Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Thrift Store Review

If you're not in the greater Grand Rapids area, you'll probably want to skip this post, as I'll be reviewing 3 local thrift stores.

First of all, if you think thrift stores are disgusting, you really need to reevaluate that opinion.  It's true that some thrift stores are gross, and that some thrift stores that are normally nice have gross days.  But there are plenty of thrift stores that are great, and there are even ones that are so nice you could forget you're at a thrift store.  Almost my entire wardrobe is made up of pieces from Salvation Army, Goodwill, or garage sales.  (Personal note: I always purchase undergarments and socks brand new, never at a thrift store.)  So, if you've had a bad experience in the past, try again, because if you look in the right places, you can find some gems. (Not literal gems.  Well, maybe at the jewelry counter, if you sift through all the costume jewelry.)

Secondly, I compare all prices to the Salvation Army and the Goodwill near where my parents live, since those are the thrift stores I've been to the most.  The following statements don't apply to all Salvation Army stores or Goodwill stores nation- or worldwide, but they are the scale I use.

Salvation Army typically has the better prices, but you have to look a little harder through their stuff.  They price based on type of item, brand, and quality.  Examples: most sweaters are $2.99 or $3.99 based on quality, but if there's a brand new Vera Wang sweater with the tags still on, they'll charge closer to $6.99 or $7.99 for it.  T-shirts are $0.99.  Jeans range from $3.99 to $5.99 depending on brand and quality.

Goodwill has higher prices, but most of their stuff is nicer.  They have one set price for each type of item, only raising the price if it's a super popular brand (and then they'll put it in their 'boutique' section).  Examples: Sweaters are $4.99, T-shirts are $2.49, and jeans are $4.99.  It's much simpler, I suppose, but also more expensive.

Salvation Army has a different color tag for each week.  Every week, a new tag color will be marked down to 50% off.  The Saturday of that week, all remaining items of that color are $0.69 each.  You can find some really great deals this way!  ($0.69 jeans!!)

Goodwill has none of which I am aware.

As I mentioned above, Salvation Army has some fantastic items, but you're going to have to sort through a lot of junk to get there.

Goodwill has fewer items, but they seem to be of higher quality.  They also have really nice housewares (i.e. bowls, mugs, lamps, etc.).  If I'm looking for clothes, I'll start at Salvation Army.  If I'm looking for housewares, I'll start at Goodwill.  Even if the housewares cost more, they're usually in better condition than at Salvation Army.

Salvation Army sorts clothes first into men's and women's, of course.  From there, the clothes are split into categories like tank tops, short-sleeve pullovers, long-sleeve pullovers, etc.  Finally, they're sorted by color.  White, peach, yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, blue, green, brown, gray, black.  (Can you tell I used to work there?)  First all the plain items in that color order, then all the patterned items in that color order. A lot of people get upset by this because they only want to look at their size, but I actually like it.  When I go shopping with my mom and sister, it's actually perfect, because we have three different shirt sizes among us, so if we find something cute, it'll probably fit one of us.  The only place I wish they would sort by size is the jeans.

Goodwill also has men's and women's, and then different categories, but from there they are split by size.  This is helpful if you are looking for jeans, or aren't looking for something specifically by color.

Thirdly, now that I have written a novel on thrift store shopping, I shall lengthen it even further to share these three new-to-us thrift stores!

I found them using this website:

You just type in your ZIP code and it lists thrift stores in the area, complete with reviews!  We tried three down near Woodland Mall.

World Mission Thrift (AKA ValueLand)
This store smells of thrift store so strongly that even Chloe started to feel sneezy, and she's not the one with allergies.  However, they had fantastic prices (comparable to Salvation Army) and a great selection.  We didn't spend a lot of time looking at clothes, but we did notice that the pants were hung on an angle, so that you could easily read the tags.  That would save so much time when jeans shopping!  Also, their books were arranged by genre, meaning you  might actually be able to find something!

Purchases: thyme (very random, but we were about to run out. 1.5 oz bottle for $1.29), tape measure (brand new - $0.99), 10 forks and butter knives ($1.00 total), pretty blue flowered scarf ($0.99), and a nice canvas purse ($2.99).

The staff were very nice and gave us a flyer with their sales.  Every day, they have two price tag colors that are on sale, on Mondays one color tag of clothing is $1, and they have a sale on the last Tuesday of the month where almost everything is 50% off.

We'll definitely be going back there!

Bethany's Thrift Store
This store was so clean, it didn't feel like a thrift store at all.  The quality of the items was like Plato's Closet, but the prices were in between our Salvation Army and Goodwill scales.  They also sell new furniture, which is probably why they have a reputation for being too expensive to be a thrift store, but if you're not looking for furniture, their prices are fantastic!  Clothes were sorted by size and everything was super nice!

We didn't purchase anything, but we'll definitely consider going back in the future.

New 2 You Shoppe
This store also smelled very strongly of thrift store, perhaps even more so than ValueLand.  They had some sort of sale going on and the prices were kind of confusing, but they seemed to be around Goodwill prices. Clothes were sorted by size and they had a decent selection, but it is a smaller store.  We also noticed that their books are not only sorted by genre, but also by author's last name!  Wow!

We didn't purchase anything here, or stay very long.  We were a little thrift-stored out, and the smell was getting to us, so this is not a very fair review of the store.

Well, I hope someone got something out of this lecture.  :)

Love and Allergies,
Leah Joy

Friday, March 14, 2014

Meijer Gardens: Butterflies Are Blooming

First of all, Happy Pi Day!!!  We'll be celebrating with some apple pie tonight!

This past Saturday, my sister and I went to the Butterflies are Blooming exhibit at the Meijer Gardens.  Apparently, half of the state of Michigan had the same idea.  We couldn't take a step in any direction without violating someone's personal space.  We did end up getting a corner of a bench and sat there for a while before deciding to come back during the week when it'll be less busy.  (One of the many perks of Chloe's membership!)  I was able to take some pictures, many of them through lens fog since it was 85 degrees in the conservatory!

These first two are not of butterflies, but they're so pretty!

These next two pictures are of the same kind of butterfly (technically a moth, I believe).  They're so big that they're actually kind of scary!

I hope to be able to share more pictures later!

Love and Pie,
Leah Joy

Thursday, March 13, 2014

101 Things Update: March 13

This past weekend, my parents took my brother to a basketball tournament, so my sister Chloe came to stay with me.  We decided to tackle some projects from my 101 Things in 2014 list, and ended up accomplishing 5 of them!  We didn't take great pictures, because I was pretty tired from oral surgery still, and we decided to focus more on hanging out than taking great pictures.

First up, we tackled the two homemade soda recipes:

25. Lemon-Lime Soda Syrup

and  Number 55: Italian sodas with homemade syrup

First we made a mess:

We used a 2L bottle of sparkling water for both of these recipes:

(We also ate TimBits!)

We made a pomegranate syrup for the Italian sodas, but it wasn't a very syrupy syrup.  And it took a lot of syrup to make it taste good.  We'll probably try again in the summer with strawberries.

Next up was Number 57: Try a new thrift store.  We actually tried 3, and I'll share more about them in another post.  It's a rather lengthy review, and if you're not local, you probably don't care at all.

Number 59 was to make homemade English muffins.  The particular recipe I have pinned to my board is apparently super secret since you need special permission to access that blog.  Instead, we used this recipe:

To be honest, we didn't follow the recipe exactly.  Our butter and milk were not at room temperature, which is probably why after an hour of sitting in a warm place, the dough had not risen at all.  We turned the oven to warm for a few minutes and then let the dough sit in there for a while, which helped, but Caleb did mention that while these were tasty, they have a very different texture from store-bought English muffins.  I'd like to try again properly and see if that changes the texture.

68. Go to the Butterflies are Blooming exhibit at the Frederik Meijer Gardens.

We happened to go on the 2nd Saturday after this event had started, so it was crazy busy.  I took some more pictures that I'll share later this week, but we're thinking of going again during the week when it's not so busy.  Here's one picture I took through some lens fog. :)

Love and Flour,
Leah Joy

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Living Room Curtains

As with my other curtain projects, there were so many questions to be answered before I embarked on this project for our living room.  Our living room has two windows: one large extra-wide picture window and a standard double-hung window.  I wanted the same thing on both windows, which added an extra challenge.

Curtains, blinds, roller shades, or Roman shades?  Well, okay, blinds are automatically out because I hate them.  (I especially hate dusting them.) Operating roller shades is not my spiritual gift, and Roman shades are either super expensive if you buy them or super complicated if you make them.  So curtains were the solution.

Outside mount or inside mount?  Well, with a super wide window, inside mount would look pretty stupid, plus I wanted to let as much light through as possible, so I didn't need anything blocking the light.

Long curtains or short curtains?  I've mentioned before that long curtains just wouldn't work anywhere in my house.  However, I was actually considering them here because I just couldn't see how short curtains would work.  Until I saw this picture:

A big window over a couch - and short curtains look good!  Huzzah!  I mean, our window is only partially over a couch, but still.

After that, it was easy to decide that we wanted a plain fabric rather than something patterned, and then sage green was a simple choice.  (Honestly, we have bed sheets, towels, and a whole room in that color; that was the easy choice.)  We also decided that we wanted a thermal lining rather than a blackout lining.  We don't ever need this room to be that dark, but the big windows probably let out a lot of heat.

Okay, so sage green, thermal-lined, 6' panels (yes, that is considered short for curtains).  I knew I wanted two panels for the small window.  The big window could have been covered by three panels, but I didn't want to have two panels on one side and only one on the other, so four panels was the solution for that window.

So I did my super-Dutch-girl thing and researched the cost of making six sage-green thermal-lined curtains vs purchasing them, and making them saved us about $20 overall.  Many hours of work, a very sore back, and almost $100 in fabric later...Ta-da!

The tops are tabbed, but I also made a rod-pocket in case I ever change my mind.  I made the tabs out of extra fabric to make it look uniform.  This was a lot of extra work - not hard stuff, just tedious stuff - but worth it because it looks so nice.

I did 1" seams on the side because these are big solid panels and a big solid hem matched well.

This is what the top looks like from the front:

At the bottom, I folded in the edge of the hem so that it wouldn't stick out weirdly:

We got both curtain rods from Lowe's; they cost us about $50 all together.  It's really hard to get a good picture of curtains in natural light,  but I did my best.

And closed:

The smaller window:

Please ignore the mess.  I did just have oral surgery.  (It's an excuse for everything.)

Love and Thread,
Leah Joy

P.S. Funny story.  When I was purchasing thread for these curtains I had no idea how much to get.  I was thinking, "No way will one spool be enough, but I don't think two or three will be either."  I ended up getting four spools of thread.  I didn't even finish one of them. So, if you need sage green thread, I can hook you up. :)

Friday, March 7, 2014

101 Things Update: March 7

Despite having teeth pulled this week, I still managed to finish a few things from my 101 Things list.  Oh wait, nope, I've been sitting around whining.  But these are some things I accomplished before all that.

13. Make curtains for the living room.

This was my inspiration picture:

I'll share more pictures next week, but here's a quick preview:

100. Knit something with the basketweave stitch.

Have you ever tried basketweave knitting?  Personally, I didn't like it and I thought it wasn't even that good looking.  So I made a lime green rectangle and then stopped because I was pretty sick of this stitch.  This rectangle was sitting on the coffee table when my friend Cara came over and she asked about it.  After telling her this story, she recommended that I make a little pouch.  Many people have made me pouches whilst they were learning to knit or crochet, so Cara recommended that I return the favor.  So I did.

Except I made it really nice and lined it:

I had to hand sew the lining, so I hope my sister appreciates it. :)

101. Read The Hunger Games.

Wow, um, so a great book, but so depressing!  To those of you who have read the books and seen the movies: would you recommend reading all the books before watching any of the movies OR could I watch the movie for The Hunger Games now before reading the other books?

Love and Scrambled Eggs,
Leah Joy

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cupcake Chronicles: My First Cake!

"Leah, where have you been all week?  We've missed you terribly!" said no one.  Well, I'll tell you anyway.  On Monday, I had my wisdom teeth out - all two of them.  I spent Monday on narcotics, but I'm so loopy normally, that I didn't really appear any loopier.  I spent Tuesday whining, because if you have to have surgery, you might as well get to whine, too.  I spent much of Wednesday at work, and the rest of it, well, whining.  Today, I'm trying to get my act together because even I can get tired of whining.

Today's post doesn't really fit in the Cupcake Chronicles, but it is a big step in my goal to learn to pipe frosting: my first cake!

(To clarify, this is not the first cake I have ever eaten, made, or even frosted.  This is the first cake involving me, frosting, and a piping bag.)

My mom's birthday was two weekends ago, but we celebrated last weekend.  My sister made the cake, and we both made the frosting, and then she provided moral support while I frosted the cake.  The perfect chocolate cake recipe is Hershey's Deep Dark Chocolate Cake, which they have apparently renamed the "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake (quotes included).  It's perfectly moist, very decadent, and easy.  I made it once for a friend who also happens to be a gourmet chef and it said it was the best chocolate cake he'd ever had.  So there.

The frosting is just your "average" buttercream with cocoa powder added in.  There is nothing average about it.  It is delicious and decadent and perfect.

This technique comes from I Am Baker and I used my new Wilton #1M tip.  She recommends having 8 cups of frosting (a recipe using 4 sticks of butter), but I only made 4 cups (using 2 sticks of butter).  As you can see, I didn't have enough to keep making roses on the top, but guess what - it's plenty.  It was the perfect amount.  Everyone around the table (who have very active good Dutch sweet teeth [sweet teeth? sweet tooths?]) declared that any more frosting would have actually been obnoxious and disgusting.  So there you have it.  

And it's mostly pretty!  (You can't see on the back where two of the roses flopped down off the cake.)

Love and Cake,
Leah Joy