Saturday, July 18, 2015

Secrets of a Basket Case: Using Baskets to Stash Your Stuff

I'm a basket case.  I can't help myself.
It simply makes me crazy to have a cluttered home, yet being a collector of "stuff" makes it hard to find the balance between keeping often-used items handy, and keeping the house tidy.  And let's face it:  having a kid, and pets in the house, make it challenging, so I've turned to using baskets in my home for anything and everything.  Here are a few of my favorite ways to keep home organization functional, and yes, even fun for the kids:

1. The Kids' Catch-All:  
One of my all-time favorites, this basket was crafted in the Caribbean, and picked up cheap on a summer vacation.  This adorable covered basket has survived being stuffed in a suitcase, not to mention nine years of building blocks, toy phones, finger puppets, pop bead necklaces and one stuffed polar bear.  Little enough for a toddler to haul around the house, and fun enough for them to play the "clean up game" after they're done playing!!

2. The pantry catch-all tiered bins:  
The potato and onion storage is a natural for us,but using the top bin to store kid-friendly snacks keeps the cereal bars and healthier options within sight of hungry kids at home in the summer. In the Fall, I load the bins with juice boxes, bagged chips and other items for easy lunch box stuffing!!

 3. The Every Faithful Hamper:  
In a kid's room, who can resist a three-point shot?  Prior to picking up this open-top hamper, the only place my daughter would keep dirty clothing was the floor.  Now, when she has unexpected guests, she tosses a fluffy throw from her bed on top of dirty clothes to minimize the 'oh gross' reaction from her friends.  If she wants clean clothes, she brings the bin to the laundry room, it's that simple.  

4. Movie Night:  
When this special basket makes an appearance, it's all about fun!!  Keep a basket stocked with movie-box candy, Cracker Jacks, microwave popcorn and your other family favorites.  When the kids have a sleepover or special playdate, we order pizza, grab our favorite movie, pillows and blankets, and set ourselves up for a super night on a budget.  Can't beat it!!

5. Pet Toy Stash:  An open basket is a great catch-all for pet toys.  The dog knocks it over looking for her favorites, but that is easily solved when we slide the basket under the table before guests arrive.  Even the cats rummage for their favorite toys!! A great way to give even the furry family members a place for their stuff!

6. The Family Room Fluff:  
You'd never guess that when our family sofa-surfs, we've got three fleece throws, one princess blanket, an old cotton quilt and a plaid dog blanket on hand. And yep, with all those spots, stripes and plaids going on, it is indeed a decorator's nightmare!  This enormous basket is our catch-all for all things fluffy, and when company arrives, it gets covered with this beautiful country quilt.'s our secret!

7. Gathered Treasures:
What a beautiful way to remember this Summer's beach days, than by gathering the shells together in a lovely nautical basket.  Swap out the shells in the Fall for gathered acorns, in the Winter for pinecones, and in the Spring for creekside pebbles, and you'll bring a little bit of nature indoors with each seasonal walk with the kids.  

8. Toy Tea Set:
Who can resist a kids' tea set in a little picnic basket?  Besides being utterly adorable, it protects the china, and teaches the little ones to care for and put away their things.  'Nuff said? 

9. Woven Toy Chest:  
A great find that not only keeps your kids' space tidy, but with the lighter lid, it protects against the pinched fingers and head-bonks so common with wooden toy chests. The design blends in well with "grown up" decor too!! 

10.  The Beanie Basket:
Quiz: How many Beanie Babies can fit into a basket?  Answer:  LOTS!  Believe it or not, there are almost thirty beanie toys in this photo!
Please share your favorite ways to organize your home, and "Be a Basket Case".  Love to hear from you!!  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Mom's Best Recipe Ever!!!

Don't you love all those posts on the internet for the BEST RECIPE EVER???  You know the ones:  sure-fire recipes, three ingredients and fifteen minutes or less, fat free, gluten free, that your whole family will devour, and love so much that they will volunteer to clean the dishes, AND scoop the litterbox? Made with inexpensive ingredients that you have on hand in your pantry?  That anyone can make?  

Yeah, me neither.  

Maybe I'm just a difficult person, or I love complicated things....Or I take difficult, complicated things and make them simple.  Or maybe I've just figured something out: Life is meant to be hard.  Complicated. Messy. Exasperating. Exhausting. And just when you think you've got it figured out, WHAM!  Things change. Become unfamiliar. No longer work. Now what?

I've experienced a lot of changes lately, and a lot of challenges, and I've come to a conclusion.
Things in life break so you can put 
them back together in a better way.  

My daughter, who is only ten, and a die-hard figure skater, has been experiencing some challenges lately, and was about ready to give up on herself, when she asked me today, through fits and tears "You've told me all these great stories about Grandmom and Grandpop...What would they do?!?!?"

My parents were the product of an amazing generation.  Collectively, they survived the Russian and Nazi occupations of Poland, a concentration camp, the Great Depression, five kids. camping trips and Y2K.  
They conquered unemployment, disability, debilitating illnesses, chronic pain and all our whining. Mom came to America with an orange and a handkerchief in her pocket, and they died with their own home, some nice things, and were debt-free.  They asked for nothing and worked for everything.  And laughed through it all. What would they do?  

Work hard. Persist. Pray. Push harder.
Work hard. Persist. Pray. Push harder.
Work hard. Persist. Pray. Push harder.
Then eat.

Growing up Polish meant we ate well.  We were on a budget, but Mom could cook.  So when my kid asked for advice when things got hard, I told her:  Life is supposed to be hard.  There are no shortcuts. The good stuff is worth it. Work hard. Persist. Pray. Push harder.  And I'll make you something good to eat.

So, after she persisted, she overcame her skating hurdles today. Beaming, she asked, "What's for dinner?"
Inspired, I reached back in my memory for a chicken dinner my mom used to make.  It's not quick, it's not low-fat, it takes some work, but it's worth it.  Enjoy!

Mom's Chicken Fricasee Dinner

1 stick (1/4 cup butter)
Salt & Pepper
Flour for dredging
1-2 cups water
Cut up chicken parts: bone-in, enough to feed your crowd
Large whole carrots, peeled and cut in 1 inch chunks
Peeled white potatoes, cut in 1 inch chunks
Chopped parsley for garnish

Melt butter in dutch oven or large pot over medium heat.  Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour.  Add chicken pieces and carrots  to hot butter. 

Turn chicken to brown on all sides, removing from the pot and repeating until all chicken pieces are browned, if necessary.  Return all chicken to pot, add 1 cup water, and cover pot. 

Begin potatoes, below.  While chicken is cooking, the flour will develop the juices into gravy. Add additional water, as needed to create a gravy that is your favorite consistency.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes until chicken is falling off the bone. Check the gravy to adjust the seasoning, if necessary. 

Place the peeled, cubed potatoes in a saucepan with enough water to cover. (Hint: Rinsing the excess starch first, and starting with cold water minimizes the boiling over!) Boil over medium heat for approximately 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender.  Drain. Add salt and pepper to taste.  

Return the potato pot to the hot stove top, with lid off, for 30 seconds or so, until the residual water on the potatoes evaporates off.  Cover the pot tightly with a lid, and shake hard, until the potatoes are fluffed and dry.  Garnish, if desired, with parsley. 

Serve with your favorite green vegetable, and prepare yourself for it to be devoured. 

 Expect volunteers to do the dishes, but don't hold out on the litterbox.  I might be an optimist, but I'm not crazy.  And remember: life's too short to eat short-order food every night.  Take the time to enjoy cooking something that takes more than thirty minutes to prepare occasionally.  It's worth it!!  

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Kindness: A Gift to Yourself

We all have times where we're a little blue, then the simplest thing comes along and resets our thinking.

I was making my usual rounds through a secondhand store this week, and had placed a couple of little treasures in the shopping cart, all "alone in my zone".  I was mulling over how my family was going to accomplish all we need to financially this upcoming month, where we need to budget for the usual household things, some pricey summer fun, and some big fat dreams... quite a daunting task with all the stuff we have going on right now.

As I started to feel grumpy about not being able to do it all, a couple began conversing, a little loudly, over the display wall at each other. They were discussing how, if they could simply find a used car seat, and they could afford it,  their lives could be much simpler, the baby would be safer, and they wouldn't be late for work.  The young woman was carrying a gorgeous baby girl, and they were shopping with a young man who quickly made it clear the baby wasn't his, he was just a good friend, helping out. Juggling three jobs each, they spent their days racing from job to job, handing off the baby between themselves and a grandmom, moving the car seat with the baby each time they passed her off.  A typical day was four swaps, and grandmom drove, but was unable to properly fasten their seat, putting the little one at risk.

Such a simple wish:  a second car seat.
My wish:  a new house, a summer vacation, and advanced skating lessons for my daughter.

WHAAAAAT? I instantly felt like an idiot. And then Someone Upstairs gave me a shot to redeem myself. I reached out my hand and said, "Excuse me, I think I can help..."

Two hours later, I was back on cloud nine, the kid had not just a second car seat, but two more that would carry her safely up to 100 pounds, and two boosters for when she outgrew them all.  I threw in a small bike with training wheels, and a Princess scooter for good measure.  And all I had to do was to interrupt my shopping to zip home and take a few used things out of my garage.

I gave very little to them, but what they gave back to me, money can't buy:  they hit my "reset" button, reminding me to be grateful for what I have, and that Random Acts of Kindness, though it sounds corny, really do change lives.

I returned to my shopping expedition, and found something in that store that felt fun. It's simple. Corny. And another opportunity to make me feel good about myself:

A Giving Plate is a serving plate that you fill with food, and pass off to a friend or family member.  Later, instead of returning it to you, they fill it with something scrumptious and pass it on. A great concept! Besides, look at how much better it makes my muffins look:



A gift of good food is always appreciated, but the presentation elevates it to that next level.  I found a couple of other great plates and took them home: 

Finding the Giving Plate in a secondhand store with the giving chain broken, bummed me out.  I had a chance to restore the Chain of Kindness, and I took it.  I took the plate home with me, with a new pledge: Whenever I find a discarded Giving Plate, I will take it home, gift it to someone, and brighten their day. I know it will brighten mine. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

I've Got a Notion....Creating Personal Space to Find Your Best Self

It's a scent, or a sound, or an object...And suddenly, you're magically transported to a wonderful place in your childhood.  

I was in a secondhand store, and my eyes fell on a cigar box full of what most folks would consider to be the contents of some granny's junk drawer, but for me, it was a little slice of heaven that brought back memories of a happy time, when I played on the rug, next to Mom toiling away at her sewing machine.  I would play for hours, rummaging through her button box, or more correctly named, her button tin.  It was a five pound candy tin from the Minter's Candy factory where my grandmother worked, and it was filled halfway with buttons, hooks and eyes, garter straps, buckles, and eeek!...bra hooks. If you could salvage it from discarded clothing, it was in there.  The product of a generation that wasted nothing. The value of the contents was incalculable to a woman accustomed to working hard for every penny.  To me, it was just fun. The sound, the smell, was all MOM. 

The cigar box was part of an estate sale, and contained the discarded contents of a "notions drawer", the junk drawer where real seamstresses keep zippers, buttons, hooks, all the ingredients that hold the fabric together to create clothing.  I could tell by the contents that this once belonged to a woman who put a lot of love into her sewing:  the tiny dog buttons for a child, the pearl and crocheted buttons for an elegant woman, the sturdy leather buttons of a man's jacket, the fine glass beads to be handsewn on an evening gown.  This woman was clearly the glue for her generation.  And she too, wasted nothing.  To me, this unknown woman was a pointer to the "me" I had forgotten. 
I took the box home, sorted the buttons and spools, and created my creative space. I dusted off Mom's sewing machine, an old Singer A401 that could sew through chiffon or leather, and do embroidery, all without today's computerization.  I found her thimble, and the daisies she'd sew into the back of the waistband so we'd know not to put our pants on backwards.  

The end result is My Space.  Where I rediscovered my Best Self.  My daughter now sits here on the floor and plays in my button box, creating her own memories of MOM while I sew her figure skating dresses, show her how to make Barbie clothes, and fix a fallen hemline. 

The art print was one I found at an antique gallery, and looks just like my baby girl, if we had ever put her in a corner back then. The fox on the wall is a whimsical String Fox from Babbacombe Pottery, England:  the spectacles are scissors to cut the string that comes out the fox's mouth.  I keep my button thread here for emergency button reattachments. The green pin cushion holds beautiful antique glass head pins; mine is the new teapot, where my little girl sorts the pins by color, arranging them into flowers, just like I used to do. 
This space is one hundred percent ME.  Spending time here allows me to find my best self again, so I can bring that best self back to my family.  Will my daughter remember this "me" when I'm gone? I think so.  

Do you have a space in your home that allows you to find your best self?  If not, take a trip to a local antique or second hand store, and see if you don't find something there from your childhood.  A book your big sister used to read to you, a crocheted afghan you thought was hideous when your grandmom kept it on her sofa till 1993, an old set of gas station glasses you drank soda from when you were a kid.  Buy it. Take it home.  Show it to your kids. You'll be glad you did.  And who knows...It just might remind you of a Better Self you've been missing.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Amazing Floral Arrangements on a Dime

I'm  crazy...crazy about ceramics.  So when I went to visit an old friend the other day, and knew I wanted to bring flowers, there was no way I was settling for a plain ol' commercial glass vase! 

Want to create a spectacular presentation on a budget?  Visit your local antique dealer or second hand store for some great vase options!  Pick up a simple bouquet at a local farm stand or grocer, and you've got not only a bouquet that they will enjoy, but a keepsake that they'll treasure for years.  Here is a simple Ganz pitcher with lilies:
Pitcher, $4.97 at Goodwill; Lilies $6.00.  Because I've used only one type of flower, the arranging is easy!

Can you tell which of the following vases is the Goodwill $1.97 bargain, which came from an antique dealer at $60, and which is a new Williamsburg reproduction?   

The answer is:  "It doesn't matter!" Unless you're paying top dollar, or appraising it,  it only matters that it brings you joy. For the record, the tallest vase is the Goodwill bargain.  The ivory pitcher is the one I chose for my friend's floral arrangement, with hydrangeas and purple carnations.  The two on the far left were purchased new from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation store, and the others I picked up at antique dealers, including the Bucks County Antique Gallery in Chalfont, PA.  

Choose what you love, and mix the old and the new for a warm, comforting touch that is all your own: 

Happy bargain hunting, and don't forget:  Life is too short for boring vases!!  

Honey, I'm home....

I was born with champagne taste....but alas, I'm on a beer budget.  Over the years, I have learned that it's not the house you live in, but rather, the life you lead there.  The everyday, simple moments that are special. That are cherished.  That can't be gotten back once they're gone.  We spend so much time rushing from one activity or task to the next, and we're so connected...But are we?  

I have created this blog to share with you ways to capture the everyday moments, to celebrate them, to cherish them, and yes, to elevate them...from basic and mundane, to little happy snapshots we can keep in our memories a smell, a feeling, those little things from life that make it special.  

I love antiques, probably because they're older than me, have probably been through hard times, and are still here!  I use them in decorating, aside the new, to give me a feeling of nostalgia, of permanence. I love shopping second hand stores because of the beautiful bargains they yield.  When you blend your favorite new things with well-loved older things, it creates such comfort.  I'll be presenting ideas on how to decorate on a budget, and how to create extra meaning and comfort in your home, for the ones you love, including yourself!  

It's all about living well, and living in the moment, not breaking the bank.  Stay tuned!!