An Uncomplicated Life Blog: March 2020

Monday, March 30, 2020

DIY Outdoor Furniture Cleaner

Spring is here and it's time to be outside! Clean off your deck or patio furniture with this easy cleaner.

Spring in the South means one thing and one thing only: POLLEN. So. Much. Pollen. Everything gets covered in a thick layer of greenish yellowish residue that starts in mid-March and lasts for about a month. It's so thick that you have to clean off your outdoor furniture everyday. For this post's photos, we had literally just cleaned off our table the day before to eat dinner outside. By 1pm the next day, when I took these shots, it was already disgusting! The good news is, not only is this an easy cleaner to make, it's multipurpose. It's also an excellent glass/window cleaner too. Odds are good you might even have these things in your pantry, so let's go make our outdoor furniture cleaner.

The table had just been cleaned not but 12 hours earlier, and was already that dirty. Oh, pollen season.

Quick note, as of the publishing date of this post, the world is under a pandemic and some of these supplies are hard to come by. I linked some that are currently available, but that may change. I never thought I'd see a run on white vinegar, but here we are. I recommend keeping white vinegar and rubbing alcohol on hand at all times, because pandemic or not, they always come in handy! That said, these items should be cheap. If they're not, you're being price gouged.

DIY Outdoor Furniture Cleaner
- Spray bottle (for this recipe, a 16oz bottle)
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol (replace this with Borax if your outdoor furniture is wood! Never use rubbing alcohol on wood as it will ruin the finish)
- 15-20 drops lemon essential oil
- hot water

Fill the bottle with the vinegar, alcohol and essential oil. Top off with hot water. Rubbing alcohol kills fungus or mildew that may be growing. The vinegar cleans the surface of your furniture, along with the lemon essential oil (plus it adds a lovely scent!)

12 hours of pollen on my glass table

Simple spray and wipe with this cleaner

If your furniture has grooves like my Adirondack chairs, get a scrub brush. Spray down with the mixture and lightly brush away the dirt and grime. It comes off SO easily! For flat surfaces, like my glass table, all you need is some paper towels. Spray down and wipe off - again, all the pollen and dirt will come off easily! This cleaner (with the rubbing alcohol) is also an EXCELLENT window cleaner. We have floor to ceiling windows, which are great for light but constantly covered in little hand prints, mouth marks, and general kid goobers. Takes everything off easily, doesn't leave streak marks and you can feel good about letting your kid lick the window again without icky residue from conventional cleaners like Windex. Also, why does Windex smell like that?! I can't stand that smell.

Before cleaning

Close up of the grooves and dirt pre-cleaning

After spraying with cleaner and lightly scrubbing with a brush. I did all 4 chairs in less than 10 minutes.

Pro tip:
Want to clean outdoor pillows or cushions? If they're light colored, sub out the rubbing alcohol for hydrogen peroxide. That will clean, lighten and brighten your fabric! If your cushions are darker, sub out the rubbing alcohol with Borax and use a plastic scrub brush to clean it, then hose it down. If your cushion covers are machine washable, wash per directions but make sure to put them back on your cushions while damp, so the covers don't shrink.

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It's crazy how easy it was to clean off all my patio furniture with this cleaner! And nope - it doesn't leave anything smelling like vinegar. In fact, I cleaned the inside of my windows with it too and all that was left behind was the lemon scent of the essential oil. I kid you not, this stuff cleans better than Windex! It takes pollen, dirt, hand prints and whatever else gunk my kids leave when they touch things, and you don't have to wipe it a hundred times to get the streaks out. This DIY outdoor furniture cleaner is great for glass, plastic and windows but be sure to adjust the recipe if your patio set is wood. Happy cleaning!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Currently, March Edition

Here's what I'm thinking, feeling, seeing, enjoying and hating... Currently

I always seem to post these posts when "life gets in the way" and I don't have time to take photos for more "blogger type" of content. Here we are, in quarantine, with four kids home and out of school indefinitely. It's been raining nearly the whole time, because why not be super miserable when you're miserable, right?! Ughhhh. So here we are, in the strangest time in my adult life - maybe even whole life (9/11 was pretty weird too) locked up in our house. With everyone home, it's really hard to get good photos, it's hard for my husband to make phone calls and conduct webinars, it's hard for the twins to nap, it's just all hard right now. In reality, it's not that hard, it's all a first world problem because we have shelter and food and even entertainment. But as an extrovert, I'm telling you THIS IS HARD. Lots of quick change. Here's what's been going on around here, currently:

Reading at night, because I'm sick of screen time/the news/social media. I've got book lists here and here if you want to add them to your next Amazon order. Cooking dinner at home every night has also been fun. I really do love to cook. Plus, we're actually saving money not eating out as much! My kid's newfound love for bug hunting. We got them head lights and magnify glasses and they've had a blast looking for bugs inside and outside. They found a small spider in my kitchen as I was cooking dinner, so I stepped on it and they said, "No! He was just looking for his mommy!" Oops.

My kids' homeschool science education is at least on point.

The news. Just like everyone else. For the first couple of days, I was attached to social media and realized that was a massive mistake. I've since knocked that off for my own mental health (pandemic or not, social media is NOT a good place to spend the majority of your time!) and now just read the news once a day and watch the evening news. I hope to even cut that down! I'm at the point of information over load. 

At home workouts. I've never been a fan of them - I LOVE group fitness classes, feeding off the energy of others and listening to loud music. But since that can't happen right now, I'm watching online fitness videos from my bedroom. Lots of my friends are fitness or yoga teachers and have taken to doing online stuff, so it's fun to support them and still get my workouts in. In fact, I've worked out every day this week when I normally only workout 4x a week.

If you're looking for amazing FREE at home workout vids, my personal friend and Pilates studio owner is putting 5, 10 and 20 minute versions of her studio work outs, which are some of my fave workouts! Click here to check it out.

Running my second Instagram account, Uncomplicatedlifeblogoils! It's taking off so fast, and the community there is full of amazing people. I've never much enjoyed IG - it always felt so fake to me. People following to get followed, commenting to drive up their own engagement... But this account is full of people who are interested in learning, building community and supporting each other as we grow our healthiest lives together. It's really been a joy. If you're interested in learning about more natural practices in your life, go follow! You're welcome there with us, even if you're a newbie.

I do a series on MLM oil comparisons, do themed posts like "skincare" and "ways to de-stress" and all sorts of other stuff - even non-oily stuff. Come follow along!

Pinterest. Overnight, they marked my website as spam and I went from my normal page views per day to a few hundred to it's lowest point - 78. A whole 78 page views a day! I died. I knew immediately it was Pinterest traffic but I thought they had changed the algorithm on me and I hadn't adapted fast enough. Then a whole week later (embarrassingly enough, yes it took me a whole week to realize this) I found out my whole site was blocked as spam on Pinterest. This can happen by accident when Pinterest cleans out spam accounts - regularly, "good" accounts get cleared with them. Like mine did. And it completely ruined my page views AND my affiliate sales AND my ad sales for the month. Fun times, the life of a blogger.

To their credit, as soon as I realized the issue and got a hold of the right people, they had it repaired in a matter of hours. While it was stressful, the fix was relatively easy and they were quite fast to respond to my demands. So, it's a love/hate relationship, and I'm happy to report it's back on the love side.

When this will all end. I need a manicure and a pedicure BADLY. First world problems for sure, but good God can I just be let out of my house for a nail appointment?! Please?

Hope you all hang in there during this INSANE time! I hope to be able to continue to produce content and be a source of normalcy. This week, I just couldn't muster it with all the abrupt change. Next week, I'm hoping to do and be better. Time will tell.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Old Fashioned Salisbury Steaks

When you're in the mood for a good old fashioned meal that's hearty and filling, make these old fashioned Salisbury steaks that are quick, affordable and tasty!

I was cruising Pinterest, looking for some recipes to make for the week because I was sick of all the things I normally make. I have about 15 that are on regular rotation, with a few that I add in every once in a while - some that are excellent and some that are total fails. My mom and stepdad were coming into town, and they're the classic "meat and potatoes" Baby Boomers. Now, they'll eat quinoa for lunch but supper (yes, it's supper, not dinner, a word they've passed on to me and just about every other Midwesterner. In fact, it was recently that I learned that not *everyone* calls it supper) it needs to be a rich, hearty meal. I happened to have a ton of organic, grass fed beef in my freezer, so I searched ground beef recipes, and came across one for Salisbury steaks. Now, I hand't had these since I was in grade school, eating school lunch back in the day when it was prepared fresh by old lunch ladies (not the prepared crap they serve kids now)! I remember liking it. So I decided to take the base of that recipe and make my own. They turned out splendidly! My parents raved about them, in fact, and my husband and stepdad ate more than one. Here's my take on the classic; a good old fashioned Salisbury steak.

There are two things that make this recipe, and I mean MAKE this recipe: high quality, organic and grass fed beef and the mushroom gravy. It's really easy to get amazing beef in Texas, but if you don't have local beef, be sure to invest in a high quality brand. Grass fed tastes best no matter where you live. And after that, get fresh mushrooms and a good quality, organic (hopefully grass fed) beef broth to make your mushroom gravy. Do those two things and this recipe will win over even the snobbiest foodie, and is fit to serve your next dinner party, even though it's easy enough for a weeknight meal.

Old Fashioned Salisbury Steaks
- 2 lbs high quality ground beef 
- 1/2 red bell pepper, diced into very small pieces
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 2 eggs
- 2/3 cup plain bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Mushroom gravy
- 1 small package baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
- 1 small package white button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 32oz container beef stock
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley for garnish

You'll brown the steaks first in a large, high rimmed skillet, then make the gravy and then add the steaks back in to finish cooking.

In a large bowl, add all the ingredients for the Salisbury steaks and combine with your hands. If the mixture is super wet and sticky, add more breadcrumbs until the mixture is formable but not wet enough to stick to your hands. Form into oblong, 1 inch thick patties - about 6-8oz each. Heat enough oil to cover the pan over medium high heat, and add the steaks. Brown on each side, about 2-3 minutes and remove from pan.

In the same pan you cooked the steaks (do not clean or wipe out!) add the butter and oil. Brown the mushrooms over high heat. Reduce the heat after they're browned and add the and flour. Stir constantly, cooking over medium high heat for about 3 minutes to fully cook the flour and get the "raw flour" taste out. Slowly add the beef stock, whisking constantly. Return the heat to high to bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and add the onion powder and Worcestershire sauce. Return the steaks to the pan with the gravy and cook on low for another 20 minutes, making sure the center of the steaks are fully cooked (it is, after all, ground meat - you don't want it raw!)

Once the pan has been bubbling and hot for 20 minutes or so, you're ready to eat! I like to serve these with fresh steamed green beans (if I was really going old school, I'd get canned but fresh is so so so much better than canned!) and a loaf of warm, crunch bread to soak up some of that delicious gravy. A flavorful roasted or simple mashed potato would also work. Enjoy the meal that brings you back to your childhood!

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Monday, March 9, 2020

Why Affordable Fashion Is Costly

Forever 21, Amazon, H&M and other retailers all boast "trendy" fashion at extremely low prices. But what's the real cost of low-cost fashion?

Cheap fashion is all over the place. Deals are linked on blogger's Instagram Stories, in their blog posts and Amazon sends out email blasts on their latest deals. It's completely reasonable to never spend more than $15 on a sweater or $12 on jeans; you can get "Lululemon dupe" leggings for $10 online or at a brick and mortar fashion house. Seems like a great deal, right? Yay for saving money and looking great! Except... it's not. I'm going to take a (likely) unpopular deep dive into why affordable fashion is actually quite costly - it comes at the cost of human labor (both internationally where the garment is made and in terms of US employment) and is taxing on our environment. Yes friends, "affordable" fashion is actually insanely costly, and not at all a good deal for anyone.

I totally get wanting to buy a good deal. I get wanting to not spend a ton on clothes, especially kids clothes that they'll only get a few wears in before they outgrow it. But the truth is, while it might be a temporary good deal for YOU, there's a ripple effect of implications over buying that cheap piece that has serious negative consequences for everyone ELSE.

Let's start with the international labor used to make these incredibly cheap clothes. We all know that if you pay a living wage - even in the country of origin's currency/standard of living cost adjusted - you can't make and sell clothes for $10. The fabric plus the labor would cut into your profit margin so intensely that you'd go out of business. That's why clothes are made overseas. So that they can pay sub-standard wages to people who don't have employment options. If you're buying cheap fashion, you're contributing to this vicious cycle of low wages, and most likely, poor employment conditions. Most factories aren't climate controlled. Other countries aren't governed by US employment laws so there may or may not be breaks, even to use the restroom. Think about working a mandatory 12 hour shift in a stifling room that's 95 degrees, just to put meal on your table, and only able to use the bathroom once during your shift! When you buy cheap fashion constructed overseas, you're supporting that.

The flip side of this is the American side. Let's say you bought a shirt off Amazon. You got it for a whopping $5! It's so trendy and you'll wear it all season. That's great. But outside of the international labor conditions you're supporting, think about Amazon employees. Not the corporate ones, the warehouse ones. The ones who are indeed paid a living wage (thank God) but who have to walk MILES each day and meet order fulfillment numbers. There's a documentary on how hard Amazon warehouse employees have to work. Essentially, they can't sit down or take breaks unless they RUN their entire shift to cover all the ground of their order fulfillments. They can either use their break time to make up orders they're behind on or eat. They don't dare take bathroom breaks or they'll get get behind. In order to meet Amazon's nearly immediate shipping standard (I know here in Dallas, where there is a warehouse, I can order something in the morning and have it by the evening!) they've got to hustle for their entire shift. For a whole $12 or so an hour. 

The sad news is, when you buy ANYTHING off Amazon, you're supporting this. Now, I buy things off Amazon. I love how they have everything and it's free and fast delivery. As a mom to four kids age 5 and under, I struggle with how to rectify this. I love how they have everything so I don't need to go to multiple stores searching for it, getting four kids in and out of car seats, into carts, and so on. I love how I can search something, find it and with one swipe of my finger it's at my door step same or next day. I do like how Amazon pays a living wage to it's employees. But I don't like the working conditions of warehouse staff or the profit margins I'm supporting for Bezos. So, I greatly limit what I order off Amazon. That's the best solution I've come up with.

I also realize I've posted cheap Amazon fashion on here before. That was before I knew better. I now know better, and won't be buying $5 tank tops from them again.

I posted about this shirt last summer - it was $3.77! I wore it all summer long, and will again this summer. But I won't be buying cheap fashion from Amazon again

There it was in action! Hey, I can call myself out just as well as I can call out anyone else.

Finally, the environmental impact of "affordable fashion" is pretty devastating. We all know the quality of these items are sub-par. There's no way those $10 leggings are going to hold up like Lululemon. I have a pair of Lulu leggings that I've worn for workouts for 12 years, and they're still going strong! Those $10 pair will probably only last a year. Then they'll get a hole in them, or they'll lose their shape or a seam will fray. Because of that, they won't even be donateable. You'll throw them in the trash, and they'll end up in a landfill. After just a few wears.

Not only does cheap fashion clog up landfills, you have to think about what it took to get that garment to the US (or Canada, Europe, etc) for you to purchase. It likely went on a boat that burned fossil fuel to cross the Pacific. Perhaps leaked oil on it's way. Or maybe it was flown on a massive freight plane, burning jet fuel. Then it was shipped on a semi-truck across the US to your state. From there, a delivery service put it on another truck to drive it to your home. After all is said and done, all the fuel burned to deliver a pair of $10 leggings to you contributed to major greenhouse gasses, all of which increase the temperature of the air and oceans, and lead to more extreme weather patterns that cause massive storms, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, and damaging winds - not to mention, the melting of the ice caps that are creating rising sea levels, abnormal algae growth that's damaging native species and on and on! The environmental impact of affordable fashion, to me, is the most damaging part.

I realize this post comes off as a bit (a lot bit?) elitist because not everyone has the funds for high-quality clothing. Frankly, if you're in the economic position to rely solely on affordable fashion to outfit yourself and your family, I don't think this post applies to you. Odds are good you're wearing those items for longer than a year, and just dealing with the lower quality, mending the seams and ignoring any small holes that appear because hey, you're doing the best you can. I get that. I've been in that spot before. Rather, this post is geared towards the people who can afford high quality items, and certainly buy those too, but simply love to consume a LOT of clothes. They have a walk in closet (or more) full of things, and talk about doing closet purges often, and love to shop shop shop and buy buy buy. The hyper consumers. The ones who have clothes in their closet that still have tags on, because they've never been worn.

We live in a capitalist society that offers us choices. I think that's great, overall! But when you're in a position of power to CHOOSE where and what you buy, make sure you're making good choices. Affordable fashion is costly. It's costly to those who actually make your clothes, it's costly to employees to deliver your clothes, and it's costly to the environment. If you're in the position to freely choose whom you buy from, I challenge you to MAKE BETTER CHOICES, and avoid "affordable fashion." It's just too costly to everyone else. And not everyone has a choice.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Musings About The Future

My family is on the precipice of a big decision. Here's what we're contemplating and some of my thoughts, fears and hopes about it.

We've reached it. Hit that milestone. It's time. We have an urban, 2700 square foot four bedroom, 2 and a half bathroom home and we're *starting* to think about our move. This home would have been entirely sufficient had we only had three kids... But we had surprise twins. None of our family lives in-state, so we need a guest room for visitors. I work from home. My husband offices from home, but is usually out meeting clients. All that to say, we NEED more space, especially as these four boys grow. We're just starting the planning process of what we'll need in a new home... Except there's a whole hot mess of issues associated with it! This is gonna be a "bare it all" post about where we live, how we live, what I want, what I want for my kids and the issues we face. If you're down for some frankness and want to give me your two cents, please read on for my musings about the future, and please - give me some direction!

My "office" - currently a small corner of the play/rec room

One of the more bizarre things about Dallas is that it reminds me a lot of Paris (probably the first time you've ever heard that, huh?!): the city is where the charm is. The suburbs are mostly new construction, no mature trees and lots of strip malls and restaurant chains. But the city is full of massive live oak trees, unique restaurants and best of all, you don't have to drive far to get anywhere. The other thing about Dallas that mimics Paris is that the city itself is massively, massively more expensive than the suburbs. And not just the actual cost of housing, the property tax burden in Dallas is insane. Our property taxes are about the same dollar amount a month as our actual mortgage.

Now that I've set the scene a bit, here's the dilemma I'm weighing: do we stay in the city or do we move out to the suburbs? In the city, we'll max out our budget and not get everything on our "wish list" for a new home. There will also only be about 3-10 listings to choose from, whenever we decide to bite the bullet and list our house. In comparison, if we moved to the suburbs we'd have over 200 listings to choose from, come in under budget and likely get every single thing on our wish list. Seems like a no brainer to move to the 'burbs, right? Yeah, except...

Being in the city means we're close to Love Field, which is the airport we/hubby uses. He can leave and be there in a matter of minutes, and be home a matter of minutes after his flight lands. In the suburbs, that commute will extend by 30-45 minutes each way, making him leave earlier in the morning and come home later at night.

Aaaand my husband, the breadwinner of the family, measly office space. An even smaller desk with only a stool to sit on in the corner of our formal dining room  (aka where my kids and I do arts and crafts because who with kids actually has formal meals?!)

Currently, we're active in our community school. It's highly ranked in Dallas and I love all the other parents and families we've met because of it. Probably best of all, it's not full of wealthy white kids - there's a huge range of socio-economic classes represented, and Henry has made friends with a diverse range of kids. I LOVE that about where we live! If we move to the 'burbs, I can expect my children's experience with different races and economic levels to be pretty limited. I myself had a diverse school setting and it helped shape me growing up. I don't want my kids to only go to school with other kids who look like them! What a narrow view of the world they'll have. That scares me.

The third exception, and this is more so than in any other city I've ever lived in, is the social aspect. Dallasites don't go out to the suburbs and suburbanites don't come in to the city. It's literally like oil and water! We don't mix. It's not even a matter of snootiness; most of it is a matter of distance and traffic! Dallas is a large land mass city. It takes a solid hour, without traffic, to drive across is. And that's just Dallas proper, that's not the metro. Once someone moves out to the suburbs, us urbanites joke, "welp, there goes Jenny. We'll never see her again!" And it's true. It's too far to drive for an impromptu lunch or play date. It takes PLANNING to go out to the suburbs, and for suburbanites to come to the city.

For reference, one of my sorority sisters from college moved to McKinney two or so years ago. I still haven't seen her since she's moved to Texas, despite the fact that we have kids the same age and would love to reminisce about old times. McKinney is a solid hour away. Nobody has two spare hours in their day to spend driving out there and back, or down here and back!

My work space, wedged amongst all the toys. Which is fine when the room is clean... It's usually not!

All that said, it sounds like I've got my mind made up to stay in the city, right? Wrong! I think there's a strong argument for the suburbs. First, we'd come in under budget. Both my hubby and I aren't big money spenders, especially on a home. I have no intentions of being "house poor" or being stressed out if we can make our mortgage payment each month. Whatever we'd get approved to spend through the bank we cut in half, and make that the starting point for our home budget. This is a great way to approach home buying if you don't want your monthly bills to be a struggle!

Anyway, I have some "must haves" for the new home and not only are they exceptionally rare in Dallas proper, they're insanely expensive. For example, I'll need a 6 burner stove in my new home. That sounds bougie, but let me tell you: currently, with a 5 year old, a 4 year old and 16 month twins, I use two pounds of ground beef for recipes that call for one; we can easily make two boxes of mac n cheese and eat it all for one meal; and we make scrambled eggs not in a regular frying pan but on a flat grill that covers two burners because we go through so many at once. As these boys grow, I'm literally going to need all those burners just to cook one meal! And if they bring friends over? Oh man...

I'm also going to need a place to store all the food I'll cook on a 6 burner stove. Either in an over-sized fridge in my kitchen or in an additional fridge in a rec room, or even one in a garage. That means the house needs to be big enough for a second fridge in the rec room, or has a kitchen large enough for a high-end over-sized fridge or it has a 3+ car garage. All of these are hard to come by in the city; we currently have a play/rec room but it's not big enough (nor is it wired) for a fridge, if your home has a renovated kitchen with a luxuriously large fridge you're looking at a seven digit++ price tag, and sure - I can find a home with a three car garage, but I'll have to drop a couple thousand on an electrician to wire it for a deep freezer or fridge. The city option makes food storage a problem where as in the suburbs, it's already built into the home.

My current kitchen, an extra wide galley, suits our needs. But with a closet for a pantry and a regular size fridge with a 4 burner stove, we're quickly busting at the seams for food prep and storage!

The third thing we absolutely need in our new home is a yard. In the city, a 5 bedroom home will most likely be a zero-yard lot. 5 bedroom listings are either older homes with an addition or a tear down with a new build that maximized house over preserving the yard. In the suburbs, lots are larger because land isn't at a premium. You get the big house AND the big yard! In the city you have three choices: a large home, a decent sized yard with a smaller home, or go over your budget and get both.

The good news about this whole dilemma is that we don't have to make a decision today. A key factor in what we'll do is directly tied to what we can list (and get) our current home for. All the current listings in our neighborhood are for $200,000-$350,000 more than what we paid for our home. If we could list our home at a similar price, we'd easily be able to get an amazing city home! Then all this pondering would be wasted time on my end. While our neighborhood is in a "hot" real estate market, who knows what it will look like when we actually list our home. And I don't want to make plans on other people's numbers, I need to make plans on reality. Getting a $250k paycheck from the sale of our current home would be amazing and *could* happen, but it's not our reality yet.

Now that I've laid out all my musings about the future, what we need and where that might be, I'm dying to know: what would you do? Stay in the city where you're already established and have friends? Peace out to the burbs to get more home for less? If I wasn't so attached to urban living, this would be a no brainer (we'd be out in the suburbs already if that was the case!) but I love what being centrally located offers me and my family! And the one thing you can't change about a home after you buy it is the location.