Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ultimate Cloth – Does it Clean as Green as They Say?

Does your house need a good clean after the holidays? Yeah, mine too. I love a clean house but I don’t want to spend my whole life cleaning it. I also want to clean as chemical free as possible for the sake of my family.

And I’ll let you in on a little secret. I have a mad crush on trying different green cleaning supplies. That sounds like a very strange hobby, because it is.

That’s how I came by the Ultimate Cloth. The Ultimate Cloth is a MiraFiber cleaning cloth. What’s that? Well I didn’t know until they told me either. Instead of being made with fibers that have little hooks that pick up dirt like a microfiber cloth, MiraFiber cloths have open spaces between the fibers that act like tiny scoops that pull dirt into the cloth and hold them.

At first glance the Ultimate Cloth looked like a cross between a glorified paper towel and a chamois - thin, stiff, and flat. I figured this thing would rip when I popped it in the washing machine for the first time. And it’s supposed to clean with just water? No cleaners? Riiiight. Honestly I didn’t have high hopes for this one.

Monday, December 28, 2009

How Do You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions?

I find that I’m better at keeping my New Years Resolutions if I make them when I need them. Sometimes I even make them in the middle of the year. That way I usually come up with something specific and quantifiable and stick-to-ble rather than going with a vague resolution on New Year’s Eve like “lose weight.”

Sarah Eliza of Devastate Boredom has an even better idea. She makes monthly goals. She breaks a huge task – Green Living – into much more manageable tasks each month. Start using reusable shopping bags one month, make and use cloth napkins another month, etc. Those little green things do add up. Recently she won the Salada Tea Green Spotlight because of her green monthly goals! How cool is that?

Another little trick I use is to call my new hope-to-be-habit a New Year’s Goal rather than a New Year’s Resolution. I realize that it’s really just a matter of semantics but I’m better at meeting goals than keeping resolution. Maybe it’s because I do a lot of project management stuff at work.

Either way, if I call it goal, it seems I stick to it better. And let’s face it, I’m the Green Mom who colors outside the lines (I say this with love my friends but you know as well as I do that I’m a little left of center even in the green living world), so why should my contribution for this month’s Green Resolutions blog carnival be any different?

Here are my Green Goals for 2010. (Wow! 2010 sounds so sci-fi space agey futuristic. Which reminds me - WHERE ARE THE FLYING CARS? I’m feeling a little cheated science fiction community, really.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Gingerbread House has Solar Panels

This year husband’s been hinting at making a gingerbread house – loudly. I said I was willing to give it a go even though neither of us has made such a thing. However, we decided not to tempt the Condo Blues whammy and buy a kit since this was our first cookie construction project.


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Notice how pretty the example house looks on the box? Our gingerbread house looks nothing like it.

We suited up. Husband in his Iron Chef apron and me in my Fun Baker apron.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Easy Personalized Appliqué Dog Towel

While rooting though the clearance section at Bed, Bath, and Beyond I came across an orphan bamboo towel for super cheap. Not so good for my original purpose - new towels for my bathroom, (so Santa if you aren’t too busy, a little help in that area would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!) but that eco-towel was the perfect thing to turn into a personalized dog towel for Blitzkrieg’s dog cousin Chopper, as a Christmas gift. Before any gifting could happen that towel needed a little spiff up so the little dude knew that it was his to chew on.

This is Chopper. His hobbies are chewing things, laying on the heat vent, and chewing things.

This is a quicker variation of how I made a traditional appliqué dog blanket because I used a piece of felt for the appliqué. Using scrap felt or fleece is ideal for a rounded appliqué shape because fabric doesn’t fray. You don’t have to worry about tucking in the edges to keep the fabric from fraying while trying to maintain rounded edges. Using felt/fleece makes this an easy beginning appliqué/embroidery/sewing project and a good older kid project.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sew Easy Homemade Gifts for Girls and Guys

It turns out that I’m sewing a lot of gifts for Christmas this year. It started innocently enough when I made myself a Buttercup Purse last summer.  I got compliments and requests for Buttercup Bags as gifts.

Many of the girls are getting Buttercup purses. OK actually several of them already got Buttercup bags for their birthday already. I played with the size and details of the original pattern a bit.

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My favorite is the green paisley. It started life a tablecloth that I like but didn’t quite work in my kitchen.

This is a quick little pattern and I was able to whip up of a few of these purses in an afternoon. Pretty purses and a nice stash buster project to boot. All of the buttons with the exception of the skull and crossbones buttons came from Grandma’s buttonbox.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

33 Realistic Ways to Green Your Gift Wrap

I like wrapping gifts. I have quite the reputation as a good wrapper, yo. It doesn’t have to be hard, expensive, or wasteful. I’ve developed many tips and tricks for wrapping beautiful gifts through trial and lots of error. To do this I rely on two essentials:

1. My box of boxes. I have a box full of different size gift boxes, gift bags, and gift tins that are always ready and waiting for me to use and reuse.
2. A box of gift wrap and supplies. Gift bags, wrapping paper, ribbon, tag making supplies, old Christmas cards, gift toppers, scissors, and tape are waiting for me to use and reuse too.

After the holiday I replenish both with items that I can reuse from the gifts we’ve received on Christmas day. How green and thrifty is THAT?

Although most of my recipients don’t realize that the item in their hands is wrapped in a green in your face manner. All they see is a pretty package. And that’s the way I like it.

So what do I specifically use to wrap my holiday gifts in a green, festive, and inexpensive manner? Let’s take a look.

Gift Wraps

1. Save and reuse paper gift wrap from year to year – Well gee that one’s easy, inexpensive too.
2. Buy gift wrap made from recycled paper – If you can find and the price doesn’t blow a hole in your budget, have at.
3. Maps – It’s not like you can fold them back up like you’re supposed to anyway. Why not reuse those vacation maps as gift wrap?
4. Kids drawings – Best for smaller gifts and make sure the kiddos are OK with the possibility of their masterpieces being cut to size during wrapping or ripped during unwrapping first.
5. Brown paper bags – I like the rustic look and use green cloth ribbon or real twine and top with pine cones or seedpods. Very masculine, very green, and very cheap.
6. Newspaper – I don’t use this anymore because I don’t get the newspaper. When I do it’s my local alternative weekly and I feel weird wrapping a gift in the personal ads (unless it’s as a joke for the newly single.) Your mileage may vary.
7. Fabric – Great for odd shaped gifts. I once got a handpainted flower pot and herb books wrapped like a gift basket in fabric because I sew. And yes, I loved and used both gifts.
8. Kitchen towels/cloth napkins, tablecloth, etc. - My mom does this with wedding shower gifts. Last year my father gave wine he had made wrapped in new kitchen towels. Mom said she liked that idea and will do it when she wraps her homemade soy candles as gifts. (Gifts of wine and candles? Oh tell me they aren’t not-so-subtly asking for grandkids, I dare you.)
9. Scarves – Sometimes the wrapping can be an extra gift. Like say wrapping the new winter hat and gloves your husband so desperately needs in the scarf.
10. Put the regular wrapping paper you used in a city recycling bin – Some cities will recycle wrapping paper. If so, great! OK, so it may not be so green on the front end but it is on the back end. Sometimes life gives you circumstances where you just have to punt.

Reusable Non-Wraps AKA Containers so Pretty They Don’t Need Paper Wraps

Slap a bow on top and you’re done. Pretty, quick, and reusable – I like! This is an excellent solution for those of you who are convinced you can’t wrap/hate to wrap gifts.

1. Cookie/popcorn/food tins – Excellent for experience gifts like tickets or membership paperwork because it makes the gift look more significant than just handing over an envelope. If the tin is a little worse for wear, spiff it up with some leftover spray paint first.
2. Chinese takeout style boxes – I found a bunch of new plain white ones in a thrift store, decorated them with stickers and got raves – easy and cheap! Great kid project too.
3. Printed/decorated box – This may not work out so well if you have people who like to peep at their gifts under the tree before Christmas.
4. Gift bag (fabric/paper/decorate a store bag) - I save and reuse gift bags from year to year. In a pinch, I’ve decorated and reused paper shopping bags. This is another excellent kid craft. I use undecorated store shopping bags for pet gifts because Christmas is the one day out of the year that Blitzkrieg is allowed to shred paper and he likes to unwrap his own gifts.
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I can pull my gift out by myself if it’s wrapped in a gift bag. I’m very careful which allows Lisa to reuse my gift bags.

Gift Bag/Box Stuffing

1. Save tissue paper from previous years – If you can. Sometimes it just doesn’t hold up from one year to the next.
2. Use/buy shredded/crinkled paper – Once I found this stuff I switched over to stuffing gift bags with this instead of tissue paper. It’s much easier to save and reuse from year to year.
3. Shred old wrapping/colored paper – A good solution if you have a paper shredder and gift wrap that your city doesn’t recycle or you run out of #1 and #2, the store’s closed, and you’re about to leave for a party. Guess how I know?

Ribbons

I love packages tied up with strings. And ribbons. You can still have ribbons and be green about it too.
1. Natural raffia – You can compost it afterward. Watch out for the plasticy fake stuff unless you think the person will reuse it
2. Paper craft ribbon – Yes, it’s difficult to reuse or recycle in a bin but you can compost it because it’s paper.
3. Colored twine – As long as it’s made from a natural fiber it’s compostable too.
4. Wired ribbon - Easy to refluff and reuse for the following year. I use this a lot because I love topping ribbon with big poufy bows made from more wired ribbon.
5. Cloth ribbon from your sewing/gift wrap stash.
6. Cloth rick rack from your sewing/gift wrap stash.
7. Reuse old video/cassette tape – One divorcee I know used her old wedding video. *Ouch*
8. Yarn from your craft/gift wrap stash.


Bows

1. Save and reuse bows – to save a smashed bow snip through the loops and fluff so it looks a bit like a chrysanthemum. If it still looks a little anemic, tape a second smashed, clipped and refluffed bow inside the first one. Then be cagey when the recipient asks where you bought such cool looking bow for her gift.
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The formerly squashed bow. My apologies for the picture quality

2. Fronts of Christmas cards – I usually do this on gifts I have to mail since bows get smashed during shipping.
3. Make a bow from recycled magazines or chip bags – I’m doing this for Mr. H’s gift this year because he proudly told me that he won an award at school for recycling (you go Mr. H!) I think he’d appreciate the extra effort. Thus clinching the title of World’s Most Fabulous Aunt (trademark pending) for yet another year.
4. Greenery/pine cones/seedpods/leaves – Tie a little cluster with some ribbon and no-one will ever realize that you ran out of traditional gift bows and ribbon. They will talk about your Martha Stewart gift wrapping powers instead.
5. Silk or dried flowers – I have these from old bridesmaid’s bouquets in my gift wrapping box. I pull a few flowers/greenery out and tie them together w/ ribbon. If the silks are a little worse for wear I give them a quick spiff up with leftover silver or gold spray paint and make them festive again.
6. Old garland - Tie a loop of old garland together with string to make a bow – like cluster or use in place of ribbon.
7. Christmas ornaments – If it’s a personalized ornament it doubles as a gift tag! Minimal effort and maximum impact – what’s not to like?

Gift Tags

I’ve never purchased a gift tag. Ever. I use a combination of the following:

1. Fronts of old Christmas cards I received from previous years.
2. Wrapping paper scraps cut into a rectangle and folded over – You can spiff them up or cut them down to size with decorative scrap booking scissors if you have them.
3. Make gift tags from old business cards – I glue 2 business cards together front sides facing in, shape with scissors or a decorative corner punch, and punch a hole in the top to tie to the gift. Easy!
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I make blank gift tags up ahead of time to make wrapping go more quickly.

4. Cut gift tags from paper w/ scrap booking stamps/cuttersRenovation Therapy makes round gift tags by punching out and gluing together two different sizes and types of decorative paper. Pretty!


What is your favorite way to wrap gifts?


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Toy Donation Drive By

Husband, Blitzkrieg, and I loaded up the car with new toys and drove over to one of the local TV stations for the NBC4 Firefighters for Kids toy drive. Husband and I had a blast shopping because we let our inner children do the shopping instead of our usual Cleverly Disguised as Responsibly Adult personas that we show to the outside world.

We figured that one of our toys might be the only thing some needy kid gets for Christmas and we wanted to make it a good one. Sadly there’s a greater need than ever for toys in Columbus this Christmas.

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Actually Thank you for reminding us that this is the season to think of others.

Since I made a lot of gifts this year (Mr. H requested hand made gifts this year – what a great kid!), we decided to use that extra money to splash out on a few more toys than we normally donate. We also paid our good fortune forward and donated a some of the toys I got in my gift bag from sponsors at Blogher last summer.

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More Santa’s Helpers than there are North Pole Elves I’ll bet.

The importance of volunteering and thinking of others were instilled in both Husband and I as children from our parents. We want to instill that in our child too. Of course our child is a dog, but that still doesn’t mean he shouldn’t go along for the ride.

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Bye Mr. Potato Head! Don’t fail us; make a kid’s Christmas, OK?

Besides Blitzkriegs loves nothing better than car rides and firefighters. He goes with me to drop items off at our city recycling dumpster at a nearby fire station. If the firefighters are out and about the station house they come over to give Blitzkrieg some pets. During last year’s Doo Dah parade one of the firefighters marching in the parade gave Blitzkrieg a dog treat. So yeah, he thinks firefighters rock. We think they are pretty special too.

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This firefighter saw Blitzkrieg in the car, ran over, and asked if he could give Blitzkrieg a treat. Blitzkrieg says, “Bow-rowark!” (That’s Pekingese for “Thank you.”)

I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging. It just feels good to be in a situation where I can donate needed items as well as my time. Unlike during my college years when all I could give was time because I put myself though college and well, you can guess where most of my money went back then.

If you can’t donate money or things this year, please consider donating your time to the charity of your choice. It doesn’t have to be a big on going volunteer commitment, even a few hours can make a world of difference to someone in need. No one can put a price tag on that.

Do you do any service projects or volunteering during the holidays?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

How to Make a No Slip Microwave Heating Pad

They go by many names: microwaveable heating pad, hot rice pack, bed buddy, aromatherapy heating pad, hot wheat bag, flax seed heating pad, cherry pit pack, hot therapy pillow, herbal heating pad, and buckwheat heating pads to name a few. Basically they are all some sort of heating pad that you heat in the microwave and use to soothe those achy muscles – ahhh!

Husband tried one at a friend’s house while recovering from a torn side muscle. He said that the bag’s size and shape did the job much better than his electric heating pad (which we sadly left at home.)

I decided to make him one but improve the design a little bit by making chambers so the heated contents wouldn’t slip away from the part of his body that needed the heat. By using a kitchen towel for my project he can also use it as a homemade moist heating pad if he likes.

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Toasty warm!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

National Brownie Day is a Real Holiday?

I like to eat brownies. I also like to support local businesses and when those local businesses make brownies, I get an extra happy in my tummy.

Cheryl & Co. is a based in Columbus and they make brownies. Their cookies are the stuff of legend. They invited me their Headquarters December 8th to celebrate National Brownie Day and also to learn about their other companies, The Popcorn Factory and 1-800 Flowers. Which are companies I patronize already and had no idea were part of Cheryl & Co. I accepted their invite much to Husband’s delight.

Tip: I keep and reuse Cheryl & Co. and The Popcorn Factory’s sturdy and brightly printed cookie boxes, popcorn and cookie tins for wrapping small gifts. Experience gifts like tickets or membership paperwork look more significant when they come in a decorated tin. All you need to do is slap on a bow or ribbon and you’re done! Quick, pretty, reusable gift wrap. I like.
I saw how Cheryl & Co. make their famous cookies and brownies. The process is kind of like how you’d do it at home with real butter, eggs, and sugar but on a much bigger scale. I was impressed that Cheryl & Co. doesn’t add extra preservatives to their cookies and that they can still be frozen for up to six months.

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Cookies cooling and waiting for butter cream frosting

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sparkly Glam Recycled Outdoor Christmas Décor

I wanted to do something a little different to shake up my outdoor Christmas decorations this year. I’m leaning towards glitzy glam, because I’m still pining for those shiny silver and red trees I didn’t buy at the Restore. I want to keep it environmentally friendly too. Difficult because sparkly wow! isn’t generally associated with environmentally friendly. Environmentally friendly usually means country burlap. Not what’ I’m looking for this year.

After a little rooting around in the outdoor Christmas décor box, found these sparkly dood-dads. They came as part of a Christmas decoration that a cousin made and gave me that didn’t quite make it to my house in one piece during shipping so I never used it. They will do just nicely on the swoopy parts of the garland on my porch.

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Sparkley!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holiday Helper: Making Quick Meals From Scratch

I'm so excited that my friend Lisa from RetroHousewife Goes Green offered to do a Guest Post on Condo Blues. Take it away Lisa!

Thanks to Lisa for letting me do a guest post for her! Her blog is one of the first blogs I started reading and I have gotten to know her from the Green Moms Carnival. Be sure to check out my blog Retro Housewife Goes Green as well.

We all know there are days you just don't want to cook. While most of America would just go get some fast food or call for take out, that is often not so green and not very healthy.

A great way to still have quick meals but stay healthy and green is to make some meals you can freeze and heat later. It's like making your own frozen dinners.


I like to take a day that I have very little else going on and make a lot of meals at once. The favorite in our house is pizza. It's super easy! All you need to do to make your own frozen pizzas is take your favorite dough recipe and make enough for however many you want to freeze.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Low Key Christmas Party – a Green Holiday Favorite!

Last year I read an article in the New York Times Style section where the writer boo hoo’ed that because the economy was tanking they had to skip throwing a swanky expensive Christmas party and ended up doing something at home. They were surprised that their downsized party was more fun than the lavish ones of their past, predicted it a huge trend (because of course they just created such a thing), and oh by-the-way it’s a little greener way to go.

Well I suppose that makes my very Midwestern friends Alex and Anne trendsetters! They are way ahead of their time because they’ve been throwing this kind of Christmas party for years. It’s one of the best parties I attend and I’ve been to some swank holiday parties let me tell you.

Funny thing is, if you met Alex and Anne, you wouldn’t say that they were trendsetters at all. They don’t wear trendy clothes or drive sports cars or even a Prius. Their traditional Christmas party also flies in the face of any green cynic who says that Christmas, and parties, and gifting are a wasteful, unthoughtful, consumer-ridden humbug that we should just remove from our yurts completely. Because they are the type of people who, like most of my friends, emphasize people and fun. Although our idea of fun is usually a little kookier than most.

The Party, the Details, the Fun!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mom’s Homemade Soy Candles

My Mom has an addictive new hobby – making scented soy candles. Since I love burning candles and Mom usually gives her creations as gifts to people like say, me, this is one addiction that I wholeheartedly encourage

Might be a Danish thing (Danes burn so many candles that as a nation Denmark consumes more candles per capita than any other country on earth – no lie) might be an inner pyromaniac thing. Either way I find that burning a scented soy candle is a festive way to get rid of cooking smells after dinner without resorting to icky fake flower scented sprays that are full of questionable chemicals. Feh.

Mom’s dealer, source of inspiration came from her favorite candle store The Swan Creek Candle Company. It’s a little candle shop that sells the most fragrant soy candles with lead free wicks. She promises to take me there when I visit her but we end up not going for one reason or another. I forgive her because she gives me candles. Yes, I let her to buy my love because I"m nice like that.