Monday, February 28, 2011

Daily Declutter Challenge #24 - Baking Supplies Cupboard

I'm really excited about how I've been figuring out how to maximize my storage space.

Here's the before from last week.

I knew I could amalgamate this jumbled mess into two shelves and then free up another shelf for party supplies.   (Those were housed in another chaotic cupboard!)


Got everything out of those messy, plastic bags and put as much as I could in jars.  I love the look of everyday food and objects in jars.   A friend donated these along to me - thanks, Shauna!  I know the cupboard looks more full, and that's because it is!  Two well organized shelves now house what was on three, and another cupboard is now less cluttered.  I wish I took a before of that one!

My husband caught me smiling admiringly at my cupboards last night.  How could I not when I see such a lovely sight?

I love the diamond pattern on the middle jar.

Even toothpicks look intriguing when seen through glass.

Recycled tin cans to house party supplies.  Who needs the Container Store?

Organized.  Free.  Recycled and Repurposed.  Happy, smiling me!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I Tried It! I Like It! - Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

I have wanted to make my own laundry detergent, but I'm still working my way through a giant pail of no-name powdered stuff. But on a recent trip to Superstore, I bought the ingredients for laundry soap so I'd have it on hand when the time came.

I easily found these in the laundry detergent aisle of Superstore.
That evening I realized I was out of dishwasher detergent and I wondered, "Hey, can I make my own? Do I have the ingredients?"  A quick search on the google told me what I needed...yes, I had what I needed.  And the "how to" was so simple!

Mix equal amounts of:
Washing Soda
Use 2 tablespoons in per load.
If your water is hard and tends to spot you can use vinegar as a rinse agent.

I put the mix into a plastic pail with a tight fitting lid - perfect size, but  it wasn't very interesting looking.  I thought, "I should print out some sort of cute retro label..."  That got my girls & I into hysterical bouts of laughter as we googled images for "Retro Vintage Dishwashing Soap".  I ended up printing out a bunch and simply using packing tape to stick them on.  I don't own Modge Podge.  Can you make it from scratch?  ;-)  (A quick search on you know what shows of COURSE you can make your own...shoulda figured!)

Mixing the sacred with the mundane.

This woman is preforming the joyful dance of the tea towel.

It makes me smile every time I get soap.

Anyway, the verdict on the dishwasher soap?  So cheap.  Works great.  No fuss.  Less chemicals.  Less packaging.  I tried it - I like it!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Scarf Give-Away

I love scarves!  They are a great, versatile accessory, especially if you stick to a basic wardrobe.  They also keep you warm and cozy while you try to cut your heating costs and energy use by turning the heat down a couple notches.

Melanie, from You Made That? is offering this gorgeous, hand made scarf in celebration of reaching 100 followers.

Even though I hope to win, I'm sharing this with you - 'cause I'm sure you deserve it too!  ;-)  Be sure to check out her link!

Daily Declutter Challenge #23 - Spice Cupboard

Today’s Daily Declutter Challenge is a work in progress.  My spice/baking cupboard is in serious need of help.  I could hear the frustration in my husband’s voice (and he is the sweetest, gentlest, most patient man I know – good thing since I’m such a crazy!), when he was looking for the cinnamon.  It was enough to motivate me to tackle this area next.


While I was at the thrift store the other day I picked up this little rack...

It was $6, which is more than I would usually spend on something like this at a second hand store – but I knew I needed to get organized.

Once I got home though, I was hit by a brainstorm.  What if I stored my spices in the drawer instead and shuffled some things around?  I was sure I could start maximizing my space better.

I decided to store spices/seasonings in the drawer & baking spices (cinnamon etc) in the cupboard.  I transferred spices into the new jars so they would fit standing up in the drawer.  Much better use of space!  I'll simply sell the not needed wire rack at my spring garage sale.


This is still a work in progress, since my plan is to pick up some chalkboard paint to cover the lids, and then write the name on the top in chalk.

As for the baking cupboard, I am in serious need of more jars for all my dry good.  I’m cooking so much more from scratch now, so this is an area that needs a plan.  The plastic bags from the bulk area just don’t cut it!  I don’t want to fork out all the dough to buy a bunch more, so I’m hoping to collect some here and there from garage sales.  Mason jars are  NOT to be found anywhere on Craigslist or Freecyle anymore; a lot of weddings and homes are using them for d├ęcor!  Guess I should just eat more pickles….


Annnnd on another note….

Mom Starting From Scratch will be taking a digital sabbatical this week since Grandma is coming to visit!  My mom is an amazing woman – she loves projects, cleaning, painting, thrift store shopping, and generally being a busy bee.  She has gotten better at learning to rest while she’s visiting, so admist all the little projects we’ll be doing, I’m sure there’ll be lots of tea drinking, magazine purusing, and chick flick watching.

I’ll try to take pics of any decluttering I get accomplished over the week and just do a mega post next Monday.  Until then, I hope you have a fabulous week and you keep on with  daily clearing out the clutter.  One drawer, cupboard, surface area at a time….remember…it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Crafting for the Clueless - Warm Scarf to Cozy Pillow

There is no Sunday Stew Special today, since we had sandwiches after the morning service with our church family.  Instead I offer you another "Crafting for the Clueless".   I have a super soft, extra warm, gorgeous, bamboo knit, striped scarf that I really, really love.  The problem is it's too warm.  (I know - aren't scarves supposed to be warm?)  It was time to decide whether to get rid of it or repurpose.  I decided the material was so soft and cozy that I could make a pillow for my bed.


I repurposed an old, flattened pillow by ripping it open, re-fluffling the fibres, and then sewing it into another case.  Next, I folded the scarf in half with the frayed ends touching, hand stitched the two open sides, stuffed the pillow inside, and simply tied the ends shut.  If I ever need to wash the scarf, I can easily untie it and remove the pillow.


It's really meant for my bed, but my family keeps stealing it to snuggle with on the couch!

I did this in one evening last week while watching "Pride and Prejudice".  (One of my favourite movies btw!)

Linking to these parties - so much inspiration from everyone!

Adventure Awaits - Stories by the Campfire

Adventure isn't that hard to find when you live in a beautiful place, with scenery like this a mere five minutes from home.

Or when your local Historical Society hosts a free "Stories by the Campfire" event...

where you get to roast your freshly made bannock over the fire...

and hear tales of the Voyageurs...

told by a canadian history expert of east indian descent, singing songs in french.  Only in Canada, eh?

Oh yes, and finding a stick to carry on the adventure helps too...

I love checking out our local paper to find free, fun, family adventure.  Did your community have any great events this weeked?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Daily Declutter Challenge #22 - Back on the Wagon

Totally skipped decluttering yesterday.  Well, that's not entirely true - decluttering piles of laundry was accomplished!  We had the first bout of sunny weather for a long time and adventure was awaiting.  Important decluttering of wintery cobwebs in our souls happened there too.

Today was another full day of adventures, but I did have a chance to declutter a shelf in our en suite bathroom.  This room is often the messiest in the house since no one else has to see it!  It's also very small and serves as our laundry room, so keeping it clear of clutter is pretty important.


I know with bathroom organizing you should only leave stuff in the open that you use daily.  Everything else should go in a cabinet.  Well tons of stuff on that shelf were items we hadn't touched in years.  Literally.  I tossed out a bunch of expired medicine and relocated other first aid stuff to my newly organized medicine cupboard.  ('Cause there was so much more room there!)  Some items got put under the sink (another declutter challenge ahead, that's for sure!), and this is the end result....


You may be thinking, "That doesn't look any emptier!"  It's true, it's not empty.  But I decluttered so much stuff from it that I was able to take the two white containters off my bathroom counter that were holding my hair supplies and make-up.  My bathroom counter is tiny, and you should see what I had crammed on there!  Actually, you can't see.  I didn't take a before pic.  Sorry.

P.S.  You know Altoid Tins?

They are the perfect size for these....

Friday, February 18, 2011

Adventure Awaits - The Ravine

One of the very best things about our house is that it backs onto a woody ravine with a creek running through it.  The kids have spent countless hours back there, collecting sticks, building bridges, creating forts, fairy houses, and even searching for Easter Eggs.  It's also a fun "shortcut" to our neighborhood park.

But it's been a cold, rainy couple of months with lots of housebound days 'cause of sick kids.  We've baked, decluttered, crafted, gamed, movied - and I've loved doing those things.

But there's something I love more...and that's little, outside, adventures.

And sometimes all adventure requires is a little bit of sunshine...

A log "bridge"....

A push on the swings...

Some bubbles....

A stick and some water to splash in...

And the promise of spring...

What's your favourite, free adventure?

Organizing Junkie

There's a great website called,  I'm An Organizing Junkie, and she has some fabulous inspiration and ideas.  This week she featured "Mom Starting From Scratch" in  this post.   So I'm sending a big shout out to Laura - you help motivate me to keep going in my challenges!  If you're looking for great organizing ideas, you should pop by her site!

Organizing Junkie

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Best Health Magazine Blog Award Finalist

I have to thank my friend Andrea for this nomination.  Feel free to show the love by voting here.  Hugs to you all!

Daily Declutter Challenge #21 - Pair of Silver Candlesticks Anyone?

I love the fast, easy, soothing (and romantic!) atmosphere that candlelight provides.  But I had an entire drawer jammed full of tealights and assorted holders that I had been given over the years. Not to mention candle holders scattered on shelves all over the house that were quite simply, collecting dust.

I decided to simplify by only keeping a couple favourite holders, a handful of clear glass votive holders, and some glass hurricane holders.  They are so versatile, go with any decor and are unfussy in style.

But I did meet my nemesis.  A pair of tarnished, silver candle holders that I received as a wedding gift.  I held them in my hand for the longest time and silently debated keeping them.

But for the life of me I could not recall who gave them to us, or when the last time I used them.  10 years ago maybe?  Seriously.  They weren't even out on display and were one of the items jamming up the candle drawer.

Don't get me wrong.  I know someone would love these.  I know these are worth money.  But honestly, for me, they are worth nothing sitting in my drawer, taking up valuable space in my little home.

Anyone want them?

Guilt free goodbyes.  Lovin' it.

Excited about Composting

I'm really excited about a new program that is coming to our area in the spring.  There will be a separate composting bin with our regular garbage pickup.  We'll simply have to save our organic waste in a separate container, and then it will be taken to a recycling centre. This is great news for me, since I don't compost, I barely garden, but I always feel like it's such a waste when I'm tossing veggie peelings, coffee grounds, etc. into the regular garbage.

Here's a bit of the news article from our local paper.

"The winners are the environment and taxpayers. The program will turn people’s kitchen and garden scraps into compost, while at the same time diverting the materials from landfills.  The price of tipping rubbish into these dumps is about to increase significantly over the next few years.  They are to rise from the current fee of $97 per tonne to $182 per tonne by 2015.  By diverting food scraps from the waste stream, the waste disposal costs will be reduced significantly as the cost for processing organics is considerably lower.  This year alone, the program will save Township taxpayers between $40,000 and $106,000."

Saving money, repurposing garbage, less waste in the landfill.  It just requires a simple change in garbage habits for me.  Totally do-able!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Daily Declutter Challenge #20 - Too Many Jackets!

My mother has an amazing life story. She grew up as a farm kid in the 1950's in rural Alberta with seven other brothers and sisters.  They had very little money and she can still recall the sting of poverty. She vividly remembers the feeling of feeling "damp and cold".  As a result, I'm sure she has made it her life's mission to ensure her grandchildren never feel the same way.

She is our champion thrift store shopper and has pretty much clothed my entire family with her amazing finds. I am truly blessed to have a mom who helps us out in such a way.

But she has one weakness! Any time she finds a pretty, warm, coat in great condition at a second hand store she buys it for one of my kids. And my weakness is that I keep them all!

There is another closet FULL of coats too!
So today's Declutter Challenge was to thin our bulging coat collection.I went through our downstairs closet, the winter clothes bin, and our coat hooks and got rid of the duplicates and not needed items. My four year old had 4 winter coats the exact same size! I was able to bag up for our garage sale the ones we didn't need and keep the favourites. I found I was really torn when it came down to 2 raincoats for Ellie. They were both adorably cute, the same size, and same thickness. I was tempted to keep them both, thinking, "Well, what if one gets really dirty, or we lose it, or it gets ruined...". Then I recalled the mornings of indecision and game playing on Ellie's part, "No I want the polka dot jacket! No I want the other one!" and that was enough to seal the deal. She's got one. It's adorable. Mad dashes out the door will be simpler.

I know it's not that dramatic looking, but now there aren't coats layered on top of coats.  And this is also AFTER my girls came home from school, so they added more coats to the mix as well!

I Tried It! - I Liked It! Community Harvest Box

This month I tried out our community Harvest Box.  It is a volunteer supported program that enables people to buy local, high quality, produce at bulk prices.  I simply sign up (call or email) for a box that month, and on the designated pick up day, they give me a call to let me knowI can pick it up at the drop off centre.  You can order a $15 bag that will be all local & mostly organic, or an $8 bag for non-local produce.  You don't know what will be in the bag from month to month; it will depend on what is in season of course!

The things I like about this program:
1.  It supports local farmers.
2.  Most of the food is organic.
3.  There are no plastic bags involved.  Everything was just placed in a big, brown, paper bag with handles.
4.  It gets me out of a food rut.  I didn't know how much I liked beets till now!
5.  It saves me time at the grocery store hemming and hawing over what variety of apple to buy, what kind of onions are cheaper... I can now spend that time learning to cook new recipes with fresh food.

I'm quickly learning that if I want to change my eating & lifestyle habits, I simply have to change my shopping habits.

To find out if there is a program in your community, google something like "Community Harvest Box" or "Community Produce Program".  I'm definitely doing this again next month!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Daily Declutter #19 - Another Clutter Nest Eliminated

I shared in a previous post about how I got rid of a cozy, little nest for clutter at the top of the stairs.  It's been working remarkably well!  I'm not saying that the cabinet always stays perfectly clear, but without a basket for random items to accumulate, I'm forced to deal with the items more frequently.  What's the mantra?  "Don't put it down, put it away!"

So I decided to tackle another Clutter Nest.  There was a basket at the bottom of the stairs, in our mudroom, filled with random items.  Bags & purses were also getting piled onto the post!  Not such a nice homecoming, is it?

Really, the only oft needed items in the pile were my husband's drumsticks (in their black case), my keys, and our dust buster.  Everything else (roller blade elbow pads, travel Sudoku game, shoe polish, a book, reusable bags, bungee cord, two purses, and used napkins) either got put away, thrown away, or given to the garage sale pile.  I'm sure some of the items have been in there for months and months!

I've found that if I give clutter a convenient, cozy nest then it never, ever, ever leaves.  Goodbye nest.  Goodbye clutter.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Daily Declutter #18 - Coralling Playdoh

Play-Doh is such a fun activity that it earns an entire drawer in our kitchen.  Today's declutter was a simple one, since it's a busy day - but I was happy with the quick fix results.



Just cleared out any dried up play-doh, empty containers & stray lids.  The flat box that held mangoes last week was the perfect fit!  Even though I didn't get rid of much, it sure makes me feel better when there's a place for everything and everything is in it's place.

Free, fast, fix.

Happy Birthday Little Valentine

Three years ago today, one of the sweetest little Valentine's ever was born.  Even though Gracie lived just over one short year, the love she brought with her was enough to last one hundred lifetimes.  Her mom writes a blog called Beautifully Mended and she writes about that special day in this post.  Be prepared to feel the love.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Valentine's Gift For You

Every year I bake heart shaped, sugar cookies with my girls, and then they invite a few friends over to decorate them the day before Valentine's. 

Baking cookies is a great excuse to wear my Minnie Mouse apron!

This year, for the first time, I made the cookies entirely with whole wheat, mainly because I've just plain ol' stopped buying white flour.  I wasn't sure how they'd turn out, since rolling whole wheat dough is a little tricky.
This girl LOVES to bake!

The verdict?  Awesome!  Way better than white, as they actually had some flavour, other than just sugar-y.  So my gift to you this Valentine's is the recipe!

Rolled Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt


Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla.
Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl, and stir into the butter mixture a bit at a time, blending thoroughly as you go.
Pat the dough into a ball, cover, and refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight.
Lightly flour a cutting board, and roll dough out to about 1/4 inch thick.
Cut out cookies with cookie cutters.
Place cookies on cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350 F oven until golden, about 8 minutes.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

SOOOOO good.  Especially 'cause I used real butter.  We were having such a good time making a mess decorating, that I forgot to take a pic of the finished product.  Anyway.  Trust me.  Soooooo good!

Sunday Stew Special #4 - Candy Cane Goulash

In my bag of produce from our community's Harvest Box program, I was introduced to a new veggie, Candy Cane Beets.  When you slice them open they are so pretty - bright pink & white swirls, just like a peppermint.

I decided to use them for my Sunday Stew Special, with potatoes, ground beef, and sour cream.  Since I couldn't find any slow cooker recipe for this, I had to invent my own.


1 lb ground beef
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium candy cane beets, chopped
5 medium potatoes, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp thyme

Scramble fry the ground beef, adding onion and garlic at end to brown.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, & thyme.
Pour 3/4 cup water in bottom of crock pot, adding beets, potatoes, & ground beef mixture.  Stir together.

I cooked it on low for 7 hours, but I found the beets a little undercooked, so 8-10 hours would have been better.  Stir a cup of sour cream into stew before serving.  Garnish with sour cream & sauerkraut if desired.

This was totally experimental, so I was sad to see that the nice, stripey pattern on the beet disappeared after being in the slow cooker.  The colours all leached and blended together, leaving the beet an odd grayish, purple shade.  Ah well.  Cover them with enough sour cream, and no one will notice.

We had some of our daughters' friends over for lunch, so they got to be part of the
Brownlee Test Kitchen Reviews:

Most of the kids had never tried a beet before.  They were pleasantly surprised!  I think they expected them to taste like turnips or brussel sprouts.

Husband:  I'm disappointed in the colour.  It's a good flavour combo, but I'd like it a little saucier.  He likes it saucy!
Homestay Student:  Speaking through her stuffed up nose, I'm not a really good person to ask right now.  I can't taste anything!    I like the texture though - nice and creamy.
10 Year old Daughter - It's really good, especially the sour cream.  It's a little undercooked though.
11 Year old Friend - I was giving her a second helping before I had even tasted mine, I love the beets! I'm sooooo hungry.  She ate three helpings.
12 Yr old Daughter - It's alright.  I like the beets.
13 Yr Old Friend - Holding up a potato, Is this a beet?  When told what the beets looked like she replied, Oh, I already ate one.  I liked it!  I thought it was a potato.  The flavours are really good together and I like the sour cream.
4 Year Old - While we were encouraging her to take a bite, one of the big girls said, It's so good - it taste like candy!  So she replied, It tastes like candy!  I pressed her to come up with her own answer.  It tastes like chocolate.  Ummmmm...sure.
The Cook - I'm sad the swirls didn't show up on the beets;  roasting would probably work better.  If I made it again , I would make a sour cream sauce and mix it right in with the ground beef.  I'd slow cook it longer too.

The Verdict:
4 Thumbs Up
2 Thumbs Down
2 Sideways Thumbs to try again.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Daily Declutter Challenge #18 - Creating Chaos to Get Rid of Clutter

Today I spent some time with my big girls going through a bag of clothes that was passed along to them.  It's always so much fun getting things that are "new to you", isn't it?  But of course as my kids get older, they get more particular about their own personal style and choices.  Some of the clothes were not their taste, but they were still pretty nice.  So we sorted through them all and put a bunch aside for the "Garage Sale Pile".

And when I say "Pile" I mean it.

Since we live in a small house with no garage or basement or extra storage to speak of, any extra, temporary items get put in the hallway outside our homestay student's bedroom.  I'm sorry Brittany!  Good thing she's so sweet and patient.

Which leads me to the point.  Sometimes you need to create a little chaos to get rid of clutter.   Often I simply fill bags to donate to the Sally Anne, but if I feel ambitious enough for a garage sale, then I just have to deal with the pile in the hallway.  Or at least Brittany does!

I was chatting with a friend last week who was in the middle of reclaiming a bedroom that had turned into a storage area.  Since she lives in a little apartment, she needed to accept the fact that she'd have to pull boxes and items into her living room area and deal with the clutter to reclaim the room.  There's nothing like having boxes in your living room to make you rethink the items they hold!

I know it's easier to hide things in a bin or box or cupboard or attic or basement or shed or garage, but every now and then it's worth it to pull them out, create some chaos and then get rid of clutter!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Daily Declutter Challenge #17 - What to do with all Your Kid's Art & School Stuff

My friend, Lisa, asked me what I do about kid's art projects.  With three kids in school and Sunday school, the amount of stuff that comes home is huge.  It  does lessen over the years though.

Here's a few things I do.

1.  I don't keep everything.
2.  I don't keep EVERYTHING.

I guess that was what I DON'T do.  Anyway, now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's move on.

1.  I keep things that express love - like mother's day cards saying, "I love you because you make me cookies."  (I'll accept narcissistic, self-serving love.)

2.  I keep things that celebrate momentous occasions like "My First Day at Kindergarten".

3.  I keep things that really show their personality and heart.  So a lot of the generic art projects aren't kept because they were just doing what the teacher told them.  Ditto for getting 100% on a spelling or math test. A lot of their creative stories and journals are kept.

4.  I had a "genius" moment with report cards while I was decluttering their school stuff.  I cut out the teacher comments and keep those.  I always tell my kids the things that matter most to me are when the teacher says, "Faith is a kind, and encouraging student to all her classmates."  or "Jaira uses wonderful expression in storytelling."  Those sort of things make this momma's heart smile.  Will we really care whether or not they got a 1, 2, or 3 in shape concepts 17 years down the road?

5.  If you love a piece of your child's art - frame it!  I loved this peaceful, watercolour that my daughter did when she was 8.

So with my daughters' help, we went through all their school stuff that was haphazardly lying in a basket, and we had a great time with it.  I simply filled a big manila envelope for each of them following the guidelines that I mentioned above.  But if you are SUPER organized, and keep way more papers than I do, here's a post showing what one mom did.  (I am not this kind of Mom, but you might be!)

If you've got great ideas about how to decide what to keep & how to store it - I'd love to hear about them.

Crafting for the Clueless - Wax Paper Heart Garland

My little one had to miss her preschool party yesterday due to a stomach bug, so I wanted to do something special at home with her.  Decorating for the special days of the year does not have to equal going and buying another binful of stuff.  It's amazing what you can find on other people's thrifty, craft blogs!

I loved this Wax Paper Heart Garland, and this helpful tutorial as well.   I knew I had all the supplies I needed at home - wax paper, broken crayons & an old piece of ribbon.  FREE and REPURPOSED.  Love those words.  Even Martha Stewart (or at least one of her minions), has made some wax paper hearts. Yay for other crafty people who help Clueless Crafters like me!

Once Ellie was up and feeling a little better, I had her pick out some broken red and pink crayons.  I shaved them onto wax paper, covered it with another pieced, put an old towel ontop, and ironed.
I used cookie cutters to trace hearts and then Ellie helped with cutting them out.  This was great scissor practice for her since the wax paper becomes nice and stiff.  Then I hole punched in two places on the side and Ellie threaded a piece of ribbon left over from her big sisters' craft kits.  Cutting, threading....her occupational therapist would be proud.  Not obsessing over perfect hearts makes it more fun for everyone as well!

We hung the garland up over the patio window so the light would shine through and give it that nice semi-transparent glow.  (A sunny day would help with that!)  Plus, it's a little Valentine decoration for the birds who visit our feeder.  Or at least that's what Ellie said.  This took us about an hour total, but I'm sure it would take you less.  Happy Valentine's Day!