Tuesday, April 22

Living Life: Sustainably

Hello again! As a quick recap, please refer back to the first two parts of my three-part series: Mindfulness and Minimalism. This last bit is putting it all together in a way that works for you and your family in the long haul. It's not a diet or a fad, it's a lifestyle change!

According to Wikipedia, "Sustainable living is a lifestyle that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resources and personal resources."

I've been a "tree hugger" for as long as I can remember. When I was around 10 to 12 years old I made homemade pins to pass out and attempted to organize my neighborhood kids to pick up trash along the ditches of my country road. Each year for Earth Day I make a New Year resolution--yes, one that I actually follow through with! 


To give some ideas, these are things I've done in the past: 
  • Bought a clothesline 
  • Transitioned to only using cloth grocery bags
  • Stopped buying paper products and requested cloth napkins for Christmas

I don't think we can reverse the current climate change but at least you can prepare for the upcoming ice age, right? Haha! The point is to change your habits permanently and create new, better, SUSTAINABLE habits that will save you money and help reduce your carbon footprint.

Here are my suggestions:
  • Totally eliminate all disposable plastic (i.e. grocery bags, ziplock baggies, eating utensils, straws, etc.) For ideas for alternate food storage options (including glass or stainless steel straws, I never would have thought of that!) check out this website.
  • Totally eliminate all disposable paper goods (i.e. napkins, paper towels, etc.) The one issue I have with this is cleaning up animal messes, but you get used to it. I suppose the same would go for cloth diapers, but I don't have any kids so no personal experience with those (yet).
  • On that note, if you REALLY want to reuse, I have friends who swear by reusable menstrual pads or cups (although I haven't taken it to this level myself just yet). Check out diva cups or glad rags for more information.
  • Totally eliminate shopping at the mall. Purchase from local shops, handmade items (like on Etsy), or used and thrift items. I haven't purchased off the rack clothing since a pair of jean shorts cost me $40--that was my final straw about two or three years ago!
  • Reduce your gas and electric usage: 
    • ALWAYS unplug EVERYTHING! (Microwave, washer/dryer...sometimes we even unplug our refrigerator overnight as it's the loudest monster you've ever heard in your life and we can't sleep.) 
    • Better yet, don't even use your dryer, except maybe in the winter (unless you're hard core), and hang clothes outside on a line or inside on a drying rack. I have one that looks like this.
  • Be aware of the every day products that add chemicals to your body (and waste, pollution, etc.). We recently switched to all natural and organic hygiene products, including soap, make up, deodorant, mouthwash, toothpaste, etc. 
    • I'm OBSESSED with Dr. Bronner's Castile soaps (can also be used for laundry, shampoo and toothpaste--I've never tried it for my teeth). I highly recommend the lavender scent, it will change your life!
  • Finally, become a one car household. Although this is extreme, we have been doing it since May 2011 and we are still married! There are lots of things to consider and it is often very challenging to balance the schedule, BUT now that I'm used to it, I do enjoy the quality time together and even though we now have the money available, I'm in no particular rush to purchase a second (used) vehicle.
    • There are a LOT of blogs talking about this rising money-saving choice. Money Saving Mom blog reports they saved $1,500 per year. 
    • Even if you have two vehicles, increase the time you spend on foot (exercise is always a good thing), carpooling or taking public transport.



Amanda Masters is a pediatric occupational therapist, tree hugger and hippy-in-training.

Tuesday, April 1

Glass Flowers

A few weeks ago I got to try my hand at glass sculpting. I bought a coupon for a class at Tulsa Glassblowing Studio making glass flowers. After some minor delays in getting our class scheduled, my friend Amanda and I went and learned the basics of working with glass.

My flower, loved the colors.
Working with the liquid glass was interesting, you dip some out of a large kiln with a long metal rod. For the glass (which has the consistency of honey) to keep its shape you keep turning it and reheating it often since the glass tries to solidify as it cools.

With flowers you start out rolling the glass into a fat stem-like shape, although it looks more like a fat sausage at that point. The colored glass is a bunch of small shards in separate bins. You roll the glass in the color for the stem, add more glass from the kiln, then smash the new glass straight down into the color for the petals. After that you use a jack (like giant tweezers) to pull the glass out in the petal shapes. Our instructor finished the flowers by letting the stem stretch and twist before breaking the flower off the pole.

Amanda's flower, thought it would be perfect for her office.
The process was very cool, but I could tell it would take a lot of practice to be able to control how the piece turns out. Amanda and I chose different colors, but even the shapes turned out completely different. And looking at the flowers on display in the studio I didn't see any that were alike.

The studio does demonstrations during the monthly First Friday Art Crawl in the Tulsa Brady Arts District (where they are located), which is fascinating. When we went for our class Amanda and I convinced our instructor to show off a bit to give us an idea of how to use the tools we didn't need for glass flowers. He made a clear glass vase which was pretty cool. But during the First Friday demonstration I saw they were working on a couple of pieces that were a lot more complex, requiring multiple people to create. 

My flower on display.
In addition to glass flowers the studio offers other beginner classes where you can make anything from a paperweight to a Christmas ornament or flowers like we made. They also sell vases, bowls, jewelry and other items made in the studio.

I'd love to go back and make ornaments around Christmas time. I'm thinking about suggesting it as a group event to my book club, but I need to research the cost for a class without the coupon and see if there is a limit to how many people can come. My guess is that there is since the studio isn't large and they have to provide and instructor.

I managed to get a few pictures of us making our flowers. Check them out below!



Me watching the instructor stretch my flower's stem.

Heating the glass after adding color.

Rolling the stem in color.

We had to make a cut in the glass
for where the stem would break off the rod.

Using the jack to pull out petals.

Stretching the stem on Amanda's flower.
There's a very short window to do this before the glass hardens.

Our instructor making a vase.

Amanda checking out the shop items.

Saturday, March 1

Wasted Storage Space

I may have mentioned how my kitchen cabinets are so full that I didn't have any extra space for new items. For instance, the Oster standing mixer and food processor from the 60s that I got from Gramma Getchell's house takes up a whole cabinet all on its own. Very frustrating for someone with limited space.

Until I realized I've got a whole area of storage space I'd been wasting.

I was in my laundry room a few days ago when it finally clicked that the cabinets above my washer and dryer don't go all the way to the ceiling like the ones in the kitchen do. There's almost a foot of space up there!

So I moved some of my rarely used items, such as my wok, a serving platter and my cake carrier up there. That opened up almost an entire cabinet!

It isn't necessarily pretty, but it is definitely nice to have. Gramma Getchell's house actually had storage cabinets built in above her kitchen cabinets. You needed a ladder to reach them, but it was nice to have some of the things you only use a couple times a year out of the way. I'll have to remember to have above the cabinet storage installed if I ever build a house.

I also bought a newer fancy gizmo to replace the Oster. Don't get me wrong, the Oster works great and there is definitely something to be said for products that keep working for decades after you buy them (I used the Oster last February to make a King Cake for Mardi Gras), but I really wanted a standing mixer that was small enough to keep on the kitchen counter.

So I bought this:
KitchenAid Standing Mixer

Isn't is beautiful? Lydia and I used it to make gingerbread dough during our baking marathon. I also used it to make cake batter for the New Year's Eve party I went to. I'm looking forward to getting a few of the attachments too, like a food processor.

Fun Fact: My great-grandma has a refrigerator that she and my papaw bought right after World War 2. And it is still running, despite the warranty that ran out in the 50s.

I'll probably try to sell or give away the mixer I got from my gramma's house. While I fully support reusing or re-purposing vintage items, I just don't have the space right now to accommodate a large vintage mixer.

King Cake

Ingredients:
1 (16 oz.) container sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. salt
2 (1/4 oz.) envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees)
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 to 6 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsps. ground cinnamon
Purple, Green and Gold sugar sprinkles
Small figurine or image of Child Jesus OR a large coin

Directions:
  1. Cook first four ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until butter melts. Set aside the mixture to cool slightly.
  2. Stir together the yeast, 1/2 cup warm water and 1 Tbsp. sugar in a 1-cup glass measuring cup and let stand for five minutes or until frothy.
  3. Combine the sour cream mixture and the yeast mixture and add the eggs and two cups of flour. Beat at medium speed with a heavy-duty mixture until smooth.
    • The dough quickly becomes thick and heavy like bread dough. My hand mixer couldn't handle it so I used the bread hook on the Oster standing mixer.
  4. Reduce speed to low and gradually add enough of the remaining flour (4 to 4 1/2 cups) to create a soft dough.
  5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning the dough to grease the top. 
  6. Cover and let the dough rise in a warm (about 85 degrees) place--free from drafts--for one hour or until dough is doubled in size.
  7. Punch down dough and divide in half. Roll out each portion into a 22x12 rectangle.
  8. Spread 1/3 cup softened butter evenly on each rectangle, leaving a one inch border.
  9. Combine the 1/2 cup sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the buttered dough on each rectangle. Then place the Jesus figure or coin on the surface of the dough. 
  10. Roll up each rectangle of dough, jelly-roll fashion, starting on the long side. Place one dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring the ends of the roll together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal. Repeat with second dough roll.
    • I put the two pieces together into one large circle rather than making two smaller cakes.
  11. Cover and let rise in a warm place--free from drafts--for 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
  12. Bake at 375 degrees for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool slightly on pans or wire racks. Drizzle creamy glaze evenly over warm cake.
  13. Decorate the cake with colored sprinkles alternating colors around the cake.
    • I actually used food coloring to color the glaze and then lightly sprinkled the cake with white sugar. A lot of king cakes are overly sugared (in my opinion) and I didn't want to hunt down purple, green and gold sugar sprinkles.
Glaze:
3 cups powdered sugar
3 Tbsps. butter, melted
2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 to 4 Tbsp. milk
  1. Stir together first four ingredients. 
  2. Stir in 2 Tbsps. milk, adding additional milk 1 tsp. at a time until glaze reaches spreading consistency.
There is also an optional cream cheese filling that can be used as a substitute to the cinnamon/sugar filling. See directions below:

Cream Cheese Filling:
  1. Prepare each 22x12 dough rectangle as directed. Omit the 1/3 cup softened butter and 1 1/2 tsps. cinnamon.
  2. Increase 1/2 cup sugar to 3/4 cup sugar. Combine with two 8 oz. packages of softened cream cheese. Add one egg and 2 tsps. vanilla extract. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. 
  3. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly on each dough rectangle, leaving a one inch border. 
  4. Proceed with recipe as directed.
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