Nov 052011

Mr T and I are both extremely sensitive to chemicals in products like household cleaners. Luckily, with each passing year there are more — and more effective — choices for less toxic cleaning products. Because the process is usually a matter of trial and error (and I hate wasting time and money on the errors!), thought I’d share some favorites with you.

[Links and prices are based on either or because that's where I buy them. But most are widely available, and you might be able to find them cheaper somewhere else.]

Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap, in Almond ($9.50). We definitely aren’t alone in our love for Dr. Bronner’s mild, natural, vegan liquid soaps. We use it as hand soap (with a little water mixed in to make it easier to rinse and to keep soap from clogging the dispenser), baby soap and shampoo (pumped out of the hand-soap dispenser), and sometimes grown-up shower soap. I have also heard of people using it for household cleaner (I tried it, but don’t like the residue it leaves if you don’t rinse), dog wash, and laundry stain treatment. The peppermint is popular, but it stings my sensitive skin; we prefer the gentle almond scent.

I object to the inclusion of dog shampoo. Down with dog baths!

EarthBath All-Natural Dog Shampoo ($12). The Oatmeal and Aloe version smells great (clean but not overpowering) and leaves our Sheltie’s coat super-soft. Wish I could find something this good for my own hair!

BioKleen Concentrated Produce Wash ($4.50). Removes chemicals and dirt from fruits and vegetables. Simply rub some on (you can use a produce brush, but I just use bare hands) and rinse. For berries, I soak them in a bowl of BioKleen and water for 5 or 10 minutes. I am hyper-sensitive to soap flavors and have never tasted any soapy residue from the BioKleen, plus the fruit itself tastes fresher. Not a fan of BioKleen’s other products, but I can’t live without this produce wash!

Earth Friendly Products Wave Dishwashing Gel ($7). Eco-friendly dishwasher soaps rarely clean as well as their chemical-laden counterparts. We tried several brands and found that Earth Friendly Products left dishes noticeably cleaner than the others.

Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder ($12). Found this through Amazon reviews (I buy it at a discount through Subscribe & Save on Amazon) while looking for an effective “green” laundry option to tackle stained baby clothes. I haven’t found that it works any better (or any worse) on stains than other laundry detergents, but it cleans well without harsh chemicals or fragrances.

Better Life “I Can See Clearly, Wow!” Window Cleaner ($7). Window cleaners are another category where the green options often fall short. This one works quite well. The company makes several other cleaners that seem well-reviewed; looking forward to trying more.

What are your favorite eco-friendly cleaning options? Always looking for suggestions!

Jan 302010

I am crazy-in-love with luxurious fabrics, vintage clothing, Chinoiserie, and the color turquoise.  So the cover of The Well-Dressed Home stopped me dead in my tracks:

Apparently I missed this book when it made a tour of design blogs a few months ago, but on discovering it last week I wasted no time in breaking my vow to stop purchasing craft and home decor books.

The photos and inspiration boards in this book are absolutely swoon-worthy.  The lighting, the cropping, the colors, the choice of objects — everything about them struck me as perfection.

And, while I would have been perfectly happy with a book full gorgeous photos, The Well-Dressed Home is text-heavy for a decorating guide.  The book describes in detail why each element of each room was chosen — for example, a curvy coffee table to balance out straight lines, or mother-of-pearl picture frames to reflect soft light.  While I didn’t always agree with the actual decor choices, the text gave so much guidance that, for once, I understand the interior design process well enough that I could articulate what I’d change and why.

The book’s central concept involves approaching interior decorating styles the same way you approach your wardrobe.  This idea is both the book’s strength and its weakness.  I love the suggestion of using past clothing choices as a way of figuring out my decorating style.  And the book is full of usefully concrete examples of how to translate a beloved garment into a beloved room design.  On the other hand, the concept grew old when repeated over the space of two-hundred-plus pages.  By the end I was rolling my eyes at yet another mention of ThisDesigner or ThatFashionHouse.

Still, did I mention the gorgeous, light-filled, fashionably inspirational photos?  Just … sigh. This is one of those books that sparks new inspiration every time you open it, and I have a feeling it will remain a bookshelf favorite for many years to come.

(first and last photos borrowed from Wishing True; others from Brooke Giannetti)

Aug 132009

I am crazy for vintage design. For furniture, my favorite styles come from around the 1940s, when styles began to incorporate the smooth lines and honey colors of Mid-Century Modern but still retained a few decorative flourishes from the Art Deco days.

My pre-Mr T apartment sported a real dining room, and I decided it needed real dining room furniture. As usual, this meant searching Craigslist and Ebay for super-cheap versions of the vintage styles that I love. The sideboard and china cabinet came from a DC-area government scientist who talked my ear off about politics and science. The pieces had been in her family since they were first purchased in the 1940s. I know less about my dining table and chairs, which came from Boston via Ebay, dropped at my door by a curmudgeonly man with a trailer.

Here’s a tiny bit of my dining table legs (which isn’t terribly relevant to this post, but I can’t resist the puppy photo of Zoe):

And here’s a chair:

Cut to last week, when Mr T and I were finishing Season 2 of Mad Men. There was an episode where Don visited an old friend in California. He was shown fixing the leg of a wooden chair. And when he turned it over, we saw this:

I can’t tell you how bizarrely excited I was to see my chair on Mad Men! When the new season starts, you can bet I’ll be watching extra closely in case any of my other vintage possessions show up in the background.

Have you ever had a copy of your possessions turn up in a very unexpected place?

Jul 092008

I am slightly obsessed with the process of donating items I don’t want to charity. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with boxing everything up and dropping it at The Salvation Army, Goodwill, or another thrift store. But bonus points if you can get your unwanted goods directly into the hands of someone who needs them.

Add the fact that Mr T and I combined households post-wedding and now have duplicates of everything in our very crowded condo, and it shouldn’t be hard to guess what’s on my mind these days!

(No, this photo is not from the Clutterers Anonymous website: This is our office, after the contents of my 1200-sf apartment were crammed into Mr T’s 670-sf place.)

So, for those of you moving in together for the first time, expecting to replace a few things through your wedding registry, or otherwise just hoping to weed out some clutter, here’s a (sort of) brief guide to getting rid of the excess:


Craigslist offers free online classifieds for most metropolitan areas. Listing is free and easy, and the site is heavily used — most free or well-priced items receive multiple takers within a few hours of listing. One downside is that Craigslist users are sometimes flaky — it helps to have a “back-up” in case the original taker doesn’t show.

Freecycle is a national network of message boards through which people offer and request free items of all sorts. Its costs and benefits are similar to Craigslist. There are also lesser-known groups, many of which are listed at Sharing is Giving and

Selling on eBay isn’t difficult, and it can bring in a good chunk of change. You can even sell for charity. But be warned — taking good pictures, forming a listing, answering buyer questions, and shipping the item takes more effort than you might expect.

Wedding Items:

Expect to have leftover food the day of your wedding? America’s Second Harvest will distribute it to shelters.

If you live in NYC or LA, Flower Power will take your flowers and give them to the elderly and seriously ill.

Brides Against Breast Cancer accepts modern (post-2000) wedding gowns in good condition. They’ll even dry-clean it for you (they request an optional donation of $12 to cover this cost).

The I Do Foundation, best known for its charity-friendly wedding registries, accepts wedding dress donations (clean, post-2005). The Foundation sells the dress through a consignment store and donates 20% of the sale to the charity of your choice, using the rest to support the Foundation itself.

In the DC area, St. Anthony’s Bridal accepts donations of most wedding-related items (wedding dresses and accessories, tuxes, decor, etc.) and loans them at no cost to other couples who are getting married. They also have a prom-dress program for bridesmaid gowns.


The Princess Project donates fancy party attire and accessories to girls headed to prom. Based in San Francisco, they accept mailed donations of recent (2002-present), dry-cleaned bridesmaid gowns and other party attire from January-April each year. The Glass Slipper Project is a similar charity in Chicago, which also takes shoes, evening bags, jewelry, and unused makeup.

If you’d prefer something local, check out the lists of dress-donation campaigns at DonateMyDress or The Glass Slipper Project.

Business-appropriate women’s clothing (suits, blouses, interview-appropriate shoes) can be donated to Dress for Success.

Household goods:

People who have just arrived in this country or are moving out of a shelter into their own home often desperately need furniture, dishes, small appliances, and other household items. Try an Internet search for homeless shelters and women’s shelters in your area or foundations that provide support to refugees. As an example, a Google search for “donate household items DC” turned up lists organized by charity and type of donation, a program run by DC Child and Family Services, the refugee support program of the International Rescue Committee, and a couple of local rescue missions.

The International Rescue Committe, which supports recently resettled refugees, has offices in 17 U.S. locations. Find your nearest location on their  home page under “Where We Work,” and then check the donation information on your local page.

In the NYC area, check out Project Hospitality, Partnership for the Homeless, or the Furniture Distribution Program of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, or there’s an excellent list of charities here.

In Toronto, check out The Furniture Bank. Or see this list of charities throughout Canada.

Most animal shelters accept towels and blankets for grooming and bedding (as well as pet-related items, of course).

Books, CDs, DVDs:

In most cases, your local public library would be happy to take books and media to add to its collections or to sell at a fundraiser. Not sure whether to donate something? Remember that a library donation isn’t gone forever — you can always check it out later! helps people send care packages to soldiers in Iraq & Afghanistan who don’t normally get mail from home. Books, CDs, and DVDs are popular items for passing the time when not on duty.

If you’re in the right drop-off area or willing to mail your books, a number of charities accept book donations and re-distribute them in the US and abroad. These include Books for Africa (St. Paul, accepts mailed books); Got Books? (New England, accepts mailed books); Hands Across the Water (MA, CT, RI, St Louis, WA, GA); EcoEncore (Seattle, accepts mailed books; resells books/CDs/DVDs and donates profits to environmental charity); and the Prisoners’ Reading Encouragement Project (NYC, accepts mailed books as well as books on tape and VHS tapes). Textbooks can be difficult to donate, but check out Bridge to Asia, which sends them to universities in China (SF & Chicago, accepts mailed books).

If you’d prefer to make a few dollars (or at least some store credit) off your books, you can drop them off at a local used book store or ship them to Powell’s Books for store credit. Want to swap them out for something new? You can trade books through Paperback Swap or books, music, movies, and games through Swaptree.


Most Goodwill locations accept computers, though Goodwill recommends checking with your local branch  before bringing them in. The Goodwill website offers helpful tips on donation, including links to services that will wipe your hard drive clean.

Share the Technology has a comprehensive list of where to donate or recycle both newer and older computers. Another good resource is World Computer Exchange, which has dozens of drop-off locations in the US and abroad for donations of computers (Pentium 3 or newer) and computer peripherals.

What else have I missed?  Has anyone used these resources, and do you have tips to share?

Jul 242007

I’ve recently added a bunch of interior design blogs to my daily reading list, entirely for the pretty pictures.  And one of my favorite pictures of late has been this one:


Photo from Desire to Inspire

Turns out, I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to this fabulous dog.  Everyone in the design community either already has a Jeff Koons puppy vase or already covets one.   Unfortunately, they were designed in a limited edition of 3,000 and now sell for around $6,000 in galleries.  If you know me at all, you know that’s not going to happen!

But you can also probably guess where I’d turn for a solution … Ebay!  It turns out there are scores of “dog planters” on Ebay at any given time.  While they may not have the same high-end lineage as the Koons vase, many of them are quite stylish.  How about this guy, who’s listed for $7.50?


Or this little fellow, who’s from the 1940s (according to another listing) and going for a mere $1.99?


You can search broadly for “dog planter”, or try more specifically for “McCoy” or “Shawnee”, which are art pottery makers who seem to have created some of the more attractive dogs back around the 1940s.  Or you can also search for breed.  (Wouldn’t it make a cute gift to find the breed of a friend’s dog and fill it with flowers before a visit??)

My biggest problem is that I feel I should be loyal to Zoe, but the Sheltie (well, Collie) offerings aren’t really as stylish.  They tend to be more realistic rather than pop-artsy:


But I’ll hang in there.  Out of the thousands of listings on Ebay every week, I’m convinced it will happen one day.  I’ll keep you posted!

Jun 212007

For many years, I have been obsessed with huge vintage sunburst / starburst mirrors.  (Although they are a staple of high-end decor, on a quick Internet search I could find only this one photo, on the Metropolitan Home website:)

Mirror_copy_2Unfortunately for my obsession, the real deal isn’t cheap.  We once saw one at C-Mart, Washington/Baltimore’s fabulous discount warehouse for high-end furniture and fashions at a discount, but even at something like 70% off, it was still nearly $1,000 and waaaaaaay out of my range.

Thus began the long search for replacements within my meager range.  Because I purchase nearly everything on Ebay, I created a saved search on Ebay that emailed me every sunburst or starburst mirror listed at under $50.00 within the United States.  There were many because the look is having a comeback these days.  You can even find modern versions at popular stores like West Elm, CB2, and Fortunoff.  Still, a lot of them just looked cheap.  And there are a lot of factors to consider, in terms of “arm” ratio, whether there are little mirrors on the arms and if so where and how many, silver versus gold, etc., etc., etc., and none of them quite pleased me the way the gorgeous ($$$$) traditional ones always do.  The $49 West Elm version interested me, but as I waited to decide, an interesting Ebay listing finally arrived in my email inbox:

Sunburst_mirrors_3The total price?  $10.94!  That was 99 cents for the actual mirrors, with $9.95 for shipping.  If you get too close, their lack of quality is extremely obvious, but there’s no reason to get too close.  After all, they hang high above the kitchen garbage can.

These little mirrors have kept me happy and content for a very long time.  Well over a year.  And then it happened….  I received this month’s copy of Marie Claire Idees.  It had a crazy-wonderful photo of a sunburst mirror made out of pink plastic spoons!:

For one or two insane moments, I actually considered making one of these.  It’s … Just. So. Cute!  (Plastic spoons … who knew?)  And then I came to my senses and realized that, no matter how cute, there probably isn’t a place in my home for decor made from plastic spoons.  Oh well.

And now I’m feeling the mirror jones ones again.  Though still trying to think of creative — read, cheap! — ways to satisfy it.  Recently, Holly Becker at my favorite home decor blog decor8 featured the work of an Etsy seller named AnneChovie who sells lovely paintings of rooms and images straight out of home decor magazines.  Her work is quite affordable and she takes commissions, so I actually considered asking her to paint me a big sunburst mirror!  (Here’s some of her work:)

548336705_3c8c9ac636_o_3 Il_430xn8680247_3


But then today, as I was searching around for images, I actually discovered a couple of almost-affordable versions of the real thing.  This shop has some in silver and gold that are just over a yard in diameter (a bit small in the traditional sense, though not exactly tiny) for $259 plus shipping:



And this shop has a slightly unusual, modern design for $299, with free shipping.  It’s a glorious 50” in diameter:


Overall, not loose-change kind of money, but hardly out of reach….  Let’s just say I’ve added both to my Wists.  You never know!

Edited on 7/9 to say that I found another affordable sunburst mirror, courtesy of the August 2007 issue of Domino.  Called “Vega,” it’s 45” in diameter and surprisingly only $269 despite coming from Neiman Marcus.  Their Website says it’s on backorder till early August, but here’s hoping it will come back in stock.  It’s a striking one!



May 182007

This week I finally took care of the vast mess of earrings that has been sitting in a tin on my dresser for, oh, forever….

For the past few years, I’ve organized necklaces and bracelets on a chrome tree meant for displaying hand-towels in the bathroom.  It works quite well, and I like the look.   So a while back, when I saw a similar holder with narrow arms on sale for a couple of dollars at TJ Maxx, I thought, “Why not earrings?”


The hanging earrings slip easily over the bars of the holder.  For post earrings, I simply doubled lengths of satin ribbon over the top bar.  Was feeling lazy that day, so I just pinned it in place with sewing pins.  Eventually I plan to sew the ribbon in place, glue it with fabric glue, or, at the very least, replace the ugly sewing pins with the nicer pearl-tipped variety!

The empty space at the bottom would work well for a small jewelry box or a collection of containers for rings or other pieces.  (For now, I use the space as a shrine to my beloved orange cat One-Eyed Jack, who passed away a couple of weeks ago.)  Speaking of rings, here’s what I use for mine:


They sell the glass hands on ebay as displays for people who sell jewelry.   I hope to sell my jewelry someday, but in the meantime I just enjoy the hand as a piece of sculptural art in its own right.

As a postscript, by coincidence I discovered yesterday this post on Elegant Musings with an adorable holder using an empty frame and wire.  It doesn’t work for post earrings, but looks like a great idea for the hanging variety.