Archive of ‘Life & Home’ category

$100 Dinnerware Upgrade from the Thrift Store

This guest post is by my friend Julie, who shares her creative idea for replacing her dinnerware on a budget below. Welcome Julie Hoffman to the blog!

When my husband and I got married, we combined all of our kitchen goods. We kept what we liked and donated the rest. We both had an affinity for Corelle dinnerware and serving ware, from previous positive experience with the durability of Corelle. Our home is an open style loft condo in a historic building, with wood floors over 1880s brick. Whenever we would drop a plate or bowl, the dish would shatter into a million pieces, shooting out in a ten foot radius and making it dangerous for anyone or the kitty to walk nearby. We couldn’t be sure if it was our floors, the Corelle was from an outlet or some other reason we kept having trouble.

After the final butter, corn and bowl explosion, I was fed up and ready for a change.  We set a budget of $100 for a new set and I started looking. After two weeks of checking Craigslist, thrifting and web searching, I realized that our budget was too low to acquire what we wanted.  We wanted a quality, complete set for 8 that was microwave and oven safe. Quality new sets were close to $300 and quality used matching sets were always incomplete. In the third week of being frustrated, I came up with an idea that my husband agreed to.  

The new parameters of the search:

  1. Mismatched plates and bowls, but fitting a theme
  2. Same measurements as our previous plates
  3. Microwave and oven safe
  4. Gently used or new
  5. Not glass or stoneware.

I kicked off a new search to great success! I made sure to carry a measuring tape and a list of preferred plate and bowl measurements in my wallet, as well as a checklist of how many I already had at home. I wanted 8 dessert plates, 8 salad plates, 8 dinner plates and 8 bowls. Here are my findings:  

These first plates remain one of my favorites. Clearly labeled microwave safe. Johnson Brothers designed dinnerware continue to fall within my tastes. They have an extraordinary history of successful china production, even merging with the Wedgwood Group, but later closing in 2003. What a shame! My husband called these “happy-inducing!”

This bowl seems to be serving ware with another purpose, but is fantastic for soup and putting crackers on the edge.

Here are other plates I picked up that fit within the theme:

I found these at an antique shop, but at $6 a plate, these ate up my budget quickly.This one doesn’t seem to “go” with all the rest, so it may be replaced.

After a month of regular thrifting, Goodwill employees would ask me if I had any coupons every time I checked out, which I didn’t understand. Staffers told me that whenever someone donates to Goodwill, the receipt for your donation included a coupon for 50% off one item! I had been bagging up all of my plates as they were replaced in preparation for donating them.  I starting bringing at least a bag or two of donations whenever I would go to Goodwill to acquire a coupon. (The coupon requires you to at least donate a full grocery bags’s worth of items in order to receive a coupon.) This coupon really helped us stick to our budget, because I did make a few “happy mistakes” along the way.  

I picked these up, packaged four for $8 and paid $4 with the coupon.  All plates with gold, silver or platinum on them are not microwave safe.  When I brought these home, I was dismayed to learn that the gold glaze (which I thought was just a pretty paint) made them not microwave safe.  These Spode plates are so pretty they are still at home and being used, just not in the microwave.

These are also vintage Johnson Brothers, but it is not clear due to age and labeling whether they are microwave safe.  I brought these home when I coming down with a cold and didn’t know it yet, so maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly!!
After 2.5 months of thrifting when I have the time, the dinnerware upgrade is mostly complete! We had a few serving pieces made from Corelle that I also replaced. All of these are vintage and not microwave-safe, since we don’t use our serving-ware for reheating/storage.  They are divine!

I found these mugs to go with everything else and they are perfect for tea or hot chocolate!  The tall one is “Pioneer Woman” branded.Even the kitty got a dining upgrade! This one has 22kt gold on it and makes me happy to look at it twice a day when I feed him!  (I don’t think he cares one way or another, but my experience is better!)

We stayed close to budget, making the full set complete for $110.  Our previous cabinet plate shelves were old and weakened hand-me-downs, so we did splurge for strong chrome dinner plate shelves from the Container Store.  This added a cost to the project of $40. I did look at thrift stores for those, but did not find anything strong enough. I’ve struggled to find bowls that match the theme, so have purchased just plain white ones for now and the two floral ones you see here.

The BEST PART of this project is the happiness upgrade in the kitchen!!  When I originally started this, I thought it would be a time-consuming and difficult project that would just yield a functional kitchen.  I had NO IDEA how awesome it could be! It is so wonderful to pick out a place setting for your meal based on your mood and what plates you feel like eating off of.  My husband LOVES our new dinnerware and feels the same way that I do! Before embarking on this project I researched the idea of mismatched plates and remember a blogger saying they feel “fancy, but not formal” and that “you deserve nice things!” She was right!  

Update: Everyone in our extended family has had a tough year and the usual people did not feel like cooking a Thanksgiving meal this year. We volunteered to cook a meal for everyone. You know what that meant? A wonderful excuse to offer a great meal to our loved ones. For the past year, I’ve walked past a gold-rimmed set (not microwave safe!!) in a thrift store that I thought was divine but had no use for. I brought my husband to the thrift store to look at them to see if he would like to treat our family to a formal event with these or a fancy event with our every day ones. He loved these and thought it would be a special treat for our family. The thrift store had priced it at $175 for the full complete set of 12. This set never sold was now priced by the piece. We got the complete set for $50! We added two gravy boats to the set, a vintage gold-rimmed boat ($0.99!) for just this meal (one for each end of the table) and a tall white Wedgwood boat and plate (microwave safe and $4!) for our regular use. We will be using his grandmother’s vintage silverware and vintage napkins at the meal.  His grandmother had pink rose décor in her apartment, so here’s hoping we properly honor her memory this year! Wishing abundance and prosperity to you and yours this holiday season!


 

 

Have an Eco-Friendly Halloween

Like many holidays, Halloween can generate unnecessary waste as well as merriment. From pumpkin carving to party throwing, there are opportunities to make the amount of waste less frightful. With these eco-friendly Halloween ideas, October 31 doesn’t have to be scary for the Earth.

Hand out zero waste, ethical chocolate 

Individually wrapped candy creates a lot of waste, but some options are better than others. A personal favorite is the Alter-Eco brand of chocolate truffles that come in a compostable wrapper. Pro tip: you’ll want to buy extra for yourself! The brand gets an “A” grade on Green America’s chocolate scorecard.

A growing concern for consumers this Halloween season is chocolate that’s farmed with child labor. Slave Free Chocolate has a list of child labor free brands.

In response to the concern over slave labor, many people are handing out toys and trinkets instead. These are often plastic items that will end up as trash. If you go this route, consider usable items such as pencils or erasers or other plastic-free offerings.

Make toasted pumpkin seeds

The slop that’s left over from pumpkin carving is edible when the seeds are separated and toasted to crunchy perfection. Methods for this vary, but the main idea is to rinse off the scooped-out pumpkin “guts” in a sieve and then place them in a single layer on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Season with salt, soy sauce, or your choice of spices and bake until crispy. It’s a packaging-free snack that’s right at home with the fall season.

Repurpose an old costume

The temptation to buy a brand new costume each year is real, but there are alternatives that are more eco-friendly—and unique. Consider shopping at thrift shops and vintage stores for one-of-a-kind costume pieces. If you prefer to buy new, support a small business by buying a custom piece from Etsy.

(Check out easy DIY costumes here.)

Be party savvy

When hosting a party, consider reusable plates and silverware in lieu of plastic. If single use is more your thing, bamboo ware is eco-friendly as well as aesthetically pleasing. And remember that bamboo ware, paper plates and napkins can all be composted for easy cleanup.

Compost your pumpkin

When the Jack-o’-lantern has seen better days, remember to chuck it in the green bin or compost pile instead of the trash. Another cleanup tip: if you don’t plan to store your decorations from year to year, thrift shops will be happy to divert your decorations from the landfill right into their store.

 

 

 

 

 

Where to Donate Almost Anything (and Save it from the Landfill)

Clean Your House But Keep Clutter Out of the Landfill

Okay, I did the KonMari house declutter. Now where does all this stuff go?

A question I see people struggling with lately is “where do I donate my stuff?” With the success of the Marie Kondo Netflix show, we’re all getting inspired to clean house a bit. While there’s nothing wrong with toting it all out of the house in one go, some people prefer to find an ideal charitable recipient for their stuff. And what do you do with stuff that isn’t accepted by the usual charities? I’ve been compiling this list as I discover new places.

In the case of almost everything, there’s a better place for it than the landfill.

What do I do with…

Packing materials

Many UPS stores will recycle your bubble wrap and packing peanuts. Some small businesses that ship stuff will also take packing materials donations.

Vintage lace clothing and linens

The Lace Museum in Sunnyvale, California collects these and sometimes sells them for fundraisers. The nonprofit museum is hoping to raise enough money for a permanent museum location.

Donate broken jewelry

I asked this question on a local Facebook group and got connected with a teacher at an elementary school who runs a jewelry studio. She gladly took a bag of costume jewelry that was missing clasps, etc for the students to take apart and create something new.

Donate formal dresses

First, a cause close to my heart! Prom, bridesmaid, quinceanera dresses can go to local charities such as The Princess Project. I started volunteering with them this year, and it’s such a fun cause. The chapter that I work with collects dresses and jewelry under 8 years old. There’s very likely a prom dress donation organization near you.

Send wedding dresses to a good cause

While collecting dresses for The Princess Project, I got asked about donating wedding dresses. This is a tricky one since there are fewer nonprofits dedicated to wedding dresses. Here are the ones I found around the United States.

In Massachusetts, Brides Across America

In Maryland, choose from fairytalebrides.org, cherieamourbridal.com and brides4haiti.com.

Michigan brides can donate to thebridesproject.org to support cancer research.

Virginia, the nonprofit St. Anthony’s Bridal accepts wedding dresses. 

In New York, http://bridalgarden.org helps disadvantaged children.

In Oregon and Washington, adornedingrace.org and bridesforacause.com.

Charities that take cosmetics

First of all, send all those mascara wands to Appalachian Wildlife Refuge. Other used cosmetics should be tossed if they’re old, but if they’re new they can go to women’s shelters. Call and ask first!

Donate clothes and household items

My go-to is usually to donate to a locally-run thrift shop because I believe they do good in the community. There’s also the strategy of putting it all out on the curb and posting a “curb alert” on Craigslist. Neighbors will come help themselves to your free yard sale and you’ll have way less to haul off to the donation center. The downside is no tax write off, but the convenience factor seems to outweigh that for a lot of people.

Recycle old mattresses

Some Goodwill locations will recycle mattresses free or for a small fee. Goodwill of Silicon Valley says that 90% of mattress materials can get repurposed and tens of thousands of mattresses get diverted from the landfill every year through Goodwill’s disposal program.

Recycle broken electronics 

Cables and small electronics such as cameras and cell phones can be brought to Best Buy for free recycling. Local computer shops will often take old laptops for free recycling as well. 

Donate old towels and blankets

These are often accepted at dog rescue organizations. I found a neighbor through the Nextdoor app who works with a rescue and gave bags of old towels to her. I made sure to trim any ripped or frayed edges before I dropped them off.

Donate old books

My strategy to purge books is to canvas the neighborhood and patronize the Little Free Libraries, but that takes dedication. I can’t unload my entire box of antique books at one lone Little Free Library, you see–they need to be parceled out around town. I’ve read that prisons and women’s shelters take books but I haven’t tried this myself. Books that are musty or outdated can be composted or recycled. It feels weird at first to dispose of books, but sometimes it’s the only option.

Donate magazines

Working in the magazine industry, I amassed a collection of magazines that was ever-growing. Since Reuse comes before Recycle, I wanted to offer the magazines to someone who could collage with them first. The very first memory care center I called wanted them for their residents.

Old medical supplies

MedShare accepts medical supplies donations from organizations and individuals. They accept the following:

  • Consumable Medical Supplies (non-expired)
  • Durable Medical Equipment (new or gently used)
  • Biomedical Devices (fully functional)

where

These alternatives to donating to Goodwill are often where your donated items can do the most good. I know many people try to avoid donating to Goodwill in favor of smaller local charities, but it’s way better to bring stuff there than to throw it away. Goodwill also does fabric recycling, so it’s a great solution for clothing with holes that can’t be resold! I drop off bags there a few times a year.

Do you have a suggestion for the list? Please leave it in the comments! I’ll be updating this post as I find more places.

How to Keep Miniature Potted Roses Alive

keep miniature potted roses alive Have you ever gotten a little pot of miniature roses as a gift? They’re so sweet! The flowers are bright and cheerful all week and then–suddenly they dry up and drop dead. Sad. With Valentine’s Day upon us and Mother’s Day a few months away, these miniature potted roses will be abloom in stores near you. If you want to extend their lifespan, it is possible to keep miniature potted roses alive with a little bit of work.

Why are my miniature potted gift roses dying?

Here’s what I discovered the hard way: miniature potted roses aren’t grown to live beyond a few weeks after you get them home. It’s a sad fact, but very true. Not only are the little plants pot bound and squished four to a pot, roses are unlikely to get the amount of sun they need while indoors. With the deck stacked against them from the start, it’s not surprising that they don’t survive much longer than a vase of cut flowers. You can, however, help them have better odds at life.

Miniature potted roses I received as a gift last year. Still alive. Yeah!!

How to save miniature gift roses

Twice I’ve taken potted roses and saved them from dying, even if they are pretty close to death. Here are the steps I followed:

  1. First, the roses need to be separated from each other. To do that, remove the pot and place the plants in a bucket of water. Though you’re supposed to leave them in for only an hour or two, but I left them all day and it was fine. Swish the plants around to remove as much soil as possible.
  2. Next, work on gently separating the plants from each other. Try to keep as many roots on each plant as possible, though some ripping apart of the roots can’t be avoided. Now, you should have four bare root rose bushes.
  3. Plant them immediately! Don’t delay. Prepare a large pot for each one or a hole in the ground. I’ve done both.The location should be in full sun, but take care to shade the newly potted roses for a few days by putting a box or bucket over them until they acclimate to their new setting.
  4. Water them every day for a week if it doesn’t rain.

The success rate for this is high. My first batch of roses had a 3/4 survival rate and they’ve lived for a year and a half so far. I tried operation save the roses two more times since, with 100% and 75% success. According to the employees at Trader Joe’s who also try to save the little sad roses, I’m doing pretty good at it. If they all bloom again this year, I’ll have a rainbow of peach, pink and yellow roses–all brought back from the brink of death.

A painting of a rescued mini rose in my garden. 

Keep miniature potted roses alive

By following the above steps, your roses should be separated from each other with room to grow and flourish. While they aren’t as easy to grow as succulents, by putting them outside after the frost and keeping them watered, you have given them the best shot at life. Now, if you live in a zone where roses can live all year, you can just water the roses weekly and prune them in the fall. If you live in zone 9 or above, the roses will need to overwinter in a pot indoors in a sunny location. Any tips my readers have to keep miniature potted roses alive over the winter are highly appreciated.

keep miniature potted roses alive

So that’s it–you CAN save miniature rose bushes from dying. They can bloom again and actually grow to be good size little plants. If you try to keep miniature potted roses alive, let me know how it goes for you. While you’re busy keeping those roses alive, try a fairy garden!

Dog Breed Reveal Party

If you have a dog, you’re probably VERY familiar with the question, “Oh, what kind of dog is that?” If you know what breed or mix your pup is, it’s a pretty straightforward answer. If you don’t know for sure, it can be tricky. I’ve tried saying everything from, “Well, we think maybe he’s a…” to “He’s a brown dog.” At one point it was a joke that he was a Miniature Direwolf.

For Christmas, I received the Wisdom Panel DNA kit, so the question was finally going to be answered!

Dog Breed Reveal Party

When the results came back, a little party was in order. (Yes, I am that person.) I created a board with dog breed stickers, and everyone submitted their breed guesses. The Best in Show award went to the person who had the closest guess.

We didn’t go overboard with dog-themed food, though I briefly thought about making Chex Mix Puppy Chow before I ran out of time making two flavors of cupcakes.

We decorated with dog-themed items. These dog-in-sweater pillows came from Sierra Trading Post, one of the stores on my dog-friendly shopping list.

Find similar throw pillows at the retailers affiliate linked here:

Wisdom Panel Dog DNA Kit Results

For a little background, Perry came from the St. Paul Animal Humane Society at the end of 2009. He was in an unwanted litter surrendered by the owner, and thought to be a Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix. He was the last of his litter to go home, and I’ve often wondered how similar his littermates look to him, and what breeds their mom and dad really were.

The results are in! And…the Animal Humane Society wasn’t wrong!

50% Mixed Breed – including evidence of Terrier, Herding and Middle East/African groups

25% Chihuahua

12.5% Pug

12.5% French Bulldog

Those last two I never saw coming! Do you think he resembles those breeds? Here’s what he looks like, from one of the many times he has starred in my Instagram feed.

I still have questions–the DNA results don’t explain how incredibly fast he is on his long legs. Everyone always thought he was part Italian Greyhound.

Overall, I am happy I chose to do the test. Now we have a little better idea, but I’m still not really any closer to knowing how to answer people who ask what kind of dog he is! Maybe “He’s a brown dog,” isn’t such a bad response after all.

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