Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"I Spy" Shake Jar

I buy most of my dry goods in bulk, and sometimes the last little quarter cup or so gets lost in the cabinet. Today I was attempting to clean out our cabinets when I found a bag of odds and ends: rice, split peas, lentils who were waiting for me. I had intended to use them as a scooping toy in the spring or summer outdoors, but I  haven't been totally sold on it, as with many city domiciles, we have some rodents about and I neither want to feed them nor do I want DB playing near them. I also don't want a toddler rice scooping party in my kitchen. Things like that happen enough spontaneously, and I go along with the flow, kids should be kids, after all, but I'm not quite ready to just unleash grainapalooza 2012 in the house. Then it hit me! The perfect solution! An I Spy Shake Jar!

I used to work in a book store, we also sold little toys and games and the one I found most nifty was a tall cylinder full of small wooden pellets the size of sprinkles and little trinkets. The goal was to twist and turn and shake the jar until you found every trinket listed as being in the jar. These things are crazy expensive for what they are, and I always told anyone who would listen "you could make that for so much cheaper..." (This is just ONE of the many reasons I will never pursue a job in sales) So today, that's exactly what I did!

"I Spy" Shake Jar:

  • Empty jar, preferably plastic, with a well-fitting lid. Taller is better than wider, as you want to be able to maximize space against the sides and minimize "hidden" space in the middle. I used a Hellman's Mayo jar. 
  • Rice, Sand, Tiny Somethings to fill the space with
  • Trinkets! 20-50 little things you have lying about. Check the bottom of your purse, drawers, that costume jewelry box, the scrapbook drawer, tool box, or yard. :) I'm including my list of 40 for inspiration. Just make sure it's something that can't go bad and isn't TOO big. You'll have a chance to edit!
Place your trinkets first. I made a list as I put them in, so I know what's in the jar. The older future DB will like to have specific things to look for, for now, 15 month old DB just likes that he has something wonderfully heavy to carry around, shake, and see what he sees. I like that it's too heavy to throw at me or the cats. It's a cool toy that's fun for tots, kids, even teens and adults.

Once your trinkets are in the jar, top it off within about half an inch of the top with your filler. Screw on the lid and test it out. If you want more filler, add, if you want less, subtract. If you feel like you have a trinket too large, go ahead and take it out. I think that having enough filler than there doesn't appear to be space when the lid is all the way on is perfect. it is actually plenty of shake space when you turn it upside down.  Once you're satisfied with your jar, put a ring of hot glue just inside the lip of the lid and screw it on tight. You're all done!

 You could print out the list and tie it on, glue it to the lid, or leave it the way it is. This project is highly customizable and the possibilities are endless.  You could make one with a theme, have several different types on hand, or make them as an activity at a child's party. It's a great travel toy for cars or planes, waiting rooms, rainy days, or just for quiet time.

1. Cork                                                           21.Yellow Car
2. Penny                                                          22. Diaper Pin
3. Nickle                                                         23. Tiny Bow
4. Dime                                                           24. Toothpick
5. Quarter                                                       25. Claw-type paperclip
6. Wooden Spoon                                           26. Anchor Charm
7. Wooden Bead                                             27. Butterfly Earring
8. Purple Flower Ring                                      28. Red Leather Heart
9. Cardboard Letter E                                     29. Red Ribbon Lapel Pin
10 Cardboard Letter O                                   30. Skeleton Key
11. Cardboard Letter N                                   31. Yellow Paper Clip
12. Bobbin Spool                                            32. Sewing Pin
13. 5 Gold Beads (snipped from a necklace)    33. Golf Pencil
14. Screw                                                        34. Green Pony Bead
15. Bent Nail                                                   35. Turquoise Bead
16. AA Battery                                                36. Rubber Band
17. Metal Washer                                            37. Brown Button
18. Thumb Tack                                              38. Puzzle Piece
19. Bobby Pin                                                 39.  Infant Nail File
20. Red Kidney Bean                                      40. Silver Pearl

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dreadlocks 101

Well, today my dreadlocks turned one year old! I told The Hero last night that sounds silly because people don't usually have birthdays for hairstyles, but in the dreadlock community, it's actually pretty common! Dreadlocks are like wine, they get much better with age, there are necessary stages along the way that aren't so palatable, and you can rush the process but you really shouldn't, it'll be a lot better that way.

When I first decided to go dreaded, I thought I would need to see a "loctician", someone who will professionally put in dreads and maintain them, most people who have impeccably polished and straight dreadlocks do this. It is costly, and they tend to use products on the dreads. I wanted neither of those things. So I did some research and found that while I would need to be more patient than having them put in, I could do them myself and let nature take over. I looked at pictures of lots of different people and talked to lots of dread heads. There are so many ways out there that people care for their dreads and form them, and that makes sense, because there are many different types of hair out there! Straight, thin, or fine hair can't be cut, washed, or styled like curly, thick, or ethnic hair, so why wouldn't there be just as many ways to treat dreads as there are for other hairstyles? I'll just talk about what's true for MY hair here, sense that's what I'm an expert on.

If you  know me in real life or online well, you know that there's pretty much no question off limits with me. I don't offend easily and I love to help set the record straight or answer a question if I can. Today I found that when I posted a celebratory status about my dreadies one year birthday, I had a lot of friends interested in seeing pictures of them and asking questions. I'll compile that all in one place here. :)

Braden asked about the history of dreadlocks, specifically, who invented them (and what do they taste like)? That's because he's Braden. I wouldn't have him any other way. I think the history of dreads is fascinating. Dreadlocks have many different names in many cultures, some cultures have used them as a fashion and some from religious admonitions to let no metal either of comb or scissor touch the hair. They did not become popular among western society until the 1970's. Wikipedia has loads of information on the history of dreads in our society and worldwide.

Novie asked about getting started with dreadlocks, what does it take, what do you do? First step, ditch shampoo and conditioner, throw away hairbrush (be rid of temptation!), possibly cover mirrors (be rid of knowing!). I washed my hair with baking soda only for a week, to get it super clean and start to inhibit the oil production, oily hair doesn't dread well. No combing, even in the shower with your fingers. Messy is better! You will go through an ugly duckling phase. I felt like a hot mess for a while, but it pays off! At about a week into the baking soda washes, I felt ready and sectioned my hair to use the "rip and twist" method. I sectioned it into pieces about half as thick as you want your dreads, and I was very organic with my sections, just grabbing what my hair tended to split into on it's own. It took a few hours to rip and twist all of it. Be gentle, though, you don't want to be pulling out hair. I'll post a video about what I do for maintenance and you'll see the rip and twist method there, though there are lots of other videos out on the interwebs that show it as well.

Brian and Michelle both asked me about washing, which is the most common question I get and the one I'm happiest to answer! MOST people who have dreads wash them regularly. It's a misconception that you don't wash dreads. My personal washing routine, which I do once a week usually, twice a week sometimes,  involves diluting about a tablespoon of Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap (the peppermint is my favorite, I get out feeling like a york patty! Castile soap is a must, no residue!) in warm water in a container that makes it easy to pour over my hair. Then I wash like you would any hair, I scrub the scalp, sometimes with a sea salt scrub for a treat, and then I rub the dreads too, and rinse thoroughly. I think people are often surprised that I scrub the scalp. Most people don't know that dreaded hair is often loose and untangled the last two inches or so between dread and scalp, I can slip my fingers "under" each one and there's plenty of room. They would be quite uncomfortable if they were right on my scalp. Drip dry! It takes a long time to dry, about 8-12 hours for me. Jessica asked if they smell. They smell like peppermint on wash day and like hair on every other day! If you clean them regularly and let them dry thoroughly, they should never smell.

Emily and Shaina asked me about maintenance. Dreads don't need much maintenance, but there are a few rules of thumb that are super handy! Avoid: products, wax, residue. These things can cause dreads to take longer to tangle, trap moisture and ick leading to fungus or mold (ewww), and create problems leading to having to take out dreads early or chop/shave them off. That's not always how it happens, but I don't want to take any chances, and I like my dreads as clean as possible, so I don't want anything in them that could trap dirt. Some of my dreads have fallen out (I mean like a braid would fall out, not like fell off) so I re-twist and rip them, and some of my ends get looser than I like, so I twist and rip those when I feel like it. When I want them to be tighter, I spray them with sea salt water. When they're too fuzzy, you can roll them between your palms or wear a wool hat or tube or even sleep on an old wool sweater to help suck in some of the loose hair. Some people use crochet hooks to do this, I think it's damaging and time consuming, and leads to an overly-manicured look that I don't like. I don't judge if you do! The last thing to address is that dreads like to grab onto each other and intertwine to create a larger dread. In theory, they will keep doing this until all your hair is one big dread. I separate them weekly. You can add beads and ornaments like wraps to help smooth out big loops and bumps or just for fun. Here's a video of me demonstrating twist and rip on a dread that's got too much loose hair, separating some at the root, and adding a bead to smooth a bump:

 Emily asked about comparing pictures of other dreads and how they all look different, like I mentioned, different methods of maintenance and different hair types will result in lots of different dreads, as will the level of maturity of each. :)

Audra and Michelle asked about deciding to have dreads and deciding not to have dreads anymore. I got dreads as kind of a bucket list thing. I've always admired beautiful women with dreads, the confidence and natural beauty that the style seems to embody to me. I had a 3 month old baby and my hair was always looking bedraggled. I wanted a roll out of bed and go hairstyle that brought the edginess I was used to and was easy and CHEAP to keep up. I decided it was time to pursue my dream and I got the dreads! :) When I'm done with them, I can trim them to any length or leave them and comb them out one at a time with some olive oil and patience, or if I'm feeling a little G.I. Jane, I could shave them off. The Hero has threatened me though if I do that, so odds are I'll probably comb them out.  Have any more questions? Leave a comment, I'm happy to answer!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tiny Kitchen! (or: Where I actually follow through and MAKE something off Pinterest)

   Have you been on Pinterest? If you have, you will have extra appreciation for this post. If you haven't, Pinterest is like a trapper-keeper for your internets. You can keep all the cool ideas you see online in one place, and organize them into little picture books for safe keeping. You can also look at all your friends ideas or "pins" and even strangers', then you can borrow theirs. This turns into an endless click-fest of ideas and things and pinning and re-pinning and a hoarders worthy stockpile of ideas and creativity that usually sees not-a-lot of follow-through. I am proud to say, though, that I, Mompyre, with help from The Hero, have completed a project off of Pinterest, and we made the Dragon Baby an epic little play kitchen for less than $30. *space for you to marvel at my awesomeness* I will now proceed to show you how!

Ok, first, you have to train your brain to see beyond what is into what could be. Think extreme make-over, thrift store edition. Paint is your friend! I think you could do this project for $20 or less, I "splurged" on a few things. If you spent $40-$50 you could go all out and turn out a super high-end kitchen. Where applicable, I'll break down ways to scrimp and where you could splurge.

The link that started it all: 10 Eco-Friendly DIY Play Kitchens
Follow me on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/nytepyre/

Step 1. Get the furniture first! You can make do with all kinds of different pieces, put them together, leave them apart, do one big piece, it's all up to you and dependent on your space situation. Our house is very small, so we went with a very compact little kitchenette! We're thinking of adding a fridge out of a small book case next. We spent two weekends looking at various thrift shops for something that would "speak" to us and scream Take me home! I can't wait to be your kitchen! Go with an open mind, several configurations you might like, and a price point to stick to, then let the pieces you find guide your vision. Remember to think outside the box. I wanted a unit with a back so my kitchen would have a backsplash. The Hero found a short TV stand that was perfect, but backless. I was sad until a unique tray caught my eye and became my backsplash. If you are too set on one thing, you may never find it at the thrift. For what it's worth, Salvation Army and Goodwill tend to price furniture pieces high, so looking for a more genuine thrift store with some really crappy pieces is your best bet, though don't rule the other ones out. Also, if you see a ton of hipsters hanging around outside, they've already raised their prices and are no longer a thrift store, rather, they are now a vintage boutique. They only kept the name to bring more hipsters. Run Away! If you see a family with several kids or really weird people heading in, Run Inside!

*Step 2 or 3. Get your paint on! We happened to decide to paint first and find bits and pieces later. I can't say as there's a right or wrong way to go, but be prepared to do some touch-ups if you paint first and jigsaw or drill later. Here's where I splurged a bit, but was still thrifty. I'm the kind of person who browses the paint section of a hardware store at any opportunity and picks out paint chips and colors for rooms in a house I don't even own (*yet*). I decided to buy custom paint colors.
  • Super Frugal: Buy abandoned paint! Any place that mixes paint has a section of paint that is reduced in price because someone had it mixed up and then didn't want it. You can find some fun and funky colors there sometimes! It's also your best bet for getting glossy finishes cheap. Always check this section, one person's "ick!" is another person's dream color! This is especially great for me sometimes because I tend to pick bolder colors than most, so some people get scared of their choice and leave it, and I get to snatch up my perfect hue at a fraction of the cost, and I really mean a fraction, most of these abandoned paints go for easily 60-75% off. 
  • Cheaply Chic: Buy your perfect tones in sample sizes. Most paint mixers have samples available of any brand, even the name brand colors. The sample sizes are usually 7-8 oz. and will definitely do a small project. We bought a sample each of my favorite muse colors of the moment, lime and turquoise, to do this project. we painted all the surface areas of the unit with two coats and we still have a little paint left of each color. A word of caution: most samples will only come in flat finish. If you're hoping for more shine, go ahead and buy the next size up which will come in any finish or a polyurethane finish to top coat with.
  • Go All Out: I don't really have to explain this one, but there are tons of more expensive and fabulous options out there. Glitter finish, whiteboard paint, chalkboard paint, metallic, magnetic paint, crackle finish, you name it! Go crazy if you've got the cash and the will!
*Step 3 or 2: Get the Hardware! Or the faux hardware. We used a mix of real hardware, wood, and detail painting to get the look in our kitchen. Thrift stores are your friend here! The hardest part to find was the faucet. We found one a month or two back, when I was just talking this idea. I won't say who, but SOMEONE in my family told me not to buy the brand new faucet from IKEA's "as-is" section for $5... I regretted that decision later, when I had a hard time finding one used. Someone made up for it by finding the one we ended up going with at the thrift for $3, so I guess he's off the hook. Be persistent in finding what you want, and think of all the little things in different ways, look for shape and scale above what the current function is. For us, a small steel bowl became a sink basin, an ugly gold and paint-speckled faucet got some steel wool love and a brushed aluminum spray paint, some wooden daisies and drawer knobs from the craft store became a stove top, and a toothbrush holder became a utensil crock. A cheap curtain rod can hold up thrift store curtains, hemmed pillowcases, or store-bought curtains as well as home-made. These are used to hide food and dish storage in ours, as you'll see in the finished pictures.

Step 4: Finish and Polish! Almost there! A drill, screwdriver, and jigsaw came in handy for our design, but your design is totally yours and may be different. If you have a problem area, think of a creative solution! Some detail painting can help in the imagination department, but don't forget, kids tend to come with quite an imagination of their own, so don't stress if you're not getting all the things you want into the finished product. Remember how many things you could make out of a cardboard tube or box as a kid? The kitchen is just icing on the cake, the real magic is in the kid that will enjoy it. Add in some tiny utensils, dishes, and play foods, and voila! You've got an awesome and polished little kitchen that looks and IS worth three or four times what you paid for it, plus, it's custom, and I'd rather have this cute little thing in my real kitchen than a large, plastic beast of a kitchen I paid too much for any day!

$$Cost: I did not include in the cost total all of DB's already extensive food and dish selection, but they are from various places, the food and wooden cookware is all from the fabulous people at Melissa and Doug, and is featured on the bar over there --> where it is linked directly to Amazon, who usually have great deals on their products. The tiny pan is from the thrift store for less than a dollar, and the metal and plastic cooking utensils are a bundle from IKEA for $4. Making food out of felt is easy too, but that's a post for another day! Here's our cost breakdown:

Item Store Price
TV Stand Thrift  $6.99 
Breakfast Tray Thrift  $1.19
Bowl Thrift  $2.00
Faucet Thrift  $2.99
Paint (2 @ 2.50) Home Depot  $5.00
Wood Craft Spirals Michaels'  $0.60
Wood Knobs Jo-Ann  $1.99
Curtain Material Jo-Ann  $3.99
Coupon!! Jo-Ann  $(5.00)
Curtain Rod IKEA  $3.00
Towel Holder Thrift  $1.90
Hooks Home Depot  $2.50
Toothbrush Holder Thrift  $1.90 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I'm a yogurt maker! Me!

We buy a lot of yogurt around here. The Hero makes a smoothie every morning and Dragon Baby and I enjoy them on occasion too, we usually have to conserve our portions a lot to make one quart of plain yogurt last each week. The yogurt we buy is a fantastic grass-fed live culture yogurt and its high quality is one of the reasons I pay $5.99 each week for the quart jar. I've been looking into ways to save money on the yogurt though, so I've been doing my research and found a few ways to do so. This method: http://www.makeyourownyogurt.com/ is the one I picked to follow for a few reasons:
  • It promised thick yogurt without added ingredients or straining!
  • It doesn't require special equipment
  • It took steps to keep the yogurt cultures alive but other cultures out
  • It doesn't require buying additional starter cultures each time
  • I use the yogurt I already like for the starter, so my yogurt will be similar
Well I finished my first batch late last night, and chilled it overnight to thicken as recommended, and I cannot tell you how excited I was last night, it already smelled tasty and this morning it was so thick and creamy. I felt like a huge success! I followed the method on the link to a tee, the only thing I might add is if you have an immersion blender, it might help to make a creamier integration before putting the culture into containers for chilling, I'm sure a blender, stand or hand mixer might produce the same results. I stirred by hand and I had a hard time whipping the curds into the liquid effectively. I should also admit here that it was like 1 AM when I got to this stage and I did not want to stir, so there was a lack in motivation. :P

I love the texture of it, I really needed a slightly thickened yogurt. I held the milk at 185° F for  30 minutes as was recommended for a thicker yogurt. If you want a greek-style yogurt, you could sieve it through a cheese cloth to get your desired thickness, though you do lose some health-benefits by straining the liquids out, the remaining yogurt curds are still great for you. (If you leave it in the cheesecloth a long time, you get a cream-cheese style yogurt, FYI!)

Enjoy a picture of my tasty home-made yogurt! See how nice and thick it is? This is not strained in any way, just followed the recipe.

So let's get on with the important part: reviewing the recipe and breaking down the savings! The recipe delivered everything it promised. I'm thrilled with the results and you don't need to be a kitchen genius by any means to make this happen. I will note that my heating pad runs hot, the recipe called to run it on medium and I kicked it down to low. It's ancient, though, so don't think that will apply to you automatically!

The recipe made 2 quarts of yogurt for me, so I'll do a price comparison for you:

Store-Bought:    Home-made:                   Savings:
     2 Quarts              1/2 Gal Milk @ $3.99           Buy: $11.99          
      x $5.99                - Bottle dep. @$2.00          -Make: $1.99
      $11.99                                         $1.99           Save:$10.00

Definitely worth it! It was so easy to make and it tastes amazing! Let me know if you try it out or add any flavors (which the author mentions adding after the whole process is over, to preserve the culture!) Happy yogurt making!