they were hosting.  One of the little girls walked right up to us and invited us to come shop.  Adorable.

So we went over and this is what we saw:

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One of the boys held up a handful of mint (chocolate mint, he informed me) and something that looks like dill but which I’m hoping is fennel and told me that it was “after dinner tea,” and that it was FREE!  I’m certainly not one to turn down a free bundle of after dinner tea herbs.  The friend I was with let me borrow $2, so I bought a peach tomato (for $1.50) and a bouquet of edible flowers for 50¢– pea flowers, nasturtium, and calendula, if I remember correctly.  Darling.   I ate the tomato then and there, like a peach, and it was still warm from the late morning August sun.  The flowers and herbs were a bit wilted by the time I got them home, but all I can think is that I have never tasted so much joy for so little money that wasn’t mine to begin with. (My bunch of edible flowers and after dinner tea herbs in photo below).

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Cheap Things I’ve Bought That I Love: Castile Soap

Oh Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap.  This stuff is wonderful.  I started using it back in high school for backpacking trips because it’s biodegradable.  It’s super concentrated (so you waste less packaging), organic, and fair trade.  And the peppermint smell is just invigorating, clean, and fresh.  They sell other scents (lavender, orange, etc.) and you can also buy it in bar form.

So most commercial hand and body soaps contain sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates and other harsh chemicals that strip your skin and cause some pretty nasty things to happen once they disappear down the drain.  Dr. Bronner’s soaps are a good way to be better to your skin and the environment.

A 32 oz. bottle can cost anywhere from $9 (at Trader Joe’s) to about $13 or $14, which might seem like a lot for soap.  But it’s super concentrated, so a bottle lasts forever.  I’ve been using the same bottle for over 3 months for hand soap in the kitchen and bathroom, bathing soap, and shaving cream.  I think I can get another month or 2 from the same bottle.

Uses

* Dilute with equal part water for hand soap ( just pour into your hand soap dispenser when it’s empty, and refill as needed)

* Dilute with equal part water for bath soap & shaving cream

* Pour 1/3 c. into running bath water for a good bath

* Shampoo

* Baths for infants and children– when I have kids I will use unscented Dr. Bronner’s for their baths and hair washing, no question.

* Pour 1/3 cup into a bucket of warm water and use for mopping and other cleaning

* Dish washing detergent (recipe here)

Buy

Trader Joes has the best price on this stuff, but you can buy it at most grocery stores (even Target carries it now!).  Or order it from here and get $5 off with coupon code WER470 (and free shipping on orders over $20).

Also: Dish Towels that I Love

I also bought these dish towels at IKEA recently for 79 cents apiece.  They are wonderful.  Simple, clean, soft, with a bright red stripe down each side.  So cheerful and adorable.  They remind me of France…

More Info about Castile Soap

Information and uses

Homemade Shampoo using Dr. Bronner’s

4 Ways to Simplify Your Bathroom

Health Benefits of Raw Honey

I think the first time I ever encountered raw honey was in France.  But I didn’t know it was raw, and I didn’t know there was a difference between regular honey and raw honey.

It was in the kitchen of the parents of the woman whose children I was there to nanny.  In a wisp of a town on the coast of Brittany.  And there was always a little pot of honey on the counter in the kitchen.  A soft, solid-ish, creamy, golden kind of honey.  I had never seen semi-solid honey before. But I would put a teaspoon in my afternoon cups of herbal tea and it tasted like heaven.  Nothing like the regular liquid honey you typically see in stores.

So what is raw honey, anyway?  Raw honey is unpasteurized; “regular” honey has been heated, a process which also depletes the honey of most of its healthful properties. Raw honey will cost a tiny amount more than regular honey, but it is worth it, I promise.  Also, if you can find it locally produced, of course buy that.  Raw honey will often come in a solid or semi-solid form and can range in color and taste, depending on the type or types of flowers the bees have been visiting, the season, etc.

Health Benefits of Raw Honey  (these benefits do not apply to regular honey– look for a label that says Raw)

* Contains propolis, which is a substance the bees produce to keep bacteria and viruses out of their hive.  The propolis contains a number of healthful enzymes that are destroyed when honey is heated (i.e., regular grocery honey– or even raw honey is heated above about 118 degrees f.).  And people, I do not know what enzymes are, I’m just going to be honest with you.  But they’re important. (Some theorize that the body’s appearance of aging is connected with the depletion of enzymes, and raw honey is one of the few foods that can be ingested to get a surplus of amalase, an important enzyme.)

* Contains healthy bacteria (such as are found in yogurt and fermented foods)

* Full of powerful anti-oxidants, including the flavanoid pinocembrin, which is unique to honey

* Can be used topically as a moisturizing and acne-fighting mask, which is great, if you are approaching 30 and are trying to somehow battle aging skin and blemishes at the same time, which is something that I obviously don’t know anything about, but it would really suck I bet.

* Aids digestion

*Alkaline forming

*Increases fertility

*Heals burns and other skin wounds (obviously please check with a doctor first for serious injuries)

* Helps to keep blood sugar balanced more than white sugar (has a lower Glycemic Index number, which means it’s absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream– but still, if you are watching your weight, be careful because even raw honey will still cause you to gain weight.)

* Thought to help improve symptoms of allergies

* Also reported to slow down hair loss (read here for more)

*A study at Penn State showed that children with upper respiratory illness improved significantly when given raw buckwheat honey (see here)

* Elderberry syrup and raw honey work wonders together for colds and other such sicknesses (I had a terrible sore throat a few weeks ago, the kind that, for me, usually turns into 2 weeks of misery and a couple of visits to the doctor and a round of antibiotics– and I drank somewhat enormous quantities of homemade elderberry syrup with raw honey… and I got better.  Fast.)

Be careful not to feed honey to infants under 1 year.

Raw Honey and Heat

Just as regular store-bought honey is rendered less healthy by a heating process, raw honey can be damaged by over-eating as well.  In Ayurveda, heated honey (above 118 F) is actually believed to be a poison to the body.  I’m not sure why, but I do know that the living enzymes and probiotics in raw honey will be killed at 118 degrees F, so try to keep it warm, rather than hot.  (You can test a liquid for temperature with your finger– if you can keep your finger in it for 10 seconds or so without pain, you know it’s cool enough to put the honey in.  If it’s hotter than that, the enzymes and probiotics will be destroyed.)

Sources and More Information

Read here for more information on medical studies, the history of honey, etc.

Read here for a list of ailments for which honey can be used as a treatment

A somewhat inscrutable John’s Hopkins article on enzymes and aging

Read here for more information on honey and Ayurveda

Cheap things I’ve bought in Ithaca that I love

Breakfast sandwiches from The Piggery.  $4.50. Local eggs, bacon, sausage, and cheese.  The rolls are made at the Ithaca Bakery and are soft and delicious.  Local cream for the fair trade coffee.  All the utensils and plates and cups are compostable.  Everyone, please come visit us so we have an excuse to eat there every day!