Maybe Matilda: June 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Let there be light.

(Sometimes I wonder if my attempts at creative/humorous titles just ensure that everyone skips right past my posts in their respective readers? Probably so. Not gonna cut it out, though.)

We’re painting, we’re flooring, we’re renovating high and low. And the light fixtures in this new house of ours (our first home! eeeeeeee!) are driving me up the wall. They are awful. See for yourself . . . we’ll start out strong with the kitchen ‘chandelier’. (By the way, these photos were all taken pre-renovation, before we even had the house under contract, so we’ve already made quite a bit of progress on the hideous outdated beast that it was. As long as you consider ‘progress’ to be a construction zone disaster area, then yes, we are making progress.) Anyway. The kitchen ‘chandelier’:

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Don’t tell me, I already know. You love it. Be that as it may, a teensy, awkwardly dangling, bright gold chandelier with exposed twirly bulbs is not quite what I have in mind for this space.

The light fixture in the family room isn’t much better:

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A dark, dated wood and gold ceiling fan. At least it coordinates with the dark, dated fireplace. Excellent planning on the builder’s part, bravo sir!  The bedrooms also feature ceiling fan fixtures, most with (you guessed it) exposed twirly bulbs and black (black!) fan blades. Yikes.

But this little number is the crème de la crème, my personal favorite, the one that I’m sure you’ll email me about, begging to purchase from me so you can install it in your own home:

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You’re drooling, aren’t you? Burning up with jealousy that I am the proud owner of such a glorious piece of 90s relic lighting. The gold, the glass panels, the elegant roses etched into the glass. A classy piece, this one. This is the view from the front door that you’re seeing. That light fixture is hanging over the dining area, directly in view of anyone standing in the doorway. This feeling in my chest when I consider that anyone entering my home will be greeted by this glorious light fixture . . . is it pride? Wait . . . no, I think it’s shame. Shame tinged with horror. It doesn’t feel good, friends. Does not feel good at all.

I’ve been searching for new lighting options, and here are some of the ideas I have in mind (and am hoping to win from Barn Light Electric by blogging about).

I would love this barn pendant for the kitchen area, to replace the dinky awkward gold chandelier—picture it against my soon-to-be-painted-white-with-brushed-nickel-knobs kitchen cabinets and new (not blue) countertops and soothing silvery-gray kitchen walls . . . aaaaah, that feels better already:

To replace that dark, ugly fan in the family room, I think this ceiling light would be neat:

I’ve really been puzzled about what to replace the gold-and-rose-etched-glass abomination with (if you have ideas, feel free to share—I’m going for sort of an updated modern cottage-y look, if that’s a look that means anything to anyone). I think this 3-light warehouse pendant would look neat:

I’m sure it’s supposed to go over a kitchen island, but I think it would be really awesome where the glass beast is now.

For bedrooms, I really like the look of old-fashioned schoolhouse-ish lights:

Oh, Barn Light Electric, please give me free lights. I will love you forever.

 

TO ENTER: Please follow our provided rules to enter:

  1. Look around online at Barn Light Electric and pick lights you’d love to own
  2. Feature your lighting picks on your personal blog, and link to the lights if you can!
  3. Copy/Paste these rules at the bottom of your blog article
  4. Once your personal post is up, you must email your blog link to: marketing@barnlightelectric.com to be qualified to win – the contest ends July 2nd, 2012
  5. Don’t have a blog? Find out how you can enter by visiting our website or read these Official Rules
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Monday, June 25, 2012

How I Keep My Grocery Bill Under Control

I’m taking a momentary pause from home renovations for a grocery post. HOW THRILLING! I mentioned recently that I try to keep my weekly grocery bill under $60, and got a few questions (okay, fine, just one question, geez) about how I keep that number low. And I am nothing if not a giver-slash-overtalker, so I thought about it and identified a few things I do that help out with our grocery budget.

First of all, I’ll eliminate the obvious answer: I have absolutely zero interest in couponing and sale-shopping at the grocery store. I hate the idea of planning my meals around what happens to be on sale that week and driving from one store to another to pick up just 4 sale items at each location and spending hours clipping and organizing coupons. And I know someone is going to comment and tell me how simple and easy and fun!fun!fun! couponing/sale-shopping can be, but I’m sorry. No interest whatsoever. Maybe someday I’ll try that route, but for now, here is my coupon-less, sale-less grocery shopping method. There are probably a zillion other, better tips/tricks out there; this is just what I do and have had success with.

  • I always make a menu. For me, not making a menu = spending my life savings at the store as I just pick up whatever looks good and might work for a meal. I spend about 30 minutes a week and plan out 5 days’ worth of dinners (we usually end up with leftovers for a night or two, and/or grab a pizza or fast food on occasion for dinner; I don’t plan out breakfasts [they are always the same] or lunches [always leftovers or sandwiches]). Just as an example, this was my menu from last week:

1. Cajun Chicken Pasta with Candied Carrots

2. Thai Curry with Naan

3. BLT Soup with Baked Mozzarella Sticks

4. Buttermilk Blueberry Breakfast Cake with scrambled eggs and fruit

5. Chipotle Chicken Salad

I don’t plan my menu around sales/coupons—I just choose whatever I think looks tasty and fun to make and budget-friendly. That means trying to use up items I already have in my fridge/freezer before they go bad (for instance, half a bag of spinach about to wilt might mean veggie lasagna for dinner one night), sticking to seasonal produce, and only including one or two ‘splurge’ dishes in the menu (splurge dishes meaning something with a pricey meat, or an unusually long ingredient list, or an ingredient that I expect to be hard to find and/or expensive).

  • I always make a shopping list. Heading to the store sans shopping list is a surefire way for me to overspend on food. As I’m making my menu for the week, I just jot down a list of what I need to buy for each recipe and bring it with me to the store the next day. But the whole point of making the list is sticking to what’s on the list and only what’s on the list. I like to organize my shopping list by aisle/section of the store so I don’t skip anything:

(image/grocery list printable from The Letter 4)

Sticking to the list, for me, includes not shopping while I (or Forrest) am hungry—that’s just begging for disaster to strike. And I’ve learned that I can’t shop with my husband, either . . . he always talks me into all sorts of extra items (frozen egg rolls! pop tarts! fish sticks!) that we don’t need, so he is no longer allowed to come shopping with me. I doubt he misses it.

  • I identified the most expensive items on my receipts and tried to get rid of them. Simple enough, right? I noticed over weeks and months and years of grocery shopping that the same items were consistently pushing the bill higher than it needed to be: meat, cereal, and snacks. So I stopped buying most of them.

 

    • I don’t buy much meat. Not really because of health/ethical reasons, but because I was spending way too much money on it. And I don’t love meat-based dishes, either—I’d much rather eat a pasta dish with a few chicken strips mixed in than just a straight chicken breast, for instance—so I tend to choose recipes for my menu that have meat as a component of the whole dish and not the main attraction. I haven’t cut out meat—I just choose recipes that use meat and don’t consist entirely of meat. We never have steak for dinner, for example, but we might have a stir-fry that includes steak. And this will probably get stickler cooks’ panties in a bunch, but I often use only half the amount of meat my recipes call for, and no one has seemed to notice or care so far (for instance, in my beef stir-fry example, I would use 1/2 pound steak if the recipe called for 1 pound, and add extra veggies to make up the difference). This really saves us a lot of money, and the meat that I do buy lasts so much longer when it isn’t the star of every meal.

 

    • I don’t buy cereal. At all. Jeff and I used to eat cereal for breakfast, as an afternoon snack, as a pre-bedtime snack, for dinner when I didn’t feel like cooking . . . we bought probably 3+ boxes of cereal each week, and cereal isn’t cheap. So I just stopped buying it altogether—it’s probably been 2 years since I bought cereal--and we haven’t missed it. I used to spend probably $10/week on cereal, if not more, so that’s at least $40/month that is staying in my pocket now. For breakfast, Forrest and I usually have toast with eggs or yogurt, and Jeff has protein smoothies (Big Mister Muscle Man). It was rather shocking for us to discover there are other breakfast options besides cereal. Who knew?

 

    • I rarely buy snack foods. Forrest would probably complain about this—he loves Teddy Grahams and crackers and granola bars—but that snack aisle is SO expensive, I don’t even walk down it anymore. Even just 2 or 3 items from the snack aisle will tack on another $10-ish to our bill. For snacks, we always have yogurt and fruit and raisins in the house, and I like baking so we almost always have something homemade to snack on (homemade muffins, cookies, quick bread, etc.) and there is nothing in the world Forrest loves more than homemade baked goods, so I think he’s doing just fine without the toddler requisites of Goldfish and Cheerios. When I do buy snacks, I buy the cheapest store-brand ones (graham crackers, saltines, etc.). Everyone seems to be coping all right and I’m sure that with time and some therapy, we’ll all be able to deal with the loss of our precious snack foods.
  • If I can make something myself, I do. This is a tip that might not be very practical if you are extremely busy and don’t have much extra time to spend cooking/baking (or if you just plain dislike cooking/baking!), but I save a good amount of money by making most things myself. And since I’m a stay-at-home mom of only one child who is pretty good at entertaining himself while I’m cooking, it’s not a big deal for me to make most things instead of buying them. If we’re having pizza for dinner, I make it myself instead of buying one frozen or ordering it. And since we’re having pizza, I make the crust (which costs something like 20 cents instead of $3 to buy a refrigerated premade package  of dough at the store). If I want muffins/cookies/brownies/cake/whatever, I make it instead of buying a box mix or picking it up premade at the store. In my opinion, just about everything tastes better homemade, plus it’s usually healthier and less expensive. I don’t make everything myself, but if it seems reasonable and easy and less expensive to make my own version rather than buying it, that’s what I do.

One of my favorite homemade items is fresh bread. If you had asked me even just a year ago if I would ever consistently make homemade bread instead of purchasing it, I would have laughed long and hard. It just seems so pioneer-ish, and like way too much work for a few dollars of savings each week. But I’ve been making all of our bread for about 6 months, and we all love it. Thanks to the Kitchenaid I got for Christmas, the whole mixing/kneading process couldn’t be easier/faster, so it really doesn’t take much effort for me to make it. I love this recipe for wheat bread and have been making it weekly for months—it doesn’t have the dry, crumbly texture that a lot of wheat breads tend to have, so it’s perfect for sandwiches and toast and whatever other spreading needs you might have that many wheat breads can’t stand up to. I have never been able to find white wheat flour, which the recipe calls for, so I just use 3 cups wheat flour and 3 cups white flour instead. And I ran out of vital wheat gluten a few weeks ago and have been making it without it and getting identical results, so you probably don’t need to panic if you can’t find that, either. The recipe makes 2 loaves, so I just slice them both up and stick one in the freezer, so there’s always a backup. Making my own bread probably isn’t a huge money-saver—maybe $3 per week?—but even $3 per week adds up over time, and we all really prefer the taste of homemade bread, so it’s a win-win.

So, there you have it. For me, it boils down to planning in advance (knowing what I’ll be cooking that week and what I’ll need for it) and eliminating any extras (we don’t need ice cream and Oreos and potato chips, so I [usually] don’t buy them). I can’t say it always works—of course I have weeks when I spend more than I intended, or can’t imagine my life going on without a bag of Red Vines in my future, or I cave and buy a box of Teddy Grahams to keep Forrest happy in the shopping cart—but for the majority of the time, I manage to spend something like $50-60 per week on groceries and I would say we all really enjoy what we’re eating.

Do you have any money-saving grocery tips to add?

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Friday, June 22, 2012

‘Before’ House Tour

Thank you all for your kind comments on our first home! Many of you mentioned in comments that you didn’t think it looked that bad, especially compared to my description of it as ‘a wreck’. That’s cute of you. You haven’t seen it in person. It does look nice in that picture, doesn’t it?

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And it is a pretty house, it really is. I’m kind of crazy about it. I just don’t think I can fully express in pictures how dirty and run down it is on the inside. It truly can’t be comprehended until you’re up close and personal, and these pictures just don’t do it justice. It’s like an attractive-looking woman who you’d be surprised to learn has been smoking 3 packs a day and consuming a steady diet of bacon and Ho-Hos and crack for a lifetime. Plus she’s a hooker. My house is that hooker. It looks all right until you take a peek-see inside. You’d have to mosey on over to our little abode and take a stroll through that front door and run your fingers over the inch-thick grime covering every surface and take a deep breath of the ammonia tang of years-old pee in the air and take a gander at the cracked and busted baby blue (baby blue!!!) countertops to gain a full appreciation for this beaut. But it has great bones, it’s a great canvas, and it’s already on its way.

We learned right before we closed on the house that it had been a rental for the past few years, which explains so much about it. Jeff and I kept wondering how someone could let their house/yard fall into the sort of condition that this one was in, but of course . . . renters. They didn’t care what the house looked like/smelled like . . . it wasn’t their house.

But on the plus side of it being a rental, it is a completely blank slate. There are no funky 1950s bathrooms tiled from floor to ceiling in pink, or dated wallpaper that would be a nightmare to remove, or dark wall colors to try and cover up, or other bizarre personal preferences homeowners love to install. It’s messy and dirty and stinky, but completely blank and ready for us to update however we want (and it was inexpensive enough that we can actually afford to give it some updates—hooray!). Every wall is white, every carpet is beige, and the bathrooms are just your typical ‘builder standard’ without any crazy tile or fixtures to worry about. Empty canvas over here!

You’ve seen the exterior of the house . . . step through the front door and you’ll find yourself in this entry room:

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One element we REALLY wanted in our house was a front living room area combined with a ‘hidden’ kitchen . . . as much as I love the idea of a very open floor plan, I hate the thought of my kitchen (with its sink full of dishes) being the first thing visible when someone walks into the house. And it seems like a lot of houses are built that way, with a nice big view of the kitchen from the door—I don’t love that. Once I got over the dog pee smell on our first visit to this house, I loved that a front living room and dining area are visible from the door, and not the fridge and kitchen sink. And check out those high ceilings! Neat, huh?

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This is the dining area straight past the living room . . . I’m crazy about that super-bright bay window! And the light fixture, of course, but that goes without saying. (Decorating question: should I bother with curtains/drapes for these windows? I don’t want to block any of that great light, but would it look too naked without them?)

And call me crazy, but I kind of like this currently-goofy kitchen:

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Sure, those cracked baby blue countertops are a little silly and of course we all hate oak cabinets right now, but I love the layout of the kitchen. Not to mention that this is about 5 times my current amount of counter and cabinet space in our apartment. I’m planning to paint the cabinets a bright glossy white and add some pretty silver hardware, and the blue counters are going to have to be replaced (well shucks) as well as the sink and faucet if I can swing it in our rather-limited budget, but I love how it’s set up. Plus there’s yet another huge beautiful window above the sink looking out over the backyard—I love all the windows and natural light in this place!

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Head down a few stairs and you’re in the family room:

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. . . complete with massive, sooty stone fireplace (speaking of which, does anyone have any secret tips for cleaning a massive, sooty stone fireplace? I’m guessing just a whole lot of scrubbing, but I kind of hope there’s some miracle product I don’t know about yet.). We’re planning to knock down a few small walls in this room (including the one you can kind of barely see on the far right of that picture above) that make it feel really small and closed-off from the rest of the house, and replacing those sliding doors with French doors to make it look even brighter and less ‘apartment-y.’ This is a really long, narrow room that’s going to take a little clever setting-up to look cozy and friendly instead of like a giant hallway . . . thank goodness I have an interior designer for a mom who knows just how to handle rooms like this.

Upstairs we’ve got three standard-looking bedrooms that really just need new paint and carpets:

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And two bathrooms which are a little closer to the grody side of the ick spectrum:

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Do you see the sink? Yuck. And the toilet is suspiciously yellow and odorous . . . now I’m hoping more than ever that the pee smell in this house is pet-related. Gross gross gross! I despise the linoleum on the floor (it didn’t look so bad when we were just walking through, and doesn’t look bad at all in this picture—it almost looks pretty!--but now that I’ve inspected it more closely, it’s peeling up around all the edges and is really worn-out and cheap-looking), so tiling the bathrooms is being added to the to-do list.

This big room in the basement has us a little baffled:

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We can’t figure out what it must have been once, or what it was intended to be. Three-quarters laminate and one-quarter carpet, two closets, and . . .

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. . . do you see the floors/wall on this side? It’s plumbed as a bathroom. Weird. We can’t figure out what it was meant to be (maybe someone planned to finish it as another bed and bathroom?), and we’re not entirely sure what to do with it. But while we figure it out, it’ll make a nice combination craft/chiropractic room—it’s a huuuuuge space, so hopefully we can manage to share nicely like good little children. Jeff seems to think it will be his man cave. How adorable of him. Doesn’t he know that’s what the garage is for?

There’s another teensy room in the basement (storage area, I guess?) and a rather creepy little laundry room that both aren’t worth sharing.

We’d love to beef up the ‘deck’ (translation: knock this down and build a real deck) (those sliding doors are the ones in the family room, and that’s our realtor standing in the doorway [who I am fully prepared to run away with if he were so inclined because he was fantastic and so helpful through this whole process]):

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And check out this jungle of a yard!

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Just imagine the grass and weeds about double this height. These pictures were taken 2 or 3 weeks before we closed, so it has now managed to reproduce and get even more out of control, plus the grass is half-dead from not being watered for weeks, so it’s patchy and yellow and prickly. And those leafy weeds right in the foreground of the picture? Now almost my height. For realsies. But on the bright side, we were excited to discover that two of those trees over on the side of the house are fruit trees! One is possibly a cherry tree (or a killer poisonous berry tree, I guess I’ll just make a pie with it and figure it out from there), and one might just be a crabapple tree, but either way, they look awfully cute all blooming and growing, and I’m beyond thrilled to have a spacious fenced yard for Forrest to play in. He looooves being outside, but right now in our apartment, him ‘playing outside’ translates to him' ‘racing for the street every two seconds’, me freaking out and dragging him back into the unfenced-dang-it yard, and spending the rest of ‘playtime’ walking along a foot behind him so I can keep him out of danger while he explores. Fun for everyone, really.

I’ve spent all week painting (pictures to come!), every single inch of icky nasty carpet has been removed (made even ickier nastier now that it’s been torn out and we saw the horrifying stains on the underside and carpet pad . . . the stuff of nightmares, I tell you), and this weekend will be spent knocking down a few family room walls and laying new wood laminate flooring all through the downstairs (front room, kitchen, dining, family room, stairs). It’s coming along!

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Moving on up (to a house! a house!!!)

Long story short: Great news! We bought ourselves a house! It’s been a bit neglected and abused so it’ll take some work to get it where we want it to be, but we’re really excited to work on it and make it our home.

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(Soak it all in—especially the amazing edit job I did covering up the house number, the yard that is more dandelions than grass, the ‘bush’ right by the steps that is actually not a bush at all but an overgrown weed on steroids, and the leaning tower of birdbath. But still! Potential, right?! Mucho potential. I love the stone around the garage, the rosebushes and mature trees, and the sort-of-weird-but-sort-of-adorable extreme roofline slopage.)

Short story long: Great news! We bought ourselves a house! Last time I wrote about house hunting was pretty early in the game and things weren’t looking terribly promising. I haven’t written about it since then because it wasn’t getting any better. We ended up making offers on five houses without even coming close to getting any of them. I don’t know how the real estate market is elsewhere, but here in Utah it’s picking up fast. Oodles of first-time homebuyers (hello, nice to meet you) are popping out of the woodwork wanting to take advantage of the current low prices, so the low- to mid-priced ‘starter homes’ in good shape get snatched up awfully quickly.

Just to give an example: one house that we loved received an offer from us the very same day it came on the market. We learned from our realtor that not only was our offer the eighth one it had received on its first day on the market, but more were still pouring in every hour. It ended up selling for more than $20,000 above the asking price. We never stood a chance. It looked like the whole house hunting business was going to take longer than we expected.

So despite our misgivings about short sales and the many horror stories we’ve heard about buyers waiting 6 months or 9 months or even a year to purchase one, we wondered if maybe a short sale would make a good backup plan for us. We could put in an offer on a short sale, let it simmer while we kept looking for a ‘regular’ purchase, and if in, say, 6 months we still hadn’t purchased anything else, we’d have the short sale brewing in the background to fall back on.

We checked out this house (pictured above, my house now) and, to be completely honest, weren’t terribly impressed. It was a short sale (the dreaded short sale!) and was priced quite low, but for good reason. It was a bit of a wreck. Walking through the door, we were greeted by the pungent and welcoming aroma of dog urine (go ahead and search that one out at Yankee Candle or Scentsy, it’s quite lovely). Every single wall was covered in kids’ crayon artwork and oily handprints and dirt and grime. The yard was a veritable rain forest of weeds and 3 feet tall grass. A rusting, rotting swingset in the backyard didn’t look particularly fun. Every single light fixture was an ode to 90s-style gold and rose-etched glass. We walked out and didn’t look back.

But as we kept searching, that stinky old house kept coming to mind. Sure, it was smelly and dirty and unloved, but it had exactly the floor plan we wanted, a great family-friendly layout with plenty of space to grow that even many of the houses at the tippity-top of our price range didn’t have. It was in a neighborhood we really liked in a town we were very interested in. It had a big fenced yard for Forrest to race around in. It had a great kitchen area (not cute now, but it will be cute when I’m done with it!) and tons of huge windows and fabulous natural light (probably the brightest house I’ve ever stepped inside of). This house, near the bottom end of our price range, had more potential and checked off more items on our ‘must-have’ list than many of the nicer, newer houses near the upper end of our budget did. It wouldn’t come tied up in a pretty bow, move-in ready and exactly how we wanted it to be, but we realized that everything we disliked about it could easily be changed with paint and elbow grease and a few upgrades. It sure wasn’t love at first sight, but all the basics we wanted and needed were already there, and we were excited about all the possibilities and potential we could envision for it.

So we put in an offer, didn’t get our hopes up, and continued searching for something else. Since this one was a short sale that would probably (we thought) take months and months to make its way through the bank, we expected to find another house long before hearing back about our offer.

Lo and behold, only two weeks later, we got a call from the realtor. He’d heard from the bank and they had accepted our offer. We were pretty shocked—I’ve always heard of short sales taking ages to process, but we heard from the bank after only two weeks! Although this house had started out as our ‘backup plan,’ everything began falling into place for it to be our only plan.

So here we are! We closed on the house last week and are starting renovations to be ready to move in when our current lease is up at the end of the month. I spent the weekend up to my elbows in paint (those icky stained walls look a hundred times better with a fresh coat of paint), and this week we’ll start tearing down a few walls and laying new floors. We’re hoping to get as much as possible done before we move in at the end of the month, so it’ll be a busy couple of weeks around here.

I had some helpers over the weekend . . . some willing, like my amazing interior designer mom . . .

. . . and some who were less excited about helping out.

We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I think this house is going to be great. We’ll be doing almost all of the work ourselves, too, so hopefully we’ll figure out what the heck we’re doing and how the heck to do it as we go along. I think it’s going to turn out splendidly.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You Want To See Gratuitous Photos of My Baby Eating Quaker Bars, Right?

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Quaker Oats for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

I turn down 99% of offers to write sponsored posts (translation: someone paying me to write a post pretending to like something I've never actually experienced), because it seems awfully silly for me to, well, write a post pretending to like something I've never actually experienced. Did you realize that for most sponsored blog posts, they don't actually send you the thing you're supposed to be reviewing? Kind of weakens my trust in bloggers who claim to love certain products that they've probably never actually tried.

Anywho. I got an offer to write about Quaker Soft Baked Bars and almost turned it down, until I realized they were offering to actually send me samples before writing the post. Okey dokey! A few days ago, my sample boxes arrived in the mail--I was sent Cinnamon Pecan Bread and Banana Nut Bread bars to try out. QSBB 3D Carton Cinn Pecan.jpg (2 documents, 2 total pages) 

I decided the ultimate taste test judge would be my little sous chef, the increasingly picky and rarely-to-never satisfied Forrest. If he liked them--he, who is so deeply spoiled to the core by homemade bread, far too frequent homemade desserts, and only the rarest of storebought snacks (not because I'm healthy and a homemaking goddess, but because I'm cheap and poor and DANG that snack aisle is pricey)--then I figured we could all trust that they were actually pretty darn good. So I got out the camera and plopped a Banana Nut Bread bar on his tray for a snack.

(Couldn't decide whether to caption this with, "Don't tell me you cheapskates finally bought me storebought treats?!" or "Am I really getting to paid to sample granola bars?!" Please select your favorite caption and pretend that was the only option.)

Forrest started off bold and brave by sampling the teensiest of corner microcrumbs . . . can't be too careful. You just never know if one of these days, Mommy's going to get fed up with his antics and poison his snack.

At this point, I expected the little foodie to rebel and demand a homemade brownie instead, but lo and behold, he approved! And my dainty eater didn't waste any time getting that banana nut goodness in him.

That's half a bar in his mouth, all at once. I really don't know how he hasn't choked to death yet, because every meal and snack involves all the food on his plate going into his mouth all at the same time. There's often a lot of gagging involved, but didn't you know that little bites are for squares? (Also for squares: utensils and chewing and asking for more food with words or sign language instead of angry fist-pounding on the table.)

He was definitely very pleased, not only with his tasty treat, but  also with his absurd ability to swallow abnormally large amounts of food whole and somehow live to see another snack.

Claps for Quaker Soft Baked Bars!

And a refreshing sip of milk to wash it all down.

(His car was generously offered bites of his bar, too, but turned it down in favor of a liquid diet.)

All right. Now that the excessive photos are out of the way, here's what I thought:

I liked them. I really liked them, actually, quite a bit. I wouldn't go so far as to say they tasted homemade, which I think is the idea behind the bars, but they were definitely good enough that I'd buy them myself, which is saying something, considering my excessively frugal tendencies and puritanical avoidance of the snack aisle, combined with my twitchy panic when the grocery bill climbs above $60 per week. The Cinnamon Pecan Bread was my favorite by far--it was soft and fragrant and tasty, and was even better heated up in the microwave--and Forrest seemed partial to the Banana Nut, possibly because his generous and selfless mother hoarded the Cinnamon Pecan bars for herself and only offered him the inferior Banana Nut bars. Either way, I think they would make a great breakfast snack on the go, and Forrest loved eating them for an afternoon snack. And although I'm certainly no nutrition guru and don't really give much thought or concern to the health of the food in my house, they seemed wholesome foodish (good gracious, they are MAKING me include the words 'wholesome food,' but I would like it to be known that I tried to say 'healthy enough' back there, thank you very much).

In conclusion: we approve, and would recommend them.

 

(One last thing. When the box containing my samples arrived, Jeff was practically giddy that we had gotten free food in the mail--he was seriously more awed by the fact that we were given free granola bars than the fact that I was getting paid to write about them. It went something like this:

Jeff: Where did these granola bars come from?

Me: I'm getting paid to write a blog post about them--they came in the mail.

Jeff: WHAT?! They sent us free bars?

Me: Well, yes, but wait until you hear what I'm getting paid to write about them . . . 

Jeff: You mean they sent you FREE FOOD? Can you get more? 

Me: I could just buy more with the money they're paying me to writ--

Jeff: PEOPLE WILL SEND YOU FREE FOOD?! GET US MORE FREE FOOD!!!

It was quite the conversation.)

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How much does a hipster weigh?

(An instaGRAM! Get it? GET IT? Thanks to my sister for that one. Gold, pure gold.)

(Another hipster joke, because they are hilarious: why did the hipster burn his tongue?)

(Because he drank his coffee before it was cool. HA! Hipster nonsense!)

(Did you not click that link? Shame on you. Go back, click it, watch and learn from my hero, and imagine Liz Lemon anytime I, or anyone else, ever mentions a hipster ever again.)

I’ve been on instagram for a while but don’t seem to have ever mentioned it here. And the excessive pictures of my child are piling up on there, so I thought I’d spread a few out here. Nice thing about using instagram: things I would have had to sit and write an entire blog post about can now be snapped and captioned and are ready to go. Bad thing about using instagram: why sit and write an entire blog post about something that one sentence fragmented caption adequately covers? I’ve hardly known what to post about lately—everything I would have said is already instagrammed, so if you’d like, you can follow me there (codename: maybematilda. There’s a shocker!).

To start, perhaps you’ll recall that my sweet, appreciative, loving and grateful child hates everything I make for him, with the partial exception of his crocheted owl, who he briefly loved, then ripped a hole in, and has subsequently ignored. Because I am obviously a slow learner, I continue crocheting things for him that he continues to despise. Such as this darling little grandpa sweater that I spent weeks crocheting, only to have him put up an impressive toddler-sized battle when I tried it on him, then melt into a sobbing lump of tantrum while pulling ferociously at the sleeves and neck in an attempt to get that hideous thing off his person. I give up.

Speaking of hipster nonsense, Forrest was into these glasses before you were. He’d tell you the name of the store where he bought them, but you’ve probably never heard of it, it’s really obscure.

Please look past the hilarious gopher face that my son is making in the following picture, and tell me if I can get away with wearing a hat like this?

While we’re on the topic of things I’m not entirely sure I can get away with or not, these two items also belong on the list: tied shirts and maxi skirts. Either way, I’m doing it. I used Make It and Love It’s maxi skirt refashion idea to turn an unloved, awkwardly-fitting maxi dress into a skirt with a shirred waistband. Hadn’t ever tried shirring before this morning, but it was fun and rather easy! Check out Make It and Love It’s shirring tutorial if you’ve never tried it before.

And we’ll wrap up this waste-of-your-time-I’m-sorry-about-that post with my favorite instagram picture so far . . .

Someone needs a bigger pool. I gave him a bowl of water to play in while I cooked dinner, and glanced out a minute later to see him trying to cram every possible body part into the bowl. Guess what he’ll be getting for his birthday? (A bigger bowl!)

There you have it. Follow maybematilda on instagram if you need to increase your daily dose of nonsense. And Forrest. And awkward self-portraits in the mirror. I promise all that and nothing more.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

My Granny Transformation is Complete

I think I’m aging far too quickly. I’ve been slowly morphing into a granny for years  (far more quickly than most people seem to), but things are speeding up lately. My gray hairs are multiplying at an alarming rate, my hobbies are increasingly grannyish (baking homemade bread, reading [gasp] non-fiction, and of course, crocheting like a fiend), and I’m pretty sure I’m getting arthritis.

But one old lady thing I swore I’d never do was crochet a granny square blanket. Before I learned to crochet, I thought granny squares were the ultimate tacky old lady craft. I had only ever seen them done in a distinctively grandma fashion (although neither of my own grandmas crochet, as far as I know, so I’m not sure who I’m basing this on): bold, harsh, non-matching colors, cheap and scratchy yarns, washed and used hundreds of times for decades until the blanket feels like cardboard. I hated them and said I’d never sink to a granny square level.

I hereby repent of my granny square prejudice. Once I started to crochet, I noticed that there are so many gorgeous—truly stunning—granny square blankets out there. They weren’t all the mismatched, wonky-looking, tired and scratchy pieces I’d thought. As soon as I identified a theme in the granny square blankets I loved, I was itching to make my own. My favorite granny square blankets have plenty of white to tone down all the color (like this one), have something of a color theme (like this one), and look very orderly despite the chaos that is a blanket made of a zillion different colors (like this one).

So I tried my hand at the infamous granny square blanket, and I have to say, my inner granny is pleased. She’s already plotting for more. I kind of think she might be evil. I mean, she is kind of taking over everything around here.

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I followed this pattern for the squares—I love that they look almost like little flowers, so the entire blanket ends up reminding me of a flower garden. That pattern was pretty straightforward and easy to follow, and I had a fun time crocheting up stacks of little granny square blocks.

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I used all yarns from my stash to make this blanket, but I tried to stick to a color theme. It’s definitely a loose theme, and all I kept in mind when choosing the colors, really, was that they be girly. I used mostly pinks, yellows, purples, and blues, and even the not-so-girly colors like gray and sky blue and green came together to make a decidedly girly blanket.

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Predictably, the absolute worst part of making this blanket was joining the squares. Is there anything worse than being only one step away from finishing a blanket, but that step is an interminably long, mind-numbingly dull step such as whipstitching squares together? (Answer: yes, there are a million worse things. Sheesh, white girl problems.)

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I finished it off with a cute little scalloped border. And I love it. I love the whole thing. It took a few weeks to put together—it was really quite a lot of work between making all the squares, switching colors hundreds of times, weaving in countless little yarn tails, sewing all those squares together—but I think it is so fun and spunky and sweet and charming. And, of course, hopelessly old-fashioned and granny-ish. In a good way.

This one’s headed over to the shop, so pop in to check it out if you know a little lady who could use a sweet granny square flower garden blanket.

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