Tiny Tuesday: Storage cubes

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, our bedroom isn’t quite big enough to accommodate a queen-sized bed and a standard dresser or chest of drawers without feeling extremely cramped. For a while, I settled for plastic storage drawers, which are stackable, take up relatively little floor space, and came in handy when we moved, but they’re awfully ugly, and it didn’t take long for me to get tired of looking at them.

I found an inexpensive, attractive solution in the form of cheap storage cubes.

When I repainted the bedroom last year, I bought a six-cube unit and a set of faux-seagrass baskets to go in it and started using it as a dresser. It worked so well, I outfitted a nine-cube unit with little doors and cheap fabric bins for Ron a few months later.

My storage-cube dresser. Excuse the wonkiness. I had to shoot this from an odd angle, and the bedroom is small.
My storage-cube dresser. Excuse the wonkiness. I had to shoot this from an odd angle, and the bedroom is small.

Each cube holds less than a standard dresser drawer would, of course, but we store our bulkiest clothes in the closet (slacks and jeans on hangers and sweatshirts on hanging shelves), so we don’t need huge drawers. The cubes provide adequate storage for T-shirts, socks, underwear, and a few broomstick skirts, and their smaller footprints make them easy to tuck into spaces that would be too small for a dresser.

Ron's storage-cube dresser.
Ron’s storage-cube dresser.

I’ve seen storage cubes used in all sorts of configurations in tiny houses, where their low profile allows them to function as an inexpensive alternative to custom built-ins. A quick Pinterest search will turn up all sorts of bed frames, benches and desks fashioned from the ubiquitous shelves, and I personally have used them as nightstands, a faux-mid-century credenza, and even a stylish dog bed (which Lillian promptly snubbed in favor of curling up on our bed instead — and yes, that’s her fun-fur blankie in the top picture).

Emily

Make-It Monday: Bullet Journal

I kept seeing people on Pinterest talking about something called a “bullet journal.” At first glance, it looked like a good way to spend altogether too much time turning a planner into a craft project, but a couple of people I really respect kept pinning stuff related to bullet journals, so I clicked through to see what the fuss was about.

If I understood what I read correctly, bullet journals are a sort of hybrid of a planner, a to-do list, and a journal. Given my dependence on to-do lists and my longtime fondness for planners — particularly the customizable sort — I decided it was probably worth investing a couple of hours and $20 for a Moleskine notebook to set one up and see how it went. I’ve certainly owned more expensive planners over the years, so I figured I might as well give it a try.

I set this up wrong because I couldn't see the entire image on this part of the Bullet Journal website -- you're supposed to put the month on the left and use the facing page for tasks -- but given my New Year's resolution, I think giving myself less space for a task list is probably a good idea.
I set this up wrong because I couldn’t see the entire image on this part of the Bullet Journal website — you’re supposed to put the month on the left and use the facing page for tasks — but given my New Year’s resolution, I think giving myself less space for a task list is probably a good idea.
April 12: Good times never seemed so good.
April 12: Good times never seemed so good.

As far as I can tell, the big difference between a bullet journal and a regular planner lies in the index. You number the pages and slug them as you would notecards for a research paper, then use that information to make an index as you go.

I’m still not 100 percent convinced this isn’t just an unduly complicated means of customizing a Dayrunner, but it fits in my purse better, and it looks a little neater than the pile of Post-Its, napkins, and scraps of paper that usually end up scattered across my desk, waiting for me to do something about them. I doubt I’ll really use it as a journal (anything personal enough to go on paper instead of online is probably too personal for me to be comfortable carrying around with me), but after setting it up and using it for a couple of days, I think it might work well as a planner. If nothing else, it’s a chance to experiment with various features and figure out what I want to include the next time I’m in the mood to make my own Dayrunner refills. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you want to make your own, the guy who came up with the concept has a whole website dedicated to it.

Emily

Sunday Self-Care: Countdown to spring

“The one constant through all the years … has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past … . It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”

— Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

The 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs* have announced their spring-training reporting dates. Pitchers and catchers are due to arrive in Mesa on Feb. 14.

In other words: It’s 37 days to spring.

We are SO having Chicago-style hot dogs for lunch on Valentine’s Day. And probably either gooey butter cake or Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard for dessert, because Ron’s Cardinals report the same day.

Spring is coming. I am at peace.

Emily

* I promise I won’t be insufferable about this, but I really never expected to utter that phrase. Let me have my moment. If history is any indicator, it may never happen again in my lifetime.

Eco-Saturday: Buy better quality

As I was sealing my Birkenstocks a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that I’ve been doing something positive for the environment for years without even thinking about it: When I shop for items I plan to use every day, I buy the best quality I can afford.

My everyday shoes are Birkenstocks. The clogs I wear every day are at least 16 years old; I’ve also found Doc Martens and Justin boots to be durable and comfortable for rough-and-tumble situations where clogs won’t work.

My trenchcoat is a London Fog. I bought it on sale in 1998. Every time I think it’s too stained or too dingy to go another season, the dry cleaners work another miracle on it, and I get another year out of it.

My work jacket is a Walls farm coat I bought for $40 at a hardware store in Vega, Texas, when I went out there to work on a historic preservation project in 2006 and discovered the jacket I’d brought along was too thin to stand up to chilly November winds in the Panhandle. It’s showing its age now — the corduroy collar is worn down, and the canvas is starting to fray a bit at the cuffs — but for a jacket that’s had a decade of hard use, it’s in remarkably good shape and still keeps me warm when I’m working outdoors.

In the kitchen, I have stainless-steel pans that date to 1981 and cast-iron skillets I’ve owned since 1997. Cast iron lasts forever, and you can buy skillets for next to nothing at antique stores and estate sales. Don’t be afraid of a little surface rust; if you scrub them down and season them properly, your grandkids will still be using them 50 years from now.

The advantage of buying good quality products is similar to the advantage of buying used: You’re avoiding the environmental impact of making something new. Opt for classic styles, perform routine maintenance as appropriate, and you’ll minimize your environmental footprint and save money at the same time.

What products have you found durable over the years? Feel free to share your recommendations in the comments. As always, my recommendations are based on personal experience; I wasn’t compensated for this post; your mileage may vary, etc.

Emily

Vegetarian Friday: Mashed potatoes and green-chile gravy

On vacation in 2014, I ordered something called a green-chile parfait at a little diner in Gallup, New Mexico, the name of which escapes me at the moment. Said parfait was a Coke glass in which the cook had layered mashed potatoes, green-chile sauce, and shredded cheddar cheese. The execution was kind of mediocre (I think they made the parfait and then microwaved it in the glass, because it had some hot and cold spots in it), but the idea? Brilliant.

I don’t have any parfait glasses, so I just made a bowl of skin-on mashed potatoes and topped it with green-chile sauce and shredded cheddar. It was delicious. Here’s how to make it:

1. Click over to the Visit Albuquerque website to get the green-chile sauce recipe I used. I forgot where I’d stashed my plain cumin, so I subbed a tablespoon or so of my usual homemade taco-seasoning mix for the cumin, and I upped the garlic to three cloves because I grew up in a town full of Italians, and if you’re going to use garlic, you might as well do it right. For the broth, I used a cup of water and three of those vegetable-stock cubes I froze last summer. It turned out very well.

Green-chile sauce is basically brown gravy with onions and green chiles in it. It's good on just about everything.
Green-chile sauce is basically brown gravy with onions and green chiles in it. It’s good on just about everything.

2. Bake two potatoes, cut them into chunks, and mash them up, skins and all. (Time-saving tip: Potatoes bake well in the Crock-Pot. Wash them up and cook a bunch at once; when they’re done, you can dice them up or mash them and freeze them for later use.)

3. Layer potatoes, green-chile sauce, and shredded cheddar in a bowl and nuke until the cheddar melts.

Serves two, with enough green chile left for a batch of huevos rancheros or a couple of wet burritos.

Emily

Daydreaming in a winter garden

I spent a little time in the garden last week, pulling out last summer’s tomato vines and clearing the beds so they’ll be ready to replant this spring. I wasn’t sure what to do with the vines, and while the fire-ring raised beds are neat and easy to work with, they’re not terribly pretty. My long-term goal for the backyard is to turn it into something straight out of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel — an irresistible Heligan in miniature, if you will — and big metal rings aren’t quite up to that standard. I’d been considering various options for making them more aesthetically pleasing and getting them to blend in with the scenery a little better, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on retaining-wall blocks or stackable stone. While I was standing on the deck, surveying the yard and taking a mental inventory of the tasks I need to complete before spring, I noticed an abandoned doves’ nest on top of the fence post nearest the house and had an idea for recycling those spent tomato vines:

I can't decide whether this one makes any sense, but I think if I relocated it to the morel bed next to the house, I could put a couple of large, egg-shaped stones in it and have something adorable.
I can’t decide whether this one makes any sense, but I think if I relocated it to the morel bed next to the house, I could put a couple of large, egg-shaped stones in it and have something adorable.

I’m trying to decide whether I like it. It certainly blends in better than a bare metal ring, so I’ll probably keep it until I think of a better idea.

Meanwhile, I was perusing the Shumway’s catalog and found this:

I'm not a big fan of roses, as they tend to be finicky and high-maintenance, but I'll make an exception for this one.
I’m not a big fan of roses, as they tend to be finicky and high-maintenance, but I’ll make an exception for this one.

Obviously I’ll be ordering a couple of these so I can have me a time with a poor man’s lady this summer.

Emily

P.S.: Confession No. 1: When I was 16, I wanted to be Neil Diamond’s backup singer when I grew up. Confession No. 2: I still do.

Sustainability on a shoestring