January 30, 2012

Introducing our new eco-friendly line Sprout! With GIVEAWAY!

Sine Metu Designs will be launching a new eco-friendly line of home and body products based on the principles of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle...ReThink,"  We've named this line Sprout, and a range of goodies from soy candles, essential oil-based Mediterranean Sea Salt blended bath salts, vegan-friendly vegetable-based lip balms, soaps, and body butters, to reusable Swiffer dusters, reusable dryer "sheets" and more.  We'll feature uniquely "upcycled" goods with eco-friendly packaging, and as always, no commercial chemicals or dyes!

We just posted our FIRST soy candles to our Etsy studio and have four scent combos available:

Orange-Earl Grey (orange oil, bergamot oil, black tea leaf)
Eucalyptus Rosemary (eucalyptus essential oil and organic rosemary)
Tea Tree Ginger (tea tree oil and finely ground ginger)
Cedarwood Clove (cedarwood oil and finely ground clove)

They are super long- and clean-burning, getting 16-20 hours for the 2.5oz size. No dyes, no artificial anything.

Our clever eco-friendly packaging includes (cleaned & sterlized!) upcycled containers, such as this version, in a recycled glass jar.  Even our label is upcycled-- printed on paper grocery bag!

And because we're so committed to reducing consumer trash and turning waste into beauty, we have kicked off this line with a special incentive:  for every clean glass jar you send us (3 oz or larger, such as babyfood jars) you'll get a 50-cent credit towards another candle, 12 jars= FREE candle (limit 2 freebies per month).

In celebration of our new line, we'll be giving away a FREE soy candle, your choice of scents (pick from above list) to TWO winners.  We'll pick the winner AFTER we get 55 fans on our FACEBOOK page:

We're at 35 now, so at least 20 people need to participate for winners to be selected...so tell a friend.

Enter via the easy peasy Rafflecopter below! (click "read more" if you don't see it)

January 24, 2012

Tu B'Shevat Fundraiser Launched at OneShul.org

We recently had the wonderful opportunity of working with PunkTorah and OneShul to design tree pendants exclusively for their Tu B'Shevat fundraiser.

100% of the sales go to OneShul, which is an online independent Jewish learning community--there are interactive streaming lay-led services, meditations, classes, discussions and more.  OneShul is non-denominationally Jewish and an open and inviting resources for exploring faith and traditions, connecting you to folks from all over with modern technology!

There are two tree pendants: Both are sculpted copper wire, one design features brilliant faceted Czech glass and one is unbeaded with the sculpted copper wire for a unisex look.  There are also a few tree charm bracelets on copper chain with a lobster-claw clasp, a small copper tree charm, and a single Czech glass bead in olive, which are also unisex.  No photo up yet, but you can request when you order.

In addition, you will also receive a card I designed and made for them especially for Tu B'Shevat, featuring a hand inked and watercolored tree scene on the front of these heavyweight white linen tri-folds and the relevant Leviticus quote from which the Tu b'Shevat holiday stems.  All are signed by me.

Visit the fundraiser page at OneShul HERE to order or for more info!

January 23, 2012

Make your own flavored coffee creamer: Control the fat, sugar, and taste!!

Think flavored coffee creamer is ____________ ?
a. Stupid expensive
b. ungodly sweet
c. full o'fat and sugar (and by sugar I mean high fructose corn syrup)
d. full of random other ingredients like artificial flavors and preservatives, and other strange things
e. ALL of the above


Good thing there's an alternative... you can Make It Yourself!!  << you may be seeing a pattern in my posts, snicker>>

Yes folks, the little luxury of having pre-mixed flavored coffee syrup can be yours with 5 minutes of prep or less a week, and you have control over the FAT content, SUGAR content, and FLAVOR. You can make it with things you probably have on hand!  Whoo hoo!

Today I was playing around with different proportions of these ingredients and I found what puts me in coffee bliss (I just got a like-new condition Senseo one- or two-cup coffee maker AND two bags of unopened pods...  for FREE, thanks to Freecycle! So I've been endlessly playing with cups of coffee).

By making variations to this recipe to suit your taste (it is do it yourself, after all) you can customize your own flavored creamer for that perfect coffee treat!

Before I begin.. let me just point out some stats for the commercial stuff:

Prices (via Google Shopping query)-
Nestle Coffee-Mate in french vanilla, $4-5.07 for 15 oz
Good Kind Natural Coffee Creamer, French Vanilla, $7.20 for 8oz
International Delight, French Vanilla, $3-4.50 for 13 mL

Ingredients for Nestle Coffee-Mate French Vanilla creamer 
(copied directly from their site HERE): 


Now to make your OWN you can use:

Heavy Whipping Cream (choose your fat version, organic, lactose-free, whatever)
Milk (choose your own milk alternatives, organic, lactose-free, fat percentage, etc.)
Sweetener (sugar, Stevia, I abhor non-natural artificial sweeteners, but if you like them- it's your body, agave                       syrup, etc.)
Flavor (I definitely recommend pure extracts, you can choose vanilla or whatever else you like, or mix and match, like vanilla & cinnamon, butter & rum, etc)

To make:

I recommend using a glass container with a lid for storage and ease of shaking up: recycle an empty glass jar, such as from pasta sauce or "canned" fruit or veggies, etc.!

To this container, add UP TO equal proportions heavy whipping cream and milk OR reduce the ratio of cream to milk to lower the fat content.  Obviously the less cream to milk, the less "creamery" it will taste. Shoot for one-cup total, or whatever you will consume in one week for best quality.

I recommend starting at 1:3 cream to milk and go up from there to taste.  I don't recommend more cream than half and half, because the fat in the cream will float slightly on your coffee--you'll see little "oil slicks."

Taste, Taste, Taste!  You can always add more of something!  Keep tasting, adding a bit at a time, because what I think is yummy, you might not.

When you've arrived at your ratio of choice for cream and milk, add your flavor extract(s).  For one cup of cream-milk mixture, start with 1/2 teaspoon of extract, shake well, taste, and go from there.

Next add your sweetener.  If you are adding a sweetener in crystal form (as opposed to liquid) it would be best to dissolve it in a little bit of warm water first.  The benefit of doing this is that you get an accurate picture of the sweetness, whereas the sugar crystals may not dissolve right away in the cold milk-cream mixture and you might keep adding more and more because you can't taste it right away, then end up going EW! Too Sweet!  later.

For one cup of the milk-cream mixture I started with one tablespoon and ended up going to about two and a half. Remember you're not going to be drinking this straight, but very diluted in coffee so think about how much you end up sweeting your coffee... if you use a whole spoonful of sugar in one cup of coffee you're going to want your stir-in much sweeter, whereas I normally add NO sugar to plain coffee, I just like my flavored creamer to have a *hint* of sweetness.

So there you go!  Have fun experimenting (and saving money, and avoiding yucky additives!) Remember to keep refrigerated and shake well before use!

Image credits (Featuring some of my fave brands!):  Heavy whipping cream, Kemps brand;  Organic low fat milk, Organic Valley Co-op Brand; Vanilla extract, J.R. Watkins Brand; Stevia, Stevia Extract in the Raw Brand.

A Breath of Fresh Air

The concern for the inundation of chemicals over-used in the home is growing, and for good reason.  With the average household reportedly containing an average of 62 toxic chemicals, many found in cleaning and deodorizing products, if you haven't given a thought to how much junk you're spritzing around your home, you should.

Not only do these chemicals linger around the home, but they hang out in your body as well.  Individuals have seen marked reduction in autoimmune-related disorders and symptoms by substantially reducing exposure to common household chemicals, thought to store up insidiously in the body and trigger inflammatory responses (see Sholl, 2011 for case studies).

Although small amounts of any given household chemical is not usually dangerous, most of the problematic ingredients are not regulated, have been identified as potential carcinogens, and are understudied.  Even current studies on individual additives fail to examine the effect of cumulative unintentional mixtures of these various chemicals and long term exposure.  Worse, these chemicals fall under a variety of names for the same components, making even diligent label-reading an ineffective prevention.

Commercial home fragrances can be particularly harmful because they are aerosol or at least sprayed in some form into the air, and their very purpose is to be breathed in, en route directly into our bodies via our largest and most susceptible mucous membranes--nose, mouth, lungs.

Educate yourself (see references for further reading below) and consider eliminating or at least seriously reducing your intake of these toxins.  Sure, you might feel OK now, but decades down the road? More importantly, you can't tell how they are affecting your body (or your childrens') in terms of inflammatory responses and allergies if you've always used them.

Consider trying an experimental detox of your home:  eschew commercial cleaners and air fresheners for a period of time, say at least a month, and evaluate for yourself if you experience a reduction in even mild symptoms you consider "normal" (mild but regular headaches, sinus congestion or pressure, etc).  You'll definitely save money, and you might discover you could be feeling a lot better than you are presently.

I can tell you from my experience, about six months into my near total elimination of commercial cleaners and fragrances, I have enjoyed significant reduction in upper respiratory symptoms.  I have been a life-long allergy sufferer--allergy shots in my youth, recurrent sinus and ear infections typically 3-4 times a year, and general daily sinus pain and pressure.  I consider "normal" to include anytime I can physically breathe through my nose, because a "flare up" results in complete obstruction.  I have a litany of "they're everywhere!" allergens: almost all kinds of common grasses, trees, dust mites, pollens, molds, and more.  Not much I can do here in Ohio to avoid those.  But I do know that I have NOT had a sinus infection since a month or so into my de-chemical experiment, and my overall daily symptoms have been reduced.  Sure there are confounding variables and correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but I plan to continue.

Besides, I save a boatload of money that we can spend on stuff a lot cooler than carpet or counter cleaners or  "that doesn't smell at all like 'fresh air'" home sprays.

Things you can do in a jif to spruce up your sniffer:

Open the windows, let some air circulate.  You can do this for a little bit many days even in the winter, even if it's just for 15 minutes or so.  It's 49-degrees in Ohio today, a perfect opportunity to get some fresh air in the house, because two days from now it's going to be in the 20's.

Find the source of the odor. Maybe you just need to take the trash out more often, wash the dishes or wash some blankets.

Simmer some aromatics.  Throw the peels from citrus fruit you use in a pot on the stove and toss in some complementary herbs, simmer on low for awhile.  Try clove-cinnamon-anise or lemongrass-bayleaf-basil, for example.  When I eat oranges, for instance, I put the peel in a pot on the stove and boil then simmer in plain water which both smells wonderful and serves a second purpose.   Doing so extracts the orange oil from the peel into the water, which I will then mix with vinegar.  Orange-oil infused vinegar makes an excellent all-purpose cleaner and de-greaser. I just strain and pour the orange-vinegar-water mix  into an empty gallon-sized jug and add to it every time I make a batch.  Never waste an orange peel = never run out of all-purpose cleaner.

Make your own sprays.  If you need the occasional quick-fix, make your own home fragrance.  All you need is a clear alcohol (grab a $4 bottle of cheap vodka, for example, which I greatly prefer to using isopropyl), some essential oils (which have 101 uses in the home, look 'em up), some dried herbs (optional) and cool, clean water.  See the recipe below for an example.

References and Further Reading:

Sholl, Jessie (2011) Eight hidden toxins: What's lurking in your cleaning products.  Experience Living. October, 2011.  http://experiencelife.com/article/8-hidden-toxins-whats-lurking-in-your-cleaning-products/

 Weil, Andrew (2008) Air fresheners: Are they bad for my Heath? by Andrew Weil, M.D, Prevention,October 2008.  

Also stop by http://www.silentmenace.com/-Air_Fresheners_.html for an editorial, with additional sources.

A Breath of Fresh Air: Home Spray Recipe:

To a spray bottle, add:

Equal parts vodka and water
Cedar essential oil
Rosemary essential oil, or dried rosemary if large enough not to get sucked up spray hose, which will obstruct it.  If using dried, you probably won't be able to smell it right away, until the herbs "cure" in the vodka for a few days.
Clear vanilla extract

Add essential oils in whatever concentration pleases you.  Add a little, shake, smell: you can always add more, but if you over-power you will have to dilute with more vodka/water.  

Shake before use, and spray into the air; avoid spraying directly onto delicate fabrics such as silk, or directly onto surfaces such as unfinished wood or wallpaper.  Use your common sense, don't drink it, obviously.  

Image Credits: aluminum spray bottle, Eco Nuts $3.99; Cedar tree identification photo, BorealForest.org; Vanilla beans,The Epicenter Encyclopedia of Spices; Smirnoff vodka, Smirnoff brand; Rosemary, Wikipedia entry.

January 22, 2012

Coffee Cake Bliss

My husband brought me home a bottle of Pinnacle vodka in "cake" flavor.  He apparently got the tip that this stuff was worth trying from a friend at work, stopped at Giant Eagle and became enamored with their pretty bottles (we're planning on doing something cool with empty wine bottles...someday...we don't drink enough to amass them very quickly) and the fact that there's a ridiculous number of different flavors.

The "Cake" flavor has a vanilla-like warm overtone to this otherwise potent French vodka.  I can imagine it's a good general mixer, because of its neutrality.  You can find recipes for it at Pinnacle's site, along with cocktail, mixer, and shooter recipes for all of their other flavors.

I don't personally imbue that much at home (and I'm at home a LOT with two kids now), but I do like a little vodka and juice on the occasion (or when temper tantrums flare aplenty) so I don't have much in the house to shake up a mixer.  But one thing I DO drink lots of...is coffee.  Coffee is always in the house.  I love my teas, but those are meant to be enjoyed nicely, as a means of relaxation, proper with a saucer and a spoon, and a book and a blanket.

But coffee I tend to mindlessly gulp down as a means of survival.  I wasn't quite sure how coffee and vodka would mix (Chad claimed you can add vodka to "pretty much anything" last night) so I tried a fresh cup of coffee with a splash of cream (I just used plain heavy whipping cream, leftover from making the gravy for Chad's excellent spicy roast with noodles).  Ahh... warm cakey vodka coffee.  It's dually warming--from the temperature of the coffee and the warmth of the vodka going down.  I wonder, do the effects of coffee and vodka negate each other?  It's a nice wintery treat..and helps the tantrums go down better too!

January 21, 2012

Microwave Creamsicle & Clove 5min Dessert for Two

The concept of nuking a single-serve cake in a coffee mug is pure genius.  It's been afloat in the blogosphere for awhile, now a hit again thanks to Pinterest.

In fact creative faux-baking is making a comeback.  I've seen brownies baked in the waffle maker: I tried this, and it makes for a dense chocolate waffle which although my 4 year old was in love with the concept, it was NOT an effective substitute for a brownie craving.  Cakes cooked in coffee mugs (read on for a variation).  Cinnamon rolls in the Belgian waffle press (don't have the latter).  Even hash browns in the waffle maker (my next to-try).

So in the spirit of rapid nuclear baking (are you envisioning a mushroom cloud of powdered sugar?) I messed around with a base recipe for a single-serve coffee cake and produced this one-bowl dessert for two: the Orange Creamsicle & Clove Cake.  It's less dirty dishes and less time to make than two single serves in individual mugs, and in all actuality, starting with the recipe two "single serves" actually turned out to me more like a nicely modest serving for two adults and a kid or two.

You'll need:

For the cake:
A glass or microwave-safe bowl (I used a 20oz 6-inch casserole dish and it just-fit, don't use anything smaller)
1/2 cup flour
4 Tbs sugar
1 egg,
1/4 tsp baking powder
dash cinnamon & clove, to taste (optional)
1/4 tsp each orange extract (or try juice or zest) and vanilla extract (more or less to taste)
4 Tbs milk, half-and-half, creamer, or heavy whipping cream
2 Tbs butter or margarine, softened

How To

Mix in this order in the glass bowl:
Microwave the butter just long enough to soften, not melt it.  For me that was 7-10 sec.  Stir in sugar, orange & vanilla extracts, cinnamon, clove, and baking powder.  Mix very well.  Add the egg, beat well.  Add milk or creamer.  Add flour.  Stir all well.

Microwave on high approximately 2 minutes.  Keep an eye on the cake to avoid overflow.  Cook in 10-20 second increments additionally until risen and spongy.

Meanwhile, grab a ramekin and mix 3 Tbs powdered sugar and just enough milk or cream to make glaze-consistency. Add a few drops more orange extract or juice, if desired. Whisk well with a fork. Pour over cake when done.  Sprinkle with a bit of clove and/or powdered sugar for garnish, if desired.

The thing about this cooking method is that it is not as even and uniform as the in-oven method.  Therefore, the ingredients don't get as light and fluffy.  They definitely have a cake-like consistency but just a bit more dense and spongy.  I recommend this method for a quick pick-me-up or something easy to whip up in  few minutes.  I would NOT recommend this method if you're trying to impress...it's good, but not spectacular!


Oh Pinterest! How you taunt me!

January 19, 2012

Porcelain Canister Rehab: Freebie Find into Crafty Orgnaizers

I recently acquired a set of four porcelain canisters as part of a Freecycle run to score a kiddie papasan chair for Avi and a cool bulletin board with a crown-molding-style shelf for my office space.  The canisters were just part of the take: usually you have to pick up the whole lot o' giveaway stuff and sort out what you don't want later..that's just part of the exchange for getting the cool stuff!

But we already have a set of kitchen canisters (for flour, sugar, coffee, tea, and cookies).  These were actually part of a very large set of  pre-1970's USA-made Pfalzgraff stoneware in near perfect condition scored at a yard sale for $50, which we later looked up and valued on ReplaceIt.com for more than $800!! <-- just another reason to check out thrifty sources for stuff before running out and buying new!!  But I digress.

Unlike the Pfalzgraff set, however, these canisters looked really dated--in a large floral motif that looked like an old lady outfit.  So since they were free, I decided to see how easy (or hard) it would be to give them a facelift and bring them back into this decade.
Help me! I'm ugly!

Since they are porcelain and  stamped on the bottom, I did look them up online just to make sure they weren't secretly worth something.  They weren't.

Knowing they weren't valuable, and that they were FREE gave me the freedom to experiment, because at worst, if I totally screwed up, we weren't out anything.  That's a good position in which to find yourself!

So using just materials I had on hand, I set about to make these otherwise destined-for-Goodwill canisters into something useful for me.  It wasn't too hard though it did draw out over the course of a day because of the drying time in between coats, but the premise is simple.  Watch their transformation, and get ideas for that next thrifty find of yours!

Step One:  PRIME.  Since the porcelain glaze is shiny, the canisters needed primed with something in order to be re-painted.  I'm sure there are better substances one could have used to accomplish this, but since I only intended to use supplies I already had, I turned to a giant tub of economy Gesso (free from another Freecycle run!) and figured since you prime canvas with this gluey basic white paint, it couldn't hurt.  So I slapped a couple coats of Gesso on the canisters, letting them dry in between coats.

Step Two:  PAINT.  I consulted my drawer o' random bottles of acrylic craft paint, and chose, as best I could, four colors that looked good together.  I ended up going with bright jewel tones.  Once primer is dry, paint one coat, let dry, paint another coat, and so on.  It ended up taking THREE coats to fully cover up the flower print for the yellow and red, and TWO coats for the darker crocus and turquoise.

I used DecoArt's one-step crackle on top of the final layer of paint.  I must say I was pretty disappointed by the underwhelming crackle effect.  That might have just been the product of it being a one-step so there wasn't the second-coat in contrasting color to really pop the effect.  They do look mildly distressed up close, but no so you would notice from afar.  It did act as a sealant glaze though, so they went from matte to glossy, which I liked.

Step Three: DETAIL.  I wanted the canisters to have something special on them since the crackle turned out insufficient as a decorative effect.  I decided to use chalkboard paint so I could make re-usable "labels" on the front, to write the contents of the containers, which could be changed and re-labeled with ease.  I used masking tape to frame out a rectangle, and then painted it in with the chalkboard paint.  Do be sure the paint is 100% dry or you will peel it off when you remove the tape.  As it was, I did end up chipping some of the crackled pieces off whilst removing the tape, which I just touched up with a small brush.

It is recommended to use at least two coats of the chalkboard paint, allowing to dry in between coats.  Then once dry, being VERY careful to remove the tape, I pulled it off, touched up any little chips, and let dry again.

Then I used regular black paint to make some additional details, to make the design pop a bit, and help reduce any still-evident shadows of the darkest            
                                                                                    flowers underneath.

The finished set, ready to conceal all my little craft orphans!

January 12, 2012

Tutorial: Recycled Cereal Box into Hanging File Tote

As part of my goal to de-clutter our desk-area work station, I found myself in need of some type of "pending" receptacle to hold things like appointment and event reminders, bills that need paid, and other things that need attention or filed in their permanent place within the week.

I've mentioned before that I keep quite a stock of would-be household "trash" on hand for recycled arts & crafts projects, including cereal boxes.  I just scored a pretty blue framed pin-board with a built-in shelf from FreeCycle.  I thought having a little hanging file directly underneath in a complementary color scheme would be great, and because the desk-space real estate is too precious to be spared, moving organizational tools to the wall really makes sense here.

--->  FreeCycle is a recycling Yahoo group on which members post things they'd like to get rid of that are still perfectly usable and other members can get those things for free if they want them.  It's like Craigslist "free" section, but without as many spammers and no-show-ers.  The goal is to get things out of the hands of people who don't want them and into the hands of those that do instead of those things ending up in the landfill and others buying new. Visit www.FreeCycle.org to find your city.

So a family-sized empty box of Kix became the backbone of this easy one-hour-or-less project.  These are so simple and functional and could be used as pending, "to-do" or "to-file" totes, or in the entryway to store permission slips or other kids' paperwork that needs attention, or as a "take me with you" tote to hold things like small library books, coupons or other things you want to be sure to take with you the next morning.  It's lightweight and yet rather durable. And you can't beat the price!  FREE with things on hand.

Step 1-remove side panel.
You'll need:
A cereal box of the desired size
5 sheets of 12 X 12 scrapbook paper
pencil, scissors, glue, ruler
hole punch

Make It:

1.  Carefully cut one side panel from the cereal box, starting at the open top and down to the formed end.  Do not pull open the glued bottom end, and be as  to cut on the edges as possible, you'll want to use this piece later and you don't want your opening jagged.  Then hot-glue the top (opened) flap of the cereal box closed.

Step 2- wrap paper around each side.
2.  Select two pieces of 12 X 12 paper for the sides panels.  Since the box was greater than 12-inches wide I needed some overlap onto the front/rear panels because one sheet wouldn't be wide enough to cover the box.  Wrapping the paper around the side takes care of the gap problem.  Holding the paper flush with the bottom edge, wrap around the side corners until about even on the front/back.  Crease the folds by running your fingers over the box edges.  Extend the crease to the edge of the paper as these will be cut-lines next step.  Carefully glue down the paper in place.  I used hot-glue for the whole project, but regular paper glue would work too, just give yourself ample time between steps to let it dry.

 3.  Cut the extending paper down the creases,

and fold over into the box, gluing in place.

4.  Repeat on both sides.

Box at end of step 4
Front and rear panel in place.
5.  Now take the sheet of paper that will be the front panel, center it, line it up with the bottom of the box and glue it in place.  Fold the overhang into the box and glue down. Repeat in back.

6.  If you would like to cover the side panel that will be the bottom of your tote, use the side panel cut in step 1 to trace onto another sheet.  You can skip this if the bottom will not be seen, but keep in mind even if you hang it eye-level or lower, when you sit down, you might still see the bottom.
Trace cut side to make bottom paper cover.

Measure and mark.
7.  Measure where you would like the handles to be and mark them in pencil on the front and back panels.  Make sure to use the same measurements.  For this box I used 4-inches from the side edges and 1-inch from the top edge.

8.  Punch holes where you marked using hole or rotary punch.
9.  Cut two pieces of ribbon the same length.  Decide how long you want it to hang first to plan how long your pieces should be.  I used 24-inches.  Tie a double knot large enough so it won't go through the punched holes from step 8 at the end of one piece of ribbon.  Feed it from the inside of the box through the hole to the outside, then back into the inside in the other hole.  Tie another knot.  Repeat on the rear panel.  Trim ribbon ends to look nice.  Use pinking sheers if fraying is a problem.

10.  Now you can hang your organizer!  You can print a label for it simply on Word, or use a label from my template HERE.  Just change the text to be whatever you need by downloading a copy.


January 8, 2012

Subversive Veggie Stir-In Recipe-- quick, versatile base

I created a healthy convenience food marvel this week: a super-versatile vegetable stir-in base that can be eaten many ways, didn't take too long to prepare, and lasted all week.

I call it the "Subversive Veggie Stir-In" because you'd never guess how many random vegetables are in it from the taste.  It tastes just like a freshly handmade mild garden salsa but it's mild and crispy enough to eat straight from the fridge or stirred in warm dishes. Once made--it lasted in a covered bowl in the fridge for the week and  this is what we used it for:

I put it on soft 6-inch flour tortillas over a spoonful of hummus for a 30-second vegetarian soft taco (microwave a single small tortilla about 7 seconds to warm up, if desired)
In an omelette with some wild mushrooms topped with a pinch of parmesan on top
Stirred into a side salad with a little lite Ranch dressing
Used as a chip dip for tortilla chips
With corned beef brisket strips as fajita veggies
As a chutney with fish

And I'm sure there are plenty of other things that you could do with it.

Trying to increase vegetable intake in a household with a toddler and a burger-and-fry guy is not an easy task.  And nobody wants to wash, chop, and prep loads of veggies all the time, especially if there's only one eating them.  But this mix of vegetables, carbs (corn) and proteins (beans) is a satisfying vitamin-packed energy booster and hunger thumper.  After the initial mixup (maybe 30 minutes of prep) it takes but seconds to scoop out and stir in.  Choose your own set of veggies and tailor to your tastes, but cramming several kinds in there (even if you can't quite taste them all) broadens the vitamin content.  Use fresh instead of canned if you like, but canned is quicker.

Recipe for Subversive Veggie Stir-In

canned goods (combine)
1 can whole kernel corn, 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (important to get rid of extra sodium and improve flavor! Just dump in a colander and run under cold water)
1 can diced tomatoes
fresh produce
1 green pepper
1 hot red pepper (I used a very hot type, so only added one, but adjust as needed)
2 serrano peppers
a handful of baby carrots
1/2 a medium cucumber, peeled and seeded
generous amount of cilantro
the juice from half a lime
1-2 stalks celery

Coarsely chop all fresh produce and run through a food processor until desired texture--I like mine minced but still quite chunky.
Note:  If you want your beans and corn to be a little more paste than whole, you can run them through a food processor for just a couple seconds as they break down quickly.  Not having a bunch of whole beans makes it easier to add to warm dishes such as omelettes.

Add to bean-corn-tomato mixture.  Stir well, squeeze lime juice (or lemon if preferred, but citric acid will help maintain the color in addition to going well with the flavors) into mixture, and stir very well to combine.  Store in air-tight container or wrap a glass bowl with plastic wrap tightly and store in fridge.

Tastes best after flavors have "mingled" overnight, but tastes fine freshly made too.

After you're done with the prep, you can just spoon some out  for a healthy, convenient, low-fat quick snack (my favorite was on a soft taco shell with some hummus) or use in other recipes, or eat raw!

January 6, 2012

Get Organized (Part Four): Home Cleaning & Organizing Weekly Planner

Well so far my weekly planners have included tools to help organize business, spiritual, and health & fitness pursuits.  The last most-obvious planning tool would be for conquering clutter and messes in the home.

I used to be a big supporter of the 'don't sweat the small stuff' ideology when it came to clutter--if I could locate something in a reasonable amount of time it was "organized" and in the grand scheme of things, a made bed or matched socks didn't rank high enough to be bothered with.

I find now as the sheer amount of potential mess and clutter in my life increases (two kids, a home business) the more taking care of all those little things really does matter.  It makes me feel more peaceful and in control when  my home looks clean and uncluttered.  It makes spaces feel larger, and it invites tackling new projects because starting something new doesn't require cleaning up and moving a bunch of things out of the way.  It also helps spare precious moments from being used looking for things. In general, there's a tangible positive energy when things are in order.  Not to mention I don't have to fear the short notice drop in by a friend or family member.

But even though we, as a family, have grown leaps and bounds as far as breaking bad clutter habits and keeping things relatively tidy in recent months, with all the mental multi-tasking that I have to do, it's easy to overlook things I wanted to do at the start of the week but forgot about. Having a centralized place to jot down all those ideas (think New Years resolution to get organized broken up into mini-goals, like "develop a better organizational system for the business receipts than "the box") keeps me focused and accountable.  Once I see it on paper, the urge to get it done so it can be literally and emotionally "crossed off" is great.

So with this in mind, my weekly planner has sections for things that need organized, cleaned, or purchased (no more stray scratch paper grocery lists that get misplaced, or that must-have menu item forgotten) as well as a spot for priority errands, AND a spot to check off all the things that should get done pretty much every day.

One bit of advice that I put to use with wonderful results is that it's easier to keep clean than to get clean.  A daily set of basics to keep the household clean and tidy makes for that always-spruced-up feeling that is so wonderful.  I wash dishes and laundry daily, vacuum high traffic areas such as the living room and under the dining room table pretty much daily as needed (these are the first areas you see walking in, so having the rugs clear of crumbs and other toddler fodder really makes a difference), and do a cursory wipe down of the kitchen and bathroom surfaces.  A quick easy wipe-down daily is a lot easier than waiting for grime to build and having to use elbow grease to tackle it.  Making the bed will help you stay out of it and make the bedroom look nice and peaceful for bedtime.  Avi is expected to clean up her toys daily.  We intentionally have a smaller kitchen trash can so that it needs emptied almost daily (reduces smells, germs, and the likelihood the dog will get into it), and right before bed we pick up all the little things and put them in their homes (remote controls, magazines, etc).

But even though I do these things daily, it's nice to be able to check them off of a list, because then I can see that I have, indeed, been productive, especially if I can't make it to larger tasks on a given day. It can be a great confidence boost to see those things get checked off!

Download the Weekly Home Cleaning & Organizing Planner here.

Don't forget to check out the other parts of this series--all with free weekly planners:  small business, spiritual, and  health & fitness!

Get Organized (Part Three): Health & Fitness Planning

Most of us have New Years resolutions that involve some sort of fitness goals.  I just had a baby this Thanksgiving, so I can definitely relate (2 C-sections = no ab muscles! Ow!).  You probably (or should) know by now there aren't any quick fixes, and the best advice is still: Eat Well, Move More.

I'm going to focus my fitness efforts on manageable, incremental goals. Nobody does well with a goal statement like: I'm going to weigh as much as I did in 12th grade! It's grandiose and so far in the distance it's doomed to fail.  But little goals like "I'm going to do at least 30-minutes of fitness-related physical activity 4 days a week" for the first month is totally doable.

It takes 30 days to break a bad habit (or so they say) so claiming you're going to "not eat any junk food ever" is probably not going to work for you but "every time I want junk food I'm going to drink a glass of water first" is a pretty simple starting point that will help reduce snack calorie intake.

There are resources ad nauseam about what to do to improve your eating habits and how/when/where to workout, so I'm not going to delve into all that here.  But the most common advice that I've had some success with includes:

Drink more water (both because your body needs it, and because science suggests our thirst mechanism is so weak now that we often mistake thirst for nonspecific hunger, so drinking water will reduce your snack cravings)

Write it down (writing down what you eat puts you face to face with your bad decisions later, so it holds you accountable)

Move More (it's frigid cold in Ohio winters, so taking a walk in the park is not always doable, especially with a newborn.  Even if it's low-impact indoor activity-- yoga, stability ball, calisthenics, etc. something is better than nothing even if you can't go to the gym or get as good a workout as you'd like, so don't use that as an excuse to skip physical activity altogether).

So my weekly planner incorporates those tidbits of healthy habit building.  There is a spot to tally your water intake and vitamins (girls, you need more calcium than you think, and B-vitamins help with those winter blahs!),  to write what you ate for meals and snacks (or use it as a menu planner), and to record your physical activity.  There's also a spot to write your weekly goal as a reminder, and to make notes that might be useful as you conquer bad habits (like "I always want a cookie after I have to yell at my daughter!").

Just try to keep in mind that how you feel is more important than the numbers (especially if you're developing muscle--it weighs more, think 'how do my jeans fit? instead) and to forgive yourself transgressions (better to have a slice of cheesecake or whatever your downfall than to deprive yourself until you go on a massive brownie bender later), and whatever happens, just get back on track!

Best of luck with your health and fitness goals this year!

Download the FREE PDF for the Weekly Health & Fitness Planner here.

And if you have other areas in your life that could use an organizational spruce-up, check out my free downloadable (and customizable) Weekly Spiritual Planner and my Small Business Planner.

January 5, 2012

Get Organized (Part Two): Spiritual Planning

It may sound counterintuitive but spiritual planning may be a useful tool to purposefully plan time in one's hectic week for faithful considerations.  One of my goals this year is to develop my knowledge and understanding of the rich history and traditions within my faith, and even though I have a Reform Jewish affiliation which doesn't adhere to Orthodox rituals, I would like to be more aware of what other types of Jews do and believe.  I would also like to be able to read a little Hebrew by the end of the year--which includes learning a new alphabet that is not in English letters but symbols and learn to read right to left, among other challenges.

I've discovered a plethora of online sources to further Jewish learning, from live streaming services and classes via OneShul.org, a decentralized, non-specific Jewish affiliation, layperson led resource, to an immense quantity of audio lectures from Chabad.org, free Podcasts to help learn Hebrew on iTunes library and more.  Specifically writing down which resources I want to check out can help make the difference between just knowing they are there and hoping to "get around" to them and actually utilizing these resources.

I included a place for notes or reflections and a general statement of a monthly goal on my planning worksheet--not so I can tick off my "progress" as in seeing how many classes I can finish, etc., but so that I actually pause to think about what I want to learn and why, and reflect on how it may be incorporated (or not) into my life.  Over time I'll be able to view my previous notes and see how these have changed or recall something particular that stood out for me.

You can download the Word document template for free at the end of this post.  It can be altered to reflect your faith or denomination and its schedule.  Use it not as a "to do" list but as permission to schedule time for your spiritual growth this year.

Download Monthly Spiritual Planner.

See Get Organized (Part One): Business Planning for more free worksheets you can use to organize your small business or professional goals this year.

Get Organized (Part One): Business Planning Weekly

The new year is a time for resolutions, and every magazine I've read lately is replete with tips, hints, and other advice on how to achieve those lofty New Years goals, despite the daunting statistical evidence that suggests many will give up by the end of our first month, and almost all of us will within 6 months.

The part of "resolution" that gets people hung up is not the goal setting but the lacking in root of the word: resolute, which means "admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering."  

But it's difficult to be these things without a clearly defined target that can inspire that purpose and determination.  I know that I have a general idea where I want business things to go, and some idea how to get there, but all the little things that pop into my head on a regular basis--good ideas, inspirations, etc. tend to get lost in the daily grind.  I find myself looking back on "To-Do" lists that were either so cumbersome they were doomed to fail before they got started or too vague to be more than a suggestion.  

As I juggle two kids and a household to maintain, I find more and more that I need to see clear and concrete goals and the steps required to complete them on paper.  These don't need to be large goals, in fact, the larger, the more vague, so this year I'm going to try a new approach by just focusing the majority of my attention on one week at a time.  With an eye towards the longer term, breaking down goals into weekly portions can provide accessible and attainable steps towards the greater picture with the rewards of seeing specific progress as I check off all the things I did that I wanted to do.  It's flexible enough I don't risk feeling like a failure if "Item #5" didn't get done on Wednesday, per se, as long as it got done that week, but it's finite enough that there is a sense of urgency to get things done within the time frame specified.

There are tons of things I wish to accomplish this year, spanning quintessential life categories such as business, spiritual, and personal. It would be difficult to remember every thing that I think would enrich my life in these categories.  And since I'm constantly finding new sources of inspiration, the lists would be long and fluid.  I don't wish to think of these as a finite list of things that need to be "done" since we are always growing and changing, but I do want to keep better track of the ideas for growth and my progress.  I could come up with numerous ways to improve my life, household, or business, but if I never actually get to any of them, the inspirations are lost. 

So to simplify, I'm going to do a better job of chronicling on paper what I wish to accomplish in a given week or month on separate sheets.  I can make manageable weekly goals, and over time I'll be able to see what I have (or haven't) accomplished.  I'll be able to see which items regularly don't get done on time, and I can either evaluate them (maybe they're just not important enough) or determine that I need to change my routine and re-prioritize so that I do have time to get it done.

To start this endeavor, I created a Business Overview Planner, which generally outlines what I hope to accomplish this year for growing Sine Metu Designs, and then specifically what needs to happen on a monthly, weekly and daily basis to accomplish those things.  Then I created a Weekly Business Planning sheet where I can notate what needs to be done each week with a place for my weekly goals, daily checklist, to define a weekly project, write ideas for my weekly blog posts, etc. 

Obviously these are geared towards an artisan small business, but you could adapt them easily for whatever business you run or just your personal professional objectives to help you attain or advance a career.  

Download them FREE here:

Business Overview Planner
Weekly Business Planning Sheet

These are available as Word documents so you can generate your own text and tweak as needed.  Once the Google Docs site opens click "Download Original."  Do NOT try to print from the preview because the formatting has been skewed by Google Docs.  The formatting is fine if you click Download Original (upper right) and select open when your computer prompts you.  Then you can save to your hard drive.  

Let me know in the comments if there are any problems and I can email them to you!