Posts Tagged ‘Creative Solutions’

February 17, 2015

In the Box Thinking

I love this photo. It reminds me of something out of national geographic. In concept at least.

Meeting the needs of an active, rambunctious toddler and young baby simultaneously is still proving to be a bit challenging for me, especially when confined to our apartment. There aren’t that many activities that are both mentally stimulating and relatively quiet that hold Nicole’s interest for long. Then there’s the mess factor. I’d really like to avoid losing any of my deposit, but with my arms full, I can’t always get to the mess right away.

A recent discovery I made is that underpads do a great job at protecting the carpet from paint to play doh. I’d even surmise they work better than laying out junk mail, as junk mail is so thin and light it’s easily disturbed leaving exposed carpet. I swear exposed carpet is a finger paint magnet. I recently purchased these disposable underpads for newborn photography and they work great for art time as well. Incidentally, the number one complaint about the underpads I linked to, that they’re super thin, makes them ideal for newborn photography. They’re so thin they don’t create any bulges in the fabric, unlike the previous brand I used. Since newborn bladders are so tiny, they’re still plenty absorbent. If your cheap like me, you can also reuse them for multiple art projects.

But underpads still aren’t fool proof. Play doh can roll off of them, getting stuck in the fibers of the carpet. Crayons and chalk have a tendency to roll too, although they are less prone to mess.

Last week we had a subscribe and save Amazon delivery. We have quite a few subscriptions, so the deliveries tend to be brought in giant boxes. Nicole is always climbing on them, and in them. It just now occurred to us that large cardboard boxes are excellent creative mess containers. I put her in the box with a set of crayons, markers, and anything else I’d rather keep out of the carpet and let her decorate to her hearts content.

The above photo was from her first time with finger paints in the box. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she was in the box, and thus a member of the class of paintable objects. She seemed surprised I didn’t object to her painting her legs purple (which says something about how much of a control freak I’ve been over messes so far.) At the moment the photo was snapped, it was just occurring to her that she could intentionally paint her face as well. I adore her expression.

October 13, 2014

Lighting Solutions

Nicki had her first nightmare recently. At least we assumed that’s what it was. She woke up in the middle of the night and, while not distressed, insisted we not leave her side. Domingo (who is the best dad ever in my ever so slightly biased opinion) very graciously stayed with her until she fell asleep again. The next night she cried hysterically whenever we tried to leave the room. An hour after she was supposed to be asleep, I offered to leave the door open and the bathroom light on. That finally did it.

Leaving the door open with the bathroom light on just wasn’t a viable long term option. Not when you’re in a small apartment. That means no laundry, no dishes, no anything that causes noises after the little one goes to sleep. It was time to get a proper night light, and stat!

We ended up selecting Philip’s HUE Living Colors Minnie & Mickey Mouse. What I liked about HUE:

  • It’s a LED, which means it doesn’t burn hot. If Nicki decides to play with it in the middle of the night I don’t worry that she’ll burn herself.
  • It sits on a desk. A night light that plugs directly into an outlet might be too tempting for a toddler whose no longer contained in a crib to play with.
  • She’s already infatuated with HUE. And probably more important, she’s experienced with HUE. She’s used to requesting colors and us being able to change them immediately. She loves it, and we thought she’d love to have one of her own, even if it didn’t work out as a night light.

Alas, even with rush shipping we were still at least one night time away from using the HUE mickey mouse light. For a stop gap I sent Domingo to Target to pick up a tap light. (Seriously, best dad ever.) Tap lights are battery powered LEDs, so they also have the benefit of being cool and unlikely to encourage playing with outlets. You tap them to turn them on, hence the name. Since Tap lights are meant to be more lighting solutions for areas where plugging in a lamp is infesable, Domingo really wasn’t sure which ones would function well as night lights. He ended up getting one of each kind target had, figuring we’d find use for them.

And did we ever! You know how I keep complaining about the lack of light by the washer and dryer?

Problem Solved!

I am so annoyed at myself that I didn’t think of this sooner. A $5 tap light solved the problem I’ve been having for over a year.

We also put one by the flashlights and by the batteries. Where I grew up we’d lose power at least once a year. If it wasn’t thunderstorms it was snow storms. We’ve had enough power outages to know the time when you’re most likely to notice your flash light needs new batteries is right after you lose power and need your flash light. Having a tap light near your flashlights/batteries adds one extra layer of redundancy.

Alas, both tap lights and HUE ended up being too bright for a night light as is. But they are low powered LEDs. That means I can restrict the light without fear of what ever they’re confined in getting too hot as to be a fire hazard. My choice? An empty diaper box.

I know, I know. I’m cheap. Next time I have an order to make on Amazon, I’ll get a fabric box.

The light stays mostly confined to the box, and isn’t so over overpoweringly bright as to keep Nicki up. She loves the new night light. When I plugged it in the first time I got an enthusiastic “Thank you, Mommy!” It seems to be working. So far, she hasn’t seemed afraid to go to bed.

Our biggest clutter concern right now are the toys. I’ve been pretty ruthless about purging Domingo and my belongings we no longer use/need, but Nicoles’? Not so much. It also doesn’t help that we, like all parents, like to spoil our child. I think most of what we own these days are toys! We needed to get these painful tripping hazards off the floor, and stat!

Stuffed Toy Organizer


A pop up laundry basket is an awesome storage device for stuffed animals. It takes up less space than those traditional stuffed animal bags, at about a forth the cost, making it perfect for small apartments.

You can still use the bag of stuffed animals as a seat. Nicki can attest to that.

Puzzle Bag


Once you lose a puzzle piece, the puzzle is effectively worthless. No kid is going to want to play with a puzzle for which they first have to hunt down all the pieces. A puzzle shelf wouldn’t cut it, as we have different brands of puzzles and no shelf would easily hold them all. We also didn’t want to limit the number of puzzles we own to what fits on a shelf, since puzzles are great learning toys.

It turns out mesh laundry bags for delicates are a near perfect fit, perhaps erring on the side of being too big. You can easily see through them so you know which puzzle you’re getting out of the box. Bonus? They’re only about $1.50 a pop.

August 18, 2014

Battery Storage Box

battery storage box
Battery Storage Box

I’ve been in love with this idea since I saw it on pinterest: A box with removable compartment dividers to store all your batteries. I had previously looked into buying battery boxes off of amazon or the container store, but they were all fixed sizes boxes. If I was running low on C batteries, that space would be wasted. We also had some non standard batteries for toys & camera equipment that I wanted to accommodate.

Every website I saw that described this particular image referred to the box as a “tackle box”. The box they used may have been a tackle box, but I spent enough time in JoAnn’s and Micheal’s to know a standard craft box would suffice. For the kinds of batteries we have, we needed something roughly 2.5 inches tall (About the size of a standing D battery 2.5 inches). I settled on the Creative Options brand, “deep utility box“. Regularly $8.99 on sale for $5.39 at Micheal’s. Online prices for the box are rather ridiculous. I recommend visiting your local craft stores and seeing what they have. If you don’t have a local craft store, you might have luck at a office supply store, Target or Walmart. Just make sure what ever box you do get is tall enough for your batteries, or at least has wide enough compartments for them to lie flat.

battery storage box

This particular box has three rows, the first row (closest to the latches) cannot be compartmentalized. I’m using that space to house the extra dividers and odd shaped batteries.

I had thought we had a ton of AA batteries. A while back when we had a Costco membership (6? 7? years ago) we bought one of those mega packs. Turns out we’re down to our last seven! I thought we also had AAA batteries. It wasn’t until I was putting together the box that I had a vague recollection of maybe using the last ones on a toy. Now I know what I need to stock up on so hopefully we won’t be caught off guard again!

battery storage box
Nicole investigating the box

Another big win? It’s defacto child proof. Or at least more baby proofed than the previous method of leaving batteries in the packaging. When I was taking the photos of the box she came up to investigate. She couldn’t open the box she grew bored with it and ignored it.

August 3, 2014

DIY Bath Toy Organizer

DIY Bath Toy Organizer
DIY Bath Toy Organizer

I thought I was really clever with this one. That is, until I checked pinterest this afternoon and noticed many others had come up with the same idea I had. Oh well. At least I can rest assured I’m in good company.

We had two issues when it came to bath time: (1) too many toys, and (2) a safety beam that’s just begging to be a concussion instrument.

When Nicki was young she had a bunch of bath squirters. We could fit most of them into the stacking buckets her aunt bought her. Recently, we also bought her bath letters set since she can’t get enough of the ABCs. Suddenly we had too many bath toys to store even remotely neatly. We’re in a two bathroom apartment, and Nicki’s bathtub is the one that’s shared whenever grandparents stay over. We needed a quick way to remove the toys so the shower was usable for adults.

The other concern was the safety bar. Nicki is generally good about sitting in the tub, but the bar is a little too inviting, and she occasionally likes to investigate it. It’s also at the wrong height so sometimes when she stands up to signal she’s ready for out she comes pretty close to clonking her head on it. We needed some sort of padding to keep her away from the bar.

That’s when I got the idea to attach plastic buckets to the bar to act as a buffer. Now if Nicki stands up, she’ll bump into the far-less-likely-to-cause-a-concussion bucket long before she bumps into the bar, and we have a place to store all those toys. We needed very deep buckets to both hold all the toys, and to hang mostly even since the bar’s a good 1.25″ from the wall.

The deeper the bucket (side ‘A‘ of the triangle) the shallower the angle to the wall (θ)

We found these at Target for $5.99 a piece. They’re not exactly the most fetching baskets, but they’re plastic so they won’t rust and have holes so they’ll drain water. We attached them with left over shower curtain hooks.

DIY Bath Toy Organizer Buckets
The Buckets

From pinterest it seems that dollar tree buckets are much more popular. They’re a bit shallower than what we used, but if you put a tension shower curtain rod close to the wall, would work great and be a bit cheaper. I suspect when we move we’ll go this route. At least I hope we don’t have another safety bar in our kids’ bathroom.

Nicki had a blast taking all the toys out at bath time. She was so enamored with the baskets, she even put the toys away when it was time to get out!

Addendum: Looks like I am not as clever as I thought I was. Nicki loves her basket, but now she wants to stand in the tub to inspect all the toys! We ended up buying a shower curtain rod after all.

Second Addendum: The shower curtain rod is gone. Just 3 months after we started using it I noticed it was beginning to rust on the inside. I’m not normally a super crunchy, no chemicals type, but rust is pretty high up their on the bad list. We’re back to using the safety bar. Nicki stands occasionally, but the tub at least has a no slip liner and we’re working with her to stay seated.

June 22, 2014

A Place for Every Thing

It feels like we’re unpacking/organizing at the rate of one box per day. At this rate it’ll be eleventy billion (slight exaggeration) years until we finish. I am determined to finish organizing everything this time. No more useless junk!

The biggest accomplishment of the weekend was organizing the tool box. We had a tool box filled to the brim, plus a small tin of tools Domingo brought from his apartment. We sorted everything, kept the best of anything we had duplicates of, and pitched anything that we couldn’t identify or was too warn to work well. Did you know we had a wrench? We didn’t! That’s one item off our Black Friday buy list. We also had 3 micro screw driver sets. Oops. We did correctly surmise that we are lacking a set of good, full size screw drivers. By the time we were finished with the tool box, everything we were keeping fit nicely into it, and we could actually close it without force for the first time since we bought it. Bonus: the most useful stuff is in the top try.

Organizing makes me happy. Yes, I’m weird.

Other areas we tackled (or at least have a game plan to tackle):

Nicole’s ‘Artwork.’ We’ve gotten a lot of stuff from daycare that includes hand prints and foot prints, and I want to save those as best as possible. Unfortunately they’re often bigger than standard 8 x 10 pages, and too big to fit in folders. I’m thinking about getting one a large art portfolios. It’s kind of over kill (and thus pricey), but it should protect those prints. It’ll also stand up flat, so I can store it in a closet. I also figure it will be able to hold a lot, so we should get many years of use out of it before needing another.

My sister (the artist in the family) recommended Itoya Original Art Profolios.

Nicole’s hair bows. If you had told me I would be the kind of mom with a collection of hair bows for my little girl, I probably would have burst out laughing. Hair bows on babies is not my thing. What I wasn’t counting on was a kid with so much hair! She goes through phases of what she tolerates, and hair accessories are apparently a popular gift idea when a little girl has a lot of hair. As a result we have quite the collection. The problem is they’re small, and they have a tendency to find there way behind furniture.

hair ties
Bows and ties and clips, on my!
It never fails: unpack/organize anything and the toddler wants to play with it.

For these I used a bead organizer. I used to be fairly into beading, and bought a bunch of these on sale back in the day. It was nice to be able to put one to good use!

What I have no idea what to do with:

My jewelry: Over the years my taste in jewelry has evolved somewhat. I used to be really into things like silver jewelry club and the $20 side of brands like peora where you could snag silver jewelry for next to nothing. Lately I’ve been more into Diamonique solitaries and the simpler Swarovski pendants. They’re inexpensive stones in delicate settings. The delicate settings helps to make the jewelry look more expensive than it actually is (in my opinion at least.) The problem is most of the chains are too delicate for a shoe box, yet I do not have the space for a jewelry box.

June 14, 2012

More Time To Prepare

I guess I will have more time to do maternity photos and set up Zippy’s nursery after all. Our midwife was still reluctant to guess when Baby was going to make her appearance, but doesn’t think Zippy will be early. In fact, our next appointment is in two weeks, on her due date!

I realized I never update about the crib. There were more cosmetic defects to the crib than we originally noticed, but I’m trying not to let that bother me. (It’s hard, I’m a perfectionist.) It looks really nice overall, and is sturdy. It’s safe and that’s the most important thing. It took us five hours – spread out over the weekend – to get it together. I just didn’t have much energy, and moving around to get to all the screws wore me out. Putting together a crib at over 37 weeks pregnant was probably not the smartest idea I’ve ever had!

After we finished the assembly, I decided we needed to buy outlet covers before Zippy arrives. Sounds crazy, I know, but the crib is right near the back wall and the mattress will literally be 2 inches for a 6 plug outlet, even at the highest setting! Not good. While Zippy isn’t going to have the manual dexterity to roll over and stick her little hand through the bars yet, I don’t want to wake up one morning and learn she’s discovered a new trick. Baby could learn to roll over by four months, and flailing arms and fingers could reach the outlet. Since we don’t have the mattress yet, I have easy access to the outlet anyway. I’m also thinking about it now, whereas in six months I could forget the outlet’s there. I decided to just cover it and easy my mind.

See how close it is?! Crazy! I think the previous owner had the outlet installed so high (and with so many plugs) so the room could be a media center of some sort. There’s also a cable and Ethernet port near by, and a bookshelf/DVD shelf installed in the closet. Right now we have a lamp plugged into the outlet, which we’ll move, so we can finish covering all the plugs.

By the way, need a place to store extra outlet covers? Try a travel soap case!

What we didn’t end up doing last weekend was purchasing was the crib mattress. I need to check my coupons more often, because my 20% off coupon isn’t valid until tomorrow! Given the price of mattresses, that’s a pretty substantial savings. So now it’s on the agenda for this weekend. Apparently we still have lots of time.

I consider myself pretty handy, but we’re not always the fastest when it comes to home repairs. I have a list of things I’d like to tweak around the house, but finding the time to get around to them is always hard. We had two leaks (that we know about) that we’ve been avoiding for over a year: the master bathroom sink, and the master bathroom toilet. I know what you’re thinking, that’s so bad for the environment. Actually, the leaks were both very slow. Our water bill shows our usage compared to households of similar size and we use significantly less water, leaks and all. So I never sweated it.

A few days ago I noticed the small leak in the toilet had turned into a constant flow. Not good! It was time to finally fix the problem. Trouble was we couldn’t figure out the location of the leak. Everything seemed fine. The tank filled, the water in the bowl looked undisturbed, there were no puddles. The most likely suspect was the flapper, but there were none of the typical signs of flapper leaks. No air bubbles rising up from the flapper, or water dripping down into the bowl. If I couldn’t hear the water running, I wouldn’t believe the leak existed. Since we couldn’t figure out what the problem was, we were left with no other choice but to turn shut the water off and call a plumber. Or so we thought.

That’s when my dad suggested food coloring. A couple drops in the tank and we could see where the water was flowing. It certainly looked like the dye was pooling around the flapper. That’s when I noticed the green dye wasn’t running down the sides of the bowel, but coming out the siphon jet! Yes, the toilet was leaking at the bottom of the bowl! No air was being displaced, hence no air bubbles. No water was running down the sides of the bowl, so no water displacement in the bowl. What a sneaky flapper leak.

Domingo went to the hardware store and picked up a $5 flapper. He installed it, but now we had a new problem – the chain was too long for the toilet to flush. No problem, I got out my jewelry tools and shortened about 8 links.

So there you have it, jeweler’s pliers, food coloring and a $5 flapper saved us a call to a plumber.

I usually go over our budget every couple of months to see how we’re doing, but I’ve been particularly attentive to it lately. Adding a new person to the family will bring a set of costs, especially since we’ll need day care even though I’m not ‘employed’.

The easiest thing to cut is the entertainment section of the budget. It may be tempting to cut it down to zero, but I don’t think that works very well. Going on a crash budget is a lot like going on a crash diet. Sure you can do it for short periods of time, but could you live without any sweets for the rest of your life? If you’re like most people, eventually you fall of the wagon and binge. And bingeing can be far worse for you than little indulgences here and there. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do for free (or near free) to satisfy your entertainment sweet tooth.

There is a semi recent survey on experiences making us happier than possessions. The happiness of experiences comes in preparing for and planning the experience, the actual event, and reminiscing afterwards. Happiness in terms of possessions is usually tied to the act acquiring Over time possessions tend to lose their appeal. What was once shinny and new loses a little bit of its luster when seen every day. So rather than splurge on a shopping trip, save up for a fun activity. It’s all about creating memories. Planning a trip to the zoo, museum, or hiking can be relatively inexpensive, and when it’s with someone you love, all the better! Make sure to bring your student ID for possible entry discounts.

You can extend the fun of activities by keep mementos, photographs or scrap booking. I love going back over old photos. I often make flash slide shows out of our vacations and enjoy watching them over and over. (Flash builder is free for students). Scrap booking can be expensive if you’re into all the page embellishments, but you can also use graphic software to organize photo layouts on a page and print sans add-ons. (Edited 5/14 to add: I recently discovered Windows distributes a free program called Movie Maker, which you can use to turn your photos into slide show movies! It’s much easier than flash if you’re not computer savvy, and best of all – free!)

We also started picking up redbox movies on the weekend. For just a dollar (+tax) we have an inexpensive date night at home, whereas our local movie theater is $12.50 for a non matinee, non 3-D adult ticket. There are a few movies that I was happy to watch at $1.30 and would have been disappointed had I spent $25 on. Still, I don’t think redbox will completely replace going to the movie theaters for us – some movies you just want to experience on the big screen in surround sound – but it is a nice alternative.

Once the baby comes, we might switch to Amazon Instant Video or Netflix Streaming, so we have the convenience of not driving to our local red box location. The drawback to both these services, however, is we don’t have a device capable of playing the movies on the TV, so there would be a startup cost in addition to the higher per movie cost. We also still have our old fashioned rear projection TV, and the more we watch at home the more we’ll feel the pressure to upgrade it.

September 6, 2011

Photography on the Go

For anyone who enjoys photography on the go, the “go bag” is essential.

Okay, so this bag isn’t actually designed for photography. It’s a small knit purse. Don’t let that fool you. By bringing this bag with me I have a spare lens easily at my finger tips. The purse fits my largest lens (55-200mm kit lens), if but just barely, a spare battery, memory card and a shower cap. It’s small enough that I can bring it into most museums and sporting events without anyone fusing over it and light enough that it’s not bothersome for long hikes.

The “go bag” also folds up small, and fits inside my full-sized camera bag. Now when we go on travel, I bring my regular camera bag with all my favorite lenses. I then pick what lenses I want for the day, pack up my “go bag” and leave the camera bag locked up in the hotel room safe.

Oh sure, it would be nice to have all my lenses with me at all time. Large camera bags can be heavy. And be honest, how often do you need more than a few lenses, anyway? I mean really need them.

I got this idea while we were honeymooning in Greece. We were visiting Olympia during a tour of the Peloponnese. The historical site had recently had some vandalism, so they were no longer allowing large purses or camera bags. Like most DSLR users, my camera bag is large. Our tour guide warned us that I would not be able to bring it in to the stadium, and there was a short supply of lockers. They had a designated space for oversized bags when the lockers were full, but it was out in the sun and exposed. I was worried about my equipment.

The night before we were to go to Olympia, Domingo and I went looking for a smaller bag that could hold a minimalist set of camera equipment and wouldn’t upset security. The “go bag” worked out so perfectly, I used it for the rest of our tour. The rest, as they say, is history.

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