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Saving (a few) Dollars When Traveling

Saving (a few) Dollars When Traveling

Traveling anywhere can be expensive, but some places are more expensive than others. Alaska is one of those places. Now we aren’t the type of people that enjoy throwing money around, so planning a trip to Alaska proved to be somewhat tricky. However, we were determined to plan a fun trip that didn’t break the bank and would like to share some of our secrets with you. Obviously, not everyone is dying to go to Alaska (I myself would rather go to Hawaii, but that’s not where the in-laws put down roots), but most of the tips are applicable to traveling elsewhere.

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  1. Get an Airline Credit Card. Both of the times we’ve traveled to Alaska we’ve done so mostly with miles or free flights from our airline credit card. We were able to fly everyone to Alaska and back for only $15. Currently, we have a Frontier card because they have a direct flight to everywhere we have family.
  2. Travel During the Shoulder Season. The “shoulder season” is the time right before or right after the busy season. Since it isn’t the big tourist season you’ll often get deals on housing and flights, but still have a good chance at decent weather. In Alaska the shoulder season is May – beginning of June and September. (You could also go all Winter if that sort of weather thrills you.) We hit up the “busy” season this time, but did travel in June last time. Likewise, we’ve scored great deals on ski resort lodges in between ski season and summer and have found many good honeymoon/anniversary deals since March seems to be the off-season in a lot of places.

    Noel driving our fancy rental car. (Okay, every car seems fancy when yours is 18 years old)
    Noel driving our fancy rental car. (Okay, every car seems fancy when yours is 18 years old)
  3. Follow Noel’s Rental Car Advice. Noel wrote a great post on how we get good deals on rental cars that everyone should read before booking one. We weren’t able to score the kind of deals we typically are used to, but we were able to cut the price by a hundred dollars by renting from the off airport office.

    Noel and Cooper on the Metro in DC (Note: The metro people don't actually like it when you take your strollers on the escalator.)
    Noel and Cooper on the Metro in DC (Note: The metro people don’t actually like it when you take your strollers on the escalator.)
  4. Or Don’t Rent a Car at All. The first time we went to Alaska we were able to bum rides off Noel’s parents, but our itinerary and extra child didn’t make that an easy option this time. Alaska doesn’t have a great transportation system, unless you’re counting the train, but that’s expensive and therefore counterproductive to this post.  (And when I say train, I mean train as in chuggga-chugga-choo-choo.) There are amazing places to visit that do have great public transit though. When we visited DC and then subsequently lived there for a month, we didn’t have a car and were able to get around just fine.
  5. Check out Privately Run Hotels, B&Bs, etc. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at how much cheaper some of these places are compared to chain hotels. In Anchorage we stayed at the Northern Bed & Breakfast which was the only place we could find under $100. In addition to providing a hearty breakfast, the owner picked us up from the airport and let us use her washing machine. You can also often find decent deals on sites like airbnb.com or VRBO.com. (I really wanted to stay in this cute place in Talkeetna, but was heartbroken to discover it was all booked up.) Of course if you want to be super cheap there’s always couchsurfing or hostels, but that doesn’t exactly jive with our current life situation.
  6. Stay Just Outside of Big Towns For the Seward portion of our trip we didn’t actually stay in Seward, but right outside of it at Renfro’s Lakeside Retreat. This is another trick that works great in DC. Three out of the Four times I’ve gone to DC I’ve stayed in Virginia just to save a few bucks. (And the time we stayed in DC proper, we weren’t paying for it.)

    One of our many camping trips with our well tested gear.
    One of our many camping trips with our well tested gear.
  7. Camp. It’s no secret that we like camping. How nice that it’s also a cheap way to get a night’s rest. Our original plan was to camp in Denali. (Before Noel’s parents gifted us a stay in a cabin.) At $11 a night (the price with our National Parks Pass) plus the $20 checked bag fee to get all of our camping gear to Alaska we would be saving over $100/night. Even if we had rented gear from REI or somewhere else (College Campuses often rent gear at really good prices) we still would have saved a lot. Because we were curious, we checked out the Riley Creek Campground and the sites looked pretty nice. They are also highly rated and in case you were wondering, no one camping in the campsite has ever been attacked by a bear. This is also a great idea for when you’re on your way somewhere, but don’t want to drive straight on through. The last time we went to Utah we broke up the trip by staying overnight at a State Park. It wasn’t anything special, but it made the long trip better for our family.

    Our make-shift kitchen that allowed us to have a delicious scrambled egg breakfast on our last morning.
    Our make-shift kitchen that allowed us to have a delicious scrambled egg breakfast on our last morning.
  8. Reserve a Place with at Least a Semblance of a Kitchen. You can save so much money buy not eating out for every meal. Chances are you might also feel better since you aren’t eating greasy food all the time. (Or maybe that’s just us.) The only place we stayed that didn’t have a kitchen was in Denali, but they did have a firepit so we improvised a little. We’ve used this tip in Monterey, Oregon, and every time we’ve ever camped. When we do eat out we heavily rely on Yelp and Urbanspoon to make sure we’re choosing restaurants that are worth our time and money. (Small warning: many of the chain restaurants in Alaska will have higher priced menus than you are used to. Some by such a small amount you won’t hardly notice, but some by an amount that seems outrageous.)

    Ellen picking up a few groceries for us.
    Ellen picking up a few groceries for us.
  9. Be Smart About Your Groceries – If you’re visiting California or Oregon or some other agrarian mecca, go to a Farmer’s Market or roadside stand. Let me rephrase that, SEEK OUT THE LOCAL, DELICIOUS PRODUCE LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT! You’ll likely get a good deal on some delicious produce (oh my mouth is watering thinking about it), but if you’re in Alaska go to Costco (Anchorage has two). Normal grocery stores tend to have higher prices for just about everything, but Costco is pretty much the same everywhere. We picked up a $3 Styrofoam cooler at Target and then headed to Costco to get some essentials. (In our case: yogurt, granola, blueberries, bread, eggs, granola bars, applesauce, and snack mix.) This was also a great place for a cheap pizza dinner. Through cunning planning we were able to avoid buying ice for the cooler. We filled it up at Noel’s parents house and replenished it every day with ice we’d made in rentals with freezers or onsite ice machines. We of course bought a few other things along the way at the normal grocery store to supplement. If you need condiments, pick up a few packets at a deli or gas station. This is also a great trick for backpacking. Oh, and a note about fish. You would think it would be cheap in Alaska because there’s so much of it, but it’s not. The cheapest way to get fish is to catch it yourself (unless you’re paying a lot of money for someone to help you have that experience) or find one of the many locals who is suffering from an overabundance of salmon. (Similar to how many of us suffer from an overabundance of squash every summer.)
  10. Use Any Local Connection You Have – Some places give local discounts. When we visited the Alaska Sea Life Museum we got a discount by having Noel’s parents buy the tickets. When we booked our Sea Life Cruise we used a coupon that was printed in the Anchorage Daily News. We’ve also used local connections to get us discounts on visiting the top of the Stratosphere and other places in Las Vegas.

    The family on our Wildlife Cruise.
    The family on our Wildlife Cruise.
  11. Choose One Big Splurge – Saving money is awesome, but sometimes it is worth it to do one expensive thing. The first time we went to Alaska we did not follow this advice and our trip wasn’t quite as fun. Our big splurge was our Sea Life Cruise (with the coupon of course) and it honestly was one of the more memorable things we did. I should add that we also did save money by bringing our own food instead of paying for the buffet. (Who really wants to eat at a buffet when they’re seasick anyway? Noel, I’m looking at you.)

A Few Free or Cheap Things You Can Do In Alaska

Anchorage Area

Kenai Peninsula

  • Whittier – Fun little place to check out with great views. $12 toll to go through the tunnel.
  • Soldotna Creek Park – If you have kids they will love you for taking them here.
  •  Homer and Seward are both cute little towns to walk around.
  • Exit Glacier – A nice little hike to a glacier and really the only thing you can see of Kenai Fjords National Park without taking an expensive boat tour.
  • Alaska Sea Life Museum –  A little more pricey, but on par with the average museum and cheaper than a lot of things you can do in Alaska. You can also save with a local!
  • Skillak Lookout and Bear Mountain Trail – This is what we were going to do for our date before it decided to rain and Glenna and Mike’s washing machine stopped working and we ended up at the laundromat instead.
  • There are all sorts of scenic little pull-offs along the Turnagain Arm. Some of them are owned by the State Park so there would be a small parking fee.
Denali National Park

I should note that we are typically huge fans of National Parks as they often offer a big bang for your buck. (Especially if you have an annual pass and go often, which we do.) However, the National Parks in Alaska are a little different. At Kenai Fjords you have to pay for a cruise or at least a kayak rental to see the coolest things and at Denali the majority of the park can be seen only by bus, and those buses aren’t free like in Zion. (The cheapest option is $26.25 per person 16 and older.) Still, there are things you can do at Denali that don’t involve an expensive and long, by the way, bus trip.

  • The entrance fee at Denali is $10/person 16 and older. (Or free with an annual pass.) This kind of seemed to be on the honor system though because there was no fee booth stopping you from entering the park.
  • Sled dog demonstrations – You can catch a free bus to the visitor’s center or go on a 2.4 mile hike to see these. Our kids thought this was the best thing ever.
  • Drive the first 15 miles of the park. Private vehicles are allowed to drive the first 15 miles of the park and there are several hikes you can do between the Visitor’s Center and Mile 15. Most range from .6-5 miles.
  • See Mt McKinley. Many of the places you can catch a great view of Mt McKinley aren’t even in the park itself. Check out this list of 10 places you might see Mt McKinley for ideas.
Natural Beauty

Natural Beauty

Doesn’t everyone want a nice rosy glow?  Well, how about going for a run or doing a few push-ups before going out instead?  That’ll do the trick every time.  Do you want bright glowing eyes?  Get some sleep.  Red lips?  Give them a little nibble and you’ll be just fine.  Want to radiate from the inside out? Smile!                                        –“Eliminating Lady Temptations”

Maybe it’s just because I never really got the hang of the whole make-up thing, but I’m a huge believer that less is more when it comes to being beautiful.  I am, however, still a woman and I often devote more time than I should working on and lamenting over my physical appearance. Here are some of the things I do to  still feel beautiful, but keep my beautification routine a little more natural.

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  • Use make-up sparingly. I typically wear make-up just on Sunday and every once in awhile on special occasions. I’ve gotten so used to not wearing make-up that sometimes I think I look scary when I do wear it.
  • Exercise – I could go on and on about the benefits of exercise, but I’ll keep it short. When you exercise you look and feel better. It’s also free to cheap and good for you.
  • Wash Hair Less – I only wash my hair about once a week. This saves both water and my time.  When my hair starts to look a little greasy, I’ve found that a little bit of cocoa powder makes for a great dry shampoo. I haven’t been able to break out of the shampoo habit, but since it takes me a really long time to go through an entire bottle of shampoo and conditioner I have a bit more to spend on eco-friendly choices. (BTW, most are still cheaper than salon brands.)
  • Use Hair Tools Sparingly– I typically wash my hair at night and then wrap it up in an old t-shirt to dry over night. (I’ve read that the t-shirt produces less frizz than a traditional towel.) This spares my hair from a lot of blow dryer damage. It’s also a really great method for curly hair and I’m often pleased with how good my hair looks when I wake up the next morning. I do use a flat-iron to fix things here and there, but try to avoid using it heavily every day by getting creative with different kinds of braids and up-dos. (Check out my friend Robyn’s blog for some cute and easy styling ideas.) I always get way more compliments for the creative hairstyles and the funny thing is they often take me less time. (Keep in mind, I’ve been braiding my own hair since third grade so I have a lot of practice.)
  • Make your own products. I’ve started making this DIY exfoliater that has revolutionized my world. No exaggeration. I have really dry, sensitive skin and while using good soap has helped, this recipe for “soft, silky legs in a bottle” has eliminated practically all of my remaining itchiness and razor burn. (It hasn’t been very effective on stress itching, darn it.)
  • Be Confident. Nothing can beat confidence and if you do it right it can be contagious.

I also really like Seventh Generation’s 10 Tips for a More Naturally Beautiful You. What do you do to be more naturally beautiful?

PS Don’t forget to hop over and comment on Monday’s post if you’re interested in winning a set of reusable bowl covers.
DownEast Remix

DownEast Remix

Dress Without JacketDo you ever have one of those moments when you discover a hole in an article of clothing, start angrily muttering under your breath about how you can’t believe this item you just bought is already falling apart, but then almost have a heart attack when you start counting in your mind and realize that you’ve owned this item for 5+ years? Happens to me all the time. Where does the time go? What to do with these pieces is always a bit of a conundrum for me. I’m a huge fan of second-hand shops (for both donating and purchasing), but I feel bad donating clothes that aren’t in bad enough shape to be recycled (for those shops that participate in those programs), but also aren’t in great enough shape for someone to really want to wear them. Often, I just stash them in my sewing room and wait for brilliance to strike. Which is what happened with my “new” dress I’m posting about today.

Don't we have the best pictures?
Don’t we have the best pictures?

I had a dress I bought from DownEast several years ago that I loved. It was such an amazing dress that three other women in our church congregation also owned it and we each unofficially adopted a week of the month that was our “turn” to wear it. Over the years it somehow got stretched out though.

Yes, we are hot and tired.
Yes, we are hot and tired. But isn’t Mini Coop adorable?

I also had a basic pink tee from DownEast that had an unraveling hem. When both items had landed in my sewing room pile, I knew it was time for a DownEast Remix. I cut a few strips off the bottom of the shirt and used this tutorial to make the “braided” neckline. (I did two rows of the “braid.”)  Then I cut the original top off the dress, did a basting stitch around the raw edge and cinched it till it was the same size as the bottom of the t-shirt, and sewed them together using regular thread on top and elastic thread in my bobbin. (I based a lot of the dress assembly off of this t-shirt dress tutorial.) I added a belt and voila, as good as new.

Dress w/ Jacket And just for fun, look how cute this little girl looks with her tiny ponytail.

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March = Party Month

March = Party Month

Silly GirlThere is a lot that goes on in March. I feel like every time we turn around we’re celebrating something new. It keeps life exciting, but also means my house is in need of some serious post-celebratory-cleaning. Here’s a brief recap of what we’ve celebrated so far. A million birthdays, including our favorite little lady’s.

Trains! Free day at the train museum. Cooper was actually a little overwhelmed by the huge trains, but really liked the model train display.

Spring InsideOur anniversary. Six years and counting. This year it fell on a Sunday so we were going to go on a date the day before, but then there was a big blizzard. Luckily, I’d picked up some tulips the day before that made being trapped at home seem less dreary. (I rarely buy fresh cut flowers, but there was a one day sale at Whole Foods and I had a feeling we might need something special to brighten the weekend.)

BuckeyesI’d also read that the sixth anniversary was the “candy anniversary” so the day of we made some Buckeyes. Ours were ugly, but terribly delicious. Fortunately, we know we lack willpower around confections of this sort and had the sense to make a half batch. It was pretty low-key, but that’s okay because we have a really fun belated anniversary trip planned for next month.

Pie

Pi Day! I think this was actually the first year that I realized it was pi day and had enough time to do something about it. We made chocolate pudding pie that didn’t disappoint.

ConstructionSt. Patrick’s Day. I was contemplating buying Ellen a St. Patrick’s Day tee from Carter’s and even dropped by the store when we walked the mall with playgroup one week. I was a little miffed to discover the shirt cost more in store than it did online and then when the line to checkout was really long I just put it back and left. (I have pretty low tolerance for lines. I have to really want/need what’s at the front to wait in them.) Still, that little red-haired girl needed something festive to wear so I gathered one of Cooper’s old t-shirts, fabric paint, glitter, and some painter’s tape.

L-Clover-V-EIf I could do it over, I would do the letters closer together, but for something she’ll only wear a handful of times I think it turned out great.

Leprechaun With the exception of Cooper getting Roseola and having his third ear infection this year, it’s been a fabulous March so far. Now, I better go clean my house before I have to get ready for Easter.

The Holy Grail of Sourdough

The Holy Grail of Sourdough

The Atkins diet never stood a chance around these parts; we are carbivores through and through. Bread is quite literally our staff of life. We are picky about our bread though, which can be an expensive habit. Unless of course you are fortunate to be married to a man who lists bread making in his hobbies. Luckily for me, I am that fortunate. Noel makes a delicious crusty artisan bread and a hearty whole wheat for sandwiches and toast. We rarely buy bread from the store, but the one bread we consistently find ourselves purchasing is sourdough. Making a decent loaf at home has just seemed beyond our reach, until now.

I made my own sourdough starter several weeks ago and have tried my hand at a few different recipes. Most of the recipes were insanely time consuming and labor intensive (there was one loaf that I literally spent two and a half days babying), which was extremely frustrating when the results were only average at best.  I was about ready to give up on my dream of homemade sourdough when Noel suggested I borrow some of the techniques from our favorite bread recipe. I baked my first trial loaves today.  My approach was less labor intensive than previous attempts and the results were undeniably delicious. We practically consumed an entire loaf paired with a hearty stew all in one sitting.

Check out the updated recipe on Dirty Dish Club.

Giant Plane Bag

Giant Plane Bag

On our recent trip we didn’t check any bags. It was kind of pain to haul three carry-on bags, two car seats, two strollers, and three personal items through the airport; I guess that just shows how cheap crazy we are.* Because we wanted to get the most out of our allotted free items, I decided I needed to make myself a giant plane bag for my personal item. I used some home decor fabric leftover from another project (and originally purchased on clearance), a pair of Noel’s old pants, and the bottom of the bag I upcycled into snack bags. I loosely followed this tutorial, but for the most part I kind of just made up my own thing. (Are you starting to notice a trend?) I thought about writing my own tutorial, but sometimes when you’re making stuff up as you go that gets a bit complicated . . . look, I’m just glad the thing didn’t turn out to be a giant mess 🙂

I did not end up using the zipper pictured.

I cut the pockets out of Noel’s pants to use inside the bag and cut the legs into long strips for the ties. I also paired the drawstring with an old carabiner for my “key tether.”

View of the interior

Three interior pockets, a place for my water bottle and a giant side compartment where I stash diaper stuff. The bottom piece even pulls out so you can throw this in the washing machine. Oh, this bag has everything. But because it has everything it is HUGE. So, it might not be the most practical thing in everyday life, but at the airport: complete lifesaver.

*On the way home we asked kindly if they couldn’t just check our carry-ons for free since they would take up the same amount of space no matter where they were and if we didn’t have to carry them on the plane we could board faster and irritate less people. They kindly obliged. I guess it never hurts to ask.

My Love of Cloth Diapering Revisited

My Love of Cloth Diapering Revisited

I’ve done a lot of traveling this past month and consequently have used a lot of disposable diapers. While disposables do have their conveniences, every time I use them my love for cloth is only reinforced.  (And I say that even when I have two kids in diapers with no end in sight. (When asked if he wants to sit on the potty Cooper adamantly says, “No, potty! Diaper!” Ugh.)

I was reading an article on cloth diapering the other day and decided to do some calculations on how much money I’ll save by cloth diapering just two kids. I added up all the costs I’ve incurred from purchasing diapers and diaper paraphernalia (And I really tried to account for every penny spent on anything cloth diaper related: covers, inserts, diaper sprayer, special detergent, wet bags, etc) and found my expenditures totaled $607.96. The article suggests it would cost me $3,120 to put two kids in Pampers for two years making my savings $2,512.04. Even if I swap out Pampers for Walmart diapers (which goes against a personal creed, but for the sake of cheap examples lets go with it) I’m still saving about 1264.04. If you use the cloth diapers for more than two kids or more than two years per kid (which I probably will since it’s looking like Ellen would have to be potty-trained at like a year for us to average out at two years) the savings become even greater. Definitely something that makes my cheap and green sides smile. (Note:  Even if I’d only used the diapers for one kid the savings would have been $952.04 vs. Pampers and $328.04 vs. Walmart diapers, although I’m guessing the savings would have been even more since I probably wouldn’t have bought as many diapers for just one kid.)

I did a post on cloth diapering awhile back, but I feel like I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade since then.

Cloth Diapering Newborns – I didn’t start cloth diapering Cooper until he was several months old, so when Ellen came along it was a whole new experience. I bought two different diapers GroVia Newborn All-In-Ones and some Pre-loved Thirsties XS covers from Nell’s Natural Baby. The GroVias were adorable and a good fit for a newborn, but they had be put on just so in order for them not to leak. It looks like they’ve redone the diaper to make it more absorbent since I bought mine. The GroVias were my “going out” diaper since they were more trim. They also were an excellent photo prop. The Thirsties were the more practical diaper, but definitely more bulky. They were pretty huge on newborn baby Ellen so she wore them mostly at home. I got more use out of them since she could still wear them up until about 5 months. (Keep in mind my kids don’t top the charts on size.) I’ve also heard great things about Kissaluvs and almost bought some, but decided I didn’t want to invest too much money on newborn diapers. I didn’t cloth diaper 100% the first month since I only had seven diapers that fit Ellen, but it significantly cut down on disposable diaper usage. (When I was using disposables I used Naty diapers by Nature Baby  Care. All the diapers I bought came at a pretty good price by shopping around and finding awesome discount codes.)

Diaper Ointment – Coconut Oil makes a good diaper ointment and I’ve read that it doesn’t affect the absorbency of cloth diapers. The only problem I’ve encountered is that it turns into a liquid when it gets warm, so we had a few incidences where the floor was unintentionally polished this past summer.

Line Drying Inserts – I love line drying my diapers, but am not so fond of how it makes the inserts a bit crinkly. One of my retired neighbors suggested I put them in the dryer on the “fluff air” setting for just a few minutes after pulling the diapers off the line. It works great.

Find a Use for the Diapers You Hate – I’ve tried a handful of diapers (Flips, GroVias, Thirsties, bumGenius, gDiapers, Econobum, and SwaddleBees) to find what works for me and have varying degrees of love for all of them. gDiapers have been my biggest disappointment which is unfortunate since I bought a pack of six of them. I keep two in the closest as  back up diapers for when I forget to do a wash and run out of clean diapers and the other four are in our 72 hours kits. I also use the one bumGenius diaper we own as a swim diaper since it has enough lining to not feel uncomfortable, but won’t absorb so much water that your kid will sink.

Cloth Wipes – I’d never really given cloth wipes a chance, but recently was convinced by a friend that I should give them a fair shot. I cut up an old flannel receiving blanket and some other miscellaneous flannel and keep it on the changing table. I’ve just been running them under water when I go to change a diaper and I’ve been quite pleased with their wiping ability (way better than disposable diaper wipes) and how clean they come out in the wash. Perhaps I will be converted after all. I’ve also tried making my own wipes, but wasn’t so fond of the results. (I didn’t use the “right” paper towels and I don’t seem to have a sharp enough kitchen knife.)

Do you guys have any tips and tricks?

A Guaranteed Way to Ruin Your Curb Appeal

A Guaranteed Way to Ruin Your Curb Appeal

We just couldn’t do it anymore. We tried to make our lawn look lush and well-manicured so it could look burb appropriate, but the water bill was killing us and quite frankly the soaring temperatures were killing the lawn. So, we thought we’d beat mother nature to the punch.

Our cheap and green sides have always liked the idea of xeriscaping, but the part of us that cared about keeping up appearances hesitated. Then Noel checked out The Undaunted Garden: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty by Lauren Springer Ogden and after being completely awe-struck by page after page of the colorful drought resistant gardens she’d planted in Colorado’s clay soil we couldn’t wait to attempt it ourselves. Since dousing the front yard in Round-Up isn’t exactly our style, we’re going the slower route where we water the lawn till it’s damp, cover it with clear tarps, and let the power of the sun steam all the grass and weeds into oblivion. (You can see our first set of results in the photo on the right.) Part of us feels like we should put up a sign in the front yard that says “Good things coming soon!” to put the gawking neighbors at ease (and they do gawk), but in some ways it’s kind of fun to let them just wonder. It’s a good thing we don’t have an HOA.

P.S. Our back lawn is staying normal.

Big Boy Room On a Budget

Big Boy Room On a Budget

I’m not generally one of those people that creates a master design scheme for decorating a room. (I’m just not that fancy.) So, when we relocated the crib to Ellen’s room I slowly began my process of collecting and making things (as cheaply as possible) to turn Cooper’s room into a big boy room.  There are still things that will get upgraded as he gets older (like a bed frame), but I think I’ve created a base that will transition well as he grows.

We found this dresser on the side of the road. It was fairly beat up, but we cleaned it up, re-stapled the back, replaced the handles, and did some touch-up sanding and staining. It still isn’t the most high quality piece of furniture, but it works great for a kid’s room and saved something from the landfill. We put a picture of Jesus, the ever handy temporal thermometer, and some decorative pieces Cooper received when he was born on top of the dresser. The number hamper came from Ikea and I made the banner out of scraps to go over his crib.

The curtains are blackout curtains I made when we first moved in. (If only this simplified version tutorial had existed then, I could have made them a little less stiff.) The bed rail was given to us by one of Noel’s co-workers that was unloading his kid stuff. The framed cross-stitch was made by one of my grandmas, the stool is made from sustainable bamboo, and the comforter and blankets were made by me. All of the stuffed animals were gifts.

I’d read a green design article once that said you should pick age neutral patterns for big items so they can grow with your child, so I choose the fabric for the comforter with that in mind. I’d had my eye on this fabric for awhile and snatched it up when it was on closeout on fabric.com.

We picked up the little table and chairs at Ikea, the rug was on clearance at Home Depot, all of the toys were gifts (having the only grandchildren means we never have a shortage of toys), and most of the books were either gifts or purchased used. (I highly recommend Better World Books if you’re looking to purchase used books online.) The bins were purchase new and serendipitously matched the rug, the frame holds a family photo taken by my wonderful mom, and the plant is an orchid that despite all my care seems it will never grow flowers again.

Noel made the cube organizer with the help of an online tutorial and the use of a co-worker’s table saw. I think it turned out pretty good for his first woodworking project. (Side note: I took wood shop in high school, Noel took keyboarding 🙂 ) I sanded it and painted it to make it presentable.

Even though I didn’t necessarily start out with a vision, I’m pretty pleased with how everything came together and so cheaply at that.

What I Learned about Happiness from my dishwasher, a catalog, and YouTube

What I Learned about Happiness from my dishwasher, a catalog, and YouTube

Update: the original video was removed from YouTube, but someone posted a better one on Vimeo. Here it is.

Update again: the Vimeo one is gone now too. But Daily Motion has it.

“Everything is amazing and nobody is happy” by Meowbay

So true. I see myself being like that too. I get all irritated with the dishwasher when something won’t fit in there or a bowl has a few specks of food remaining after the cycle. Somehow I forgot that just two short years ago I had to wash all of my dishes by hand and it took forever. Now I have this magic box that I put the dirty dishes and some soap into, push a few buttons and, tada, clean dishes.

It turns out there’s a name that people in lab coats made up for this phenomenon: Hedonic Adaptation. The rest of us call it taking what you have for granted.  I’ve been thinking about this lately.

So, on Saturday morning I noticed we had a new Patagonia catalog that came in the mail. They have the coolest outdoorsy clothes and people that looked like they were having such fun in exotic places. The marketing was working, I started to feel bad about myself for not having those things. Then it occurred to me that what I really wanted was to be outdoors enjoying myself like those people appeared to be. The clothes were merely incidental. So, we packed up the kids and the backpacks and headed for some trails near our home.

It was a beautiful day. We forgot to bring the camera. I don’t even remember what I wore.