Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How We Made a Steampunk Adventurer Nursery

 I absolutely love our bub's nursery. I know some people feel they spent too much time, energy, or money on their nursery once the baby arrives, but I love that we had this large and fun project to take on before he got here (and let's be honest, for quite a bit afterward). We picked a theme that sounded like it would be very loud or overstated, but it actually turned out pretty subtle.  I really loved the idea of a travel theme, and I showed some more antique looking nurseries to my husband, and it reminded him of steampunk designs. I love that it combines travel with something more fantastic and otherworldly, and it was a really fun theme to play with.

Our theme needed a few key touchpoints- Maps and globes, mechanical gears, Victorian elements, patchwork, and flying machines.  We chose a relatively simple color scheme- muted teal and gold, then all metallic colors- greys and bronzes.

Once we picked the basic ideas, we spent months looking in antique stores and flea markets, as well as regular baby stores, for details we liked, then transformed furniture we mostly already owned into the key pieces in the room . We looked everywhere for a globe we liked, bought grown up looking frames we can reuse, and turned our diaper cake into our favorite art.

Our regular style is a little bit retro and colorful. We want things to feel comfortable, and everything is a balance between my more bohemian, busy style and his clean, minimalist taste. This room is the only one we have ever done from start to finish at the same time, so it made it especially fun.

These are some of our favorite parts.

We received a few Authentic Models hot air balloons from our baby registry, and they hang like a chandelier in the center of the room from the skylight. These models are super pretty and basically tie everything together. They are just hung with fishing line from hooks.

The room has pretty low walls, so we knew we would have to bring the decor in other ways as well. We moved our old futon into the nursery and covered some spare pillows with map covers off of Etsy. We picked a mix of blues and neutrals to bring all the colors in. Also on the futon, we have a fox from his Uncle Thomas and Aunt Bry, the teddy bear we made two days before the Bub was born, and one of his Uncle's old tiggers. The rocking goldendoodle was a gift from the Bubba's Uncle Carlo, and it is basically the prettiest thing in the whole house. It fits in with the colors perfectly.

The art in the room makes a huge statement, but it didn't take up too much of our budget. We bought frames one at a time, and then bought prints off of Etsy, one map off of Minted, a one dollar map of our hometown from Debence Music Museum, and a 25 cent map page at the Fremont flea market. My favorite thing we did was lovingly cut the animals my amazing Aunt Rene made for my baby shower cake and frame them in front of leftover scrapbook paper in simple white frames. Thank you Cricut and thank you Rene, because those little critters totally make the room. The suitcase shelf was just from Modcloth. 

I moved all of my clothes into the Boy's wardrobe, and we took my old dresser and turned it into the Baby's changing table. We sprayed the black dresser a bronze color, and The Boy replaced the knobs with nozzles, to play into the steampunk mechanical feel. I think it turned out great, and when the theme changes, we will just change its look again.

We did buy two pieces of furniture- the bookshelves (bought first for their height since the room's proportion was weird) and a crib from Pottery Barn. We picked it for its low profile, because we are short and the room is short, and the wood matched the futon. I am not sure I would pick it again, but it works fine. On the other hand, the shelves have really grown on me, and I love that the bottom shelf is a toychest. The Bub already uses it.

We also bought vinyl copper-colored gear vinyls to use here and there in the room to highlight the theme and add a little interest. The walls in our house are so textured that this is the only one that lasted, but I think they could have added a lot in a different circumstance.

My absolute favorite part of the room is the mobile, lovingly made by The Bub's dad for him. He wanted a mobile of flying machines, but he couldn't find it, so we bought felt in the room's colors and he worked on them until they were perfect. It is so gorgeous from the little metal details to the big gear they hang on to the clouds covered in buttons. He probably made it over months while I made all the Christmas ornaments. If we can do it, you can do it. Learn a blanket stitch, make some testers, and take your time.

I love the goggles we bought in an antique store and the bears- one is from my Mom and the other was made by his Aunt Shelly. The Tinker Toys are a gift from his grandma from her trip antiquing.

Our advice for making your nursery:

- Get a big head start on things. Pick a theme you are excited about early. We had picked the theme way before we knew the gender, and I think we would have only changed a few things if the bub was a girl. It gives you time to play and to get a look out for deals. In the best case scenario, your shower might have the same theme, and that can help a lot with decorating.

- Don't pick a theme that is too constricting- You don't want what you choose to be so set that you can't play off it in fun ways or have something in the room that doesn't match without it being bizarre. Don't pick a color scheme that is all black and white- you will get colorful toys and blankets! Don't go super modernist/minimalist unless you have a good plan for clutter. It will be a room that works harder than most the others, so it can't live as a showroom.

-It's for you, but that is ok. Before you know your spawn, your life is about them, but in this sort of theoretical way where you can't do anything about it. Planning a room can be a fun way to speculate about who they will be or what you want your family to be. When they show up, they will mess with everything they can reach, and their favorite thing will be a fan or curtain or something totally banal.

-Make stuff and use stuff you already have. Having a nursery with a theme doesn't have to be expensive. Think about how to put things you already own to use in a new way. Also, think about how the things you buy could have life in your house beyond the nursery. A bunch of clown themed stuff won't translate into other spaces, but if you like modern and bright, maybe a bunch of clean white frames, or a biomorphic set of wall hangers, or a pillow case will. It doesn't all have to work that way, but it's nice if some of it does.

-Think about storage- the first year of baby's life is a constant transition from size to size and holder to holder. Nothing seems to last that long, so you need a place for objects to wait in the wings.

-Take on projects, but not too many- Projects can be fun and keep things interesting, but you don't want to be so ambitious you can't finish it all. We still have a cool steamer chest sitting in our basement waiting to be finished. The Bub has never complained, but it's sad to have spent the money (cheap, because it was a mess) and the time (way more of that) and never use it. Plus, it taunts The Boy.

-Think about Future Babies- Again, this is just about choosing what hits the theme, and what stays neutral. It's tempting to get bedding that is exactly on point, but something more neutral that can graduate to more babies might make more sense if that is your plan.

-Have Fun! This is true for all adult stuff you are "supposed" to do (except paying your bills and taxes and the REALLY not fun things). If it isn't interesting to you, just don't do it. Your baby will not care. Whatever seems fun, do. Otherwise, don't.

The Eco-Friendly, Made in America Wedding Registry- The Kitchen Cookware and Storage

Alright, here begins our huge (but fun) dive into the world of the wedding registry. It's a huge moment in your life as far as getting stuff is concerned- oftentimes, the biggest. There are always these massive lists of what you should be getting, and it can be overwhelming to navigate, much less to seek out options to make it fit the kind of home you want to have. But because you are making such a massive set of requests and purchases all at once, you have an amazing opportunity to be good stewards and start your marriage off on a positive foot.

Lots of couples will now forego the registry completely, or will ask for specific trips or experiences rather than more material goods. I definitely see the wisdom in that, and more power to you if that's your deal. But I love to gift, and I think there is something special about giving someone something they will use and that will help in their life. So if you want to do a registry, I say go for it.

When we got married, I honestly wasn't thinking about this much. I would choose the Made in America option over the imported, but if the decision wasn't right in front of my face, I probably wouldn't think of it much. As we move forward, I am blown away by how many good options there are out there, and I wish I had thought more about it then (because it isn't exactly eco-friendly to toss your breadmaker for a new one, even if the new one does seem way more ethical).

If you want to start off your new family with eco-friendly or Made in America tools and goodies, you can do it! And that's awesome! Here are my tips for choosing things that will have a positive impact on our country and our world.

As a side note, if you are not newly fancied, but just were thinking you need to replace your stockpot, this list is for you too. I will never replace our cookware with something made in China again, or buy non-recyclable food storage, and you don't have to either.

The 3 Steps to Making a Kickass Eco-friendly and Made in America Registry

1. Make Your Own List. The first secret to rocking a wedding registry is that you already know what you need. If you are reading this with genuine and applicable interest, we can assume you already function, at least nominally, as an adult. You know what you already have, what will need to be replaced, what you would use everyday, and what you will never in a blue moon touch (a fish poacher? Really?) . If you are like me, you mostly feel overwhelmed and intimidated by all these things (what is a popover pan? Why don't I know this?), but it may not be you are a fool who doesn't know what they need. If you don't think you need a sifter or a pizza stone, you are probably right.

I am going to point you to the many options you have, but the truth is you take a list online and then you cross off everything you already have between the two of you that still has plenty of years in it. Then you cross off everything you don't want or would never use (be honest, do you need a special phone holder for when you are reading off a recipe? Plenty of things will hold your phone, including your hand and the table). What's left is your actual starting point.

No one needs everything on this list. No one. The things you get are also the things you have to drag along with you, so better to not get too weighed down with stuff. Start with the basics you really need, and then throw in a handful of things that are fun. That's plenty. Honestly.

2.  Shop Consignment- My husband loves kitchen gadgets. Maybe more than he loves me. He could spend hours perusing at a kitchen store. They are all made in China. Mostly, also out of cheap non-recyclable plastic. Lately, we have noticed you can find some of those awesome gadgets at Goodwill, because someone else did not love it as much as they thought they would (this can be for things as simple as a lemon press- we aren't just talking Pasta Express here). There are a thousand already unused vases in the world, and about half are at a consignment store nearby. Maybe you will find a bunch, maybe none, but the more you can get off the list used, the fewer new things have to be made (this is especially important for anything on your list made of plastic). Also, try Buy Nothing! Your neighborhood might have some key things off your list already.

3. Buy Made in America, Recycled, or Recyclable- If it travels shorter distances, leaves less waste, or can be used by your great grandchildren, you are on to something. There are tons of fantastic options. I will point out our picks, but I also just want to drop as many options on you as possible with these posts, so you can pick what works for your family.

Alright, let's get to the good stuff. I should warn you that I am a terrible cook, just awful, and am generally relegated to sous chef and dishwasher roles. So this list is approved by the actual cook in our house, because again, I know nothing.

Things To Register For 

In this case, everything in the Buy New list could potentially be bought used, but I don't see too many of these things at consignment stores when I am there. Still, it is worth it to be on the lookout and just take it off your list if you can find it.

Baking Sheets (1 large, 1 small)- I prefer the flat ones, but get what makes you happy. Our Pick- USA Pan, based out of Pittsburgh, makes baking sheets in multiple styles and sizes, all in the US, all awesome. You can also register for a baking set like this one. On this set of baking sheets, you can get it for like 70% off. Williams Sonoma also sells 2 lines of bakeware that is made in the US (I think by USA Pan), including their Goldtouch cookie sheet and large sets like this one.

Cake Pans (1 Rectangle and 2 Round)- For a metal cake pan, I recommend USA Pan again (9 x13). They also sell 9" circular cake pans, which is the standard size. If you want a more complicated pan like a Bundt Pan or some sort of family tradition cake pan, I suggest Nordicware (just keep an eye out, because it isn't all Made in the USA). Some of them are so dorky, I have fallen in love. Other options are Allied Metal pans,

Casserole Dishes (1 large, 1 smaller)- I would have laughed this one off, because we aren't very casseroley people. But I love lasagna, and these are perfect lasagna dishes. Our Pick- Besides being made in the US with recyclable materials, Pyrex Easygrab dishes are also freaking genius enough to come with lids. A+ Pyrex is all made in the US as far as I can see, so you just can't go wrong. Anchor Hocking also has a large baking set that include casserole dishes.

Cast Iron Skillet- My dad makes Christmas scrapple (sp?) and Seafood Amazingness (TM) in his cast iron skillet, but we didn't get one for our wedding and are still married. If you are a manly cook who wants a nice sturdy skillet, Lodge makes a whole variety of sizes right here in the US. In one of the reviews, it says families fight over these like heirlooms when their loved ones die, so something for your children to look forward to? Pretty dark for an Amazon review (but might be why you can't find them in consignment). Finex is a small company based out of Portland Oregon that also sells Cast Iron Pans and Skillets; you can get them at Williams Sonoma.

Cooling Racks (3)- You usually don't need more than that, but it depends on the size. Bromwell sells some made in the USA.

Dutch Oven- A perfect thing to register for, because they are so great you probably want one, but so expensive you will have trouble talking yourself into buying it. Our pick- Le Creuset are made in France (it seems the of America ones are as well), and it will last you forever. Lodge (manufactured in Tennessee) makes a less pretty version as well.

Griddle/Stove top Grill- A lot of lists include them both, but you can get them combined! One more thing instead of 2.Or be honest with yourselves about what you will actually use. I will say, I am glad we have a double burner version, because it keeps things moving. We are hardcore pancake eaters in this house, but honestly, we would never use the other side. We grill outside. Lodge sells a griddle/grill combo that looks pretty awesome if you want that winter grilling. You can also get a double burner eco-friendly griddle from Ecolution.

Muffin Pans (1 or 2)- I make cupcakes more than the average bear, and we have gotten on fine with one cupcake pan. I kind of like it, because it gives me time to clean and make my frosting before the cakes are all done. Still, you can follow your heart on this one. USA Pan offers a muffin pan as well, because they are awesome. Sur la Table also has their own line of bakeware made in the US (and at least partially made by USA pans), which includes a 24 cupcake pan, which is genius if your oven can hold it, or you can buy a set that includes a lot of these things.

Nonstick Skillet (12") and Sauce Pan (2 quarts)-  Non-stick pans are a great example of how finding better solutions for the Earth is also better for the consumer. Ecolution sells nonstick pans with more eco-friendly surfaces (that are less likely to scratch off and poison you). They also claim to want to educate the public about how to reuse and recycle pans, so they are making Earth-friendly products. You can register for single pans or sets. Calphalon also makes a more traditional set of nonstick pans in Toledo Ohio. All Clad has them as well- we got the warning not to spend too much on nonstick pans because you will have to replace them, so I might invest in something that is trying to be Earth-friendly rather than picking something that you want to last the length of your marriage in this case.

Pie Pan- Some people prefer metal, some prefer glass. You are getting pie, what else could possibly matter? We have both, and honestly, they work about the same, though I may slightly prefer glass. We have the Pyrex glass pan, handed down from my mom. USA Pans also sells a simple metal version. You can even get the stone version from Rada Cutlery. Fiesta sells a ceramic version. If you are gifting and want to go big, I might throw in a silicon crust shield, to save tons of aluminum.

Sauce Pans (3-4 quarts), Skillet (12"), and Saute Pan (10")- Yay Pans! If you cook, I am sure you like them, or at least care about them more than me. USA Pan offers a number of great sets of pans, or you can register for each thing individually to fill in the blanks in your collection. All Clad has some sets so fancy that I feel like a schlub just looking at them, but you could try going big (you could very well be much fancier than I am- but is anyone fancy enough for the copper core set?) or register for just the ones you know you will use a lot. Or you can get the special Thomas Keller All Clad set at Williams Sonoma (who has this life?). Sur la Table sells Wolf Gourmet pans which are steeper in price but might be worth it for those pans you use the most (plus they are really pretty). Farberware also has a line of Earth Pans, which seems to be a great idea, but has some execution issues.

Stock Pot- I love when the stock pot comes out, because it always means soup in our house. USA Pan offers an 8 quart pot with glowing reviews and outspoken support for American workers. Wolf Gourmet has a well-loved stock pot too. Or you can get the All Clad Thomas Keller version, because you live in a movie or something (who knew there could be such a stock pot?).

Storage- You may not think of your leftover storage as worth your registry, but they serve as the perfect addition. Rather than getting some janky tupperware or plastic glad junk, think about getting something that can last your new family through the years. Our pick- Anchor Hocking sells multiple sets of storage, so you could pick what works best for you. Lifefactory also sells a set surrounded in silicon sleeves (we love their baby bottles) that would be perfect if these were also traveling with your lunch. Pyrex and Glasslock both also have glass sets. If you don't want as big a commitment, Preserve has a line of kitchen storage made of all recycled plastic in the US.

Things You Might Try to Get Used

Double Boiler- On the list of things we have often said "oh we should get this" but we have never actually needed enough to buy. I figure, if you can't think of what you would use it for... On the other hand, if you can't live without it, Nordic Ware has a nice, Made in America version. All Clad has one as well, though it is more of an investment, and the ceramic insert is made in China.

Grocery Bags- You might already have a solid collection of reusable bags, but if not, this can be the perfect opportunity to turn over a new leaf. Plus, registry shoppers are often looking for something little to finish off their gift. This could be it. These bags are made of recycled cotton. reUtility sells grocery bags out of 100% recycled plastics that are also recyclable (they look pretty big too). You could also register for reusable produce bag.

Loaf Pan- Eh, are you a bread baker? Then this one is probably a once in a blue moon tool. If you need one, I would track it down used before getting a new one. USA Pan does offer one though if you are interested.

Measuring Cups- You can find those great old school tupperware ones on sale on etsy and in lots of consignment and antique stores (the downside being what is in that plastic, but you can decide how much that matters to you. You can find all kinds of measuring cups and spoons on Etsy as well. If you want a straightforward set, our pick would be Preserve's set of dry measuring cups, made out of recycled plastic in the US (a steal at 7.85).  Pyrex also has a glass measuring cup for liquids that basically can't be beat. This Le Creuset collapsible set looks like bowls, but they are really measuring cups. Very cute. Reduce Melaboo has a set that are totally biodegradable and compostable. Architec has a set made of plastic-alternatives that are "natural" and recyclable. Nordic Ware has a set made in the US that look like miniature bundt pans, in case just having a normal-size bundt pan isn't enough.

from In a Glaze
You can buy beautiful or vintage measuring cups on Etsy. In a Glaze sells ceramic measuring cups in beautiful colors. I love them.  Blue Room Pottery (from St. Paul Minnesota) makes similar cups in a different slightly less cutesy sets of colors if the gradient is too much for one of you. These ceramic measuring cups from the Rustic Home has designs on it as well. These wood ones, made in Tennessee, are also really pretty.

You also have plenty of used options. This vintage set has the cups and spoons together for 20 bucks in stainless steel! Classey Glass sells them in Depression era glass. Also, these geese cups must have been popular, because you can find a bunch on Etsy.

Measuring Spoons- These sometimes come in sets with the cups. Our pick is Natural Home's Pistachio Green Moboo spoons, made of bamboo instead of plastic or wood (I also like their curvy design). Reduce Melaboo has a set of compostable measuring spoons (they are maybe not tough enough to last you too long- but maybe that's a good thing!). Architec also has a matching (and beautiful) set of their measuring spoons. MIU France makes their measuring cups in China, but supposedly make these spoons, which are quite pretty, in France. Believe what you will on that one, and if I find our more, I will tell you more.

from Carved Wooden Spoons
Etsy of course kills at this as well- I really love this metal set with birds on the ends (or this one with hearts and arrows), made by Beehive Handmade in Rhode Island. Crosby and Taylor in Oregon also makes pewter measuring spoons. Kitchen Carvings makes amazing two-ended measuring spoons that look like they are from a fairy tale. Carved Wooden Spoons makes a very pretty set of wood measuring spoons. In a Glaze sells the set I wish I had, and they are based out of Lewisburg Pennsylvania. They also have them in green and coral, to match the measuring cups (I mean, come on, cutest set ever). You can also get customized ceramic spoons from 7 Door Studio if you have something particular you want.

You can also get vintage spoons in so many styles and materials: Aluminum, Aluminum with a copper colorClassic Tupperware (in a traditionally ugly color), Stainless steel, Copper (these are gorgeous),

Mixing Bowls- When we first moved in together, we bought a Martha Stewart set of mixing nesting bowls. We loved them, because they matched our color scheme, but they haven't lasted 6 years. 2 of the 5 already broke, and we are using the glass hand me downs again. So having some used might actually be better! You have so many choices in mixing bowls, but we learned this is an area where function and durability might trump style (or at least Martha). Our pick now would be Pyrex Smart Essentials mixing bowls, because the glass will last and they come with lids (making them perfect for multiple uses. If you are less concerned with multi-function and more interested in having a wide variety of sizes, I would recommend this set from Anchor Hocking, which has 10 bowls from big mix bowl to tiny pinch bowl.

There are so many options here.  Zak! Designs makes tacky fun mixing bowls with 40% recycled materials. Natural Home makes Moboo bowls out of bamboo (though they seem small), as does One Hundred 80 Degrees. Preserve has nesting bowls made of 100% plastic (in a color set that is quite beautiful). Nordic Ware has a heavy duty plastic set, Made in the US in bright colors. Williams Sonoma also sells a set of glass prep bowls that come in two sizes (that I suspect are made by Anchor Hocking).

Roasting Pan- Some genius decided that everyone would use this one day a year, so even though 364 days it stands dormant, you can't really share yours. It's the Santa Clause of pans. We don't have one, and we have survived, but if you conquer birds, this may be a fun treat. Our pick would be the Granite Ware roaster which is Made in the USA out of porcelain and metal (they also have one without the lid). This roaster from All Clad is made in the US, but be careful, because there is also a Made in China roaster floating around. Calphalon also has a non-stick version made in America.

Springform Pan- These are particularly good for cheesecakes and listening to me shout profanities while I try to get them open. I kind of hate my springform pans, enough so that I donated one, but I have only ever used them for regular cake. It might be better for you, though you might try a consignment store so you can have mine (and good luck to you!). I am pretty sure my pans are these ones from Sur la Table, made in the US, and perfectly good if infuriating due to my own clumsiness. USA Pan makes theirs in the US (but they make so many other things that aren't stupid).   Nordic Ware's are made in Germany.

Steamer- Super fun to play with, but not necessary for yummy steamed veggies. I couldn't find one made in the US or with any redeeming qualities, but we did see one at Goodwill the last time we were there. Maybe start there?

Strainer- The best, most Earth-friendly colanders you can get are from Preserve, in a number of colors, but only one (pretty traditional) design. Natural Home makes colanders made of bio-materials and bamboo, which is great if you want to stay out of plastic completely, but still maintain a traditional design. For space saving and practical reasons, our favorite colander is over the sink and collapsible like this one, but you can't find anything like that recycled or Made in the USA. So I would just say keep an eye out for that kind of thing when you are consignment shopping.

Tea Kettle- Great if you drink tea, totally unnecessary if you don't, but this is the kind of object they have been making for a long time in essentially the same way. Look around and see if you can get a cool mod one for cheap at a consignment or antique store. If you don't find anything you like, there are options (many of them so pretty- why don't I drink tea again?), but watch out because companies like All Clad or Revere, which are mostly manufactured in the US, still make their kettle in China. The Alessi Michael Graves Kettle has an adorable Mod feel (designed in 1958), and it is still made in Italy. Kalita's kettle is made in Japan.

Things You Can Probably Wait On

Bundt Pan- Ok, I know I mentioned the Nordicware ones above, but unless you are baking nothing Bundt cakes (bwahaha, joke), you don't need this pan. Trust your feelings, you know it to be true.

Cookbook Holder- You can also use your hands for this? The counter? I get that the incline is helpful, but come on. What's worse than a first world problem? Lean it against the wall people. That being said, you can get all kinds of neat, pretty options on Etsy if you want something like that. It might be a great gift if you want to stray from the registry without landing in decorative plate territory.

Fish Poacher- I did not even know this existed until I read it on two separate registry lists. It might be one of those things you don't know you need until you need it, but until then, you can do without it. There are also no recyclable or Made in the USA options for this.

Fondue Pot- Really? What kind of fancy pants life are you signing up for? My mother in law had one, and we had fun with it that one time. Then it got passed off. These should really just live in transit between family members, because fondue is only fun once of twice before it becomes a pain. Just wait. Fate will bring a fondue pot into your family rotation, but it doesn't need to be through you. If you can't live without it, Le Creuset has one.

Paella Pan- You don't need this, but we do have one like this (from my dad), and we do love it. Basically only good for when we have company, but we are thinking we could also fill it with ice if we ever wanted to do oysters at home. So only for when we feel absolutely crazy fancy.

Pizza Pan- If you are going to buy pizza stuff, I suggest a stone or a paddle (info on those later on). Our pick would be this pizza stone made by the beloved, Pittsburgh-based USA Pan exclusively by Sur La Table. They also sell a baking steel, which looks like a hardcore cookie sheet. Our regular baking pan worked before we got the pizza stone, and now every pizza just lands there. Not a great investment to buy something special when a cookie sheet does the trick.

Silicon Mats- Silicon baking mats are great replacements for parchment paper, but that is only eco-friendly if you used parchment paper to begin with. I didn't see any that were explicit about where they were manufactured, and they generally looked about the same, but here is an example if this is an important option for you.

Sifter- When a recipe calls for sifting, I whisk it with a fork. That seems to work fine. Jacob Bromwell does sell a very pretty little sifter, so if you want one, I would direct you to this beauty.

Things That Could be Cool, Depending on the Couple

Countertop Compost Container- Crazy fun, right? Still, if this is something you would like to do, a prettier container that keeps bugs out and smells in can make composting convenient, easy, and a no brainer (it is!). Maybe not for everyone, but if you have been curious, I say take the leap. We use this one. You could also do an under the sink number like this guy, made of recycled plastic.

Cookie Cutters- One year, for Christmas, my Dad just bought me a big box of cookie cutters, and I love them, because I can imagine making all sorts of weird cookies with my kids, or writing things in their name with the letter cutters. It's a gift that was funny and odd, but also wonderful and full of future traditions and family. The American Cookie Cutter Company makes all sorts of great cutters, and you might not want to register one by one, but it is another great gift opportunity for a guest who wants to get you baking stuff. Not for everyone, but it could be a great gift for the right couple.

Pizza Stone- Does everyone need a pizza stone? Probably not. But we use ours more often than some of the things everybody says you "need." Made in America options are stones fron Old Stone Oven  and Rada Cutlery. A company called California Pizza Stones sells their wares on Amazon, makes all their pizza stones in the US, and come in a very wide variety of shapes and sizes (with mostly glowing reviews), so you could pick exactly what works for you (pretty tempting in my opinion).

Pizza Paddle- If your love of pizza doesn't stop there, you can also get a pizza paddle!  Our pick is J K Adams Pizza Peel, which is currently hanging in our kitchen as decoration (but if you look close, you can see how many times we've used it). Epicurean sells a paddle that is specifically from forests with managed chopping and growth. This one is also made in the US.

Serving Tray- You can get this all kinds of ways, but a cute "Breakfast in Bed" set might make for a fun wedding gift that includes something practical and something more sweet. Just a gift idea in case someone's registry is already tapped out. Walnut Hollow makes breakfast trays in the US.

Wok- Not everyone uses it, but if you will use it, you can register for one like Nordic Ware's, which is made in the US. All Clad also has a Made in the US version, and since part of the point is to "season" it, I imagine you could keep it a very long time. Calphalon also makes a non-stick wok for Williams Sonoma.

Well, did you survive it? Only like 13 parts left to go. But you have the information now, and you can see that there are price-comparable American-made and eco-friendly options that will last as long as your marriage (a long long time!). I hope this is helpful to you, and I will see you for The Kitchen, Part 2, next week!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Picture of the Week- 3 Years

Quote of the Week- Being All Things

"When you are a girl, you have to be everything. You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet, and you have to be sexy, and you have to be this and you have to be that and you have to be nice, and you have to- it's like, I can't be all of those things at once. I am a human being" -Nicki Minaj

Saturday, August 29, 2015

10 Things for this Week in 10 Words or less

Because, bed. Also, I didn't make it.

1. The Boy- Third Wedding Anniversary. Steak and Salmon. Super Handsome.
2. Fletcher's Mill Pepper Grinder- Not leather, no more plastic.

3. Chocolate Cake- Nom nom nom nom nom.
4. Positive Change- Smart Girls. Adorable idea. Doing this with kids.
5.My Family- Just the best. Never alone.
6. Better Sleep- Not good, but not epically bad.

7. Birthday Rug- Five months late. LL Bean Made in America. Amazingness.

8. Walk to End Alzheimer- Favorite family tradition. Excited for son.

9. Treehouse Illustrator Wooden Spoons- Clearly, we all need these.

10. Dateversary Oysters- Delicious boogers of love and the ocean.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Greening the Basics: 5 Simple Switches We Can All Make

In the last few weeks, I have started posting shopping lists that offer recycled, upcycled, biodegradable, and Made in America alternatives for commonly bought items. These probably don't apply to everyone, and most of them are things you only buy once in a blue moon.

Also, we can get the feeling like we are just trying to survive, so we will try to do better once we can. Don't let yourself give up that way! If you can buy the bad option, I want to show you that you can afford to make the better choice for the earth (and often yourself).

Every dollar we spend and every item we buy is a statement to companies about what we are willing to tolerate and what kind of world we want. This may seem overdramatic, but it's absolutely true, and the things we buy often send even stronger messages than what we buy that one time for a baby shower or wedding gift. If we want to make the world a better place than how we got it and be good stewards of the beautiful place God gave us, our regular choices are the first and best place to make those important little changes!

Some of the most important things anyone and everyone can buy a greener version of are the things we buy at our grocery store weekly- paper goods, trash bags, food, and water. Some of these have pretty easy (and surprisingly affordable when bought in bulk) options to make more Earth-friendly choices that send a clear message to companies- use more post-consumer recycled product! Stop making so much plastic packaging! Here is a list of a few things you can trade out:

1. Paper Towels- We all use them to clean up spills or our kitchen after cooking, but if everyone who read this switched to post-consumer paper, we could save THOUSANDS of trees. And this question will come up a lot, but do you really think killing a tree is worth wiping up that spill? Also, this is one where the reviews remain very positive for the recycled versions.

To Compare: A 6 Pack of Bounty Paper Towels at our Safeway is 11.59 (just under 2 dollars a roll)

Our Pick: Seventh Generation Unbleached Paper Towels- 4 packs of 6 rolls= 24 rolls- 41.76 (1.74 a roll- CHEAPER than buying rolls in smaller numbers at the grocery store).

Seventh Generation White Recycled Paper Towels- 24 rolls- 37.96 (1.58 per roll)

Marcal Small Steps Recycled Paper- Pack of 12 rolls- 28.99 (2.41 a roll)

Boardwalk Recycled Paper Towels (these are the kind you get at restaurants and come on ginormous 800 ft rolls)- 6 rolls- is 35.20 or 5.86 for every 800 foot roll.

And if you want to go big: The biggest step you can take is to have washclothes and use them for most of your clean up. If you cut down on how many paper towels you use, they will last you longer and save more trees.

Bamboo Paper Towels- They also have lots of paper towel substitutes available if you want a more dramatic change. This bamboo towel set is supposed to last 6 months.

Unpaper towels- You can get washclothes that even roll up like paper towels and snap together. Or you can get big packs like these ones, which can help your kitchen.

from Clear Sky Home
2. Napkins- Same story! We use them daily to wipe the schmutz off our face, but is this (admittedly noble) mission worth the life of a tree? We stopped using napkins and paper towels when feeding our bub, because the job was just epically large. But once we switched, and saw it made no difference in our lives to throw the napkins in with our other laundry, it made me question how to approach napkins differently.

To Compare: Vanity Fair Napkins are about 5 dollars for a 300 count pack (and straight to the Super PACs no less). Bounty is about 8 dollars for 400. So about 2 cents a piece on either.

Our Pick- Again we went with Seventh Generation (I love them, because they also mostly make their products in America). Their 2 packs of 500 (a thousand napkins) made 90% + post-consumer materials is 15.57 (or about 3 cents a napkin). I think if we buy a pack this big, we can basically be set for life. I also see a single pack of 500 for 7.45 which is slightly cheaper, but you have to pay for shipping. They also have white ones for 5.39 for 250 napkins.

Natural Value Napkins (100% recycled/ 80% post-consumer)- 200 Count napkins- 6.37 (3 cents a napkin.

Green Forest generally has great reviews for their products. They have a bulk set of 3000 napkins (so a lifetime supply or great for businesses, schools, etc.) for 45.48 (about 2 cents a napkin).

Marcal 100% Recycled Napkins- 400 for 10.69 (about 3 cents a napkin). They are also made in the US and have great reviews. Why by mainstream brands? They also have a 2400 set for 32.86, which is a steal and basically sets you up for life if you have the room.

And if you want to go big: Then cloth napkins are the way to go. In our house, we use them exclusively for our baby, who gets as much on his face as in his mouth (but he's so damn happy, who can complain?), and we are going to try to use them ourselves for nights when it is just us. If you just switch cloth out for simple nights at home and buy recycled for the rest of the time, that makes a HUGE impact! Also, if you get a couple of sets, you could do fun seasonal ones to add to holiday decor.

You can get simple napkins (mostly made in India) from Aunt Martha's on Amazon. Or you can get amazing, American-made napkins off Etsy, with the added bonus that basically no matter what you pick, I will be jealous of you. My three favorite Etsy stores for cloth napkins are:

Oh Little Rabbit- If anyone wants to get me something for Christmas, basically any of these screen printed napkin sets would make my day. I especially love the flying pigs!

JAQStudio- There are so many adorable patterns here, and I think they would add a little bit of style to any spread on top of avoiding the waste of paper towels. Totally adorable.

Clear Sky Home- This store also boasts tons of cool patterns, and these ones feel a little more whimsical and grown-up? Strange combination, but true. Plus, they organize the designs by color, so you can find what best matches your style.

3. Tissues- Now, I don't know about you, but I don't find boogers all that precious. Again, this is a perfect place to replace brand new paper products with something recycled. And in recent years, companies using recycled products have stepped up their game, which is great for when you have a hardcore cold, not just the sniffles.

To Compare: I hate to turn against Kleenex, because I have dreams of designing their boxes, but come on! They can start putting that magic nose lotion in some post-consumer paper! The prices vary quite a bit (at Target I saw a 4 pack of boxes for 6 dollars), but they mostly average around this set- 4 boxes of 50 tissues for 11.49 (about 5 cents a tissue! Pretty steep).

Our Pick: Green Forest Facial Tissues- 24 boxes of 175 (about 1 cent a tissue). Not only is this way cheaper, they also have great reviews for being soft (my favorite quote "I am not a major hippy, but if I could do something good for the environment, why not?" Preach it

Marcal Fluff Out Facial Tissue- 30 100 count boxes-24.99 (not great reviews, but really cost effective if you have a less sensitive nose.

Seventh Generation- Just to compare, their single box of 175 tissues is 2.84. In case you don't have the room to buy in bulk, there are still eco-friendly options for you!

Green2 Tree Free Facial Tissues- 30 boxes of 90 tissues is 48.71 (So 1.62 a box and a little under 2 cents a tissue). This isn't recycled paper, it doesn't use tree product at all. It is made in the US, owned by women, and a percentage of the proceeds go to replanting trees. So pretty awesome.

Kimberly Clark Surpass Recycled Tissues- Kimberly Clark manufactures Kleenex and most of the other brands you use, but this product is 100% post-consumer product. 36 boxes of 110 tissues is 59.24.

Natural Value- 100% recycled/ 80% post-consumer product. Made in the US. 30 tissue boxes with 100 tissues- 45.90 (so about 2 cents a tissue).

And if you want to go big: I don't know anyone who uses a hanky, but you could be that person. And get a monocle? Most of the ones on Etsy are embroidered keepsakes, but I think you could get plain ones easily enough. If you want to be green, lazy, and just a little bit gross, you could also use your sleeve (I kid!).

from youtube.com

4. Toilet Paper- Ok, this issue is slightly more complex than the others, so you might read up a little before you make your choice as a family. Recycled paper has small amounts of BPA (one of the nastiest chemicals that comes in plastics- plastics like pop bottles, food wrappers, etc- because of magazine paper which gets that glossy finish from plastic) which scientists aren't too crazy about. They have been pushing back on BPA in things people eat out of for quite a while, because it can mess up your digestive system. Now, they are watching out for BPA at the entrance of your digestive system, but they are worried that too much recycled toliet paper might be putting a little BPA near the exit as well (I might also point out that normal roll you use is covered in bleach and other chemicals, so it's not exactly all natural either). So you might think twice, or only use recycled part of the time.  It's something to think about for sure, but for us, we are going for it for now.

To Compare: The Boy hates the Charmin bears. Hates them. Worst, most condescending, and weirdest ads of all time. So let's start there. Charmin Ultra Strong comes in a pack of 9 for 16.95, so that is about 1.88 a roll.

Our Pick: We use Seventh Generation, and we bought 60 rolls for about 68 dollars (about 1.14 a roll). It serves its purpose and we generally like it. It also comes in all recyclable packaging

Marcal Small Steps- 40 rolls, 1000 sheets each, is 50.66, so about 1.20 a roll.

Green 2 Tree Free- If you decide the BPA risk is too much for you, this is your best option. This company is pretty awesome, but the product is a little more fancy. It is made out of bamboo and sugar cane bi-products, both of which are quick-growing and sustainable, and you don't have to worry about BPA at all. If you buy in bulk (96 rolls at 114 dollars, so basically all you need forever, right?), you can get it for 1.16 a roll, which is even cheaper than the other options. Also has great reviews and comes in recyclable, plastic-free packaging. This will probably be our next pick many many months from now when the Seventh Generation toilet paper runs out.

And if you want to go big: They have a thing out there called the Family cloth, which is basically cloth wipes rather than paper. I actually think the title makes it sound grosser, and for us, this lands past our limit. We are going with recycled toliet paper for now, but respect to you and yours if you figure out how to make the family cloth work. Or just do the Tree Free toilet paper!

5. Paper Plates- Paper plates have so many uses, and they can make life so much easier.  No one can deny, a big meal with no dishes is basically the bomb. If you are going on a picnic, or camping, you don't necessarily want to take your dish set with you. That being said, they are another one time use paper product that sucks down trees and then gets thrown away immediately. We can do better and our picnics can do better!

To Compare: Dixie plates are made in the USA, but there are fresh tree product coated in plastic- not great! They are also super cheap- 220 plates cost 17.99 (or about 7 cents a plate). Still, let's see how we can do.

Our Pick: When I have bought paper plates, it honestly has mostly been for art projects, so we have a strange assortment of Chinet bowls and plates from that. Chinet's eco option is Made in the USA, made out of recycled materials, and is fully compostable. So like 1000 times better for the Earth than those Dixie or Vanity Fair plates. A Value Pack of 32 costs about 5 dollars, so it is about 15 cents a plate.

Earth's Natural- Compostable plates made out of sugar cane instead of trees (but they are made in China). Great option if you want to go tree-free! 9.24 for 50, so about 18 cents a plate.

Stalkmarket- If you are looking for a lot of paper plates, Stalkmarket has a similar product- 420 plates for about 11 cents a plate. Totally compostable, able to handle hot, cold, and the microwave. It looks like you can even get it open box!

And if you want to go big: Preserve is one of my new favorite brands, because it makes light and easy picnic-ware that is awesomely eco-friendly. The plates (and cups and silverware) are made of 100% post consumer plastic and are 100% recyclable. And if you decide you are done with them, you can mail them back to the company, and they will recycle them for you. The plates are 8 for 8.76, so about a dollar a plate, but you would only have to use them a couple of times a summer before  you recouped the cost. This won't solve every paper plate problem, but the fewer one time uses you have, the better for our world.

I hope I have shown you that switching out some of these common items is totally doable, affordable, and worth it! I know when I started this, it felt overwhelming, but my goal is to share my research with you, so you can start treating recycled and recyclable materials as real options! I want to leave the world a better place than when I got here, and I know you do too, and seemingly little decisions like these, when made by lots of us, can make a huge difference! Join us in cutting down the cutting down of trees and we can make this world a better, healthier place.