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the haas machine: December 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Stories

This year, we didn't have a Christmas tree. Well, not an official one. Come to think of it, we didn't have one last year, either. I won't go into detail no as to why that is, but I do want to share a fun little Christmas activity that Ruby & I enjoyed this year that I would like to continue every year (especially when she's older & thinks it's awkward but still secretly loves it).

Here's our little mock Christmas tree (dried willow branches with some ornaments) & the first gift under the tree belongs to Miss Ruby, which was a sweet book on wild animales I found at the Goodwill

Our new tradition is focused on reading, which just so happens to be one of Ruby's favorite pass times. Every day, we probably read 20+ books because she LOVES books. She loves going to the library to get new ones & I love that so I don't go crazy reading the same dang elmo book hundreds of times each week. Because I know Ruby loves to read, I figured she would easily catch on to this new tradition...

For a few months before Christmas, I started collecting Christmasy books. It was actually harder than I would have imagined because, unfortunately, there are a lot of terrible books about Christmas out there, but I managed to find 12 books, which was my goal. Next year, I might try to be super ambitious & get 25... we'll see.

I wrapped up all the books & every night before bed, Ruby got to unwrap one & we would read it together. She really caught on to the unwrapping (& might have even unwrapped a few before naptime... I had a hard time resisting her when she ran up to me with a wrapped book, saying "story? ni-night?") & it was an all-around precious moment for us to share together.
Our little tree with the 12 books

Next year, I plan to use some of the same books (there's no way we're going to collect 12+ different books every year!) but I realized that I may need to hunt sooner & harder because I wasn't really satisfied with the content of a lot of the books. These books are just reserved for Christmas, though, so they are now put away in a special red & green bin in the basement with all of the rest of our soon-to-be-hibernating Christmas items.

The rocking chair with the books (please ignore the "happy birthday" gift wrap)


For next year, I want to collect even more Christmas books that really tell an accurate Christmas story. What are your (& your children's) favorite Christmas stories?

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Homemade Playdough

I've been trying to be a bit more intentional about actually doing fun toddler-specific activities lately with my little lady & it turns out that I (still) love doing projects like these, so it's win-win for the Haas household. One of the first projects that we tackled was making homemade playdough, which was way too simple to make.

I remember playing with playdough for hours as a child, even sneaking a chunk or two into my mouth because who could resist, right? Ew. I wanted to save Ruby from some of the grossness of store-bought playdough because I just assumed some would end up in her mouth. I'll shamelessly admit here that I actually tested a tiny bit of this recipe, you know, just to make sure it's safe for my kid & everything. I figured since it's made from all real food ingredients, that it can't be that bad, right? Maybe safer, but tasty? No way Jose.

Ruby wasn't super impressed. She has this thing with not liking to touch sticky or messy things (oh how I hope that changes), & she might still be a little young for a project like this, but we're gonna hold on to it for awhile so I, er, she can make an incredible sculpture soon.
Homemade Playdough
Ingredients
1 C Flour
1 C Water
1/4 C Salt
1 TBSP Vegetable oil
2 tsp Cream of tarter
Food coloring (actual coloring or a kool-aid packet will do) If you want to be extra cool you can add glitter. I'm so not ready for glitter.

Directions
Pour in all the ingredients in no particular order into a pot. Stir in until everything is mixed well. Once it's lump-free, turn on the heat to medium & stir constantly until it magically clumps together. Once it's clumped well, take it out & kneed it.

Recipe taken from AdelynStone

February 2013 update:
 I think she likes it now...

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Furniture Makeovers

I've seen to come into possession with some furniture that's needed a little bit of lovin'. To be honest, a lot of the furniture in our house could use some lovin'. Most of it has either been given to us freely or purchased for pennies at thrift stores & I seem to have a slight addiction to acquiring lonely goodwill pieces (um, we have at least 6 mis-matched wooden chairs, not including our 4 that go with our dining room table...)

Lately, I purchased one dresser & was given another right around the time that I saw something inspiring on Pinterest (shocking, I know). I've wanted to paint our kitchen table for some time, so I thought I would experiment first on a dresser & then make my way through painting all 3 pieces. I failed to take a "before" picture of both dressers, but thanks to ebay, found some similar-looking pieces. I'll show you the pics first & then go into some detail for what I did.

Dresser #1
Before
After
Check out the shiny top

Kitchen Table
Before
After

Dresser #2
A similar-looking dresser for this before pic
After

The majority of my inspiration came from Centsational Girl (check out her detailed instructions for what primer, paint, brushes, rollers & finishing wax to use, as well as very clear instructions). I echo her high quality choice for materials. I was very happy with the Benjamin Moore paint that I used for the 2 dressers (they are the same color) but was EXTREMELY disappointed with the other paint we chose for the dresser **(I will get back to you with the brand- it was from Menards). My frugality got the best of me on that one, so I hereby swear on Benjamin Moore paint for all other future projects. Believe me, the extra cash you put towards it will be worth it! The paint we got from Menards didn't cover well & it wasn't as black as we were expecting, whereas with Benjamin Moore, I only had to do 1 coat, with just a few touch ups. I also fell in love with Zinsser primer-- it's so thick, covers evenly, & dries extremely fast.

OK, so for the 2nd dresser, I got the idea from California Callahans to add texture to my dresser to make it look more antique-y. I didn't exactly follow the same process they did, (they used wallpaper & did a more intense process), but the results came out to be similar. I first primed the dresser, then mod podged lace onto the drawers, & then painted it (btw, you can make your own mod podge by adding equal parts white glue & water, who knew?)

For both of my dressers, I got the knobs/handles at hobby lobby. If you do something like this, just make sure you bring your old knobs with you so you get ones that will be the exact measurements (whoopsie).

I'm pretty happy with the results & now Ruby has a dresser in her room (finally), we have a nice way to organize some of her toys & dinner linens, & we have a way less crappy looking kitchen table (even if it didn't turn out the way I was hoping). If you have any questions on the process or materials I used, please post in the comments below. I might have been distracted by a cranky 17-month-old while writing this post!

**Edit 1.22.2013: The paint that I would NOT recommend is Pittsburg's Grand Distinction. I would not recommend this paint at all (I just realized that is the same brand that we used for our horribly painted bathroom), but especially on furniture. Stick with the good stuff & you won't be disappointed!

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Card 2012

Love John, Gillian, & Ruby (17 months)

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Whole Wheat Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies

I was going to write about some recent successful dresser updates I've done lately, but then I realized that I haven't taken any pictures of them & I'm way too lazy to get up out of bed to take them (still feeling a bit drizzly), so you'll have to read about cookies instead. Although, just thinking about these precious little jewels, might lure me to the kitchen to bake some more.

I am borderline obsessed with coconut oil, especially in baking & I think that's what really makes these cookies. It's a running joke (truth) in my home that I am not the preferred cookie maker. For whatever reason (perhaps keeping my eyes on a curious toddler, doing laundry, cooking, baking, cleaning, & not burning the house down at the same time) I hardly ever make cookies well. Plus, I have been known to throw in a few healthier substitutes, whereas John instead piles on the butter, chocolate chips, etc. But I think I may have found a game-changer with these cookies. Behold, my new favorites... so soft, so fluffy, so perfectly sweet & faintly coconutty.

Whole Wheat Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies
Ingredients
1/2 cup coconut oil
2 eggs
3/4 cup demerara (or any kind of sugar)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips or dark chocolate chips!

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375Ā°F. Beat the coconut oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla, & salt together for about 1 minute. Add in the baking powder, baking soda, & flour & blend until just mixed. Stir in the chocolate chips. Scoop out 1 tablespoon-sized cookies onto a baking sheet that has been covered in a silpat mat (I used parchment paper & also rolled them out so they would be more round). Bake for 11-13 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 3 minutes (good luck).
Recipe taken from chocolateandcarrots.com 

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Graham Crackers

Today, both Ruby & I are a bit under the weather. As much as we try to prevent sickness in our family, it's bound to happen, so when it does, we're usually pretty good about hunkering down & resting like it's an Olympic sport. Neither one of us really like sitting in one place for hours on end, though, so we found a few (low energy) activities to occupy our day. One of those was making graham crackers.
I have this weird love & appreciation for softer-than-usual graham crackers. I may have been known to leave a package (or two) open so that they actually become soft (gasp, I know!) And most people swear by them for their kids-- such an easy, delightful snack, right? We usually try to stay away from the majority of snacky processed foods, so when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it.

This recipe was super easy & I had everything on hand, which is a bonus. If you are really crafty, you could cut these babies into fun little shapes (like the animals or alphabet cutters that are in my "favorite things" on the right hand side) instead of going the boring rectangular route. You can even make pretty little designs on them if your toddler isn't screaming at you to eat them. I gave up after three, so you can see in my picture.
Graham Crackers
Ingredients
2 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup  demera
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, chilled & cubed
1/4 cup honey (get local if you can)
1/4 cup water

Directions
Preheat oven to 350. In a food processor combine the first 5 ingredients. Add butter to the mix & pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Add honey & water & continue to mix until it all combines.

Remove & shape the dough into a flat disk & place between two pieces of parchment paper. Roll dough out until 1/4 inch thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutter or knife. Place cookies on a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet & bake for 15 minutes. Cool & serve (preferably with some whole milk... mmm).
Recipe adpated from Weelicious

Here are some updated pics after getting some amazing alphabet cutters (see the link to them in my "favorite things" on the right hand side).
(This post contains an affiliate link, which means that if you purchase something from amazon, I will get a small compensation).

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Cloth Diapering

This isn't even one of the topics I listed to blog about, but my super green, hip brother asked me to write a piece on cloth diapering for his blog, so I figured I'd do a more extensive version on my blog (have you checked out the Minnesota Green, by the way?)

John & I really have a passion to love & care for our earth as much as we can, but what really got us into cloth diapering was my frugality. On average, parents who use disposable diapers spend about $2,400 in 2.5 years of diapering per child (about $80 per month). Parents who choose to cloth diaper can spend as little as $200 & the best part is that once you buy them for one kid, that's all you really need to buy. You can use cloth diapers for multiple kids, which is even cheaper.

We registered for our diapers almost immediately after finding out I was pregnant because I knew it would be expensive initially. We decided to go with an amazing local business in Duluth, Little Neetchers, mostly because I have obvious ties to Duluth, but also because they are amazing people who have a passion for cloth diapering. Now that it's becoming a bit more trendy, cloth diapering shops are popping up everywhere, so they are definitely more accessible.

I'm no expert on cloth diapers, let's just get that out there, but what I do want to share are some of the diapers that we have used & loved, so these are just my humble opinions. In this post I'll share some of our favorite diapers, our system for washing & other ways to make your money go farther.

My favorite diapers (we chose the cover & pre-fold route, which is the most financially friendly way to go)
Initially, my favorite cover was the Super Whisper cover. They are super affordable, seemed very cozy, & have adorable prints, which of course is very important. Over time, once Ruby grew to be more mobile & learned how fun it was to un-velcro her diaper (hello many hot "only diaper" summer days!), we switched to GroVia covers & Thirsties covers because of the snaps, but also because I liked how they allowed for a little bit more movement & will be able to diaper her for her entire diapering experience.
A GroVia cover on the left & a Thirsties cover on the right. The GroVia cover allow for use from 8-30 pounds & the Thirsties cover is 8-40 pounds because of the adjustable snaps. There's even more savings when you don't have to buy 2 or 3 sizes of diapers!
This is a Fuzibunz pocket diaper (you put the insert in the pocket). I have found the inserts that these come with to not be as absorbant as the inserts that we use (read below), so for these, we use the same inserts that we use on our other covers.

My favorite inserts are the Bummis Organic Pre-folds, hands down. We have these in 2 sizes (one for when she was an infant & one for her current crazy toddling stage). They are so thick & soft & oh-so-absorbant. I normally change Ruby's diaper every 2-2.5 hours & I think I've had maybe one leak, so I'd call that a success.
The Bummis Organic pre-fold in the toddler size
Folded in half
Then folded into fourths
Placed in the cover

We also use bio-soft liners on top of the pre-fold every time we change a diaper. They are super handy because whenever Ruby poos, we can just take this liner with poo & flush it down the toilet (if she just pees on them, we wash them by hand & let them air dry & use them several times). There's no scraping or touching or using a sprayer or anything. You really want to get as much poo as possible off of your diapers before you wash them, but who wants to be exposed to the poo any more than you have to, right? These little liners are our saving grace & at $6 for 100 of them, it is so worth it.
Liners

We have found that it's nice to have 10-12 covers & 18-24 pre-folds so that I'm not washing diapers every day, which leads me to the next topic of washing...

Washing routine
If you happen to google cloth diaper washing, you will come across maybe thousands of different methods. It was honestly SUPER overwhelming for me at first because I didn't want to screw up this investment I made. I learned that I had to find a method that worked well for us & also that I had to experiment until I got it down right for us. In the beginning of cloth diapering, we had a beautiful olive green 1970's top loader, but we now have since joined the front loader era, so that took a long time for me to get used to. The most important things to remember with washing are you need a safe detergent & lots & lots of water.

When we have used diapers, we put them into a wet bag (again, inserts are only used once before they are washed, covers can be used several times). The wet bag is double lined & has a zipper on it, so all the stink is contained. I prefer to wash the diapers 3 times a week (I do them on M, W, F) because I find that if they sit for more than 3 days in a bag, they are harder to get clean.
Some diaper covers & our wet bag hanging on the amazing drying rack that John built

We have tried several kinds of detergent, but for the price & power, we really like Country Save. I buy it on Amazon in bulk once a year & it lasts forever. I also like how I don't have to have a separate detergent for our clothes. We also use wool dryer balls to dry them because you are not supposed to use ANY kind of dryer sheets on your diapers, even if they are eco-safe or biodegradable.
Wool dryer balls & Country Save detergent

So here's my crazy washing routine that has been perfected for us. Note that we have extremely hard water & a front loader, so this system may not work for you-- play around with it!
  1. Empty the wet bag into the washer (the covers, pre-folds, & wet bag can all be washed together). Make sure the wet bag liner is pulled out so it gets cleaned properly. Do the longest wash (my machine calls it "heavy duty") on cold with NO detergent. You want to do this so that all the pee & poo are rinsed from the diapers. If you don't do this, you're washing your diapers in poo water... mmm.
  2. Do another of the longest wash ("heavy duty") on hot with 1 scoop of detergent. Here I also add a soaking wet beach towel to "trick" our washer into thinking there is a bigger load. I absolutely love the mystery of our water saving front loader (for our other laundry), but for diapers, it's not always helpful. If you are able to change the water levels on your machine, do that. Ours doesn't allow for that, so I trick it with the towel. With cloth diapers, you need TONS of water to clean them & rinse them well, otherwise stink, & sometimes infection can linger in them.
  3. Do a normal wash on cold water with no detergent. This is just to get out all of the soap, if there happens to be any left. If you happen to be watching your machine rinse your diapers during step 2 & don't notice any bubbles on the final rinse, then you won't need to do this.
  4. Dry the covers only on the hottest setting for 20 minutes with the wool balls. If it's summer, I hang them outside to finish drying, but in the winter, I dry them for the full 40 minutes inside. All of the covers cannot be dried in the dryer.
If you have any stains, set them in the sun for a few hours or days. You don't need any other product to remove these stains-- the sun is powerful enough (even in Wisconsin winters). It just might take a few days. Also, if your baby is still on an all-milk diet, there is no need to scrape the poo off or use liners on top of the pre-folds. The poo is very runny & easily rinsed out in step 1.

Other tips
To cut costs even more, we use cloth wipes & make a diaper wipe "juice" to spray on them. The baby wipe juice concentration that I am in love with is from LuSa Organics, which is a company that has amazing baby products & are produced just 45 minutes away from us! All you need to do is use half of the bottle of juice & mix it with a gallon of water. You definitely don't need to use a juice of any kind- you can use water, but I like the lingering lavender scent & knowing that Ruby's bottom is clean & moisturized. I think we've gone through 2 or 3 gallons in 15 months... not bad!
Cloth wipes, LuSa baby wipe juice & our spray bottle

We use cloth diapers the majority of the time. The only time we ever use disposables is at night (we have yet to find a system that works for 12+ hours of pee that isn't tremendously bulky & the vast majority of my cloth diapering friends tend to agree with me on this one) or sometimes when we are traveling. Although I may have been long-winded in this post, they honestly aren't much more work-- just a little know how & time doing a few more loads of laundry is all it takes.

Please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or if you would like me to expand on anything I posted.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Focus

I'm back from my little unintentional blog fast. Although I didn't intentionally plan on not blogging, for some reason over the past 4 months or so, blogging just hasn't been appealing to me. It was starting to feel more like an obligation instead of something that I truly enjoyed. Over the past couple of weeks, I've been finding myself thinking (& even quietly muttering to myself or whoever happens to be listening to me while I attempt at creating something I saw on pinterest) "I should blog about this."

So the haas machine has been breathed into once again! And I'm really excited to have more of a focus on some of the wonderful (& probably not so wonderful) experiences we toy with in our kitchen, as well as some of the DIY projects that John & I experiment with. Right now John is busy melting candle wax to soak some jute twine for an emergency fire starter kit. I mean, why wouldn't you want to read all about that?
Sweet potato, ricotta, & spinach pasta

I've also been inspired a bit by some of the other blogs that I've been reading lately. I know that I really get excited when someone posts a recipe I can actually follow (read: attractive pics & limited commentary) or a project that will hep save money (hello crock pot yogurt!), so we plan to be a bit more intentional with posting & making this blog accessible to most people. I'm also pumped to have more of John's penmanship on this blog, too, so watch for that (& maybe send him a harassing text if you never see a post of his).

Here's just a smidge of some of the posts coming up:
  • Dresser re-do's
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts with garlic & shallots
  • Chocolate chip coconut cookies
  • Vegetable toddler muffins 
  • Crock pot yogurt
  • Organic housekeeping
  • Felt Christmas trees
  • Sweet potato, ricotta, & spinach pasta
  • Lace & burlap projects
  • How to make your own liquid soaps
  • Organizing in small spaces
  • Kitty litter bike panniers
  • How to build an emergency fire starter kit
  • Stuffed peppers
  • Baby food purees
  • Essential oil projects (specifically for headaches, crankiness, & sleep aids)
  • Sausage biscuits & gravy
  • Naan Thai chicken pizza
  • Tofu curry soup & vegetables
  • Projects to do with toddlers
  • My favorite freezable meals
  • Zucchini tuna cakes
  • Granola
  • What to do with all your Christmas cards from years past
  • Pallet end tables
Baby food purees

That should keep us busy for awhile! If you have a suggestion on what we should cook, bake, or build next, please send them our way. I had a dream the other night that I had a little business that focused on making things that people didn't want/couldn't/refused to make, but saw on pinterest. Oh, wouldn't that be the life?

It's good to be back,
Gillian
Sausage biscuits & gravy