It’s not easy being green+saving green: Numero Uno

Observe the following conversation between myself, L-blogger extraordinaire (insert guffaw laugh here!) and one of my BFFs:

BFF: Oh, L-blogger, you’ve totally drunk the Portland Kool-Aid!

L-blogger: (*innocently*) What do you mean?

BFF: Ya know, the recycling, the composting, etc, etc.

L-blogger:…..(*tilts head to the side a la dog to think*… silence)

BFF: I just feel like being green costs so much money!  You have to pay for recycling, pay more for organic food, the cleaning supplies are so danged expensive….you should do a blog post on how to save money and be green!

L-blogger: Duuuuude…..

…and *that* is how I come up with inspiration to write.

Ok, I admit, having a proverbial “soapbox” from which to proclaim my beliefs on certain topics is kind of a double edged sword – on one hand it’s great to have a nice platform to have my voice heard – on another people think I actually know what I’m talking about….especially when it comes to green-i-ness (it’s like truthiness, only green-i-er).

Image courtesy of http://fearlessblogger.com/

And while I admit that living a green life stumps even me at times, I’m happy to share the *very*small*amount* that I’ve picked up over the years.  And as much as Portland’s city council would like to believe my BFF in saying that I’ve “drunk the Portland Kool-Aid”, I actually have to say that I’ve pretty much *always* been this way.  Now that I have a soapbox, though, that voice is actually being heard and I think it scares some people – haha!  But seriously – I established a “Green Team” when I was in Middle School (big dork right here), I forced my parents to begin recycling when I was in elementary school, and when I finally moved out on my own in the big, bad world my Condo didn’t have a recycling pick-up available, so I used to collect recycling in my garage (literally, PILES and PILES of trash) and once a month I would stuff my ol’ VW Beetle to the gills and drive to the Fire Station where they had free recycling bins available for anybody to throw their trash into.  I would constantly tell Dr. J in a funny voice, “We have to save the world.”  Now that I blog, and I read about 50 blogs/day (some have “green” topics, some don’t), I’ve gotten even more support from other people who believe as Gandhi did, “Be the change you seek in the world.”  And so I have!

But the bigger topic here is really…..can you be green/eco-conscious/environmentally friendly and not break the bank? The answer, I think, is absolutely, without a doubt, YES, YES, YES!  This is a pretty broad topic and I admit that I am *no expert*, but as a consumer, I can kind of give you an insight into how I think and how I believe it saves me money and might help you save some dinero, too.  This topic is going to spread across several different posts because it is *so* huge and, admittedly, I am probably only going to scratch the surface on each one.  Chapter Numero UNO is one we all know and love:

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE…

Ok, thanks to that late 80’s and early 90’s propaganda (back when I *really* drank the Kool-Aid and regular Kool-Aid too), I know REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE pretty dang well.  But since I’ve become a bona fide grown-up, I’ve learned there is more to it than just the three r’s.  Observe:

REDUCE: This is a pretty broad issue and one that most people don’t think of when they incorporate the three r’s into their lives, but I promise if you reduce “insert ANYthing here”, then you will save money! Here are things that will really help you save money….and they’re so darn simple, I might just win a Nobel Prize:

  1. Don’t buy “stuff”: Wait, what?!?  Stop buying things?!?  But I need food!  How am I going to live?!?!  Ok, look, drama queen, we all need stuff.  I’m not stopping you from going out and buying food and important things like socks and underwear, but we’re not talking about food or socks and underwear.  I’m talking about things like designer clothing that you can’t wear to work because you work in a T-shirt and jeans environment, shoes that don’t go with a single outfit you own (for all you Imelda Marcus types – you know who you are), accessories that don’t match, products that you can’t stand (both cosmetic and utilitarian), things-you-don’t-really-need-but-it’s-such-a-deal-why-not-buy-it-anyway, etc, etc.  It may sound crazy, but you’d be surprised how many people will shop ’til they drop and believe that buying more stuff will actually make them happier.  In fact, it has been recently proven that buying stuff doesn’t make you happy – it’s the experiences in life that actually bring you more long-term fulfilling happiness.  There is a “high” associated with buying things (and getting good deals, to boot), but that high is very short-term compared to the high one gets from imagining themselves, say, on their recent vacation.  Some of these experiences (like vacations, parties, going to college, etc.) can be pretty pricey, but if I think back to an item I have purchased which has given me as much long-term happiness as, say, my honeymoon, I really can’t think of a single thing in my household that is *worth* as much as the memories I have from my honeymoon.  Not a one.  Not even all of my beautiful wedding china, which I absolutely love and adore.  Nothing.  Not. One.  Single.  Thing.  So if you want to REDUCE/SAVE MONEY, just stop buying stuff that doesn’t buy you happiness to begin with.  Potential savings: That just depends upon your shopping style….
  2. If you bring it into your home, think about how you will use it/store it/display it: This kind of falls in line with the above, which is basically to ONLY BUY IT IF YOU LOVE IT!  I would much rather buy something I know I will use, display, absolutely adore rather than buying something I’m only slightly enamored of and once I get home realize I don’t have a single pair of shoes to go with it, a single place to display it, and/or no place to store it for later use.  Just remember, YOU bought it, now you have to live with it!  And if you can’t stand living with it, then you need to dispose of it.  But to dispose of it takes….what?  Heading to Goodwill?  Shipping it to a family member who really will love it?  Re-gifting?  Potential Savings: Again, this depends upon how you shop
  3. Just remember, the more you buy, the more you have to store/save/maintain – one of the interesting side effects of having a highly consumable society is that we feel the need to keep absolutely everything and never throw it away.  If you had a fire tomorrow in your house and you had to vacate in 15 seconds, aside from your children and pets, what would you pick up?  What’s so important to save that it can’t be replaced later?  Family photos are probably the one thing that I think most people would want to save (Dr. J and I already have a plan that if the house is on fire, we grab the iMac because all of our important pictures are there and we could just run out the door with it).  If that’s all you want to save, then what are the other things that you own that aren’t worth saving?  Just remember this: people first, things second.

As a close out on “reduction”, just remember that overall reducing everything you do (shopping, driving, consuming, turning off the TV/lights for a few hours each night, switching to CFLs or halogens, getting more energy efficient appliances, etc, etc.) will save you potentially hundreds of dollars through the course of a year.  Dr. J and I currently work in basically the same neighborhood and, when we are able, we carpool to work together to save a little bit of cash (and, to boot, it’s better for the environment!).  We may not be winning any Nobel Prizes and/or completely preventing CO2 from entering the atmosphere, but I’m a firm believer that making smaller changes to your routine is better than no changes at all.

So the next time you are at the Grocery store and you look at that individually wrapped cookie that looks oh-so-good you can’t wait to rip that plastic off and eat the whole thing, think about how you’re going to dispose of that individually wrapping paper.  If you’re fortunate it will be paper (and therefore recyclable – no waste for you!).  But most times it will be plastic – sadly, not as recyclable as we would like!  Think of your paper trail and waste trail and go up to the Bakery Window and ask them, “Can I have the same cookie with no wrapper, please?!”  Small moves, kids.  That’s all it takes.

REUSE: One of the best ways to reuse is to remember the rejects!  I’m not talking about those “Revenge of the Nerds” types, but those things that might’ve been left at the side of the road and/or are headed to the junk pile.  It could be yours.  It could be your Mom’s.  Hell, it could be neighbor Bob’s!  Garage Sales, Craigslist, eBay, freecycle – they’re all really super cheap ways to score amazing things for half the price you would pay new!  Let me give you an example.

Contrary to popular belief, Dr. J and I actually have purchased very little furniture in our time together.  In fact, I would say about 50% of our furniture is hand-me-downs (which is both a blessing and a curse).  Our bedroom suite is an original art deco set from my Grandmother, same with our dining set and bar area (which you can see in great deal on our Christmas house tour by clicking here).  We did replace the chairs because the originals were long gone and the replacements were so dangerous I was afraid of somebody sitting in it, collapsing, getting sued, and then having to live the rest of my life in a cardboard box with a broken chair:

Dr. J got our black dresser in the Guest Room at a garage sale ages ago before he went to college, sanded it down, repaired it, and painted it black (wish I had a before pic for you!):

We have at least one hand-me-down mattress, two hand-me-down bookcases (one we reinvented awhile back which you can read all about by clicking here), a few hand-me-down chairs, and up until about the time we moved out to Oregon, most of our living room furniture was a mish-mash of hand-me-downs and mismatched pieces that were just plain awful – we even owned this couch up until about a year and a half ago (which of course we were very good about hiding from most people – it had a couch cover on it most of the time):

Maggie and I cuddling on the "ugly couch" after a rough day - you really don't need to see more, it was AWFUL!

Horrendous, isn’t it?  Thank God for JCPenney and couch-covers!  We even inherited a hutch that Dr. J and I lovingly rebuilt to suit our style and tastes – and Dr. J’s dad built it originally, so you gotta love a family heirloom piece like that!

So “re-using” is definitely a word that fits into our vocabulary.  While we’re not big garage sale junkies or Goodwillers, we are all about taking gently used furniture off of other peoples’ hands (namely our more-than-generous families), reinventing, repurposing, and giving it a new lease on life where none existed – and hopefully a little bit of a style improvement, too.  I can’t quite say how much we’ve saved on furniture as a result (and sacrificed on style on more than one occasion – oh, God, *that* couch!!!), but it’s fun to think that almost 50% of the pieces we own have some sort of a story and “new life” thanks to our creativity, if you will.  If you could put a price tag on those pieces, I guarantee it would number in the thousands and thousands of dollars.  So go ahead and accept that donation from your parents or scope out Craigslist, garage sales, and Goodwill for used furniture/accessories – slap a coat of paint on it, buy a couch cover, make it your own and thank your lucky stars that you saved yourself hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars reusing something that was just gonna get thrown in the trash and waste valuable landfill space to boot.  Tell your parents they can keep their grody mattress, though – yuck!

RECYCLE: Depending upon your perspective, recycling can either cost you a lot of money and time and effort, or it will cost you nothing.  Let me explain – depending upon where you live and the importance recycling and “being green” plays in your life, then you really can recycle just about anywhere in this country for free – you just have to know where to look.  And you also have to be willing to do a little legwork.

  1. Most, if not all cities, have some sort of drop-off recycling program: My brother in law lives in Salt Lake City.  SLC has a great curbside recycling program, but they don’t recycle glass.  Lord knows why, but it’s just not something you can do in the city unless you collect your glass, take it to the recycling center somewhere in the city and drop it off yourself.  Now I’m a crazy fanatic about recycling so I would actually do that and would find great joy in it as well (I like to think I’m saving the planet, even though I’m burning Carbon Dioxide to get there, but whatever).  In Columbus, Ohio, where I used to live, there was a very confusing recycling program that was practically impossible to sign up for and really expensive when you did.  But why sign up for it when every Fire Station in the city has a Recycling bin on their premises?  Anything that’s not covered by a traditional recycling bin (such as computers, hot water tanks, old mattresses, etc.) are covered by other programs in the city – believe me, when we moved to Oregon, we had mounds of trash that couldn’t just be “tossed” (old computers, monitors, cleaning supplies, old paints, toxic chemicals, etc, etc.), so we did our research to get rid of them and even though it took us a lot of driving around, I’m happy to report that we were able to safely (and legally) recycle every single piece.  Do some research, spend some time on Google, open the phone book and ask around.  Cities know that people want to recycle, but they’re too strapped for cash right now to offer it as a centralized service and you as a taxpayer are too strapped to pay for it, so look around.  It may take some driving around and dropping off, but if it means something to you, then you really can recycle for free!
  2. Can’t recycle it?  Give it to Goodwill/Have a Garage Sale/Sell it on Craigslist – I think there are three levels of “trash” in our house:
    1. Stuff we love/loved but need to get rid of,
    2. Stuff we hate/don’t need/can’t use and need to get rid of,
    3. Stuff we neither love nor hate but we’re holding onto it until Aunt Edna gets out of prison.

There’s not a whole lot you can do about the last category (and if you have an Aunt Edna who is in prison, I sincerely apologize).  But the first two categories are tricky.  Some people feel that if they spent the money on it years ago, then it’s worth getting a little something for it these days – i.e. go the garage sale/Craigslist route.  However, I fall into the former category – if I don’t want it, I *immediately* put it in a pile and run it over to Goodwill.  I almost never have things lying around that I want to sell to somebody else later – it’s just not my style, I guess – that and I have no hidden “drop zone” big enough in my house to store enough that would warrant putting an ad in the paper so that I could sell it.  But if there is a surefire way to make money off of recycling, then having a garage sale and/or selling it online is absolutely the way to go!  Pocket the change, embrace your open space, and move on!

I admit that there are probably hundreds of ways that I haven’t thought of above that you can embrace your greener side, save cash (and possibly *earn* cash) and be green and not even realize it!  I would love to hear your suggestions!  And I would love to hear, if you’re not really a “green” type because of a “cost” issue, then let me know why and I’ll see if I can address it in another post!  But remember, I can’t make these things happen magically, I can’t give you motivation, and I certainly don’t know how to make all of this easier.  Being green is a commitment and a lifelong struggle.  But if *you* think it’s worth doing, then, by all means, absolutely go ahead and do it!  If you *don’t* think it’s worth doing, then that’s a whole different topic.  There are a lot of things I don’t think are worth doing – like omitting wine from my diet – I can’t help it!  It’s amazing!  And I’m gonna keep drinkin’ it and *you* can’t stop me!!!  And by me saving green doing the above, I feel it gives me the right to indulge in a little red from time to time….

Seriously, You Tell’Us! What have we missed!  And stay tuned for the next whopper of a chapter – cleaning supplies!  UGH!

It’s Not Easy Being Green: The first round of changes!

OK, I admit it, I am on a green kick lately!  It may or may not have involved me accidentally mixing Ammonia and Bleach when I ran out of one toilet cleaner and swiped the next bottle in line to create some pretty noxious chlorine gas….oops!  All I can say is that it was a kick in the pants and it was all I needed to really commit us to changing our lifestyle and toxic chemical load in the house to hopefully live a cleaner (and greener) life!  So here are a few simple things we have been changing up here at Tell’er All About It to become a little more “green” and maybe it will inspire you to do the same??:

I should add, I do not work and am not sponsored or affiliated by any of the companies below.  These are just a few things that are working for us to live a “greener” life.

Disposable Wipes: What did we ever do without these things?  Do you remember?

I do!  We just used a damp rag to wipe down our counters!  These wipes are ridiculously convenient, but they also add up in our grocery bill and fill up our trash bins!  I also don’t trust using them on my granite counters, I’m 99.9% sure they don’t decompose in landfills (oh, that’s right, *nothing* decomposes in landfills) and they are not compostable (bleach+compost = dead compost = bad).  Sadly, as much as I love these little buggers, they simply have to go.  Hey, one less thing to buy and throw away!  So what do I do now?  Well, I simply use a soapy damp sponge to wipe the counter of crumbs (into my hand and then down the drain like my mom used to do back in the day) and then I purchased a more eco-friendly granite cleaner from Method:

I wipe down the counters every few days using this spray and a washable/re-usable cloth that I just throw over the top of the bottle and toss under the sink when I’m finished (and into the wash once every other week or so).  And for those grossed out by my sponge-ing down of the counter, I should just add that I throw *those* into the dishwasher once a week and run it through the sanitize cycle – good as new!  Overall, it’s better for the environment, better for our trash load, better for our sniffers (oh, it smells sooooo good!), and most importantly, better for our granite counters!

Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap: This stuff is seriously magic-in-a-bottle and will be explained in further detail at a later date, but you can basically use this stuff for everything and anything plus the kitchen sink: wash your floors, wash your wood furniture, mix it with water and vinegar for a homemade glass cleaner/all-purpose cleaner, wash your dog, shampoo your hair, wash your body, buy peppermint flavor and brush your teeth, use as body wash for you *and* baby, etc.

It’s like every camper’s dream – an all-in-one magical formula that is super concentrated and lasts for months if you let it!  Apparently this stuff has been around for decades and I am just now finding out about it and learning more about it day-by-day!  You can find it at places like Whole Foods/Paycheck, Trader Joe’s, and it might even be available in the organic aisle in some regular grocery stores.  It’s about $15/32 ounces, so it’s a great bargain since you can just keep filling it with water as it runs low (the formula is super concentrated).  It’s a little lifesaver, I’m here to tell ya!  The big bonus to using Dr. Bronner’s is that it is an all vegetable-based cleaner (as opposed to most of the cleaners I have purchased in the past which are petroleum based), so it’s super easy on the environment, super easy on your body, and super easy on your home (but not too easy – it cuts grease with the best of ’em!).  More posts on Dr. Bronner’s in the future.

Goodbye Swiffer, Hello Good Old-fashioned Mops: Ya know the commercials with Swiffer and how you’ll never go back?  Yup, I was duped.

I used to love my Swiffer WetJet, but I was never happy with how it would just kind of “move the dirt around” a la Gloria Estefan and then get pooled in the corners and just look dirty (especially in our master bathroom which has white porcelain tiles – yuck!).  We decided to go *back* to a mop that had a washable/re-usable applicator and we couldn’t be more thrilled with it!  It’s one less “disposable” item I have to buy, one less bottle to clutter up my newly cabinet-tized laundry room, and one less mop to store.  De-cluttering and cleaning all in one?!  SOLD!  One of these days I may shell out some serious bucks for one of those Shark steam mops (which basically just cleans with water), but I’d rather shell out the big bucks for a cleaning service than a cleaning implement (I hate cleaning!).

Glass over plastic: Dr. J has been on a kick lately to break our habit of disposable plastic food containers as they contain BPA which is a known carcinogen/toxin (it’s mostly toxic to infants and children, but you can’t be too careful!).  The FDA is “working on reducing the levels of BPA in food containers,” but we’re just taking the bull by the horns and slowly phasing out plastic food containers in our home altogether.  Fortunately, we had some lovely Pyrex containers with lids (that we got as a wedding present eons ago, no less) that have been carting our lunches to and fro for a few weeks now.  We still have plastic containers leftover and may continue to keep them on hand for cold food storage (leftover salads and veggies, etc.).  However, since BPA is most toxic when it is heated, we always make sure to put anything “reheatable” into a glass container for safe keeping and reheating.

You have something on your face: A friend introduced me to Neutrogena makeup remover wipes a few years back and I was in loooooooove like a teenage crush.  I’m one of those girls who kicks off her shoes, changes her clothes, and washes her face as soon as I get home from work.  Enter these disposable makeup remover wipes and, YOWZA!  A girl on the go’s best friend.

Buuuuut….they’re disposable (see disposable wipes above).  Which means I have to throw them away and after a few quick scans of the internet, I found no certifiable proof that they were either compostable *or* recyclable.  It was disappointing to be sure, but I finally had to kick the habit and I’m back to good ol’ soap and water, which is actually a good thing because it’s one less item to pack when I travel, one less thing to buy at the grocery store, and one less thing headed to the landfill (every bit helps, right?!).

Microwave Popcorn is soooo 1985: My dentist hates me for this, but there’s nothing more “comforting” to me than a night parked on the couch with a giant tub of popcorn in my lap and my fave movie in the background (throw in some cheesy Sci-Fi and I’m a happy camper!  Alas, Lost is no more – what will I do with my Tuesday nights!?!?!?).  While microwave popcorn out of a bag can make me salivate faster than a sale at Pottery Barn, I started to wonder about the “chemical-y” taste of microwave popcorn and whether it was good or bad for me:

Well, sure enough, I did a few scans of Google and found out that not only does the bag contain a pretty toxic chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been known to cause infertility in humans, the butter flavor (another chemical called diacetyl) has actually been known to cause lung disease in the factories that manufacture the popcorn bags and flavorings.  While the PFOA will be voluntarily eliminated by 2015, I thought I’d play it safe and just get rid of those disposable popcorn bags all together.  So we now just pop ours the old fashioned way on the stovetop with a little bit of veggie oil and some kernels!  And it is *so* much cheaper (and tastier!).  Our dental floss never got such a good workout before!  For more info on other foods that should never pass your lips, click here.

PFOA is also a common ingredient in Teflon and is found in everything from pizza boxes to cookware.  It’s worth doing some of your own research to determine whether or not something like this is safe for you and your household.

So there ya have it!  I’m not saying these are all changes you should run out and make, but these are just a few things we have changed around the Tell’er All About It household to hopefully be a little more eco-friendly not only to the environment, but to our bodies as well!  Hey, if I find out I can’t have kids in a few years, I’m totally blaming it on my college years and all of the microwave popcorn I lived off of at the time.  Though it’s probably sound advice to blame all of my future health problems on college, regardless!  Bad knees?  College Marching Band.  Bad back?  Carrying too many six packs books on my back.  Hacking cough?  It was probably all that time spent at the smoke-filled bars library uptown.  Ahhh….memories…

But You Tell’Us!  Is there anything else out there that we should be changing?  Is there anything you have changed after realizing it wasn’t as healthy as advertised?  Share and share alike!

It’s Not Easy Being Green: Re-usable Grocery Bags

Kermit was right – it’s not easy being green!  But I’ve figured out one way that it’s *super* easy to be green!  Re-usable grocery bags!!  Yes, I have finally *finally* purchased re-usable grocery bags to cart my goodies home from the store and it’s as easy as….well….easier than being green!  I know, I know.  I’m a little late to this (hello….Louis Vuitton was creating couture re-usable canvas bags back in like 2005 – where have I been?!?!).  Honestly it was part laziness, part cheap-ness, and part convenience-ness (huh?).  So why now?  Basically I have had an “environmental epiphany” within the past few months and I’m out to do the “right” thing, which isn’t always easy, but I assure you this is as easy as it gets!  And hopefully it will help to prevent things like this from happening:

I’ve always tried to be a good person to my one and only home.  I recycle, I compost, I car-pool, and I think very seriously about the “stuff” I bring into my home and whether or not I truly need it.  I only buy things I truly need, love and cannot live without, or are necessities to living life (socks and underwear, you make the cut in good times and bad!!).  I’m not saving the world, one recyclable at a time, but I am doing my small part to make my home and my family a little bit greener and gentler to our surrounding environment!  I still have a long way to go, but I am working on it!

The problem, I admit, was that I had a drawer in my kitchen that was filled to the brim with plastic bags and they multiplied like bunnies since I wasn’t “re-using” them quickly enough to dispose of them (I use them a lot for bathroom canister liners and doggy-poop bags).  So they litterally turned into “litter” around my house and I was sick of it!  So I went through and emptied out about half of what I had and took them to the grocery store to recycle (most grocery stores will have large bins that you can dump these bags into, but if yours doesn’t, then here are a few helpful ideas to get rid of yours).   Then I took an empty Kleenex box and stuffed the extra bags in there so I can grab and go when I’m on my way out the door with the Magsters and then they are more organized and “contained” than they were before.  I also keep a few empty boxes under the bathroom sinks for fast access when I need it.

So now that one problem was tackled (organizing), I was ready to bring more “stuff” into my house.  But rather than jump at the bit and run out and purchase all new, I did the eco-friendly thing and “shopped my house” for perfectly usable (and re-usable) canvas bags and the like and here’s what I found:

All of these bags were sitting around my house and I wasn’t using them save for the occasional trip to Mt. Hood to corral miscellaneous ski gear or as a dirt collector stuffed in the corner of my kitchen.  I took about five minutes one afternoon searching down these bags and then stuffed them into a “super shopper” bag (which I got as a house-warming gift a few months back) and threw them in the back of my car.  So now whenever Dr. J and I are at the grocery, we just remember to go to the trunk and pull them out!  Couldn’t be simpler!  Not only that, but we only had to buy two extra bags and then every time we go to the grocery store, we get an extra ten cents off our purchase, which, depending upon the store, you can either add back to your tab or donate to a good cause!  Score!

In addition to getting rid of old, I also have made a concious effort to “reduce” the plastic bag clutter by abstaining from bringing any more home than I absolutely need to – i.e., cutting the Check-out person off at the pass by saying, “I can carry that in my purse, thanks!”  Most of the time I don’t need a bag and I appreciate some stores asking if I really need one to begin with.  You can tell the stores who are really conscious of their waste because the bag is an option as opposed to a hard and fast rule.  The best example I can think of is Ikea where they have *no* bags, so if you drop by, be sure to bring your super-shopper bag just in case you decide to buy a bunch of little things as opposed to the large flat-pack boxes that they love so much.

So there ya have it!  One step closer to living a little more green-ly in the Tell’er All About It household!  So You  Tell’Us!  What are you doing to green-i-fy your life?  Do you feel like choices like this make a difference or is it all hogwash?  Discuss!

Turtle photo above courtesy of environmentalcrime.com.

Gimme a break, will ya?

Gimme a break, gimme a break – break me off a piece of that Kit-Kat Bar!  It’s sad, isn’t it, how much the Millenial and GenX’s brains are completely cluttered with marketing jingles and jams, isn’t it?

That’s it!  We’ve had it!  Enough house work!  Why did we buy this house anyway?  Who knew that a five-year old house would end up being so much work?!  Why did we do this to ourselves?

Ok, just kidding!  We’re really not that dramatic!  In fact, we really love all of the housework that we’ve done, even if it does break our backs to get there.  It really is amazing how much of a difference a simple paint job can make to your “house self esteem”.  I’m not sure how else to explain it and, admittedly, that’s probably not the best description, but you really do feel so much better when the house feels clean, crisp and freshly painted.  I’d have to say my pride in my home increases every single time we jazz it up with something new, just like our recent guest bedroom and bathroom mini-makeovers!  Oh, who are we kidding?  If it takes longer than a weekend, then it’s definitely a makeover, wouldn’t you say?!

In fact, since we’ve got the time (and it’s Friday and Fridays are all about fun!), here are a few of *our* personal favorite makeovers that we’ve tackled so far:

L-Blogger’s Faves:

Front Pillars:

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but rebuilding our front entryway pillars really changed our front entry way so much.  You can read more about that project here.

Building a Fence:

When you have a 60 pound Mascot Mutt named Maggie, building a fence so she can’t run away with the circus really makes a big difference in how you live your life!  You can read about that project and how we tore up our backyard in the process by clicking here.

Kitchen Island Facade:

Adding beadboard to the back of our kitchen island was a big task for us at the time, but it really swank-i-fied the back side of our kitchen island, which is the first thing you see when you walk in the front door and it just makes the whole space feel so much more formal and, dare I say it?  Pretty!  You can read about that fun project here.

Dr. J’s Favorites:

Guest Bed Makeover:

It was hard to pick just three of our top favorites, but this recent bedroom beauty makeover is now posh enough for Posh Spice and/or maybe just a few anthropomorphic chinaware sets.  It’s been a popular redo and you can read about that here.

Guest Bath Mini-Makeover:

Not only did our recent guest bath re-do allow L-blogger to flex her artistic muscle, but it also allowed us to get rid of that builder’s grade mirror and put something just a wee bit nicer in its place.

Living Room Spruce-Up

While it doesn’t get a lot of air time on this blog, we’ve probably spent the most amount of time re-doing our Family Room area.  From installing the beadboard up above to replacing the baseboards, to redoing two grody old pieces of furniture, this room has evolved quite a bit from the first few days we lived here.  While the colors may not be overwhelmingly colorful or dramatic, the soothing soul of this room really makes us feel cozy, cuddly and serene every night!

Pretty crazy, huh?  And for whatever reason, we’ve been feeling pretty proud of ourselves here at Tell’er All About It for all of the back breaking work we’ve been putting into the house.  So proud, in fact, that we’re going to treat ourselves to a little time away from major renovations for a little while.  Well, it’s not exactly like a vacation or anything, it’s just a chance to regroup, do some research, and finally draw up plans for two pretty big projects that we’ve got coming down the pipe (or pike…which is it, anyway?  Does anybody really know or do you do like I do and just kind of fudge the last few letters?).

The Laundry Room:

Oh, sure, it’s cute!  In fact, painting those stripes was the biggest home improvement project we tackled prior to even moving into the house.  And I can remember back when it was finished how we both said, “Wow, this is our favorite room in the house!”  Now it’s just a downright disorganized mess!  But can ya blame us?  There is no storage, no cabinetry, no shelving unit, nada, nada, nada!  So all of our detergents, cleaners, irons, etc just kind of collect inside the doorway for lack of a better place to put them, causing tripping hazards to say the least, and just plain white trash ugly to say the most.  There, I said it so you don’t have to.  But we are in the process of drawing up some ideas to really take this room to the next level.  Here is my lofty wish list and hopefully you’ll get a “Visual Plan” at some point:

  • Upper Cabinets in White along the appliance wall
  • Sink plus small counter and extra storage for large cleaning items below (like detergent, etc)
  • Under counter lighting
  • Extra can lights in the ceiling (the room has no windows!)
  • A little bit of artwork on the wall??
  • Perhaps some storage for brooms, mops, etc.

There, now is that so much to ask?  Researching and executing all of this is going to be a pretty big project (potentially our biggest to date!), so we need to formulate a plan, a budget, etc, before we can even think about tackling it.  Hence, our mini-break reason #1 (and you thought it was a baby….sheesh!)

Central Air:

Now this is a controversial update to our house.  Most people in the Pacific NW do *not* have AC in their homes and swear by not having it or ever having it, yada, yada, yada.  It’s not uncommon to drive into a higher-end neighborhood and see window units hanging from most every room in the house.  Both houses we’ve lived in here are relatively new builds and neither of them have Central Air.  Not only that, but of the 30-40 houses we looked at when we were looking to buy, only a half dozen or so actually had AC.  Generally the weather is pretty mild here in the summer and there is absolutely NO humidity, so AC really is sort of unnecessary….

….that is, until last summer….

One of the worst heat waves in Pacific NW history convinced Dr. J and myself that our $8,000 first time homebuyers credit would be going to pay for central air as fast as we could say April 15th!  In fact, we had pretty much decided this fact before we even put an offer in on the house.  Hey, at least we had our priorities straight!  And as if we needed further convincing, the above-mentioned heat wave actually happened the week we first moved into our house.  Talk about misery!  But on the flip side, we ended up seeing a *lot* of new movies!

We’ve already begun the weighty task of setting up appointments and getting a few estimates for installations, etc.  This is definitely *not* a DIY project as we are just a little too scared of messing with our current furnace, etc.  Our house is also not entirely set up for a plug and play AC unit, so that means the install will probably take a couple of days.  Not only that, but we have to get approval from our HOA on placement of the exterior unit as well as waiting for our tax return to actually show up in our bank account (Hello, IRS, I’m talkin’ to you!).  Fortunately, we won’t be breaking our backs on this, but we might lose our minds!

But overall, the AC is simply a bribery technique to get more out-of-town visitors to come and stay and (hopefully) be a little more comfortable while they’re doing it!  and having a more comfortable guest bath and bed to stay in always helps, doesn’t it?

So there ya have it!  Our mini-break really isn’t a break at all!  It’s just more cerebral than anything else and we’re super excited about getting these updates done hopefully within the next 1-2 months.  And if you live close by and we have another heat wave this summer, then you are more than welcome to come crash at our place while it happens!  But don’t worry, we’ll be checking in regularly with other updates, including a Composting update, perhaps a little bit more fun with power tools, and some fun future project ideas!  Stay tunes!

Champagne (Art) on a Beer Budget – Cost? FREE!

The last time I tackled a cheap art project, I stayed safely within the confines of my computer so that if I hated it, then I could just blame it on a less-than-stellar computer skillz.  But when we recently decided to tackle our guest bathroom for a mini-makeover, I tried to think outside the (computer) box in terms of art, all while keeping in mind my mantra for design – cheaper is better than expensive, but free is waaaaay better than cheap!

It’s no surprise that I’m a huge fan of HGTV (house porn, anyone?).  I get so much inspiration from watching those shows and I’ve incorporated so much of what I see on TV into my own house and whatever is leftover is just stockpiled for future reference.  One of the scariest projects I’ve seen designers tackle on HGTV is taking leftover paint, a piece of scrap wood, and hardly any artistic talent to create something cool-looking when the budgets are a little thin.  Now I’ll be the first to admit I am no artist, I did not study art in school, nor have I studied any kind of art within the past ten years, but I was feeling a little overconfident this past Saturday and thought I’d try my hand at some good ol’ freehand painting.

Since we had taupe-y green tones going on in the bath and bamboo accessories, I started thinking that it would look really great to paint bamboo reeds to sort of tie in the whole theme.  I initially thought this was just going to be a practice run for an eventual wall mural, but decided that I liked the painting so much I just went with it!  I started by taking a piece of scrap wood we had lying around in the garage, primed it, and then painted it the same color as the walls.  This provided me with a good base and a coordinated color scheme right off the bat since it all ties into the same family!  Then this is where I just started wingin’ it…

Fortunately for me, I had about a dozen different colors to work with since part of our color picking process involves picking up 3 testers worth of paint each time!  But I decided to keep things simple and just do 4 colors and do a simple highlight/lowlight detail to make it pop just a wee bit.  It’s not much, but not bad for my second foray into homemade artwork!

Hey, it’s certainly no DaVinci, but it was free, so there ya go!  The plan is to create a white frame for this piece so that it doesn’t completely blend into the wall, but until that time You’Tell Us! What do you think?!?  Do you think you would be able to throw something super simple together like this?  Better yet, if this *does* inspire you to try your hand at some personal artwork, then send us your pics!  We’d love to see them!

We’ve Been Benched! Chapter 3

So it goes without saying that tackling any project like our recent Master Bedroom window seat demolition and window storage building risks everything from your sanity, your cleanliness, even your marriage.  Luckily Dr. J and I work exceptionally well together on house projects, otherwise our marriage really *would* be in trouble, but the mess these past few days has certainly kept us feeling a little….dusty.  Can you imagine if we had to do a full-scale remodel?  I’m two rooms away in our office and the iMac has dust all over it…le sigh.

But for now if you’re just joining us, then Dr. J and L-Blogger are in the midst of dismantling a pretty useless window seat in our master bedroom.  The whole inspiration for this demo and rebuild is really to inject some functionality into a pretty architectural feature in our bedroom.  I mean, seriously, who has heard of a window seat that *didn’t* have some sort of storage?!?  And, I also have a love affair with this pic below from a Pottery Barn mag (admit it, they’ve moved up from brochures):

Look familiar?!  Ours has similar beadboard (though no baseboards at bottom – future idea) and while we don’t have the curtains or the fun woodwork on the top, these are all great ideas for future projects!  I really am turning into my grandmother – I’ve always got something up my sleeve for my hubby to work on.  He’s never bored being married to me!

But back to the goods of it.  We just finished installing two boxes into the remains of our window seat bench and I got to test them on for size.  L-blogger storage worthy?  Check!

However, the edges were looking a little “unfinished”, so we cut a few pieces of plywood to size and placed them over the “seams” of the built-in.  Actually, this was also a functional addition, as we had to get the depth of the window seat correct all the way across so that when our eventual door is finished, everything will be on the same plane.  We wouldn’t want to pinch our rumps on an uneven window seat.  Yowza!  This is what it looks like:

After that it was as simple (or as time-consuming) as putting a little Wood Putty into all of the seams, waiting for it to dry, and then sanding it down to the same level plane as the rest of the plywood.  So we waited….and waited…..and waited….and waited some more…..and then we realized that this project was taking far longer than anticipated due to drying times.  I think it’s that whole moisture-in-the air problem we have in the Pacific Northwest this time of year.

So here is an ugly photo before of the pre-sanded Wood putty:

Then it was time to sand…

….then paint….

And then it was on to creating the door.  Basically, and I think you know where this is going, we reduced the width of the two original MDF boards,  and we put them back, we had a large open space In the middle.  So we cut *two* MDF pieces.  One long and skinny to fit in between the two old pieces of MDF right by the window glass (which I am painting in the pic above) and then another to….piece de resistance….create a door, kind of like an old fashioned toy box that opens UP.  We carefully cut the door so that it had 1/8″ wiggle-room gap around the three sides where it butts up against the rest of the top.  But the real kicker here is just finding the right kind of hardware, which we found at Lowe’s in the form of an old fashioned piano hinge:

We are on the hunt for a “child-safety” toy box hinge, so if anybody knows of a good place, let us know.  We figure it might come in handy for any future kiddos, any future buyers, and it’ll be Dr. J, L-Blogger, and Maggie safe – we’re a little accident prone, so the more safety we have the better!

But here we are, a few days later, and we can finally close the lid on our window seat reconstruction…..

or…keep the lid open…a la the toilet seat….d’oh!  Did I just say that?!?!  But this window seat is not for crap, it’s for stuff!

Now the only thing left to do is a to finishing painting and caulk around the windows….but how lovely is this transformation?!  I mean, seriously….You Tell’Us!

Men’s Den: Tools

J here again with another installment of the “Men’s Den.”  If there is one constant with everything we do around the house: we need tools to do it!  As I see it, tools fall into 4 basic categories:

Just because I'm 2x taller than the rest of these guys, and the exposure is completely different on me, doesn't mean I wasn't there.

J, working on a *real* power tool 🙂

So this post is just about “Must-Have Tools” and if you don’t have them in your toolbox right now, you know what to ask for for your next birthday or Valentine’s Day!  Seriously, if my wife, L, were to ask for a tool for Valentines day, you’d better believe she’d get it.  But I’m a guy and I think there’s nothing more romantic than getting or giving a tool as a gift!  I’ve included some Amazon links as examples, but we aren’t officially sponsoring any particular brand (not even Amazon).  Even though it may seem like there are a lot of tools listed here, many of them can be had for about $10.  So get shopping!

  • Basic hand tools: hammer, various screw drivers, and paint brushes.  Two slightly specialized tools that fall into this category are locking pliers and channel lock pliers.  The locking pliers will lock in place when they’ve grabbed onto something, giving you an extra hand when you need it, while the channel lock pliers can adjust to fit most any size nut or pipe.  Along with a monkey (or adjustable head) wrench, these locking and channel pliers are extremely useful when you have some plumbing to do.
  • Utility knife. This may fall into the “basic hand tools” category, but it’s important enough to put on it’s own.  Once you have one, you’ll wonder how you ever got through previous projects (probably by misusing kitchen or pocket knives, like I used to).
  • Cordless drill. A battery driven, cordless drill can do almost everything their corded cousins can do, but you don’t have to be be attached to the wall, which is why this should be your first “power tool”.  The key here is to avoid any cordless “screwdrivers” – they don’t have the “oomph” to use drill bits or drive large screws into dense wood.  In general, that means you’ll need a 12 to 18 volt drill.
  • A bubble level. Nothing is more frustrating than hanging a shelf on a wall, only to have a guest, 2 months later, point out that it’s just SLIGHTLY tilted.  A bubble level can help you check how level pieces are as you’re working on them, and they’re dead simple easy to use.  Just put the level on the top or side of what you’re measuring and look at the bubble.  If the bubble is completely in the middle, everything is level!  If it’s off to one side, that side is too high.
  • A ladder. Unless you’re a current, future, or past NBA player, you’re probably not tall enough to reach everything in your house!  I like the 6-8 foot sized, A-frame ladders.  The aluminum ones are a little cheaper, while the fiberglass ones are more durable.  We have an aluminum one and are very happy with it.  We do not own a long extension ladder to get up on the roof — it’s useless inside (unless you can get it in through a window) and pretty pricey, so we borrow one from my uncle for the one (or maybe two) times a year we might need to get up on the roof.
  • One or two kinds of saws: a hand, wood saw and/or a hack saw.  The hack saw can cut wood, plastic, metal, you name it.  Some materials need different saw blades, but they’re easy to replace (another plus).  But the hack saw is designed to cut through something relatively small (think a couple of inch PVC pipe, for instance), and is limited by it’s shape.  A hand saw, on the other hand, can only really cut wood — but it’s much better at that job than the hack saw.  Which one you need depends on what you want to do with it.  We actually have both.

So there ya have it – the absolute “bare necessities” you would need to begin repairing, maintaining, and fixing up your house.  With the tools listed on this space you can tackle many of the projects we describe in this blog.  To tackle some of the more technical projects, you’re going to need some heavier-duty tools, which we will address in the next couple of Men’s Den’s.

Be on the lookout for the next Men’s Den when I’ll be talking about the tools that fall in the second and third categories I listed above: the “nice to own” tools (mostly power tools), and the “I’ll never own, but I can rent” tools.  Once you have (or know where to borrow) these tools, you’ll be ready to tackle almost anything!

So what do you find to be the absolute, must-have tools in your tool box?  Have you ever thought you needed a tool only to find it completely useless?  You Tell’Us!

Stay tuned!

Dr. J