Condo Blues

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How to Save Money and Make Things Last – Date It!

The Condo Blues Law of Oops dictates that I will run out of something only when I’m in the middle of using it to do something like cleaning, baking, or in a project.

Just so I won’t run out of something at a bad time I used to think that if it’s something we use daily like shampoo or toothpaste or cleaner then I should just buy it every time it goes on sale to save money. Then I’d have a backup on hand when we run out. In theory that should work just fine.

Problem was that I still seemed to run out of stuff like brown sugar in mid-cupcake baking frenzy while on the other hand I constantly had at least four extra tubes of toothpaste in the linen closet on any given day of the year. There were times when I had so many extra tubes of toothpaste laying around that I considered giving them out as party favors to guests, “Hi how ya doin'? Want something to drink? Snacks are on the dining room table, and oh hey - here you go - have a tube of toothpaste as a parting gift!”

Husband wisely vetoed my bizarre attempts at generosity.

To get a handle on how long stuff lasted, or not, I decided to write the date I opened it on the label of consumable items like toothpaste, cleaners, olive oil, etc. You may think that’s incredibly anal retentive of me, because, I admit it, it is.

But you know what? Well my little born on date experiment also made me realize a few things. Our happy little family of 2 didn’t go through nearly as many bottles, tubes and cans of cleaners, condiments, and health and beauty aids as I thought. For example, we only use about 2 tubes of toothpaste a year even though we brush our teeth a lot.

I found that I really didn’t need to buy that extra bottle of whatever every time it went on sale if I already had a backup item in the pantry or utility room. That saves me money, cuts down on waste, and gives me a little extra storage room around The Condo!

Husband no longer has to worry about me foisting pantry extras at guests in the guise of parting gifts either.

How long do things last at your house? What are your money saving shopping tips?

This post is part of Works for Me Wednesday.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Make a Garden Border Out of Old Bricks!

The arrangement goes that the Homeowner’s Association is responsible for mowing our lawns and common areas but we Condo owners are responsible for the maintaining the flowerbeds in front of our homes, including the edging. Well, I don’t think someone gave the new lawn service guys that memo because shortly after they started taking care of our neighborhood, they put in trench edging in everyone’s flowerbeds, much to our dismay.

Trench edging is cheap, but it doesn’t keep mulch from sliding out of a flower bed. Even worse, since we have clay soil that doesn’t drain, every time it rains the trench turns into the perfect mosquito nursery.

This is my neighbor’s yard after a rainstorm. They are very nice people and don't deserve such crappy edging.

Needless to say, most of my neighbors dealt with the trench edging by replacing it with their own garden edging.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What are Your Favorite Power Tools for Women?

I like to do DIY jobs. I hate nagging Husband to do my projects – I think that’s mean (no nagging also helps preserve marital harmony.) I don’t believe in a Honey Do List. In my world it’s a Do It Yourself Honey! List.

One of my long term goals is to set up a little workshop in my garage. Operative word Lisa’s Workshop. Where I have a space to fix things or more accurately, an out of the way place to stick stuff that I need to fix or want to build until I find the time to get around to it. Just like my father and his father before me.

I’m in the market for tools. Unfortunately most tools made for women or a woman’s workshop are along these lines.


The biggest problem I find with power tools that are designed for women is that that just plain suck.

Why is it that most tool companies think that all women want are tiny tools in pretty colors? Sure, those cutesy tools may sell but what the tool companies don’t realize is that when those itty bitty cheap pink tools eventually break, and they will, the woman is going to march into the store and replace them with a real grown up version of the tool in question – the type of tool the industry typically thinks of as a “guy” tool like this.


This isn’t a super duper powerful hammer drill that will drill through concrete (unless that’s your need - then have a ball), but it’s more than adequate for the typical handy guy or handy gal who needs a good screw gun or to build something simple like a toy box for their kid. Think a mom (or awesome Aunt) could use that lavender “woman’s drill” to build a simple wooden toy box or turn a trash can into a compost bin? Me neither.

I wish tool companies had opportunities for women DIYers and bloggers to be consultants just like household and appliance companies do because I’d love to test and try out tools and tell them (and you my fabulous readers men and women alike) what really works and what doesn’t. *sigh* but a girl can dream…

Since that’s not reality, I’m going to spill my guts here. Hey tool companies listen up!

Here’s What Real Women Want in Power Tools:

Quality – I want a tool that will last. More often than not the cheaply made, lightweight women’s tools break too easily during routine tasks. That’s dangerous. I snapped the head off of a diminutive “girl” claw hammer when I tried to use the claw end to remove a nail from a wall and rehang a picture - a simple and straightforward task. The force of the hammerhead breaking knocked me on my butt. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t on a stepstool at the time because I could have been injured. I grabbed a grown up “boy” hammer from the toolbox and I was able to remove the nail without breaking the claw or snapping the head off of the hammer.

Weight – I’m 4’11 and I’d like to use a tool that’s physically light enough for me to handle without forsaking the power needed to do the job. Sure I’ll suck it up and heft a heavy tool if the jobs requires. I’ve done it. But if you can design a tool that allows me to work just as effectively as or more so than my current heavy tools not only will I buy it but I’ll shout about it from rooftops! I’ll also buy one for every guy I know.

Scale and Grip - Not every DIYer is a big burly dude with massive man hands. Husband is a lean long distance runner and is also on the short side. A tool that’s scaled for to a shorter person will work for both of us as long as you don’t skimp on the quality. Something that allows me to set the grip of the tool for my small hands but would also allow me to switch the grip so that a person like my Dad with his bigger guy hands could also use the same tool when we work on a project together would be awesome.

Better Ergonomics – This is what I think of when I say “tools made for women.” Tool companies I know you put a lot of research and development dollars into studying the body mechanics and how to redesign tools so that customers can use more efficiently. A good example of this are the hammers with the slightly curvy handle that allow you to drive a nail into a board better but without needing an extra “oomph” of power to drive a nail into a board. Typically those studies are being conducted and the resulting products are being aimed at older male DIYers who have more time to DIY during their retirement years but may not have the same physical strength as they once had during their younger years. Tool companies – these studies also apply to women! If you market to us we will buy these products! Or maybe the men in our lives will buy them for us (hint, hint.)

Color –In all honesty, if I see a pink tool for sale, I’m not going to buy it. Experience has taught me that pink tools are crap. Sorry toolmakers but you taught me that all you care about is making a woman’s tool pink and pretty not about quality or performance. By the way, my Husband and I share tools just like we share kitchen appliances. We have one refrigerator not a pink one for me and a blue one for him. That means I could care even less about tool color.

Tool companies, this is something the guys won’t tell you – as a women I get an extra boost of confidence and self-esteem when I complete even a minor job with a tool that looks like the real deal and not like I need to store it in Barbie’s dream house after I’m done using it. If you can design a tool that meets my performance needs, makes me feel confident when using it, and might even make the men in my life a bit little jealous because it looks like a kick ass tool that they’d want to own - mission accomplished – you’d have yourself a customer for life.

Real World Example: Tool Purchase Based on a Woman’s Needs

Recently, Husband and I needed to buy a mini sledge hammer to break up some concrete in our front flower beds. Here’s how our purchase stacked up to the needs and wants I have on my tool wish list.

Quality: We made our purchase at a home improvement store not a cheap closeout or discount store.

Weight: A four pound mini sledge (a little bigger than a traditional hammer) would do the job quite nicely. Husband could use the four pounder but it was a little too heavy for me. I could only comfortably use the two pound mini sledges on display.

Scale and Grip: We wanted a tool that both of us could use because chances were that we’d be switching on and off until the job was complete.

Ergonomics: We ended up buying a much more expensive three pound mini sledge hammer because the handle and grip were designed so that it was physically lighter to swing (so a small person like me could use it) but delivered the “whoomp!” of a 4-5 pound mini sledge hammer (something that a bigger person like Husband could use.)

Color: By the way the hammer was blue. Who cares? The tool worked and now it’s the color of the dirt in my yard.

That’s my wish list for women’s power tools. What are yours? What do you think about pink power tools? Love 'em? Hate 'em? What power tools would you recommend for women?

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Monday, May 11, 2009

What’s this Yellow Mold Doing in My Compost?

As with most newly built homes, my developer sold off all of the wonderfully fertile topsoil in my neighborhood and built our homes on the clay subsoil residing underneath. Unfortunately the builder didn’t put any topsoil back into the planting areas. Ever try to grow anything in clay soil? It doesn’t work very well.


Before I can even consider turning this dirt patch into a raised garden bed I need to mix organic material into the clay soil – preferable compost. Fortunately, sneaky person that I am I have a big ol’ composter making some fertilizer for me by way of a garbage can I made into a compost bin that fully complies with my Homeowner’s Association Rules. My first batch of compost came out well. After feeding the Covert Urban Composter food scraps all winter it was time to check how much Gardner’s Gold I had to work with this spring.

I mosey on over to the compost bin in the backyard. I take a look. I see this.

I get grossed out.

After some research I discovered that this yellow spongy, foamy and phallic looking blob is a slime mold. Specifically, Dog Vomit Slime Mold .

Aptly named don’t you think?

Dog Vomit Slime mold (gosh you just don’t get to type that several times in one sitting do you?) usually develops in damp, shady areas where there is a lot of decaying organic matter like soggy flower beds that use bark mulch.

This makes perfect sense because we’ve had a very rainy Spring. When I took the lid off of the compost bin everything was water logged. There was slime mold all over the top and sides of my compost. And boy did it ever stink! Bad.

How Do You Get Rid of Dog Vomit Slime Mold?

Easy. You don’t.

First off Dog Vomit Slime mold is not harmful to people, plants, or pets. In fact, some people in Mexico eat slime mold.

No thanks, I’ll pass.

It’s lifecycle is very short. When slime mold first appears it’s usually bright yellow and can grow as it chows down on the decaying wet leaves and whatnot (legend has it that slime molds were the inspiration for the kitschy 1958 sci-fi movie The Blob.) Next, the slime mold turns light brown and finally dries into dark, powdery spores. The whole process can take a couple of hours or a couple of days.

If this slime mold grew in the mulch in my flower beds I could just leave it and it would go away on its own. In this case I was advised to throw the moldy compost out.

Oh and just to you gross you out a little further, when I emptied the bin I found a nice big family of maggots in my compost.


Once the compost bin was empty I was told to clean it with either bleach (no thanks) or hydrogen peroxide (yes, please.) I mixed up a solution of hydrogen peroxide based “oxygen” bleach and water and used that to clean the compost bin inside and out, including the lid. I let the clean bin dry in the sun.

I emailed Gardener's Supply Ask an Expert and asked them how I could prevent my compost from molding again. This is what they said.

If you're developing mold in your compost pile it certainly sounds like the materials are too wet most of the time. Drilling more aeration holes would definitely help the ability of the pile to receive more air and should keep the materials more dry. Too much moisture will drown the microorganisms, and too little will dehydrate them. A general rule of thumb is to keep the material in your compost pile as moist as a well-wrung sponge.

To do their work most efficiently, microorganisms require a lot of oxygen. When your pile is first assembled, there will probably be plenty of air between the layers of materials. But as the microorganisms begin to work, they will start consuming oxygen. Unless you turn or in some way aerate your compost pile, they will run out of oxygen and become sluggish.

When your pile is very wet, try adding materials to sock up some of the moisture, such as paper, dried leaves, sawdust, or straw. Keeping a good balance between these "brown" ingredients, and the "green" ingredients such as grass clippings and food waste is very important
To make sure that I didn’t have moldy, soggy, maggoty compost again, I drilled more aeration holes in the bottom and sides of the Covert Urban Compost Bin. This last batch of compost was mostly kitchen scraps so I’m going to concentrate on adding more paper from my paper shredder for "browns." I’m also going to ask the lawn service to leave the grass clippings on our lawn so I can rake them up and put them in my compost bin. Oh, and this time I’ll try to turn the compost more often because last time I didn’t mix my compost at all - oops.

Looking for more compost options? Check out the following options - and more! - below!
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This is Condo Blues’ submission for the May Green Moms Carnival where our topic is gardening. The Carnival will be held at Green and Clean Mom. Please check it out after May 18th!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

From Silver Teapot to Flower Vase

Husband surprised me with a bunch of flowers for our wedding anniversary. I grabbed a vase from my stash (alas, poor me. He gives me flowers often so yes, I have quite a few empty flower vases in my cupboard. Don’t hate me OK?) and arranged the flowers.


Now Husband is a man who gives good gift. He knows I like unusual flower combinations in my bouquets. This bouquet is no exception – it needed an unusual vase and to tell you the truth this isn’t my favorite vase. It’s one of several free with delivery vases I have in my decorating accessory closet (OK, it’s a set of shelves in my utility room that holds candles and the like. I have space issues people!) One of these days I tell myself that I should spiff up the free vases with some glass paint but I forget about it until I need a vase for flowers. I also tell myself that I should just go out and buy a nice vase but I forget about that too.

I went back into the closet (heh) and came out with my silver tea set. Since most of my guests on formal occasions don’t drink tea, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve used this pot for the actual serving of tea. Seems fitting to use it as a vase for my anniversary flowers we got the tea set as a wedding present.


I left the table cloth off of the dining room table. I like the juxtaposition of the formal silver teapot on the
beat up table Husband has a sentimental attachment to and that I want to light on firerustic patina of Husband’s childhood dining room table.

What do you think?

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Help Me Pick a Shower Curtain!

I painted the second bathroom in The Condo a blue that is a little lighter than the Caribbean ocean and a little darker than a Tiffany’s box. It goes with my plan of enlarging and framing some photos we took of the ocean while on vacation in the Dominican Republic. Which I still haven’t done, because I keep changing my mind about what should go on the wall.

I hung the flamingo shower curtain from my old rental’s John Waters Memorial Bathroom (named by my gays, because I dealt with the 80’s pink wallpaper that we inherited by decorating the room with pink flamingos. This of course is the name of one of John Waters’ most notorious early films.) I’m not really trying to do a themey bathroom again, but I like the crisp white curtain against the blue walls.

Pink Flamingos - the shower curtain, not the movie.

Unexpectedly, I now have a choice in shower curtains. My real life friend Anthony of the TFormers Transformers Podcast was having a bad day so I brought Blitzkrieg over to visit so Anthony could lower his blood pressure by petting my dog. Blitzkrieg was happy to help out because Anthony is one of his favorite humans. Anthony always has treats for visiting dogs and he doesn’t even have a dog!

I saw a shower curtain in the package on Anthony’s dining room table. I pointed to one of stripes in the pattern and told him that I painted my bathroom that same Tiffany-esce blue. “Want it?” he said. Turns out Anthony’s mom had an I’m-Your-Mom-so-I’m-going-to-buy-you-things-I-think-you-should-have-for-your-house moment and bought him a new shower curtain to replace the one he already had and liked and that didn’t need replacing.

 Anthony's mom bought this

I put the new shower curtain up in the bathroom but I’m not sure if I like or not. I’m not trying to do a monochromic room. Some days I think it’s OK, other days I think its too much blue. What do you think? Which shower curtain should I choose?

“Don't worry. I'll make sure Lisa does something clever with the other curtain. Or else.”