Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon

Art Print by Jaime Best, BestArtStudios2 available on etsy

It's been 20 years since a blue moon fell on New Years Eve. I remember it well. My husband and I went on our first date that night, New Years Eve 1990. I remember us looking up at it on that very chilly night and remarking about how especially bright it was. I understand scientifically it really wasn't any brighter than any other full moon. I'm guessing it was the company. ;-) Now here we are on the brink of closing out the first decade in a new century. It all seems more than our romantically-inclined minds could have comprehended back then. But for us, a blue moon will always be magical, especially when it falls on the last night of the year. This is two for us love. I'm looking forward to celebrating it with you the next time it rolls around in 2028!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fabulous Friends: Pesky Cat Designs

Oak Leaf Shoulder Bag by Pesky Cat Design

I have met so many wonderful people in my first year of blogging. One of the most special to me is Elisa of Pesky Cat Designs. I am so flattered to call Elisa my friend. She has been incredibly supportive to me! I think she holds the record for the most consistent visits and comments to chickaboom. How do you thank someone for taking such an interest in your life and your pursuits?

The Harris Tweed Wayfarer Purse by Pesky Cat Designs

Elisa is so creatively driven. She's always working on ways to take what she's already done and make it somehow even better! Her ability to combine color, pattern and texture amaze me. I love the sophisticated style of her purses. She's got a little something for everyone in her etsy shop. She blogs about her latest designs and her adventures around NYC. Seeing pictures of her sweet cat Anni always makes me smile!

The Harris Tweed SemiCircle Purse by Pesky Cat Designs

As a seamstress wanna-be, I am in awe of Elisa's incredible sewing and fabric design talents. I have hope that one day I will visit her in NYC. We'll hit an outdoor market and all her favorite discount fabric shops, like this one. I'd love to be her apprentice so I could learn all her mad-wonderful sewing tricks. But for now, our friendship will continue to grow through our blogs and through our words of encouragement to one another. I only hope I can be half the cheerleader to her that she's been to me. Thank you Elisa! May the new year bring you peace, good health and great success!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

O Holy Night

While you celebrate this special night with family and friends, please take time to think of that little baby born so very long ago. He was, and still is, the most precious gift of all.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snowstorms & Giveaways

I've made the decision to postpone my blogiversary giveaways until January. While looking through my giveaway items yesterday, it occurred to me that people are a bit saturated with gifting right now, so my gifting would just be white noise. Add to that the snowstorm we've had here in the mid-atlantic and mail is not moving. When it does move, it will be backed up. All things considered, I think it's a good choice to push the reader rewards to the new year. Wow, it's refreshing to make an executive decision so early in the morning! I wonder if I can get away with dragging my wedding anniversary out an extra month too? ;-)

Gift Box image by ©Budda, courtesy of Dreamstime free images. Sign up for your free account today!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snowbound Wool Felting 101

What an amazing surprise to have 29" of snow this weekend! Apparently that hasn't happened in central Virginia for 4o years. It came down so fast that many people who were commuting home on Friday evening were stranded on the roads; my husband being one of them. He now has a new nickname for our minivan, "the minisled." Thankfully he was able to get it off the road safely and a friend of ours with a 4x4 braved the storm to bring him home. The local news stations put a call out for locals with 4x4's to volunteer their time to rescue all the people who were stuck. I think it's the perfect entrance into this week of Christmas. A reminder to all of us not to get too comfortable, to help someone else in need and to hunker down with family and ride out a storm.

Being stuck inside most of the weekend offered a lot of time for projects that have been piling up. Saturday my daughter and I felted wool for the first time. This is a really fun project and science experiment all rolled into one. It was a much easier process than I'd imagined. We used 100% wool-content thrift store skirts and sweaters. I really like how the skirts felted, they came out very similar to store bought felt. The sweaters are chunkier but will be nice for other projects. At 95¢ per thrifted clothing item at the local Salvation Army, it's much less expensive than felted wool at the local fabric store which sells for $6 per fat quarter.

If you decide to try felting, keep in mind that different thickness and weaves will felt differently. My advice is to felt colors separately. I felted red, green and natural together. Not a good idea. The colors didn't bleed so much as the felt fibers coming off stuck all over one another, especially the red. I also felted these in the washer though I suppose you could try it in a stainless steel pot on the stove and use a wooden spoon for agitation. I may try that another day. I do want to mention that this process got a little stinky; wet dog stinky. Felting will leave stray fibers behind in your washing machine too, but they can be easily removed by wiping out your washer with a clean rag when you've finished felting. It's also a good idea when you're switching one color felted load to another.

Felting Wool: the Doughty girls’ method

Prepare the recycled garments by cutting out seams, collars, waistbands, wristbands, lining, etc. Leaving the seams in will cause the wool to felt unevenly. *Place the wool, separated by color, into an old pillow case, securing it with a rubber band. Machine wash the wool in hot water wash, cold water rinse with a small amount of detergent. Machine dry it on high heat and steam press. You may have to felt some pieces repeatedly until you get the feel you want. And then you're done! Ready to craft, sew or whatever you plan to do with it.

I found these adorable felted wool trees on the long thread. Hop on over for the tutorial if you're interested. I'm thinking these trees would make a really cute gift for our wonderful weekend rescuer and be a fun project for us to start with. So I'm off to felted wool's such a soft and fluffy place to be.

*note: Janet, who blogs at empty nest, sent in this helpful tip in her comment. I didn't notice my wool shedding much but I sure don't want to risk frying the washing machine. I've updated the instructions above to include your pillowcase hint. Thanks Janet!

Hey Leslie,
I felt sweaters on a regular basis for my Etsy shop and I have a helpful hint for you and your followers. You are right to sep colors and
you should also be putting the sweaters in an old pillowcase or lingerie bag..I prefer the pillowcase. Just imagine..for all the fibers you can wipe away..that much is also going out the rinse and will kill your machine motor eventually. Close up the pillowcase with a rubber band. I also keep my cashmeres sep from my wools..they are much more delicate and felt into pillowy clouds....divine!
Happy Felting (technically 'fulling' is the correct term..I've been corrected by experts ;-)
your friend,

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fabulous Friends: Bebe + Alice

One thing that came as a total surprise to me when I started blogging is the strong friendships that have grown from it. It's an incredible experience making connections with amazing people from all over the world that otherwise I would not have known. I thought it would be fun to honor a few of the wonderfully creative people I have met over this last year. Living authentically, blogging authentically; like Bebe + Alice's Heather Payne Baker:

Junie's Picnic Table half apron available at bebe + alice

The funny thing about blogging is that it's hard to remember exactly when and how you met most of your blog pals. Early on, I found most of the blogs I follow by going to a blog and clicking on that persons blog roll to see who and what was out there. From there, you click on that blog's blogroll and before long you don't even remember where you started. What a sweet, tangly web to weave right? I'm pretty sure that's how I found Heather...or did she find me? It really doesn't matter, I'm just grateful we found each other.

Coffee Lovers Scratchbook recycled papers available at bebe + alice

Her upcycled fashions are dreamy! I love her creativity; she's always inventing new ways to combine castaway objects into brand new yummy things. Her chic-vintage, eco-friendly style comes through in everything she does. We became friends through corresponding, encouraging each other both personally and artistically. She is always touting other etsy artists, artsy friends and anything that inspires her. Heather has an incredibly positive attitude and a luminous spirit. You can find her wares online in her etsy shop, bebe + alice. She also has a trunk show coming up in Olathe, Kansas on Monday, Dec. 21st from 6-8pm. The trunk show will be at 10375 Hollis Lane in Cedar Creek subdivision off of K-10 Hwy. If you live in Kansas City you should definitely check it out. For the rest of us, etsy will have to be our portal to all things bebe + alice.

Renew half apron recycled fabrics available at bebe + alice

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Eye Candy

The new banner is up as promised! I had a lot of fun coming up with the new look. I wanted something playful and approachable all wrapped up in candy colors. That's very different for me. I'm a basic black and dark grey kind of girl usually.

I guess I've had candy on the brain lately (and on the hips, and on the...). With the holidays fast approaching my mind is always swimming with baking and candy making ideas. But recently an unexpected surprise showed up in my mailbox. This delectable stack of Seattle Chocolates Truffle Bars. These things are pure danger – tasty, delicious danger. The fab folks at Seattle Chocolates read my post Dear Seattle Chocolates and sent me these amazing samples. They even took the time to tie them up with this smart little grosgrain ribbon; nice touch. I enjoyed each and every one of them. I shared them with my family and they each had their favorite. Mine is still the Coconut Macaroon, dark chocolate truffle bar with coconut and sea salt. It's almost not right how much I love the way this chocolate bar tastes. I figure I'm pretty easy to please really. No matter how tough things might get, the appearance of a tempting stack of deep, dark chocolate somehow makes everything feel right again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Shiny Happy Moments

Mother and Child Vintage Inspired Ornament by pieshopgirl

My kids have been listening to Christmas music since late September. Yes, you read that right. Oddly enough I am not sick of hearing it yet. It seems instead to be sinking in. The words, at least to the more meaningful songs, are almost like a balm seeping under my skin. Just now I hear one of my favorites, Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Canon. I wish I could imbed the song to play while you read this but if you open it in a different tab you can avoid the video and just enjoy the music while you continue reading this post.

I found this wonderful vintage-inspired ornament on etsy today that makes me feel the same way. It reminds me of how much I love to be a mother. That precious and fleeting moment when our babies are small and full of wonder. When being a mother was all shiny and new. With my kids now 11 and 8, that time seems like a vapor to me now. But hearing this song and looking at this beautiful ornament brings it all back to me for a moment.

This Christmas will be different for us in so many ways. Intentionally different. I mean to love more and give more, in real ways; not in ways that come in a package. We are going to start some new traditions this year that take us to a place of deeper happiness, appreciation and love. I hope you'll join me by stepping away from the material and into a space where you allow yourself time to really enjoy the moment, the season and the people you love.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December. Seriously?

Can it really be December? It's hard to believe there are only a few weeks left in 2009; staring us in the face on one single calendar page. How sobering. I see on the grid before me holiday parties, field trips, doctors and orthodontist appointments and the like. From my experience, the more activities you have in a given month, the faster the month zooms by. I also see a new entry on the calendar; my one year blogiversary. On one hand it seems like I've had my blog forever, and on the other it seems like I just started blogging yesterday. November turned out to be an especially busy month with some unexpected distractions and I just didn't have much time to blog. Having my blogiversary this month is exactly the kind of kick in the touche I need. So get ready, December is upon us and I'm ready to rock! I think I'll start with a new banner; some fresh eye candy for all you lovelies to enjoy when you visit. Then, I think some contests are in order, and some fun cameo posts in honor of the wonderful friends I've made through blogging this year. It's amazing how the creative juices start flowing when I force myself to sit down here and get going.

photo credit ©Elen Dreamstime

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Illustrator for Hire

Time for some shameless self-promotion. I am now offering freelance custom illustration services in addition to graphic design. Here are a few pen and ink hand-drawn samples. If you are interested in seeing more or would like to discuss your project, please contact me. I'll be posting more color illustrations and design samples soon.

I illustrated this fashion piece for a class project back in the day. She's a pen & ink mystery and still one of my personal favorites.

This little moonbaby was a pencil sketch for a childrens book I was working on for the University of Virginia Cancer Center. Unfortunately, the grant fell through for the project and it was never completed.

This pen and ink drawing was a custom pet illustration for a personal friend of mine. This silver-gray marbled tabby, Marvin, is about as sweet as they come. This illustration was hand printed on a greeting card and bookmark set. Please forgive the scan quality, this is not the original, but a second generation scan from a print.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Welcome to Dreamstime

In case you don't already know about Dreamstime, let me introduce you to a wonderful stock art and photography resource. I've been a loyal customer for about 3 years and more recently have become a contributor. I stumbled onto them while researching stock images for an annual report I was designing for a corporate client. Dreamstime is a great resource for designers, bloggers, or anyone who has a need to use stock photography, illustrations or video. They offer a free stock images section that I visit often. It costs nothing to set up an account or pull from the free images section. You'll find that the paid images are priced very reasonably, often costing $1 an image for the low-resolution versions. Or maybe you're interested in becoming a contributor. Here's one of the most recent images I've added to my portfolio:

It's very easy to submit your photos or illustrations for consideration. You can customize the licensing for each image individually, even resell the rights if you're so inclined. Dreamstime has impressive customer service and very helpful online information about every aspect of buying and selling there. I'm currently working on building my portfolio and referrals. You can sign up for your free account using my direct referral link. I appreciate your support and hope you'll find Dreamstime to be an essential new tool for your creative toolbox.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dinnerware Dilemma, Part 3: A not-so appetizing experience

I few weeks ago, I wrote that I was looking for a new set of dinnerware. As I started my search I was shocked to learn that some of the dishes I found online contained dangerous chemicals such as lead, cadmium and uranium. It's seriously scary to think that all this time my family has been eating off of potentially unsafe dishes. I've been doing alot of research on the matter looking into ways to spot unsafe and poor quality dishware, possible brands to avoid, and trying to find safe lead-free alternatives that are also affordable.

Here's what I've learned so far:

• Be wary of dishes, bowls or coffee mugs that shows visible signs of wear to the interiors. This is a sign of poor workmanship and low-quality materials. Lead paints, dyes or glazes may have been used in their construction.

• Beware of dishes that heat up excessively when microwaved. I read several places where the lead content will cause this to happen.

• If your dinnerware was made in China there's a good chance that you've got an unhealthy item living in your cabinets. I found several resources that mentioned the lax standards for manufacturing in China. I also found the following consumer suggestion list:
1) Purchase dinnerware made in the US, our standards for lead contaminants for dinnerware manufacturing are very strict.
2) Purchase dinnerware made in the EU, who's standards are even higher than the US.
3) Beware of any dinnerware made elsewhere, especially China, where standards are lax.

• Clear glassware is the safest purchase. Though I found many resources that stated tinted or colored glassware is also suspect because of lead-based dyes. While there are several lead-free options that are quite attractive, the prices for these products are very high.

• I found a great deal of contradictory information on specific manufacturers. For instance on the Homer Laughlin website they tout lead-free dinnerware. But then I found several articles where people have tested their HL dishes and found them to contain lead. I also read where someone tested their Pfaltzgraff dishes and found them to contain lead even though they called the company before they purchased and were told they did not contain lead.

It seems that we consumers are pretty much on our own with this. Everywhere I look, I find confused consumers searching for safe options and angry consumers who thought they were buying something safe and found out differently when they tested it themselves. If you want to know if your dishes contain lead, you have to test them yourself. This seems ridiculous to me. From what I've read so far, the standards for companies that produce dishware here in the US are much more strict than the standards for imported dishware. This puts our own manufacturers at a serious disadvantage when it comes to competitive pricing. Our government should have higher standards to rule out the import and sale of unsafe products. This would level the playing field for our own manufacturers and also provide American consumers with much safer products. It's unsettling to think that we can walk into any retail store and know that the shelves are filled with unsafe options whether it be dinnerware, toys, etc.

All of this is proving to be more of a challenge than I expected. I am finding brands that say they are lead-free...but are they really? And why are the brands that really are lead-free, eco-friendly and recycled so expensive? Why should we have to pay a premium for simply choosing a safe, healthy product over an unsafe, unhealthy one? If the current trend is to go green, shouldn't we make eco-friendly, recycled products more affordable to the average consumer? It seems counter-productive to set pricing higher for these items, making it harder for people to make greener choices. Well, the challenge is set, I'm off to find a brand that puts their money where our mouth is: a company that sells safe dinnerware products that are also affordable. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dinnerware Dilemma, Part 2: Would you like some cancer with that?

While searching online for a new set of dishes I came across something quite scary and sobering. I found a set of dinnerware with a warning statement! This set of Cream Dream Dinnerware comes with this warning in the product description - WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive toxicity. What!? Can someone tell me how it's legal to sell dishes that contain cancer causing materials? I can't imagine that any manufacturer would knowingly make and sell food-related products that are potentially hazardous. This is really disturbing. It causes me to wonder how many dishes that we use everyday contain these same dangerous materials? Does this mean we're serving up toxins to our family every night at dinner?

I did a little digging and found one article where the CDC warned about dangerous lead levels on dinnerware. Then I found an equally upsetting bit of news on SpringerLink about radiation emissions from uranium-glazed dinnerware. But neither came with an accompanying list of manufacturers. Good grief! I see statements that explain while most agree that high concentrations of lead-containing dinnerware is rare, low-level concentrations of lead are allowable. There's an extensive list of low-lead china patterns, but it's not been updated since 2001. I can't imagine why someone hasn't seen fit to keep this list current. I don't know about you, but I really don't want to serve up a side dish of lead on any occasion! Seriously, does any of us want just a little bit of cancer? Or a tiny hint of neurological disorder?

The Environmental Defense Fund has great information here about lead in china dishes. I'm planning to use their buyers guide as I seek out my new dinnerware set. The buyers guide link also has a list of manufacturer phone numbers to call and ask if the dishware you already own contains lead, uranium or other hazardous chemicals. If you don't see your manufacturer listed here, you can always purchase a lead test kit to see if your dishes are safe.

All this is making me lose my appetite and then some. I'm off to find some healthy alternatives for safe dinnerware. I'll share my findings with you in my next post. In the meantime, I urge you to look into the links above and see if your dinnerware is safe for you and your family. My guess is that your standards, like mine, are alot more strict than the governments when it comes to the health and safety of your family.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Grinding Sea Salt

I picked up a container of Reese Coarse Sea Salt at a discount grocery store this weekend. A serious bargain at just 99¢! I made the jump from regular table salt to sea salt about 5 years ago and haven't looked back. The flavor just can't be beat. I use it for cooking, baking, in my shakers...everything. But be warned, the folks at Reese aren't kidding when they label this coarse. This stuff is really chunky. Too chunky in fact for my personal liking, so I popped it into the blender and ground this sparkly goodness down to a more manageable size. Now it will easily fit in my salt shakers. Though I understand shakers are out and salt pigs are in. Whatever. It seems the extra-coarse salt isn't selling as well at grocery stores and many are slashing prices. So if you see a good bargain on the chunky stuff, go for it. You can grind it down for everyday use pretty easily with a blender. And I would imagine a food processor would work even better.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Survivor Chicks

Looking for a fun way to support breast cancer research this upcoming holiday season and beyond? These little boxes of yumminess are available at and at specialty retail chocolate stores near you. {Note that the photo above shows two boxes together, the individual box size is about the same size as a lipstick box.} I'm thinking these Survivor Chick Chocolates would make great stocking stuffers or gifts for your best girlfriends and office mates alike. Be creative! Think of filling a basket on your entry table for take-away hostess gifts at holiday gatherings, or add your guests name to a box and use them as place cards at dinner parties. Your friends will enjoy these tasty treats while you bask in the glow of knowing that every penny of your purchase went towards the cause. That's right, Seattle Chocolates donates 100% of the profits from these truffles to help in the fight against breast cancer! Who else donates 100%? Just one more reason for me to love Seattle Chocolates (like I needed another reason).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dinnerware Dilemma

I have this thing with dishes. In all my adult life, I have yet to find a set that I can live with for very long. I use dishes every day for meals, snacks and desserts. I love to cook! Why is it so hard for me to decide on a set of dishes? It didn't take me this long to decide on a husband, whether or not to have kids, which cat to adopt from the animal shelter or even which house to live in. I just don't get why this is so hard for me.

My first set of dishes when I was in art school were shiny black art deco. Very chic...for a while. Just after I got married, I moved onto slightly oversized earthy-colored stoneware. Then, I decided to go all white. I found a complete service for 12 at a thrift store and used them with abandon until about two years ago. Those too grew tiring so I bought a set of solid blue dishes from Target and thought that would be the end of it for a while. But I got sick of the oversized blue plates and recently resold them at my booth in the Greenwood. I now have three random antique dinner plates and four random dollar store luncheon plates AND guests coming into town over Thanksgiving. I refuse to buy paper plates because I don't want to promote or support that industry. I need to get serious about a new set of dinnerware.

I was talking with one of my best girlfriends about this the other day. She's been asking me the same question for 10 years, "Have you decided what color you want your kitchen to be yet?" Though I love her dearly, she's the kind of person that only colors inside the lines. I don't want my kitchen to be just one color. People ask me if I have a favorite color. Not really, just favorite shades of almost every color. So what to do? I feel like Elizabeth Taylor looking for the right husband when it comes to picking out dishes. But the game is afoot, with company coming in a few weeks I've got to find something that's both affordable and appealing. Hoping that I can also make a choice I can live for more than a season.

I think it's time for an intervention so I'm taking you with me. That's right, I want you to hold my hand and help me through this seemingly mundane, yet important life decision. I am accepting any and all suggestions for places to shop, specific patterns, etc. Please let me know why you do or do not like your dishes; what helped you decide which dishes to buy, etc. Feel free to ask me questions to walk me through this. Seriously I need some help here!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Woolen Bowls

Sometimes I have trouble finding my words. So I thought it might be a good idea to keep a few favorites nearby; just in case. Meet my newest crafty creation: the little woolen hand-crocheted bowl. Perfect for storing favorite words, fall candies, sewing notions or any small what-not. I'm thinking of making a few and putting them up on etsy. What do you think? Are they etsy worthy?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kitty Cats & Cameras

About a week ago I played a little game on Facebook where I announced receiving the world's coolest hand-me-down and let my friends guess what it was. The answer: a gently used Nikon D50. Seriously. It's a big step up from the Fuji S700 I was using. I have much to learn and relearn about f-stops, apertures and film speeds. I spent some time this weekend playing with the nikon, shooting pics of my daughter and our two orange cats.

The leap to this camera is also motivating me to get on board with an online photo sharing resource. I have been uploading my pics to Blogger directly which I understand is a no-no. When I make the switch to my own domain in a few months I will lose all my existing photo links and will have to re-upload everything. So I'm curious, how do you handle your blog post photos? Do you use a third party resource like Picnik, Flickr, other? I would really appreciate your feedback and advice as to what you use, why you like it or don't like it, etc.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Four Trees

I sat on the bank of a lake looking at a tiny island near the middle. On that island, I saw four trees growing closely together. I could see the clear lake wrapped around the island and the colorful mountains surrounding the lake. Yet my eyes returned lovingly to these four trees; beholding them as the most precious sight before me. They are a part of the world around them, yet so separated from it; isolated on that little patch of land in the middle of the water. Each of the four, growing independently, seemed to draw strength from the others. The treetops were hard to distinguish one from another as they visually blended into a dance of limbs and leaves. When storms come and the wind gathers itself across the expanse of the water, the trees stand together to take the hit. The force is absorbed and the stress is less on each tree because they bear the brunt together. I was reminded that there is nothing to fear. God's beauty in nature is all around us. Every moment, every molecule, every thing. If you want to hear God, you have to listen. You have to create a space where He can enter in. That space is called your heart. I am grateful for the lessons that I continue to learn. I am thankful for healing through times of great stress, trouble and loss. And I am thrilled when wisdom and acceptance are lovingly penned into my heart through scenes like this one.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Etsy Fab Four

I thought it would be fun to share the etsy goodness of four of my very best girlfriends today. I'm grateful to have each of these beautiful, wonderfully talented and truly sweet women in my life. So pop over to their shops and check out their handmade fabulousness.

bebe + alice

Eco Friendly Bird Decor by bebeandalice - Aren't these birds lovely? Heather has a nice variety of refashioned and eco-eclectic goodies. Her ideas are so fresh and inspiring.

Time Travel Tea Party

I just love this Time Traveler Necklace. Courtney has an amazing variety of steampunkable and vintage findings. Her store makes me feel like I'm treasure hunting in an old attic.


I really love the look of Julie's August Fields Frenchy Bag. A great casual bag for everyday! She's also has some great farmers market bags at her shop.

Pesky Cat Designs

The Offbeat Messenger bag with bird applique. How yummy is this bag for fall? I love Elisa's design style; her mix of colors, fabrics and textures bring sophistication and fun to every one of her creations.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Buying in Bulk - Go Green & Still Save Money

Last spring I embarked on an experiment. I had decided that I wanted to shift the everyday household items we used over to organic products. Every year I go a little further to the greener side of commerce and it was time to make the switch for things we used daily like detergents, deodorant, bath soap, etc. The catch was that I couldn't spend more money on these items; in reality I needed to cut expenses. I was concerned about being able to afford the switch to organic products, as I'd found them to be more expensive than traditional ones at local chain stores. So the trick was to go greener and somehow save money at the same time.

I thought about the fact that these items would have to ship to me so I grouped the purchases together in two different orders, as I could afford it. It would save me multiple trips to the grocery store which seemed to offset the shipping given that it's 2 shipments versus probably a dozen or more grocery stops. The UPS man goes down my street every day so no extra trip on his part either. I used my local Whole Foods store as a benchmark for individual prices and found a few of the same items at Target for comparison. But they didn't offer products in bulk or carry Country Save or Canus. I considered signing up with Frontier Coop but they didn't carry these products either.

I took my search online. I spent several hours researching to find the best selection, lowest prices and reduced or free shipping. I was being very conscious about what company I bought my products from. I wanted to be sure I was making good choices and supporting companies that cared about producing good quality organic products from sustainable sources. I knew that buying in bulk would reduce the unit price but I wasn't sure if that really applied to organic products, since I'd never seen organic products available in bulk before.

Enter They had the best prices and Free – thank you very much – Shipping. I spent more up front because I was buying in quantity, but as you'll see from the breakdowns below it's been a total win-win experience for me so far:

Country Save HE Laundry Detergent Powder
80 standard loads, 160 high efficiency loads per box
Case of four 10 lb boxes for $62.15 ($15.54 per box)
I have a heavy-duty top load washing machine and wash for a family of four. I bought this case on March 17th and I'm only half way through the second box. That means each box is lasting about 4 months so this should be enough laundry powder to get me to July of next year, conceivably. Dare I say this was the first time I'd used Country Save laundry detergent and went on recommendation alone. I know, risky move to buy something I'd never tried before in bulk, right? I absolutely LOVE this detergent. My daughter, who struggles with allergies, does fine with this. It cleans wonderfully. It doesn't have a heavily perfumed odor, the clothes just smell fresh and clean. One thing I really like about this is that it's the best detergent I've found to keep clothes feeling soft when line dried outside. It's safe to say I am officially hooked on Country Save!

Seventh Generation Dishwashing Powder
Free & Clear, 75 oz box, Case of 8 boxes for $49.77 ($6.22 per box)
We bought a new energy efficient dishwasher last year. We cook, bake, eat and dirty plenty of dishes daily. Our dishwasher sees action at least once every two days. I bought these on January 31st and seriously I am only about halfway through the 2nd box. I am impressed! I'd used this detergent before and found it was the only one that didn't spot or streak dishes and glassware. It's a wonderful product. I'm averaging about 4 1/2 months per box which amazes me. That means I have enough of this on-hand to last me until January 2011!?

Seventh Generation Dish Liquid
Lemongrass & Clementine Zest (also available in Free & Clear and Lavender Floral-Mint)
25 oz Bottle, Case of 6 Bottles for $18.13 ($3.02 per bottle)
Okay, for those of you that don't know me in-person, doing dishes is not my favorite. I used to hate doing dishes. Now, in a strange way, I find it a little therapeutic; is that wrong? I actually credit this dish soap with the transformation. {Mom, if you're reading this, I'm sure you'll agree it must be a miracle product if it helped *ME* to actually enjoy doing dishes.} It smells so wonderful and for the first time ever I've found a soap that doesn't cause my hands to break out in a rash from doing the dishes. I love it so much I refill our foam pump dispensers in both bathrooms with it and bathe our pets with it. I bought this on March 17th and I am about to finish the 2nd bottle. At this rate I'll have enough to last me until this time next year. Oh Joy! (oops sorry, wrong brand)

Canus Goats Milk Bar Soap

Four 3-count boxes, case of 12 bars for $20.32 ($1.69 per bar)
I've posted about this soap before. I am so grateful for this product, you can read about why here. I have 4 bars left and 2 newly opened ones in use so my best guess is that I won't need to buy more bath soap until April of next year. I think this would have lasted longer but my son was going through a phase of drilling his finger all the way through a bar of soap just to see if he could. We've since curbed that behavior.

So you see, it can be done. I'm a very thrifty girl and unfortunately more economically-challenged than I would like to be. If I can afford organic products, anyone can. I know this isn't rocket science. I just want to encourage you, you can buy healthier products for yourself and your family without spending more money. You just have to do your homework, be thoughtful about the products and companies you're supporting and order from the best resources you can find.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Happy Birthday to *me*

My first birthday, Sept. 1968

Today I turned 21 for the second time. My daughter taught herself how to play "Happy Birthday" on the piano so that she could surprise me. It was a sweet surprise and we all enjoyed singing it together. My family took me out for breakfast, which is always a treat, and then we decided to go wandering. I *love* meandering roadtrips! We stopped at Rockbridge Winery to do some tasting, went down the road to an open house at a Llama farm, drove through the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington to see what was happening (nothing, it turns out) and then headed for points west. We ended up about 12 miles from the West Virginia border in the George Washington National Forest at Lake Moomaw. The weather was perfect. We had the entire lake to ourselves. It was a good day for a birthday.

I remember hitting 21 the first time. I expected it to be this great year of freedom and liberation but it really wasn't. I was young and cute; I had already graduated from art school and was earning a meeger living as an entry-level designer. I didn't know much about the game of life or what I really wanted to be. Though I suspect I behaved like I knew everything. I found that life wasn't really that much different. I hadn't yet met the man I would marry or seen all the places that for a short time I'd call home. The idea of children was far too big for my mind to grasp.

Today I can't imagine my life without my family or without all of my wonderful friends. The journey to 42 has filled me with a deep appreciation for what truly matters in life. I've learned great lessons about love, understanding, compassion, loss and true heart. And the more I learn, the more I want to learn. Last week I started teaching myself how to play piano, which is something I've always wanted to do. And I'm learning how to speak French because I figure that will surely come in handy on some upcoming adventure, right? I don't know what lies ahead, but I do know that enjoying right now is the best way to spend today.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Guest Post at Mamikaze

I am so excited to have my post up on Mamikaze's blog today. Thanks Astacia for giving me this opportunity to share some fun with your readers.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Art Works

This is the view of the bottom of the windowsill in the waiting room where I have the oil changed in my car. I figured if I had to sit and wait I might as well do something constructive. I'm carrying my sketchbook with me for little stolen moments like this. Seriously, sketching is crazy-good therapy.

Before & After: The Blue Chair

Before - the sad blue castaway chair

I found this vintage chair at a yard sale about 2 weeks ago. The chair was structurally solid and the cushions were in great shape. I loved the vibrant blue paint but the black denim pinstriped fabric had to go. The man selling the chair was amazed that I was able to make it fit in my Prius. "Never underestimate a woman who's thrifting," I said with a smile as I closed the hatch on my car. I brought the chair home and spent the afternoon making new cushion covers from a stash of blue toile I'd picked up at Goodwill a few months back. The thrifted fabric matched perfectly and it turns out to be a rather smart looking piece of furniture. A few days later, I popped it back into my car and took it to my antique booth at the Greenwood Country Store to resell. I think it will make a lovely addition to someones home. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together?

After - the chair is much more cheerful now

Monday, September 21, 2009


It's Monday. It's rather grey outside today and I'm tired. I would love to just go back to bed. But I have a meeting to get ready for and much to accomplish today. Sometimes you just have to light a fire under yourself, you know? I managed to drag myself out early this morning to write my very first guest post for Mamikaze. While I was hoping to meet Astacia in person this week at the type-a-mom conference, I will settle quite happily for a guest spot on her blog (more details about the guest post as it runs later this week). I admit I am feeling a little sad-sack about not going to the conference. But it's a busy week; I won't be bored. Plus I have a birthday coming up in a few days so that's giving this week a little extra sparkle. I'm turning 21 for the second time which feels rather momentous. And tomorrow is the first day of fall; clearly I am looking for any excuse to make myself smile. :-)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad

Today is the birthday of a very special man. My Dad turns 79 today. My birthday wish for you Dad is for many more years of driving your tractor, working your garden and hunting in the woods. I had a hard time finding a photo for this post. I wanted something circa 1940-1950 but turns out I don't have pictures of my Dad from that timeframe. I found this family photo which is from another very special day just a few years ago. My nephew Steve, who is also my parents oldest grandchild, was visiting from Florida. It was a really happy time! Enjoy your day Dad. I hope you remember lots of happy moments as you blow out your candles tonight and make a wish for many more!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chicken Love

Rooster 365
(12x12 original oil painting by Roz)

When I read that it was National Chicken month I excitedly clicked over to the link but was sad when I saw it was all about cooked chickens. I won't be including that link here! Not that I don't eat chickens; because I do. I guess it just burst my little idealistic bubble of celebrating the beauty of chickens rather than the eating of them. Chickens give so much to us. Where would our baked goods be without eggs? And they really make nice pets, though I'm still working on convincing my husband of that. We used to have a small flock of chickens and really enjoyed our time with them. Ours were free-range during the day and in the roost at night for safekeeping. We didn't eat our chickens, just their eggs. They are truly gentle, lovely creatures. I hope you enjoy this roundup of chicken-inspired loveliness. I'm thinking Rooster 365 would look especially nice hanging in our family room.

Chick Fabric (by Middleburg)

Marthas (5x5 fine art photo by bomobob)

Vintage Tea Towel Dream Pillow by TuttieLou

Grow Food Poster (12x18 poster by joeseppi)

Primitive Chicken Pin Cushion (by LookHappy's)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I will *not* be bringing it after all

I am really bummed to report that I will not be heading to the Type-A Mom conference in Asheville, NC this month as I'd hoped. I bought my ticket early and had big plans to go but several things have come up that prevent me from going. There's still time to get your ticket though if you'd like to be a part of it. It's going to be a great conference with some very talented speakers and tons of networking opportunities. I'm sorry that I won't be meeting all of you awesome type-a ladies in person. There's always next year...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Little Miss Disappeary

I've had a few of you asking recently if I'm okay. I'm sorry I've been absent since my one and only September post. I've only had a few fussy entries this month on Twitter and Facebook as well. The truth is I really haven't been feeling very well. I'm having some issues with my back and my stomach. I think there is some sort of food allergy that may be triggering my stomach funk. And all of this is setting off a series of migraines, which is the last thing I need right now. I hope to be better soon and back on track with life and blogging. I hope you're all having a creative and healthy September! I promise to be back soon.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ah, September

The crispness in the air whispers to me, "September is here." My favorite month! It's always been my favorite, for so many reasons. The biggie; my birthday is later this month. Every year I'm like an anxious child waiting for my special day to arrive. It also means the beginning of Fall. I grew up in the mountains of Southwestern Pennsylvania where September brought a chill to the evening air. Here in Virginia it's pretty much the same story. I love watching the seasons change here, especially spring and fall.

September always brings with it a flood of community events like county fairs, arts & craft shows and fall festivals. I love hitting as many of these as I can. It's a great way to show your support for handmade artisans. Good food, people watching, fall colors -- some of our favorite family outings happen in the fall.

About a week ago, I found out it was also National Honey Month. Sweet! You have to check out the honey bear in the classics series – they are too cute. And, just when I was looking for an excuse to spend more time with my Janome, it's National Sewing Month. Perfect timing. I have a dozen summer sewing projects I need to complete. I went looking and found a rather long list of all the national month events for our beloved ninth month. Some of them are pretty interesting and unusual; so I thought, why not chose different national month themes and post on them throughout September? Let's have some fun. After all, it is Nat'l Be Kind to Writers month.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Reflections on Julie & Julia

Julia Child's Kitchen, image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Yesterday one of my best girlfriends and I went to see Julie & Julia. It was a wonderful movie spanning modern and traditional themes, with insight into lives lived decades apart. It will no doubt strike an intimate chord with anyone who watches it. I left the movie feeling a warm sense of admiration for both women and for their accomplishments. They lived out their passions and pursued their dreams. They didn't let setbacks or snags stop them, at least not for long. I also, like many of you I suppose, left wanting to go home and cook like a fiend!

For me there was another specific revelation. Neither Julie or Julia had especially large or fancy kitchens. The magical work spaces where the creativity of both J's came to life were pretty unimpressive. Think about it, a tiny kitchen in a cramped apartment and a moderately-sized kitchen lined with pegboard and hooks like a tool shed. No custom-tinted countertops, Italian tiled backsplashes or islands with built-in twin sinks. The exception for Julia, IMHO, was her Paris kitchen because I'm thinking anything in Paris is inspiring! On the contrary, they both had excellent tools and appeared to use the best quality ingredients. But the kitchens themselves were fairly basic.

My husband used to be a kitchen designer. He designed many impressive kitchens with beautiful stone countertops, stunning hardwood cabinetry and top-of-the-line appliances; all customized to near perfection. And most of these kitchens were huge. He would tell me about whatever kitchen design he was working on at the time, often during dinner. There we'd sit, in our undersized eat-in kitchen, talking about dream kitchens. Other peoples dream kitchens.

I used to have a larger kitchen; not particularly fancy but spacious. Not my dream kitchen, but it had potential. Back then though, I only cooked for survival. I enjoyed experimenting sometimes but at that point in my life, cooking was mostly a means to an end. Now, in comparison, we live in a house with the least impressive kitchen we've ever had. It's dimly lit, lacking cabinet and work space, and very small.

Despite my humble setting, I now have a growing passion for cooking. Yes, I have found passion in the mundane! I want nothing more than to stay home and cook, cook, cook. It's not about the space I'm in anymore. It's about what I do with it. I seek out cookbooks and ingredients like a woman possessed. I have a running list of gadgets like Le Creuset stock pot and Silpat that I carry around in a small notepad to every thrift store I go to. Hoping against hope that I might find them there. I come up with recipe ideas before I go to sleep at night and end up turning on the light a half a dozen times to write them down. Once I find a recipe that I want to try, it gnaws at me until I try it. I'm finding the more I enjoy the process, the more I enjoy the outcome.

I still fantasize about my dream kitchen, but it's not particularly large or fancy. It's in an old farmhouse with big windows, a walk-in pantry and well-worn vintage furniture. Maybe even a windowsill deep enough to cool a pie on. Turns out it's not about the style of cabinets or what the countertop is made of. The kitchen of my dreams looks a lot like my Aunt Maude's kitchen. My dear Aunt Maude was a precious woman with an amazing heart and a true gift for cooking. She had a very hard life, one that most wouldn't survive in. My memories of times spent with her when I was little are priceless to me. There, in her large farm kitchen with sunny light glowing through the tall windows, I witnessed something amazing; a woman truly happy in the moment. Despite the terrible things that she'd been through in her life, she was a woman of great faith and inner joy. She made simple food that was simply incredible. She would spend most of her days cooking, baking and serving her family. It may have looked to an outsider like a life of indentured servitude; but I believe she loved the process as much as she loved being a true servant of unconditional love and great food.

I'm grateful for the special people in our lives that teach us more than they intend to. I'm glad to be reminded that our circumstances don't define us, but that our passion and sense of purpose does. And I'm thankful for a leisurely Sunday matinee that brings all of this into perspective.
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