Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ain't I a Woman?

Sophie had to read a biography for her book report this month.  One of the few children's biographies we had on hand was about Sojourner Truth, the 19th century abolitionist and women's rights advocate.  To spare myself a trip to the library that night, I encouraged her to read it.  We read a couple of chapters together and talked a little about how unjust slavery is, how blessed we are to be free and about the importance of speaking up when things are wrong.

For her presentation, Sophie had to dress up as Sojourner and talk about her life in the first person.  She was so excited with her simple costume.  She came home pumped up about how well she did.  'Atta girl!

This YouTube video is of Alfre Woodard giving Sojourner's famous "Ain't I a Woman" speech, which was an oft-quoted and influential speech of the Woman's Suffrage movement.  
I always cry when I read or hear about how her children were taken from her and sold into slavery .  She said in the "Ain't I a Woman" speech: "When I cried out in my mother's grief none but Jesus heard me."  I take so much for granted, but I am grateful for women like Sojourner Truth, and glad that Sophie got to read about a strong, spunky, amazing woman this month.

Weekend Bloggy Reading

Monday, March 28, 2011

New-to-Us Sofas AND Craigslist Furniture Buying Tips

I have been meaning to post pics of our new-to-us sofas forever.

That is almost as long as it took for me to make a decision about what to buy.  I went around to all the furniture stores in the area, and got thoroughly depressed by the cost vs. attractiveness of what I saw. I don't have anything inherently against spending money for furniture, but I want to really like it if I am going to pay more than I spent for a year's worth of college tuition on a couple of sofas.  It wasn't helping that I had a pretty narrow idea of what I wanted: a formal sofa with turned legs for the living room, and a big, squishy, slip covered sofa for our family room.  Both these styles are more commonly found in higher-end establishments.  As usual, I wanted a high-end look on a low-end budget.
I was trying to replace our family room sofa 

and our living room sofa.  

Both had seen better days--the living room sofa was a $30 thrift store find covered by a $30 steal of a slipcover, and the family room sofa was a bicast leather sofa that had cracked, then been picked at by my sweet but mildly destructive children until it looked like this:
 {{Shudder}}.  Not pretty.

After combing all the furniture stores, I finally decided I do not have the fiscal stomach for buying new furniture.  So I started looking on Craigslist seriously, and within a couple weeks I had found two sofas.  Both were in great shape, and were really close to the ideal sofas I had in my head.

Here is my new living room sofa (boy and plastic golf ball shown to give you an idea of the scale of the pieces ;) ): 

 It is an Ethan Allan sofa--currently on their website for about $2,000.  I got it for $100.  The woman who sold it had a black lab who liked to sit on it, and she was sick of trying to remove black pet hair from a white sofa.  I think I will eventually make slipcovers for it (and maybe stain the turned legs which are a little light for my taste), but in the meantime, I washed all the cushion covers and down cushion wraps in hot, vacuumed it thoroughly and sprayed the heck out of it with Lysol.  I think it looks great in my living room.

Now for the family room sofa:
This is a Crate and Barrel down-filled slip covered sofa that has been discontinued on their website.  From the looks of things, it would have been between $1500 and $2500 new.  I bought it for $250.  The lighting in this picture is terrible, but the fabric is a sage-ish green chenille.  It is great because it is long enough that four people (five if they are little people) can sit on the sofa at the same time.  This one was in awesome shape.  I vacuumed and Lysol-ed it and it was ready to rumble.

There are some things I've learned over my years of buying furniture off Craigslist and the like that really make the process go more smoothly.  I'm sure most of you die-hard Craigslisters have lots of wisdom to share, but for what they're worth, here are my tips:

  • Measure your space--doors, space for the wanted piece, etc.  There are not usually returns when you buy something from someone on Craigslist.
  • Ask as many questions up front as possible.  Once you've driven to some one's house, you tend to be very invested in buying the piece.  You may have reservations once you see it, but feel pressured to get it anyway, if only to justify your time expenditure.  The more you know ahead of time, the fewer surprises.  Some examples of things to find out are: Smoking household? How old?  Any defects? Who was it made by?  Why are they selling it?
  • Make sure to be courteous to the seller.  Even when you are grilling them about their item, be tactful and kind, i.e. "Could I ask you a few questions about the piece you are selling?"
  • Do your research.  Look up the manufacturer of the piece you are considering.  Does it have a good reputation?  I eliminated several sofa options this way.  Of course if the price is low enough, you may be willing to take a chance--but it is better to know what you are getting up front.
  • Take a buddy with you when you go to see the item, both for safety's sake and to help you stuff your item in your vehicle.  Also bring directions or a GPS, the seller's phone number, a tape measure/your house measurements and some rope (to tie down your trunk or hatch just in case).
  • Plan on paying in cash.  If it is a large sum, I often check out the piece and the situation first to make sure I'm interested before I go get the money from my ATM.  Usually, if it is under $100, I'll just bring the money with me.
So what about everybody else?  Do you have any tips to make Craigslisting easier?  Or have you scored a furniture steal lately?  Inquiring minds want to know... :)

I'm linking up with:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fun Western Washington Field Trip for Mom: Common Folk Co.

I've mentioned this before, but our family moved last summer and I had a baby a month later.  Consequently, my life has been pretty hectic, and I haven't had as much time to explore our new surroundings as I would like.  I've slowly worked out which grocery stores I like, combed the area thrift stores and have found some great restaurants (although we have yet to find something that fulfills our Cafe Rio cravings).  However, I feel like in the normal run of taking kids hither and yon, keeping food in the house and clothes on our back I rarely have time to do much more than the basics.  I drive by little shops, cafes, parks or whatever and think, "That looks like something I would like...I should go in and check it out."  And then it often takes months or even years before I finally get to it.

So I've decided that I am going to take a little field trip once every month somewhere in Western Washington and post it on the blog.  Now that I've put it out there, hopefully that will help hold me accountable to not put off the little explorations and discoveries that make me happy.

So without further ado, here is Fun Field Trip #1: Common Folk Co.

It is a gift and home decor store.  I went there with the stated purpose of buying a present for my friend, Brynn, but I also took some pictures of what they have.  So, want to go shopping with me?

First off, above is the front of the store.  Cute, no?  Also, its proximity to the store next door (pic below) doesn't hurt.
They sell home decor and accessories, some items of furniture, as well as gift items like toiletries, seasonal decor and jewelry. The whole store is full of charming vignettes with really lovely products.

 When we first arrived at the store, the woman who was working offered Sawyer and me a mint sample (one of those white chocolate, melt-in-your-mouth mints--yummm) and because this is Seattle....

she also offered us some coffee or tea.  I'm not a coffee drinker, but they had a nice selection of herbal teas as well.  If I hadn't been balancing a camera, Lucy on my hip and trying to keep Sawyer from breaking anything while still letting him look at things, I would have taken her up on the offer, though :).
I thought these soaps were really pretty all stacked together.
A display of black and white toiletry items.  I am drawn to black and white...
Sawyer loved these two ceramic dogs.  When he saw them, he said: "Look--they love each other, Mom!"
He wanted me to take a picture of him in front of the dogs.  He seriously looks like he's auditioning to be an extra in Oliver! in this picture.  He has about 1,000 cowlicks in his hair.  It only looks good if it is really short and he needed a haircut pretty desperately when we took this.  My cute little urchin :).

I really like all the dressed up lamp shades.

There is also a cute kids section.  I thought these party hats with glitter were really fun.  Plus, can you see the stairs in the background painted with a checkerboard pattern?  That would be really great in the right sort of house.

 This Easter tree is over-the-top fabulous :).

They do a good job of using junk/found items for display, and it provides an interesting contrast.  Here, various chandeliers and paintings are hanging from an old, weathered scaffold.

I loved both these sets of pillows.  I like the burlap/graphic look right now, and I've always had a thing for ball fringe.
One more lovely vignette--wasn't that a fun shop?  Does it remind you of one of your favorite places to browse?  Stay tuned...I can't wait until my next field trip.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Microwave Hollandaise Sauce

Green Bean Benedict--a quick but tasty dinner (we usually do this with Broccoli, but I was out, so I improvised and it was still delicious)

I know that the word microwave doesn't sound like it should be anywhere near Hollandaise Sauce.  Hollandaise Sauce should be a venture fraught with peril--carefully adding a chunk of butter at a time to your egg yolks and lemon juice over a double boiler, hoping and praying it doesn't curdle.

I thought this was the only way--consequently I never made Hollandaise Sauce.  However, I noticed the microwave directions in the margin of my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook one day over a decade ago.  I tried it and it was delicious!  I have never, ever had this recipe fail.  We serve it over fish, steamed veggies like broccoli, green beans or asparagus or on one of our favorite recipes from my mother-in-law, Veggie Benedict (just like Eggs Benedict but with a steamed green veggie--usually broccoli--instead of the poached egg).  I'm regrettably the only one in my family who likes poached eggs.

So, here are the steps:
1. Gather:
1/2 cup (1 cube) butter
1 T. lemon juice (fresh is best, but I'm not above using the concentrated stuff if I don't have any lemons hanging around)
1 T. water
3 egg yolks, separated from the whites

2. Put your egg yolks in a large microwaveable bowl or Pyrex measuring cup. Stir the yolks until mixture is smooth.

3. Put butter, lemon juice and water in a Pyrex measuring cup.

4. Microwave for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes or until butter is melted. 
5. Whisk melted butter into egg yolks, pouring slowly. 

6. When the two mixtures are smoothly combined, cook in microwave for 30-40 seconds, stopping every 10 seconds to stir (and try to ignore the spooky reflection of a woman with a camera).  I find it easiest to just cook for 10 seconds at a time rather than set it for the full 30 seconds.  You can resurrect it, but it is better  not to overcook your sauce.

7. It is done when it has thickened and doesn't run easily off a spoon.  It will be the consistency of runny pudding.

Hint: If it does curdle, add 3-4 drops very hot tap water and whisk like a mad woman (or man :) ) until it looks smooth again.

Also, if you're wondering and need more instruction, Veggie Benedict is simple.  It is just an English muffin toasted and lightly buttered, which you top with ham and a slice of Swiss cheese, then broil until the cheese melts.  You top with steamed veggies (we usually use broccoli because all the kids like it and it's so nutritious) and tippy-top with Hollandaise Sauce.  Eat with a knife and fork.  It really is great.  If you can go the egg route because your family members have taste ;), use a poached egg instead of the broccoli.  Still great.

Bon appetit!

I'm linking up to:   Tasty Tuesday over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam   AND

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sticker Shock: How I'm trying to psych myself up to pay way more than I want to on a home I'm not super excited about...

Our  family moved to the Seattle area last summer.  After lots of thought and prayer, we knew that we needed to make the move to Washington--you know how you just know something is right even if it doesn't make a lot of sense?  We sold my dream home (or at least one of 'em--am I the only person in the world who has more than one kind of dream home?).  This particular dream home was a 1908 beauty with a library, amazing pocket doors, 12-foot coffered ceilings and a huge family/kitchen/eating room.  Anyway, we sold it to some awesome friends of ours after only living there for about five months and they are doing an amazing job continuing to fix it up.  Sadness (for us--happiness for them!).

So now, after renting for almost a year, we are contemplating whether to buy or rent for another year.  I've gotta say, it ain't lookin' pretty on the buying front.  There just aren't that many homes on the market right now, and of the stuff that's out there, nothing is reaching out and grabbing me--at least not in a nice way.  To put it bluntly, I think what is on the market now is pretty picked over.  I'm sure most sellers who can afford to wait are hoping that they can sell in a few years when prices have recovered a little.

I know that we'll be taken care of.  Somehow my scripture studies lately keep coming back to variations of what is expressed in Matthew 6:25-34  (you know, seek ye first the kingdom of God--in other words--stop OBSESSING about where you are going to live and keep your priorities where they belong).  I am trying...I really am.  But I have to admit that I compulsively look at the real estate websites every single day fairly often and belly-ache about my findings to whoever will pretend to listen.

The comparison to Utah is what's killing me.  It's hard to go from a low-rent area to a high-rent one and feel super happy about the transition.  So I look at Washington real estate websites and feel like every house is a rip-off, like some older person who can't get over the fact that everything costs more now because "back in my day" everything was just a nickel.

It's not that I had unadulteratedly happy feelings about Utah real estate.  There are far too many cookie-cutter neighborhoods there, and builders tend to build in whatever style is trendy right this minute, which means many neighborhoods look dated in five years.  But, at least we could actually afford a reasonably nice house that fit our family.

Let me show you what I mean by comparing two houses, one in Washington and one in Utah.  Both cost $500,000--which is an insane amount of money as far as I'm concerned.

Washington House--$500k

This house is reasonably big for Washington (2,500 square feet) and looks like it's been maintained to a decent standard.  It has 4 bedrooms and doesn't list the number of baths.

It does have a peek-a-boo view of the water and the wood floors look nice (although that fireplace is crying out for paint, don't you think?

Utah House--a "bargain" at $485k
Primary Photo [click for next photo]
Oh yeah.  That' s what I'm talking about.

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Cutest stairway evah!  Awesome door, too.

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Even cute from far away.

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My flow blue and tea trios would look amazing in these built-ins.

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The wainscoting, the french doors.  Sniff, Sniff...  This is such a gorgeous house.  It is about 3,600 square feet and located in a prestigious historical neighborhood in Salt Lake City. 

In all fairness, the Salt Lake City house is a short sale, so it is probably undervalued, but still--wouldn't you rather live in a red brick house with charm galore than a 60's Brady bunch house where you know you'll want to revamp every thing about it and it still won't ever be what you really want?

It's even more torturous to look around the country and see all the amazing houses you can get for $500k nationwide.  I was looking at houses online in this great St. Louis neighborhood recommended by "This Old House" magazine, and you can get beautiful 5,000 square foot turn of the century mansions for around $500k there.  Yes, I'm sure the heating bills would be another mortgage, but man are they gorgeous!

Anyway, in case you are ready to hit me over the head with my laptop, I'm ready to get back to reality now.  I need to remember a few important facts:

  • We are lucky that my husband has a great, steady job that he enjoys here.
  • We are truly lucky that be they ever so humble/time-warped, we can even contemplate buying a house right now.  
  • We are lucky that we can live in a good area, with good schools and a reasonable commute to my husband's work.
  • Put in a global perspective, having a warm, safe place to live (whether rented or owned, darling or lame), food to eat and my family all around me is a one of the most precious of life's blessings that I thoroughly take for granted in all my grousing about how real estate here is such a rip-off.
I'm sure I'll eventually become desensitized to the insanely high prices and will be willing to bite the bullet and buy at some point.  Until then, I probably need to stop torturing myself with what I could have if I only lived somewhere else.  Sigh :).  I live here, and I'm sure we'll figure out what to do in time.  Until then, please forgive my escapism and whining--I'm still experiencing a leeetle bit of sticker shock.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Grocery Shopping Made Easy (or at least, easier)

Shopper Shopping Cart - A woman shopper pushes a shopping...
Here is a picture of me shopping.  Now that I save so much time with my list, I have time to wear heels and a skirt to the grocery store.  And bring my own spotlights and everything :).

It is no secret that I really don't enjoy laundry, and that I sometimes have to do pretty creative things to psych myself up for it.

I actually sort of like the shopping part of grocery shopping, but I sometimes feel frustrated by the overall time investment.  The fact is, that between making the list, culling my fridge of spoiled/old food, going to the store, buying all the food, putting it in my car, unloading it from my car, and putting it away in my house (including dividing larger quantity buys into more manageable packaging), grocery shopping for my family turns into a four-hour minimum investment (since I am doing the rest while taking care of my two youngest kids).  Anything I can do to reduce this time expenditure while not reducing the quality of the food I'm able to provide is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned.

So, I figured I could start at the beginning and streamline the list making portion of grocery shopping.

I typed up a standard grocery list of foods I regularly buy.  If I have all the things on this list, I can automatically make about 80% of the meals we normally like to eat.  I can just write additional/one-off ingredients in the margins of my list, or in the extra blanks provided on the list itself.

The great thing about this list is that it also helps me maintain a good pantry of food at all times.  Pre-list, I would find myself forgetting things we like to have on hand  It also allows me to focus on what to buy in bulk when there is a good sale--thereby saving time and money.  Oh yeah! :)

So how does the list work?

Here's how it worked this week: I printed off a copy of my master list from the computer.  I quickly looked in my fridge and freezer to see what needed to be used up and what I have on hand.   I then loosely planned a week's worth of dinners based on what we have, what's in season/on sale and what I want to eat, writing them down on the bottom of my list.  Then, I used my trusty highlighter to highlight the things I need, and wrote down a few additional things I needed that aren't a standard part of my list.

This made doing my grocery list take about 5 minutes rather than the normal 20.  I can do a lot of other things in 15 minutes, so to me, this is worth the initial time investment I spent putting the list together.  It would probably be even quicker to just keep the list handy all week, and mark what I need as I notice we are out of or low on something.  

I am sure everyone's list of "essential" food is different, but for what it's worth, here is a link to the list I typed up.  Happy shopping!

I'm linking up to:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Family Finer Things Night...

I started collecting "Tea Trios" when we lived in England from 1999 to 2002 (named that because of the three parts--tea cup, saucer and small plate).  

Sometime after we moved back to the States, we instituted our Family Finer Things night.  On many Sundays, we make two teapots--one of herbal tea and one of hot chocolate.  Then we all sit down at the table, stuff our face with a treat, drink our tea/hot chocolate and read some fine literature.

Yes, that is totally my lens cap.  I'm a dork!

Usually, we end up reading from one of our Norton Anthology of English Literature texts (probably the only college textbook we're slowly getting our money's worth from :) ).  Last night, Aaron read some Aesop's fables and I read a chapter from a book the elementary kids' school is reading called A Cricket in Times Square (which I know is well-known, but I've never read it before).

The kids are always really cheerful.

And well-behaved.

Everyone takes it extremely seriously.

We have a great time, and the kids really look forward to it.  Sometimes after a long weekend of watching the house descend into chaos, I'm not in the mood to have to hand-wash a bunch of china (I could let the kids do it, but they are not as careful as I am and I don't like to have wanton breakage :) ).  But I have to remind myself that it really only takes five minutes to wash dishes and the family memories last forever, right?  Right....

Here's one of our kids' favorite poems. They allude to it whenever they have eaten the last of whatever it is that someone else wanted.

This Is Just To Say  
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

What do you do to introduce your family to the finer things? 

I'm linking up to:
Weekend Bloggy Reading