Brita® Back to College Giveaway!

Do you want to send your kiddo off to college with a good Brita® water habit while Back to College shopping? Yes? Good! I am giving away a $25 gift certificate. Click here to enter! The Brita® Back to College Giveaway runs from August 21 to August 29, 2014.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Apartment Therapy Loves My Refrigerator!

Much happiness in The Condo today! Look at who’s featured on Apartment Therapy – me! Again!!

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Apartment Therapy’s cooking and kitchen blog The Kitchn (don’t look at me that’s how they spell it) raved about how I use six pack holders to organize the condiments in my refrigerator. Oh, and a couple of the commenter’s liked my taste in beer too :).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

SwissBike: Finally a Full Size Folding Bike!

Husband and I rarely use the bike trail near The Condo. Last summer, we tried use it regularly and I quickly realized why we kept our bikes – both are Toys R Us specials - buried in the garage. Those suckers are heavy! There’s no way I can heft my bike onto our car’s bike rack by myself. We’d like to hang our bikes in our tiny garage but we’re concerned that they are too heavy to wall mount.

We’ve discussed getting new and lighter bikes. To deal with the storage issue, I looked at some folding bikes made for apartment dwellers. Those folding bikes disappointed me. They weren’t full sized bikes, didn't have speeds/gears (a problem because we have hills here), and looked like the clown car equivalent of a bicycle. Nice idea but no thanks.

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When Montague Bikes contacted me about their folding SwissBike, I was intrigued, but cautious because I’ve been disappointed before. Fortunately, a local bike shop carries SwissBikes so I went over there to look.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How to Make a T Shirt Quilt

My mom decided she wanted to declutter her house. Unfortunately, that meant that she was going to clutter up my house with a bunch of boxes of my childhood stuff.

Try as I might I could not convince her that it was a far better use of storage space if she kept those boxes rather than me. No dice.

I eventually went through the boxes and found a ton of old t-shirts. I was in a boatload of clubs, plays, service days, etc. in high school, college, and adulthood. If I wanted to commit a fashion faux pax and wear nothing but those t-shirts every day, I wouldn’t have to do laundry for about, oh, 3 months.

I really needed to thin the t shirt herd. I donated some of the shirts to a thrift store. But, I’m a softie. There were some shirts that I didn’t want to give up even though I wasn’t going to wear them again.

What to do? I decided when life gives you T shirts – make a quilt!

So I did.

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I’m not a quilter. In fact, this t-shirt quilt is my first real quilting project.

Note: Please don’t feel intimidated by this project! Some of the quilting sites I checked while researching this project made me feel like there were tons of rules and “you musts” when making a simple t-shirt quilt. Some of those Quiltzillas made me feel like this project was way too hard and I’ve been sewing since I was 5 years old! A t shirt quilt is a good beginning sewing project because it can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it.

A t-shirt quilt also makes a great graduation gift or a gift for someone who participates in local sports, clubs, or just has lots of t shirts.

Make a T-Shirt Quilt the Easy Way!

You will need:
A 12 x 12 inch piece of paper/plastic/cardboard to use as a template
Scissors or a rotary cutting wheel & mat
Pins
Sewing machine
Thread
T-shirts
Backing material (I used an old flat jersey top sheet)
Batting or a thin blanket (optional)

Make it:

1. Center the template on the t shirt design and cut a 12 x 12 inch square from each t-shirt using the scissors or rotary cutter and mat.
  • Depending upon the size and design of the shirts you are using you may be able to get two squares from each shirt if you cut a square from both the front and the back of the t shirt.
  • If you have some large t shirt scraps leftover you may be able to cut them into squares and use them as dust clothes or hem the edges and make handkerchiefs from them, or cut them into long strips and braid them into dog or cat toys.
  • For each size quilt you will need approximately the following number of squares for the following size t shirt quilts.
    - Twin = approximately 45 squares
    - Full = approximately 63 squares
    - Queen = approximately 72 squares
    - King = approximately 81 squares
2. Lay out squares out on the floor and arrange them into columns and row.
  • For each size quilt you will need approximately the following number of squares for the following size t shirt quilts.
    - Twin = 5 rows wide x 9 rows long
    - Full = 7 rows wide x 9 rows long
    - Queen = 8 rows wide x 9 rows long
    - King = 9 rows wide x 9 rows long
  • To keep the quilt from being too busy I tried to alternate a printed shirt front square with a blank shirt back square.
  • Now is the time to get creative! For example, I used red and white t-shirts to make a St. George’s Cross on my quilt.
3. Once you have the t-shirts laid out in the pattern you like. Pin the t-shirt squares together into columns that are nine blocks long.

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4. Sew blocks together to form columns.
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5. Pin the columns together.
  • It’s a good idea to put the pinned together quilt together on a bed to check that it will be the desired size. If not add or subtract rows/blocks as needed.

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6. Sew the columns together.
  • Press the seams between the squares opened if desired. My mom taught me to always press my seams open when I sewed. So that’s what I do. I think it looks neater and helps me avoid the,”Oh my God Lisa - I taught you better than that!" speech.
  • If you don't press your seams open you probably won't get this speech from your mother.
7. Make a quilt sandwich. Pin the top of the quilt to the backing fabric right sides together. If you are using batting, layer the optional batting/thin blanket on top of the backing fabric.

8. Sew all of the layers together along three and a half sides of the quilt.

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9. Remove the pins, turn the quilt right side out, and press the seams. Again, because that’s how Mom taught me. And again, it’s a good way to avoid The Speech.

10. Sew the opening closed by either by hand or by machine.

11. Finish the quilt so that the layers will not shift while you’re using it or when you wash it.
  • Hand Quilt Method - The easiest way to finish the quilt is to you can tie the layers together at each square with yarn, ribbon, or crochet thread.

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  • Machine Quilt Method - I sewed down each column and then sewed a crossed each row. I like this look better but it was difficult because I have an older sewing machine that doesn’t have a lot of room around the sewing arm when I was trying to finish the inside of such a big quilt.
  • http://www.victorianaquiltdesigns.net/FinishingYourQuilt.htm has more detailed information on how to finish a quilt. This site has great information although I think they make it sound a little more complicated than it was.
Tips/Variations:
  • It helps if you wash and iron the t-shirts before you cut them into squares.
  • If you find that your sewing machine doesn’t sew t-shirt material easily, you can back each square with interfacing to prevent it from stretching.
  • Instead of using interfacing, do what I did and back each square with a second square of t-shirt material with the grain of the material in the opposite direction.
  • For a fancier look you can use a contrasting material around each square/the quilt as sashing/border/binding.

If you don’t think you’ll have the time or gumption to finish this project, don’t sew, or just don’t want to make it yourself consider contacting stitch’T. They are a cool company that makes t-shirt quilts using your own t shirts!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Would You Use a Toilet Lid Sink?

Here’s an interesting way to save water in the bathroom. Replace your traditional bathroom sink with a toilet lid sink for washing your hands after doing, uh… you know bathroom activity.

The toilet lid sink connects to the same water pipe that feeds a regular bathroom sink with clean water. After hand washing the faucet shuts off automatically and the dirty water drains from the sink into the toilet tank reservoir for later flushing. That’s where the water saving part comes in because you are using greywater to flush your toilet.

The toilet lid sink is about the same price as a basic no frills conventional bathroom sink.

There are a few drawbacks. Some report that the toilet link sink may not fit on nonstandard toilet tanks. Others say that the water can be cold in winter because the sink only has one spigot and it is not temperature controlled.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Just Like That – Poof! – and the Blog was Gone

Haiku Friday


Capessa Blogger
Sustainable Style I

write
wrote


If you’re looking for another crazy, insane post like last week’s Haiku Friday sorry, it ain’t happening.

Although do feel like a grammer rebel because I used the word “ain’t” in a post.

Anyway, on with the show.

Last night I drafted an article for my Capessa green blog Sustainable Style. Afterward, I checked my email and, irony of ironies, read this message from my editor.

“After two years of laughs, tears and virtual hugs, Capessa.com is taking an early retirement. It’s another side effect of this thing we call the economy, a thing that has probably been encroaching on most of your lives lately too.”

Bye-bye Capessa. Bye-bye Sustainable Style.

Eco Friendly Plantable Seed Calendar for 2009

Today I'm shaking things up a bit. I'm happy to present a guest post by Dan Harrison who writes the blogs Daily Eco Tips and EnviorGadget. Thanks Dan!


Olive Barn is selling this cool plantable calendar for 2009. The calendar is roughly 5 inches by 5 inches in size and is made from recycled bond paper, cotton remnants and a renewable leaf fibre called abaca. Once you've reached a new month, all you do is sow the paper in the soil, and flowers will sprout from it!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

How to Heat a Room using Passive Solar Heat in Winter. Works Anywhere!

My bedroom has a pitched ceiling. It was a selling point and I thought it was a very nice feature when I bought The Condo. That is until I tried to heat the bedroom because, well, heat rises. Now of course I could replace the bedroom chandelier with a ceiling fan and run the blades in reverse during the winter to pull the warm heated air from the pitched ceiling to the lower part of the room where the people live. That’s a very good idea if it weren’t for one thing.

I find almost all ceiling fans with lights horrific and UUUUUUUUUUGLY!

I wanted to heat the bedroom up in winter but I was hesitant to use a space heater to do it. Since I was trying to reduce The Condo’s use of electricity, I really didn’t want to use an electric space heater. I didn’t want to use a propane or kerosene space heater either. I didn’t want an accidental case of hot burning Pekingese on my hands if you know what I mean.

Instead, I tried using the free passive solar space heater that I already had – opening the curtains on the bedroom windows. According to Build It Solar:

“Windows are very good solar collectors -- they are just as efficient as a commercial solar collector you might add on your roof, and can be less expensive and less complex to install. No ducting or plumbing required.”

In addition to opening the curtains, Building it Solar also suggests adding some shading to the Passive Solar Heating System, I mean, Open Curtains on My South Facing Windows. They say:
  • “Adding some form of insulating thermal shade to the window will greatly reduce night heat loss. While windows are very good collectors, they do lose a lot of heat at night, so some form of insulating shade is very important to reduce night losses.
  • You should include some means to shade the window during the summer. Unwanted solar gain through an unprotected south facing window during the summer can aggravate cooling problems. There are many ways to provide shading.”
I didn't install any of the complicated (and ugly) outdoor awnings or shade screens that Making It Solar suggests on my windows. Instead, I made two insulated roman shades and put them up on tension rods in my bedroom windows. They work just fine.
Why do the solar energy advocates have to make using passive solar heat so complicated? Yeesh.
I was very skeptical that opening the curtains on the south facing windows of The Condo would help heat up the bedroom. Sure, I sealed the air leaks on my double paned windows. That wasn’t the problem.

The problem, I thought, is that we don’t get that much sunlight in Central Ohio, especially during the winter. In Columbus, 51% of the days of the year are overcast – the same amount of sunlight that they get in Inverness, Scotland. And they aren’t exactly known for their balmy weather or big solar farms.

But, hey, the price was right – free – so I tried it. My bedroom is on the second floor of The Condo, so I didn’t have to worry about peeping neighbors or burglers. I opened the curtains on the south facing bedroom windows in the morning before Husband left for work. I let the sun shine in during the day and kept the bedroom door open to let the air circulate around the room (and I’m kinda lazy about closing that door anyway.) I closed the curtains in the evening around 6:00 or so – when I finished work.

So did it work? You tell me. Blitzkrieg by his very nature, seeks out the warmest places in The Condo during the winter, usually on the first floor or in the second floor computer room. Guess where he’s hanging out now?
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That’s right. In the now much warmer solar heated master bedroom.
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Yes, opening my curtains and shades and using this freebie passive solar space heater did heat up the bedroom, despite the pitched ceiling. So much so that I didn’t have to even think about buying a space heater to use in the bedroom as long as I remembered to close the curtains and lowered the insulated shade at night to keep in the heat.
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During the summer, I keep the roman shades down and the curtains closed on the bedroom windows to keep the hot summer sun from heating up the bedroom too much.

It worked. In Ohio. Who knew?!

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This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pet ‘n Shape Natural Catch Dog Treat Review

My dog Blitzkrieg has food allergies. Give him any food or treat has corn or wheat in it and I will guarantee that my dog will be so itchy that he will scratch bald spots in his fur. Poor guy!

That makes finding allergy free dog treats difficult. Fortunately, the folks at my local Pet People pet store know this and gave Blitzkrieg several sample packages of Pet ‘n Shape Natural Catch Dog Treats to try.

We tried the Pet ‘n Shape Natural Catch Salmon Large Bits, the White Fish Mini Bites, Shrimp Medium Bites, and Lobster Small Bites. These treats are great and Blitzkrieg wolfed them down in a heartbeat. Blitzkrieg gives them two paws up and a tail wag!

I appreciate that the Pet ‘n Shape Natural Catch Dog Treats do no contain wheat, corn, or soy (all three can be allergens in some dogs), sugar (Blitzkrieg’s sweet enough thank you), additives, preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors. I also like to give Blitzkrieg food and treats that contain fish oils because they make his coat shiny. In addition, fish is part of the Pekingese ancestral Asian diet.

According to their website, the Pet ‘n Shape chicken treats are made with human grade ingredients. I haven’t found many dog treats made with human grade ingredients, so you can bet that I’ll try those next.

You can the treats directly from Pet ‘n Shapes website or use the Web site to search for a local retailer.

The only downside to the Pet ’n Shape Natural Catch Dog Treats is that they are a little high in calories especially for a 12 pound dog. However, that’s easily remedied by breaking the treats into smaller portions. Oh, and one other small issue: they give Blitzkrieg fish breath. Phew!

Overall, I recommend Pet ‘n Shape Natural Catch Dog Treats. I like that the ingredients are healthier, even if the treats cost a little more. I think that the health benefits and piece of mind that comes from Pet ‘n Shape rigorously testing their ingredients to make sure that they are bacteria and disease prior to the treat manufacturing process is worth paying extra. So much so that I don’t mind that they give Blitzkrieg fish breath.

Disclosure: I will use a small (as in itty bitty) commission if you make a purchase using the affliate link in this post which will help me with my goal of making Condo Blues a self hosted blog. I didn't give this product a favorable review just so you will buy it,  Blitzkrieg honestly likes it and he is picky - just like his humans.

Friday, January 16, 2009

How to Keep Water Pipes From Freezing

Like most of the country, we are experiencing some cold weather. Make that very cold weather. Like it’s going to be 5 degrees below zero with a wind chill factor of twelve degrees below zero at night kind of cold weather. Brrr.

With weather like that we don’t want the water pipes in The Condo to freeze. We’re following the advice we got from the evening news. We are letting a small steady drip of water run from the faucets with plumbing that’s on the outside walls of The Condo. They also suggested that you open the cabinet doors under those sinks so the room heat can reach the pipes and keep them from freezing. So far, it’s working.


One caution that goes with keeping the cabinet doors open all day is that you might have to worry about small children or pets getting into the harmful cleaners that you may have stored underneath your sink. Well, here’s another unexpected surprise I got when I switched to using environmentally friendly baking soda and vinegar to clean The Condo (yeah, I know. I thought it was weird but it worked, who knew?) is that I don’t have to worry if Blitzkrieg gets into the cleaning supplies I store under the sinks. The worse thing that could happen to Blitzkrieg is that he might get a foamy baking soda and vinegar beard on his chin.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dairy Free Dark Pumpernickel Bread Recipe

For us, 15 bean soup is a quick, easy, and cheap dinner even though we cook it slow. “Slow cook a quick meal? What are you talking about? Have you been sniffing low VOC glue again?” You say.

No, I’m not crazy or damaged (much.) I say that 15 bean soup is quick because it’s a low effort meal – perfect for those nights when you can’t cook a huge dinner due to prior commitments but don’t want to feed the family junky fast food.

I say that 15 bean soup is slow because we use the crock pot to cook the 15 bean soup mix. 15 bean soup is one of the few meals that we buy in premix form. It’s one of the few things we eat that it’s cheaper to go with the mix than with buying bags of all the different types of beans that are typically in this soup and most of the dried bean soup mixes sold in our area are pretty healthy.

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Husband tosses the beans, water, spice mix, and whatever meat we have on hand in the slow cooker) in the morning and by the time he comes home from work, we have a very tasty soup ready for dinner. If you’re a vegetarian, I’m told that beets make a tasty substitute for using meat to flavor this soup although we haven’t tried it because Husband doesn’t like beets.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Insulate a Hot Water Heater the Easy Way

While on the hunt for ways to reduce The Condo’s energy use, I did some poking around in my utility room. I found a big energy hog – my hot water heater.

Sure, I keep my hot water heater set at 120 degrees (F.) Set any higher and a hot water heater uses a lot more energy to heat water than I care to pay for and is a scalding risk. Set any lower and harmful bacteria can grow inside the hot water tank. That’s something you do not want.

 
 As like everything else that came with The Condo, the hot water heater was new but it is not Energy Star rated. I did some research and found that if I replaced my current practically new and working hot water heater with a comparable Energy Star model, I would only reduce its natural gas consumption by about $5-10 a year.

Monday, January 12, 2009

How to Make a Braided Fleece Pet Toy

I had some scrap fleece leftover from a sewing project. I also had a friend whose Boston Terrier puppy was still going through that Chew And Disembowel Every Toy I Have phase – did I mention his name is Chopper? Yeah, the little guy is living up to his name.

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I put that scrap fleece to good use and made Chopper and Blitzkrieg some braided dog toys. These homemade braided chew toys will work well for a dog or a cat. Cats like to play with the longer braided toys, though.

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Friday, January 9, 2009

How to Make and Keep New Year's Resolutions on Your Time, Not New Year's Day

I’ve been hesitant and dragging my feet about writing, a post about my New Year’s Resolutions. It’s not that I don’t make them. I do . I don’t usually make my New Years Resolutions on or around New Years Eve because I end up making and ultimately breaking those hastily made resolutions.


I find that I’m better at keeping my New Years Resolutions if I make them when I need them. Usually several months before or after January first. Sometimes I even make them in the middle of the year. For example, my 2008 New Year’s Resolution was to reduce The Condo’s natural gas and electricity usage by 20% because of a big utility bill that we received in the fall of 2007. Well things really didn’t get rolling with the savings until March of 2008 because I had to examine and change some habits and do some small upgrades to The Condo but for the most part, I ended up meeting my goal and thereby keeping my 2008 New Years Resolution that I made in November of 2007.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

20% Home Utility Reduction Challenge – December Update & Tips

It’s the last month of my 2007 20% Home Utility Reduction Challenge! Let’s see how I did at reducing my home's electric and natural gas consumption by 20% in December.

December Electricity Usage


Even with putting up electric holiday lights and decorations, I significantly reduced how much electricity we used in December. I’m sure that I could have reduced that number by not putting up any holiday lights but I really didn’t want to do that. One of my goals of the 20% Home Utility Reduction Challenge was to prove that I could reduce my electricity and natural gas consumption and not have to endure major hardships or put in huge sacrifices. I like Christmas with all it’s trimmings including holiday lights. To me ignoring the whole thing, as some Greenzillas would prefer the world to do, is a major hardship and huge sacrifice for me. I think that life is a balancing act and yes, you can still have some holiday decorations if it makes you happy just try not to overdo it so that you have so many incandescent lights up that you can see your house from space. Of course, your mileage may vary on this issue.


However, my personal balancing act is paying off. Last December I used 641 Kwh of electricity, approximately 21 Kwh a day. This December I reduced that load to 449 Kwh of electricity, approximately 15 Kwh a day. That’s a 70% reduction in electricity for the month of December! Whoo-hoo!

How I Lowered My Electric Bill in December



Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Organize Your Life with Six Pack Containers!

In The Condo, we like our condiments, lots of condiments. Husband is one of those people who always have a full compliment of hot sauces on hand at home and even at work to fulfill all of his lava-eating needs. In fact, Husband’s appreciation of the hottest of hot sauces once resulted in the gift of an exclusive gift pack of Dave’s Insanity Sauces for our wedding.

Me? Well, I’m a wuss when it comes to ultra spicy hot food. However, I do have an affinity for mustard. Spicy brown, Dijon, and wasabi have at one time or another joined the bottles of hot sauce stored on the shelves of our refrigerator door.

Unfortunately, all of those small bottles on the refrigerator door shelves liked to tip over after I opened or closed the door. They often looked like a load of passed out people at some shipboard party gone horribly wrong. Especially the brands of hot sauce whose bottles look little people. Clearly, an intervention was in order.

Fortunately, the answer to tidying those wayward bottles was a recycling bin away. I used an empty paper six pack holder to hold and organize the condiments on my refrigerator door.

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If you don’t like the look of the paper six pack carton as is, you can certainly pretty it up by decorating your six pack organizer using paint, paper, or fabric.

Monday, January 5, 2009

3 Meals from Leftover Turkey Bones

When planning a get together with Family (both my side and Husband’s), I usually get the “bring some extra containers for leftovers” reminder. This Christmas it paid off – we got the leftover Christmas turkey carcass!


We knew that if we rendered the turkey we could easily cook a lot of the remaining meat off those bones for a second meal as well as make a huge heaping helping of homemade turkey stock for future meals.




So yes, as we drove the 150+ miles home, we changed the words to the song, “I’m Getting Nothing’ for Christmas” to “I Got A Carcass for Christmas!” because we were anticipating a couple of meals to come out of those smoked turkey bones.

My apologies to my vegetarian readers because this post is going to be all about cooking meat. While Husband and I do eat many vegetarian meals, we like to satisfy our carnivore instincts too. Chances are I will use the word carcass quite a bit because you never really get to use that word in polite society anymore. OK, well, ever. In the meantime, you vegetarians can kick back and make Husband’s vegetarian friendly Homemade Orangina instead – it’s yummy!

How to Render Bones into Soup Stock/Broth