Monday, July 25, 2011

Cheap Mama Coffee Tricks

I like coffee.  A lot.  And when I became One Cheap Mama I mourned the loss of my fancy, expensive coffee.  I had been used to drinking flavors of coffee with names like Buttered Pecan, French Vanilla Hazelnut and Bananas Foster and all of a sudden I was drinking...REGULAR COFFEE!  I whined and wept and tried to find ways to make my cheap coffee taste like the good stuff but I never found any great ideas until NOW!  I am so excited to share these secrets for all you fellow coffee lovers.

Just so you know that these tricks truly work within your Cheap Mama budget, I use these tricks with my Wal-Mart Great Value coffee.  A side note: The coffee cans from the GV coffee brand can be repurposed into great containers.  Cheap and chic!

Cheap Mama Coffee Trick #1 - Replace the aspartame with something better.
Just recently I went to see a Naturopathic Doctor for an undisclosed reason.  If you're thinking, "Oh, she's plum crazy" don't worry - my husband agrees with you.

Once there I discussed the fact that I have suffered from headaches for the past 15+ years and pretty much have them on a daily, continuous basis.  They asked me if I drank diet Coke.  Uh, does a bear...?  Never mind.  I answered yes, lots.  The Sonic carhops practically know me by name.  It's not like I didn't know of the bad press around aspartame.  It was just that I never realized how truly awful it was.  Or maybe I just really didn't want to have to give up my diet coke.  Either way, not until I was faced with the choice of A) Keep drinking diet coke and putting the pink stuff in my coffee and have headaches or B) Give up the crack cocaine diet coke and rid my body of the aspartame did I finally agree to stop drinking anything with aspartame.

Instead of the pink or blue or yellow packets, I now use xylitol which can be found at most health food stores or the green packets if I can't make it to the health food store that week.

Cheap Mama Coffee Trick #2 - Add cinnamon to your coffee grounds before brewing
This AMAZING idea originally comes from Vivienne Wagner whom I met on Twitter.  You can check out her post complete with pictures here.  I have been searching for an idea to make my cheap GV coffee taste like coffee-house coffee and this idea is genius!  All you do is sprinkle some cinnamon (enough for your liking) on top of the coffee grounds prior to brewing.  As it brews the cinnamon flavors the coffee and the bonus is that it turns out cinnamon has awesome health benefits to boot.  The taste created when I add cinnamon to the coffee grounds before brewing is absolutely delicious.  I now use cinnamon every time I brew a pot of coffee and I actually feel a teeny bit like my old fancy-coffee-drinking self again.

Cheap Mama Coffee Tricks #3 - Perfect iced coffee from The Pioneer Woman
Just like The Pioneer Woman I had been on the quest to make the perfect iced coffee.  I had tried brewing coffee in my coffee maker and transfering that to the refrigerator but the taste was always too weak.  Thus, I was left to either forego the iced coffee that I love so much or load up the kids to make a coffee run at three o'clock in the afternoon.  Neither option was sustainable.  Then I found PW's recipe for The Perfect Iced Coffee and now my life is complete.  I now keep a pitcher of this divine concoction in the refrigerator so that I can enjoy a delicous iced coffee any time!  Heaven.

Cheap Mama Coffee Trick #4 - Bring the used coffee grinds into the shower
After you have brewed your coffee in the coffee pot or have the extra pound of grinds from the iced coffee recipe, bring those grinds into the shower with you.  Don't worry, it's not anything kinky.  This is another great idea from Vivienne.  I think she loves coffee as much as I do.  Maybe even more.  Caffeine is the active ingredient in all of those cellulite-reducing creams and Vivienne has discovered a way to cut out the middle-man, so to speak.  She uses the grinds as a kind of coffee scrub focusing on her legs and feet.  Who knew coffee was so versatile!

However if you have small children and barely have enough time to shave your armpits in the shower, let alone exfoliate your thighs with coffee grinds, you can try

Cheap Mama Coffee Trick #5 - Use the used coffee grinds as fertilizer
Coffee grinds are a great fertilizer for acid-loving plants such as roses, hydrangeas and blueberries but it can also be used as a fertilizer on other plants because the acidity level is not so high that it can't be used on other plants in your garden.  When you're done with your pot of coffee instead of dumping the grinds in the trash, be a good little recycler and use them on your plants.

If anyone else has any great Cheap Mama coffee tricks, please leave a comment!

Happy drinking, you coffee-addicted Cheap Mamas!

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Next Painting Adventure - Chalk Paint

Any time I hear of a new paint product it always makes my heart pitter patter.  That's exactly what happened when I heard of Annie Sloan's Chalk Paint.  

Chalk Paint is a paint that requires no priming(!) and comes in 16 colors perfect for creating the French look that I love.  As a bonus, Annie Sloan has also authored several books on painting techniques and French decorating.  I recently ordered her book Creating the French Look from Karla at Lady Butterbug  and could hardly wait to get it in my hot little hands.

I have a hand-me-down dresser that my husband refuses to give away or sell due to sentimental reasons. I told him we could keep it as long as I could paint it.  It is the perfect piece for me to try Chalk Paint for the first time.

Old White and Paris Grey...

...are going to transform this dresser into something fabulous.

Because Annie Sloan's products come out of Oxford, England they are a little difficult to find in the U.S. but as luck would have it I found a retail store in my area who orders and stocks the products!  I purchased a litre (fancy spelling here) each of Paris Grey and Old White.  You can see the size of the cans above.  Currently this is the only size available for Chalk Paint.  

I cannot wait to get started on my project!  Stay tuned for the finished product and blog post to follow!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Baby Love

I love the link-up parties that Shell from Things I Can't Say always comes up with.  They're cute, creative and help us all feel connected as women and mothers.

This week she asked for people to submit photos of Rockin' The Baby - showing love, nurturing, laughter, whatever.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find the digital image of my favorite pic of Superman and I together in the hospital.  Although later I would experience Postpartum Anxiety,  those first few days in the hospital with him were when I fell completely, 100% head-over-heels in LOVE with my little boy and it showed in every picture.

With Sidekick it was a little different.  I was still completely in love with her but this time around I was much more relaxed and at ease in the role of new mom.  I think it shows in this picture.  This picture was taken on her first day of life and I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that God had given me a beautiful, healthy little girl.  I kept whispering to her, "I love you, I love you" hoping that she would somehow understand.

Just this week she started pulling on my leg and saying, "mama, mama" when she wants me.  I think she understands.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lego Star Wars Birthday Party for Superman

Just recently Superman celebrated his 5th birthday.  I guess I should call him Luke Skywalker or Han Solo or something like that since the theme was Lego Star Wars but he's stuck with Superman so he'll have to deal with it.

This time last year I was about 11 months pregnant with Sidekick so his 4th birthday party consisted of me throwing a sheet cake on the picnic table of a local park and parking my muumuu-ed butt in the shade until we could pack up and go home.  I may have taped some balloons to the picnic table but I can't remember.  I was too busy wiping sweat off my body from the sweltering Louisiana heat.  And the humidity.  Oh, the humidity.

I was smiling because I was in air conditioning.

Needless to say this year I felt I owed him a bit more effort and I was actually excited to plan a great party. As parents know, kids' interests change with the wind so when I discovered that he had stayed a Lego Star Wars fan for longer than 10 minutes I knew we had our theme.  I  then went on-line searching for supplies and ideas to help me host the best kickin' five year old party this side of the Mississippi.

This picture was made at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans just for fun.  We decided to use it on the favor table.  I laugh every time I look at it.

As soon as I began my search on-line I quickly found Aimee Austin of Aimee Austin Designs who creates custom Lego Stars birthday invitations, thank you cards and has a lot of great party ideas.  I used her printable Lego Stars Wars birthday invitation which comes as a PDF file which meant it was less expensive than paying for individual invitations for each child.  I also used some of her great party ideas.

Have fun at my party you will.

No Lego Star Wars party is complete without a light saber but I didn't want to be liable for any serious injuries.  So to create kid-friendly (read: no lawsuit) light sabers I spent $12 on 12 pool noodles in the colors of red, green and blue.  I cut the noodles in half and used black and silver electrical tape to create the look of a handle on one end of each noodle and voila!  Awesome light sabers which also turned into awesome take-home gifts for the guests.

We led the kids through a series of "Jedi Training Procedures" which included a lot of running around cones, fighting each other and various trees around the backyard and taking turns whacking any adult males who happened to be standing too closely to the training area.  Once we felt the children were sufficiently trained in all things Jedi we moved to the driveway for a little game of "Destroy The Deathstar."

My husband had drawn the Deathstar on the driveway and we let the kids take turns throwing water balloons to try and erase, or destroy, the Deathstar.  This turned out to be fun for both the kids and the adults and was a fun water activity to help cool off the kids.

Georgia Boy wasn't too jazzed about having to use the only colors of sidewalk chalk I had available - purple, yellow and white - but he did a great job anyway.

We then celebrated our victory over the Deathstar by eating some delicious cake and ice cream!
I was going to have a friend of mine who specializes in unique cakes and cupcakes make some custom Lego Star Wars cupcakes but it turned out that she would be out of town during our party weekend.  Instead I purchased a Star Wars sheet cake from Wal Mart and discovered that kids are happy as long as there is frosting involved.

On the way out each guest received a Star Wars cup with some stickers and an official certificate certifying that they had completed all necessary training to become a Jedi Knight.  Jedi Master Yoda signed each certificate so you know they're official and all.  As far as party favors, I have found that a cup can actually be a useful party favor in place of all of those throw-away toys that usually end up in the trash can anyway.

I had so much fun with this party that we're already planning next year's theme.  I'm not quite sure what the theme will be but shiver me timbers, I think pirates may be involved.

Superman at 3 years old as the world's cutest pirate.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cheap Mama Cleaning Products

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I gave up the cleaning lady and listed how I broke down my cleaning into daily chores to make it more manageable.  What I didn't write about were the products that I actually use to clean my house.  I'm going to attempt to do that here without putting us all to sleep.  I admit, blog posts on cleaning can be as dry as sawdust so I'll do my best to keep this short and sweet.

The bottom line is the products I use to clean my house now (as opposed to BEFORE when I had a cleaning lady) are not only CHEAPER but GREENER.  As One Cheap Mama, I have to admit I'm more impressed with things that are cheap than green but all of the items that I use because of their cost savings are also better for our families and the environment.  Holla.

(If you are like some of my friends and can't bear the thought of parting with your cleaning service, you can still cut your costs by purchasing these products and asking your cleaning person to use them in place of other more expensive, harsher products.  You'll save money and be using safer products in your home.  Again, holla.)

Let's get down to the nitty gritty, shall we?

If you don't yet know of the wondrous things that vinegar does, check out  Vinegar will do just about everything but put your kid through college.

I have a spray bottle of equal parts vinegar & water which I use in place of other cleaners to:
  • Clean kitchen countertops
  • Clean bathrooms sinks
  • Clean windows
  • I also use vinegar as a fabric softener.  It removes all of the detergent residue and is safe to use in HE washing machines.

Baking Soda
Baking soda is another one of those wonder products that has a million uses.  I like cleaning with baking soda because while it cleans like a machine, it is sudsless which makes it easier to wipe clean.
Here are just a few of the ways I use baking soda.
  • Sprinkle on my stainless steel sink and cooktop and wipe clean with wet sponge (won't scratch stainless!)
  • Sprinkle on tubs and showers and clean with a sponge
  • Sprinkle on carpet prior to vacuuming for a natural odor remover and refresher

Borax is another great product for cleaning and for use in the laundry room.  I use 20 Mule Team Borax which can be found in the laundry aisle.

In the laundry room, Borax can be used as a
  • laundry booster 
  • laundry stain remover 
  • and to soften hard water
As a cleaning product, Borax can be used to
  • clean toilet bowls
  • clean garbage disposals and drains
  • clean carpet & rug stains
  • as a dishwashing booster
There are recipes on the back of every Borax box for each of these uses.  I personally use Borax to clean my toilet bowls using the instructions listed on the box.  For the hard-to-clean streaks and stains in my toilet bowl I use the toilet stone.  Never heard of it?  It's that gray, rectangle-shaped stone in the picture above.  It can be found in the cleaning aisle of most stores.  This cleaning stone will remove any toilet bowl stains from hard water, etc without any harsh cleaning products.  It requires elbow grease and an up close view of your toilet bowl but believe me, it works!

The bottom line is that it doesn't require 20 products to keep your home clean and the products that are the safest are also the least expensive.

If any of you out there have other great cheap, green cleaning tips I'd love to hear from you!  Post a comment and share your knowledge!
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