Recently in Household Category

Target clearance for the home: doing it right

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Recently I was walking through Target, like I do all the time, and I noticed that a) they had some awesome stuff for the home, and b) a lot of that stuff was on clearance. So, I thought I'd show you a few of my favorite pieces:


Target clearance for the home

Pin Jang Turquoise Large Metal Canister Tq
target.com



Great stuff, right? I love the Moroccan influences, the patterns, the colors...I think my favorite pieces are the gray and white ottoman with legs ($70), the wooden accent table ($35) and the large turquoise metal canister ($11), but there isn't an item here I wouldn't love to have in my house. Have you seen anything awesome on clearance lately?

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Baking Up A Storm

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So since I've been a SAHM, I've been baking a lot. I've always been a baker, but I'm trying to up my game a little bit and move into new terrain recently, and I've come across a few recipes that I love (as do my favorite folks to bake for, Mark's lab). Since I know I have some bakers reading, I thought I'd share some I'm particularly liking:

1. Dessert Bible/Christopher Kimball Blondies

I've never liked blondies before, but I love these. They are so rich and buttery and good. I can't find the recipe online, but this how you do it:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablesepoons (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still firm
1 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (I replace this with chunked up dark chocolate)
3/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put the rack in the center position. Butter a 9X13 pan and line it with parchment, or use baking spray.

2. Whisk or sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. Beat the butter in an electric mixer for a minute or so, then add the sugar and beat for 3 or so more minutes, until it's light and fluffy.

4. Add the egg one at a time, mixing after each.

5. Beat in the vanilla.

6. Add the flour mixture and beat on the lowest speed until almost completely mixed.

7. Add the chocolate chips and nuts and mix on low or fold with a spatula until incorporated.

8. Spread the batter in the pan.

9. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top is shiny and cracked and feels firm.

10. Cool on rack. Cool completely before cutting.

2. Smitten Kitchen/Grammercy Tavern Gingerbread

I probably made this a half dozen times in December--it's that good. One note I'd add is not to try to make it in a tube pan; the bundt pan really is a necessity.

3. Levain Bakery Ginger Valrhona Cookies

I've been making these for a couple of years, and they're always really popular. I don't make them quite as large or quite as raw as the recipe indicates, and generally use Trader Joe's chocolate rather than Valrhona, but otherwise follow it pretty faithfully. 

4. Nutella Brownies

I love Nutella. I love brownies. And I love these brownies. I'm generally a <gasp!> box brownies girl (Ghiradelli FTW!), but these are worth doing it from scratch.

5. Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns

This is another one I've been making for a couple of years, and it's just amazing. I double the topping to make sure mine are extra sticky and caramel-y. These are great to make and freeze unbaked, too--then you can thaw/rise overnight and bake them fresh for breakfast!

I have a Pinterest board full of other recipes I want to try. How about you? Baked anything great lately?

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2 Comments

The basic artisan bread in five minutes a day -- LOVE. I also make their granola recipe. My daughter eats that nearly every morning. So healthy, so much cheaper, so goooood.

I've been making these "healthy" chocolate chip cookies a lot. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/cookies/loaded-oatmeal-cookies

Mark bittman's brownie recipe is another that is totally worth doing from scratch...it is delicious! And lately I've been digging this pumpkin bread. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/downeast-maine-pumpkin-bread/

As a side note, you might consider not providing the full recipe for the blondies. If it's not online, that is likely by design, and you know, intellectual property and all that. .

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Big nursery reveal!

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A few weeks back, I showed you some of what we had in mind in putting together the baby's room. Over the weekend, we finished the room up (or more-or-less finished it, I'm sure I'll keep futzing with it over time), so I thought you might like to see/hear about the final result. I'm also playing with collage software, but am still unable to take a decent damn picture, so please forgive the sub-par effort on that score.

Buzzy's nursery:

7176559703_8e382c1efe_o.jpg
(Click for bigger pictures.)

The players

Furniture:
-Graco Lauren Classic Convertible Crib in Walnut (the only big thing we've purchased new)
-Pali Amy Changing Table in Cherry, drawers removed (thrifted)
-Shermag Glider & Ottoman, natural with beige microsuede (handed down from a friend)
-four-shelf folding bookshelf (Craigslist, re-purposed from elsewhere in our house)

Textiles:
-Ikea Lusy Blom rug (re-purposed from elsewhere in the house)
-Janey Baby Animals crib sheet (Zulily)
-Janey Baby Animals changing pad cover (Zulily)
-random cream cotton curtains (temporary, re-purposed from elsewhere in the house)
-colorful safari mini-quilt (hanging on the crib, handmade by my mom)
-frog mini-quilt (on the back of the glider, handmade by my mom)
-Boppy with Sweet Pea slipcover (gift)

Accessories:
-Wimmer-Ferguson Infant Stim-Mobile (Amazon)
-Elmer the Patchwork Elephant (in the crib, gift)
-Angel Dear Blankie, monkey (on the changing table, from PetiteBox)
-elephant blankie/lovie (on the changing table, gift)
-hand-knitted Sheldon turtle (on the changing table, gift)

Storage:
-multiple sizes/styles of lined baskets, all thrifted and/or re-purposed from elsewhere in the house

Art:
-Oregon: My Roots Lie Here print (above the crib, gift, from Global Child Collection)
-Elkton, Oregon watercolor (above the crib, re-purposed from elsewhere in the house, Bally Greeting Cards)
-Blue Dog print (near the doorway to the master bedroom, re-purposed from elsewhere in the house, gift)
-Beastling & Boodle water color pencil drawing (above the bookshelf, drawn by our friend Howell)
-Zebra painting (above the glider, re-purposed from elsewhere in the house, from Austin-area artist Zebra)
-Colored pencil shaving art (above the changing table, gift)
-Floral and antique note collage (above the changing table, re-purposed from elsewhere in the house, gift)

Unpictured, there is a small closet, outfitted with two shelves and a hanging rack, and organized with yet more thrifted/re-purposed baskets, all full of baby clothes and textiles.

I can't overstate how happy I am with how the nursery turned out. The space feels both calm and happy, both appropriate for a baby and tolerable for an adult. It's comfortable and full of things that have been gifted to us and/or represent the people and places we love. I honestly couldn't have wished for anything better. I also love the eclectic nature of it, and how much of it is re-purposed from elsewhere in our house. It seems to fit seamlessly in with everything else we love, and I like that.

I'm also really happy with how little money we put into it. As I mentioned, the crib is the only large thing we've purchased new (not just the only one in the nursery, the only one period). We've been generously gifted/handed down, and I've had some decent thrift store luck, which is awesome. I did splurge at Zulily on the Janey Baby sheet and changing pad cover, because I love the Janey Baby stuff so much that I couldn't resist, but other than that, I've been able to keep my baby-related shopping constrained, and I'm glad I have--it feels more like us to have put together a great space for our little one mostly out of stuff that was given to us or stuff we already had.

The only issue? Having a fully put together baby's room makes it much more clear to me how not put-together the rest of our house is. I want to do this to every room now. Wonder if we can manage that in the next two weeks?

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Out of my element: nursery design

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So I'm not much of an interior decorator. And if you know me, you know just how much of an understatement that is. I LOVE nicely decorated spaces, but it's just not something I have ever done. We have a hodge podge of furniture and, despite living in our house for nearly three years now, haven't done so much as painted a wall (and they're all beige!). It's just not my thing.

So I wasn't all that stoked about this whole "decorate your baby's nursery!" thing. But Mark wanted to paint, so that the baby's room, at least, would not be beige, and we've started to collect things. So far, this is Buzzy's nursery:

Baby's room

We haven't actually purchased the crib yet, but that's the one we'll likely get. Mark and his wonderful parents painted the room Glidden True Turquoise with bright white trim this weekend, and put up the bamboo blind. The rug is from Ikea and I've had it for years, but I think it will be perfect. The changing table is thrifted. The crib sheet is on my registry, and if nobody gifts it to us, I'll buy it (from Target). The Oregon print was a gift from my BF.

So, what else do we need? Storage! I think we're actually going to go with putting the big wire shelving unit I used in the room when it was my closet back in, with lots of bins or baskets for holding baby clothes. I may try to make due with what we've got, or I may get new (read: matching) receptacles. Buzzy's going to need a bookshelf, so I'm hoping to thrift one. My mom made two beautiful blankets, so those will definitely be in there. And I want to get curtains--maybe just white, since there is already quite a bit of color going on. What else? Suggestions from those who are more decor inclined?

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I also struggle with decorating, so I really appreciated you sharing this. As you find the other pieces you're looking for, I hope you'll share those as well.

I cannot claim any expertise or talent in decorating, but a word about storage. I planned to have a bunch of bins and baskets for baby clothes, but we rapidly accumulated so many clothes in so many varying sizes (and the baby grows so ridiculously fast) that my husband put his foot down and went and got several large plastic chests of drawers from Target. They don't look especially nice, but it was the only way to stop the baby clothes getting into total chaos. I draped my Polynesian sarong collection over the top to hide the tacky appearance. But then, I find myself caring less and less about the appearance of anything in my house because of my sleep-deprived stupor!

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Welcome, Spring!

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We spent a good chunk of time this weekend picking out and planting new plants in our back deck pots. And by we, I mean Mark--I did a lot of picking and some arranging, but no actual getting my hands dirty. That's my kind of division of labor!

It's possible that we bought a few too many plants for our pot space...

Plants ready to plant

Mark takes planting pretty seriously:

Mark planting

Mark planting

I think this pot is my favorite:

New pot

Though I like this one a lot, too...

New pot

And this one is also nice:

New pot

Lots of last year's herbs came back, so we just had to supplement them a little bit.

Pretty new herbs

Once everything is in, time to water!

Watering them in

And then mulch. Mark loves mulch.

Mark loves to mulch!

Now to watch them grow!

New plants!

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I'm considering doing some planting this year, but I don't have very much room on my back patio. That means I can't really have a lot of large pots sitting around since they take up too much space. Can you make any recommendations on a planter? Thanks :)

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Lazier-than-the-Pioneer-Woman iced coffee

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photo (19)

Over the course of the past few weeks, I've seen at least a jillion references online to the brilliant iced coffee directions/recipe given by Ree at The Pioneer Woman. As a big coffee snob myself, I, of course, tried Ree's method, and I think she's spot on. The iced coffee that comes out of her recipe is delicious.

I also think it's too much work and takes up too much space for someone with a single, regular-sized fridge. Large containers and cheesecloth? These are things those of us without big-ass ranch kitchens (not to mention those of us who don't actually cook) might not have. So...I worked on a modification for my lifestyle. And I think I've perfected it, so I'm gonna share it with my similarly ill-equipped (or, you know, lazy) readers:

1. Before I go to bed, I grind up a big French press worth of coffee beans. I used good beans. If you aren't going to use decent coffee, I pretty much think you should just skip this. I don't measure, generally, but for the sake of science, I did measure last night, and it's about 10 coffee scoops worth of grounds. More than you'd use in a regular hot French press by about a third or so. I put that in my French press and then fill it with water from my Brita pitcher. I know I should stir, but I don't want to get a spoon dirty, so I just kinda try to pour the water over the grounds enough that it all gets wet. I put the top on the French press and push it down very slightly to ensure that all the grounds are trapped, then I go to bed.

2. In the morning, I push the press down like a regular French press of coffee and pour the darkly brewed java in a water bottle to take to work. One mostly-full French press fits perfectly in my tall Oggi stainless steel bottles--17 oz, I think?

3. When I get to work, I fill my plastic tumbler-with-lid-and-straw (adult sippy cup!) with ice, then sprinkle about 2 tsp of sugar over the ice, then dump two individual half-and-half containers over that (oddly, though I drink hot coffee black, I like my iced coffee slightly sweetened and lightened). Then I fill the rest of the cup with the cold coffee from my bottle. The bottle will make three of these. I make sure the lid is screwed on tight and shake it up really well, then sip and slurp away!

4. On the weekend, I replace the office-provided sugar and half-and-half with my own skim milk and brown sugar simple syrup, but the rest of the process is the same.

Is this as good as PW's recipe? Not quite. However, it takes no time, no supplies I don't already have, and it's pretty darn tasty.

Long live the lazy and caffeine addicted!

Note: The photo above is my current iced coffee, in my cube, taken by my iPhone. Much like my cooking, my photography is not exactly in Pioneer Woman's league. We all do what we can.

7 Comments

Oooooo I like this very much!!!! I am going to try it out tonight. :)

I really need to try this!

See? This? This I can do. Large rubbermaid vats of cold coffee? not so much. Significant bacon for you.

Iced coffee is awesome to make at home because you can do it any old way as long as you let good coffee grounds soak in water and have a way to filter it. I have a Toddy maker now, which is nice because it is super easy and not at all messy. But I used to do it with a glass jar and a coffee filter and that worked fine, as well. That Pioneer Woman recipe looks way too awkward, with the giant containers.

Awesome. This, I can do.

Looks refreshing!

Brilliant. I need a cold coffee recipe for someone whose attention span is ->

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Report from the land of Big Lots

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Someone asked me recently if I was still shopping at Big Lots, and if I was, why I'm not blogging about it.I am still a dedicated Big Lots shopper. I guess I stopped blogging about it because I thought it might be boring? Anyway, I went this week, so I thought I'd give you an update on what I'm buying there these days.


Ritz Crackerfuls
are one of my go-to snacks at work. I keep my cabinet stocked with several boxes at all times. They are extremely satisfying and taste like they are made out of food (except for the bacon and cheddar ones, those are suspect). At my Safeway, they sell for $4.19 for a box of six, though they've been on BOGO a lot lately. At Big Lots, they are $2/box. This past trip I bought six boxes of the classic cheddar flavor.


I recognize the horrible environmental sin of the Colgate Wisp mini all-in-one toothbrush, and I don't feel great about it, but I still use them at work. They work better than mints or gum and I can use them at my desk, rather than hauling a toothbrush and toothpaste into the communal bathroom. At Target or CVS, 8-packs of these little conveniences retail for around $4.50. At Big Lots, they are $1. Oddly, the 4-packs at Big Lots are $1.90. Crazy. I bought 10 8-count packages on my last trip.


I am a big fan of Better Oats brand instant hot cereal--it's another work cupboard staple. It's tasty, cooks quickly (90 seconds in the microwave) and doesn't have unduly bulky packaging. The five-packet boxes I buy are generally between $3.50 and $4 in regular grocery stores. At Big Lots, they are $1. That's a cheap breakfast! I bought four boxes on my last trip.

Mark is a big fan of good glass-bottle root beer, and he's turned me on to it as well. Boylan's, which is family owned and operated in New Jersey, is one of my very favorite varieties. The stuff is generally not that easy to find, but Amazon.com has 12-packs for $39 (outrageous!) and Beverage Direct has 6-packs for $8.29. At Big Lots, it's $.75/bottle. I always pick up at least six bottles.

There are, of course, other things I buy at Big Lots. My last trip was heavy on paper towels, TP, Ziploc bags, etc. But the four items mentioned here are my current regulars. Are you a Big Lots shopper? What have you bought there lately?

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My store had the Cheddar Crackerfuls on clearance for $1 a box! Not sure if it is because of the expiration date (Sept) or because that flavor doesn't sell as well as the others, but it was good for me!

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Gettin' my Big Lots on

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big lots stuff.jpg

Woohoo! Big Lots trip! I love that there are at least a few of you out there who support my bizarre addiction to Big Lots. There's just something pleasantly voyeuristic about seeing other people's shopping, isn't there?

This trip, I got:
A 3-pack of Scotch-Brite sponges, $3 (regular price $3.79)
A 24-count box of Ziploc gallon storage bags, $1.80 (regular price $3)
A 12-count box of Little Debbie's Cosmic Brownies, $3 (regular price $3.49)
Four bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies (Milano, Nantucket, Catalina, and Santa Cruz), $2 each (regular price $3.49 each)
A box of Fresh Bites ginger mint dental dog treats, $2.50 (regular price $6)
A package of sourdough Wasa crispbread, $1.80 (regular price $2.97)
Two boxes of Ritz cheddar and bacon Crackerfuls, $1.80 each (regular price $3.50)
Six 16-oz bottles of Boylan's root beer, $.75 each (regular price $1.49 each)
Two 8-count boxes of Gatorade powder, $2 each (regular price $4)
An Eco2Go insulated chiller travel cup, $5 (regular price $9.99)
A package of Hartz Crunch 'n Clean cat treats, $1 (regular price $2)
A package of Whiskas Temptations cat treats, $1 (regular price $1.69)
A package of Purina Whisker Lickin's cat treats, $1 (regular price $1)
A bottle of Dawn Pure Essentials hypoallergenic dish soap, $1 (regular price $2.99)
2 Degree Pure Satin deodorants, $2 each (regular price $3.39)
A pot of Maybelline Dream Mousse concealer, $3 (regular price $5)
A 2-pack of Sally Hansen Hard as Nails strengthener, $2.50 (regular price $3.39)
A 10-pack of Ziploc Zip 'n Steam bags, $2 (regular price $3.19)
A 4-pack of Colgate Plus toothbrushes, $4 (regular price $4)

My major purpose in going was to re-stock my snack cupboard at work, and I got a few things for that (Crackerfuls, Wasa crisps). They also had a decent selection of animal treats, which is always good, and the Pepperidge Farm cookies were a nice find--Mark loves them. My biggest excitement, though, was the Gatorade powder--I know it sounds dorky, but I've been using that in my water post-workout, and it does seem to help me regain balance or something after exercising.

Things I was disappointed not to see included self-tanning lotion (don't judge!) and rubber gloves. I was also hoping to snag a box of K-cups to stow in my office for when we're out of everything but flavored coffee, but they didn't have that today.

Anybody else hit their Big Lots lately?

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I went and got some glass anchor storage and cookware for pretty cheap! Also...this is really dorky but I got a big bottle of salon selectives shampoo and conditioner because the smell reminded me of being a teenager! I loved that stuff when I was in middle school and high school!

Can I import you to be my personal shopping buddy? You always seem to have so much fun and get great deals.

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I made really good soup with no recipe!

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The other night, I came home from a work day wherein my diet consisted of coffee, frosted animal cookies, and a granola bar. Almost unprecedented for me, I was craving vegetables. I wanted food that was made out of food. So I decided to put together some soup to bring for lunch during the rest of the week. I looked at a few recipes, realized I didn't have all of the ingredients for any of them, and decided to wing it.

First, I dug in the fridge to see what vegetables were available. I came up with two leeks, an only-slightly shriveled red bell pepper, and three not-too-slimy carrots. I chunked these all up and threw them in the food processor. I went for onions, realized we didn't have any, and decided to use extra garlic instead. Five or six cloves also into the food processor, then I hit go and diced everything up small.

Then, I heated up some olive oil in a big nonstick skillet and tossed all of my veggies in with some salt and pepper. I sweated them for about ten minutes, maybe a bit less.

As the veggies were sweating, I opened and rinsed two cans of chickpeas and threw them in my crockpot. I followed with a large can of plum tomatoes in their juice, about a half carton of chicken stock, and a glass or so of white wine. When I added the veggies, I added a bay leaf, a couple of teaspoons of smoked Spanish paprika, and a couple of teaspoons of cumin.

I cooked the whole mess in the crockpot on high for about 2.5 hours, then hit it with the stick blender to de-chunkify. And it's AMAZINGLY good. It has a really nice, rich taste, while still tasting really fresh. It's really good for you, too--ton of good vitamins and fiber and also protein. We've had it for dinner two nights in a row (once with cheese and crakers, once with grilled ham and cheese sandwiches). Mark even likes it! This one is a definite keeper. It's the first time something I basically invented has come out so well, so I am really stoked.

For those who are concerned about these things, here's the nutritional analysis (assuming the recipe makes six servings):

Calories: 348
Calories from Fat: 58
Total Fat: 6.4g/10%
Saturated Fat: 0.8g/4%
Trans Fat: 0.0g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Sodium: 1207mg/50%
Total Carbohydrates: 53.8g/18%
Dietary Fiber:14.4g/58%
Sugars:12.7g
Protein: 15.0g
Vitamin A 141%
Vitamin C 69%
Calcium 13%
Iron 33%

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Big Lots and my bad habits

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First, let me just get the defensiveness out of the way: Yes, I realize that convenience food is not good for my budget, my waistline, or the environment. I realize that individually packaged mass produced crap is not not a good bargain, even on sale. I realize that I am single-handedly ruining the world by purchasing this crap. I got it.

Now then. Today I went to Big Lots. I went for two reasons. The first was that I bought a package of socks on my last trip that I loved and I wanted to see if they had anymore available, and the second is that I need some food for work. For the first week, I bought my lunch each day. That's not a reasonable long-term plan. The right thing to do, of course, would be to get my butt out of bed earlier and make myself a healthy lunch of whole foods. But I'm not going to get there overnight. I know myself, and I know that, ridiculous as it is for a 31 year old woman, I'm more likely to pack lunch if I can grab it on my way out the door (or better yet, store it at work) and I'm more likely to eat it if it's...not something I'd normally buy. So where do those in the know go for individually packaged junk food? Big Lots.

Though I'd come for food and socks, my first stop in Big Lots was in the crafts/office supplies section. It always is. I'm a sucker for that type of thing on my best day, and I've been really bad lately, as I've been almost obsessively collecting materials for art journaling. It will surprise almost nobody, I'm guessing, when I tell you I'm doing a lot more collecting of stuff than I am actual journaling. Today was no exception. I got:
-A package of Martha Stewart chipboard animals for $1(regular price $3)
-A package of Martha Stewart icon labels for $1 (regular price $2)
-A Martha Stewart black dual-tip marker, $1(regular price $3)
-A package of Best Occasions vellum quotes, $1.50 (regular price $4)

After I'd exhausted that section, I hopped over to see if they still had my socks, and they did! They are a package of six pairs of Champion Elite Low Cut Cool & Dry socks. They retail at about $16 for the package and at Big Lots, it's $4. The really exciting thing for me, though, was that Big Lots had several packages of them in extended size--meaning I could buy socks that would actually fit my size 12 feet, and were clearly women's due to their colored writing (and thus won't get mixed up with Mark's socks). Score.

Next, I finally made my way to the grocery aisles, where I am slightly ashamed to admit I bought:
-Four microwavable Health Valley Organic soups, 2 each in minestrone and lentil, for $1.30 each (regular price $4.39 each)
-An 18-count variety pack of Quaker's Chewy granola bars, $3 (regular price $4)
-A six-count box of Ritz Four Cheese Crackerfuls, $1.80 (regular price $4.39)
-A six-count box of 100 Calorie Right Bites Grasshoppers, $1.50 (regular price $3.37)
-A four-count box of Kashi GoLean Roll! Protein Bars in Caramel Peanut, $3 (regular price $5.23)
-Two six-count boxes of Kashi TLC Trail Mix Chewy Granola Bars, $2 each (regular price $4.49 each)
-Two six-count packages of cherry passion Tic Tacs, $2.80 each (regular price $4.31 each)

Finally, before I left the store, I scoped out the health and beauty section, where I picked up a Bathery (Target brand) spa headband (to hold my hair back when I wash my face or put on my makeup), for $.80. I can't find it online, but similar stuff at Target is usually $3-$5, to my recollection.

I didn't actually find as much fun convenience food as I'd hoped, but this lot will certainly get me started, and as usual, Big Lots was worth the trip. For those who are concerned about my nutrition, I promise I do eat actual meals, too. Not all of my calories come in bar form!

2 Comments

I've grown tired of overpaying for granola bars, so I made my own this week. Maybe give it a whirl? These are very tasty: http://www.walnutinfo.com/public/recipeInfo.aspx?id=14

LOVE Big Lots too! Some of it is just junk, but there are totally treasures buried in there.

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I made pecan rolls again this week, and I also made a dinner of black bean and chicken chili with cornbread, which we ate for two nights. I didn't use a recipe for the chili, and I was in a hurry when I made it, so it's a very easy and quick version, but it turned out pretty well.

I had to two large skin-and-bone-on chicken breasts in the fridge, so I thawed them a bit in the microwave, then removed the skin and bone and cut them into cubes. I salt and peppered the cubes and and browned them in a nonstick pan with a little bit of olive oil. When the cubes were browned on all sides, I threw them in the crock pot. Then I added a big can of whole tomatoes with their liquid, two cans of black beans with their liquid, some chili con carne seasoning (not sure how much...a tablespoon? maybe less) and a few dashes of Cholula hot sauce. Mixed it all up and cooked it on low for about four hours (maybe longer). I smashed up the tomatoes a little bit while it was cooking, though not as much as Mark would have liked (he's not a fan of big chunks of cooked tomato).

I served the chili with cornbread, which is a favorite item around here and I ought to make more often. I make it using this recipe, except that we never have buttermilk around, so I use a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice in a cup of milk instead and it works just fine.

I'd make this again, though next time I'd take the time to saute onions and peppers for it, and probably add corn, as well. It definitely did the trick to tame my chili craving on a cold couple of days.

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In order to keep myself honest about cooking a meal at least once a week, I'm going to try to post each Sunday about what I cooked the previous week (we'll see how that goes). This week, I am happy to report, I cooked THREE times. And each of the two dinners I cooked fed us for two nights, plus two more nights of frozen! That's a lot of meals courtesy of moi!

The first thing I cooked was crockpot chicken Makhani (Indian butter chicken). I used the recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking, with the following modifications:
-2.5 lbs, rather than just 2 lbs, of chicken thighs (since that was what I had)
-no cayenne pepper (because Mark doesn't do spicy food)
-a can of diced tomatoes rather than a can of tomato paste (because it's what I had)
-no yogurt at the end

Overall, it was good. We ate it over rice noodles, since I discovered at the last minute that we didn't actually have any regular rice. Next time, though, I'll definitely use the tomato paste rather than diced tomatoes--the diced made it too watery. I'll also use curry paste rather than powder, for a more intense curry taste--this was fairly bland. It was very easy to put together, though, and with a few tweaks I think it would be really good. It made about eight smallish servings.

The second dinner I cooked was beef and Guinness pie, with the recipe from Epicurious. I made the following modifications:
-I used 2.5 lbs of kosher stew meat, rather than 2 lbs of boneless chuck (it was what was available at Trader Joe's)
-dried rather than brined peppercorns (brined peppercorns is not something I've ever seen in another recipe, so we don't have them on hand)
-four rather than 2 sprigs of thyme (more thyme=more good!)
-pre-made frozen filo dough, rather than making my own

The other thing I changed was the ramekins--the recipe calls for four 14-oz ramekins. Why has 14-oz ramekins? I made mine in three ovenproof Pyrex dishes--one six-cup rectangular and two-four-cup circles. I cooked the rectangular one (it made four smallish servings of the pie) and put the two round ones in the freezer for later.

This was absolutely fantastic. I will make it again soon--like maybe next week. The flavor is SO good. It's not super bitter, but the gravy is this intense, peppery, piquant thing. When I make this again, I think I'll fill the pies out with some veggies--maybe some potatoes and carrots--and some dried mushrooms. Other than that, I won't change a thing. We ate ours with spinach salad and braised carrots on the side and it was a fantastic winter meal.

The last thing I made was actually last night/this morning, for breakfast. Caramel pecan sticky buns from Little Blue Hen. It was actually my second time making these, and they are so good. They improve our Sunday morning coffee and soccer watching time immensely. The modifications I made to the recipe are:
-double the topping recipe, the recommended amount isn't, I don't think, enough for two pans of rolls
-use 1.5 or so cups of pecans
-melt the butter for the filling and spread it over the dough, then sprinkle the sugar/cinnamon on--it's just easier to get it even that way

This is a bit time consuming, but fairly straightforward. Rising times are long right now, at least here, because the house is cool and dry, but if you build enough time into making these, that's fine. I make up the pans of rolls (one for us now, one for the freezer), then stick our pan in the fridge until bedtime. I take it out right before bed, and in the morning they're quite well-risen and ready for the oven. Same thing with the frozen ones. Next time I make these, I think I am going to substitute maple syrup for the corn syrup and see how that tastes, since I don't love cooking with corn syrup, but the consistency is necessary to get the sticky topping right.

I'm very happy with the first week of my "cook once a week" experiment. Hopefully this bodes well for the rest of the year!

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Getting my frugal on: the monthly Big Lots trip

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big lots 1311.jpg
I have been reading a ton of money saving and frugality blogs lately. In part, this is due to my plans to cut back spending drastically in order to meet hefty savings goals in 2011, and in part it's because I have this fascination-horror thing with extreme frugality that keeps me coming back for more even when I don't want to. Still, I had these blogs in mind when I headed over to Big Lots today. I generally go about once a month, just to see what is there and to restock the things I know I can get more cheaply there. Last time I went, I posted about it. I was awfully proud of my discounts that time, and I *think* I may have done even better today, so I thought, in the spirit of the frugal bloggers, I'd tell you about my trip again.

Today's haul included:
-1 box Kashi trail mix granola bars, $2 (regular price $3.89-$4.69)
-4 boxes Annie's Mac N Cheese, $1.20 each (regular price $1.99-$2.99)
-4 tubes Tom's of Maine toothpaste, $2.50 each (regular price $3.74-$5.34)
-3 cans organic Del Monte diced tomatoes, $.80 each (regular price $1.69 each)
-3 bottles Green Shield organic cleaner (bathroom, kitchen, and all-purpose), $2.50 each (regular price $3.95)
-1 package 38 Hefty UltraFlex 13 gallon trash bags, $6 (regular price $6.99)
-1 50 square foot roll Reynold's recycled aluminum foil, $2 (regular price $4.10-$4.99)
-3 15 ct tins Zhena Gypsy Teas Superberry Pink Tea, $2 each (regular price $4.90-$9.99)
-1 32 oz bag Aunt Jemina yellow cornmeal, $.80 (regular price $1.98)
-3 packages 4-count Fuji AA batteries, $1.70 each with $1 each rebate (regular price $3)
-2 packages 4-count Fuji AAA batteries, $1.70 each with $1 each rebate (regular price $3)
-1 3 pack Scotch Brite scrub sponges, $3 (regular price $3.99)
-1 2 pack Mr. Clean latex gloves, $1.20 (regular price $2.70)
-1 4 pack Bridgeport glue sticks, $1 (regular price $1.99 for similar)

I know what a true frugalista would say looking at this list--most of it I didn't need to buy at all! Granola bars and mac and cheese are convenience foods, I can make my own vinegar-based cleaning products, and I ought to be saving aluminum foil and trash bags. And I hear that, I really do. But the reality of my life is that some level of convenience is required. Besides, lots of things on this list are necessities--canned tomatoes and cornmeal are both whole foods, and I'm not about to go toothpaste free!

My favorite find today, though, was the batteries. Like many people, I'm sure, we go through a ton of batteries--remote controls, Wii controllers, electric toothbrushes, and on and on. And yes, these are modern, non-frugal luxuries, but since we have them and use them, it's better to get cheaper batteries than more expensive ones, right? After the rebates, the batteries I bought today were $.70 for each package of four. You can't beat that!

The other thing that impressed me was the tea. I'm going to be trying to cut back on my coffee consumption in the next few months, and I am hoping to meet some of my hot beverage needs with green tea. The problem is, I don't like unadulterated green tea, I think it tastes like dirt. My fingers are crossed that these teas, with their berry flavorings, will go down a bit easier.

There you have it. Me, moonlighting as a frugality blogger! How'd I do?

6 Comments

I miss big lots so much. I always felt rich there. :)

Good haul! I definitely think dedicating part of a budget to stock up items is a good thing. I think convenience foods more than pay for themselves if it means avoiding a meal out or unplanned lunches, etc.

dude. you and big lots. my hell.

so these are things you would have normally purchased anyway, right? that's my fear: buying stuff "on sale" that i wouldn't have purchased anyway.

have you seen the pyschodoodles on TLC who got six hundred dollars of groceries for three fiddy? but it was like TWO GROCERY carts of gatorade and i'm sorry, if your electrolites are that out of balance you need to see a doctor.

Not too shabby! I need to visit Big Lots, you buy a lot of the things I buy!

And I agree w. Heather re: convenience foods. Things like Kashi bars keep me from getting take out for lunch.

Laura, I can honestly say every single thing I bought I would have bought anyway, with the possible exception of the tea. I would have bought tea, but I may not have bought that type of tea. Anyway, yes, this time it was pretty much all stuff on my list.

I never thought of buying batteries at Big Lots. I'm so glad you posted that because now I will definitely look for those!

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Feeding the freezer

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Lately, we've been depending a lot on convenience foods, takeout, and just plain not eating dinner. Mark's days are too long for him to reasonably be expected to cook dinner, and though I've been doing the best I can to take up the slack, I am not much of a quick cook. Since I'll be starting my new, not-from-home job the week after Thanksgiving (like how I slipped that in without ever actually telling you about it?), things are only going to get worse. I've been puzzling on how to deal with that and this past week, while Mark was safely away at a conference and I had the house to myself, I decided to do something about it.

I've long been enamored with the idea of "feeding the freezer." I've been reading frugality and homemaking blogs for years that advocate cooking in one day to feed a family for a week, or even a month. Ideally, this saves time and money. I never thought it would work for us, though, since there are very few things Mark cooks that are freezable. However, the few things that I have perfected DO lend themselves to freezing. So, I decided to give it a try.

I knew it wasn't reasonable, for me, to try to create a month's worth of meals. I also knew I didn't want to put the time in to cook anything I didn't already feel pretty confident in making, so no new recipes. With these things in mind, I decided to focus on four things I knew I could make, I knew Mark would eat (he's picky about cooking that isn't his own), and I knew would freeze well: lasagna; chicken, ham, and leek pie; chicken soup; and butternut squash soup.

After I decided what I was going to cook, I headed out with two purposes: grocery shopping and container shopping. I decided to forgo disposable foil containers and go with with heavier glass containers that can be frozen, heated up in the oven, washed in the dishwasher, and reused. The best place for something like that, I thought, would be Big Lots (I think I must have subconsciously remembered the exact containers I was looking for from my last visit there). I headed over to the store and purchased some Anchor Hocking containers much like these (mine have blue lids). I got six of the six cup size ($5 each) and three of the eleven cup size ($7 each).

Next, I headed to Costco, then Giant, and finally Trader Joe's. When I got home, my entire counter was covered in bags of groceries.

Which was when I came to the obvious realization. This was NOT all going to fit in the freezer at the top of our fridge.

ge freezer.jpgMark and I have been talking about buying a small freezer for years, but first we didn't want to do it until we moved here, and then we just didn't do it. Now, I thought, was the time. I looked on Craigslist first, to see if I could get a deal on a used model, but the only ones available were the very large sizes, and that was not what we wanted. So I started looking at ads online, and finally decided on the GE® 5.0 Cubic Foot Manual Defrost Chest Freezer, handily for sale at my local Home Depot. I went and bought the last one in stock, then got it home and wrangled it out of the car and down to the basement. It was a little touch and go on the stairs, but I had it plugged in quickly enough. The user manual advised me not to put anything in to freeze four five hours after plugging it in. That would be just the right amount of time, I thought, for me to cook my meals.

Yeah. Right.

First, I made a quick outline of how I should go about things. It looked like this:

1. Put chicken in to roast.
2. Put squash in to roast.
3. Fill and run dishwasher.
4. Make red sauce for lasagna
5. Assemble lasagna.
6. Put chicken soup together to simmer.
7. Remove and cool squash and chicken.
8. Make pie dough for pot pie and refrigerate.
9. Put together squash soup to simmer
10. Put together pie filling.
11. Assemble pie.
13. Remove and cool chicken soup.
14. Remove and cool squash soup.
15. Freeze all.
16. Clean up kitchen.

And I did it, in more or less that order.

squash and chicken in the oven.jpg
Squash and chicken roasting.

sauce and mushrooms.jpg
Red sauce for lasagna simmering on the back burner, mushrooms being cooked in butter and wine on the front burner.

roasted squash.jpg
Finished roasted butternut squash.

lasagnas.jpg
Assembled lasagnas in 11 cup containers.

completed food.jpg
Completed containers ready for the freezer: two six cup containers of squash soup; two six cup containers and one eleven cup container of chicken soup, two eleven cup containers of lasagna plus one extra container of sauce, and one chicken, ham, and leek pie.

messy kitchen.jpg
Horrible kitchen aftermath.

All told, the cooking and clean-up took about six and a half hours, without any attempt to hurry. By my count, this is about a dozen dinners worth of food for Mark and I, with some leftovers. The lasagnas and pot pie, frozen without baking, will just need to be thawed and put in the oven. The soups can be heated on the stove, with dumplings or pasta added to the chicken soup to fill it out. And there is plenty of space left in the new freezer for more meals, Thanksgiving leftovers, or, as Mark said when he saw it, a half a hog.

5 Comments

Super impressive Grace! I would actually like to do this on the weekend sometime but I also need to buy a freezer then get the kids out of the house lol!

I feel like I'm pretty efficient in the kitchen, but damn, lady, you are a MACHINE. Good work, and I'll look forward to reading about how this (and the new job) works out for you.

You are an animal! I do my cooking on the weekends and eat leftovers all week. Since it's on a weekly basis I don't need to freeze. I'm just too tired to cook after work.

Wow - that is awesome! Now, this may sound like a stupid question, but how do you keep yourself from forgetting what's in the freezer? That's part of my problem. Meal planning helps to a certain extent, but there's always something, inevitably, that gets forgotten and then it's just too old to even consider eating . . . . .

And now you're going to tell us about the job, RIGHT?

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Really really good mac and cheese. You should make some.

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I just made some really good mac and cheese, quite by accident. Recently, I promised Mark I would write it down somewhere when I make something yummy, since I tend to forget how I did it and not being able to re-create it later. Seems like the blog is the best possible place to do that, since I can share the recipe with y'all as well as keep it for my own posterity. The proportions of butter, flour, milk, and cheese are more or less from Cooks Illustrated.

So here's my new go-to for mac and cheese:

Ingredients
-16 oz shredded cheese of multiple sorts
-2 leeks
-1 12 oz bag vegetable rotelli
-2/3 cup panko or bread crumbs
-5 tbsp butter
-6 tbsp flour
-4 cups milk and/or half and half
-1 tsp dry mustard
-1/2 tsp nutmeg
-salt and pepper

Directions
1. Boil the pasta in some salted water. Pull it right before it's al dente, and run cold water over it to stop the cooking and make sure it doesn't stick together.

2. Shred up your cheese. The whole idea for me was to use the odds and ends of cheese I had around, so I ended up with 8 oz of mixed comte and gruyere (the ends of two chunks), a wee bit of mozzarella, and half of a 16 oz bag of "Mexican blend" cheese, containing sharp cheddar, jack, asadero, and queso blanco. You want about 16 oz total, and I say the more kinds the merrier.

3. Chop your leeks. Be sure to get any sand or grit out of them.

4. Preheat the oven to 375 or so.

5. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour. Cook this mixture for a couple of minutes, then whisk in the milk, dry mustard, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. I ran out of milk, so I used 3 cups of milk and a cup of half-and-half. I'll probably do that on purpose from here on out. Whisk whisk whisk until it thickens--mine took about 10 minutes. When it's thick, take it off the heat and add the cheese, whisking until it's smooth.

6. Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat with a little butter or oil, add the leeks and salt and pepper, and cook the leeks until they are soft and kinda translucent on the white bits. Takes about 5 minutes.

7. Mix the pasta, leeks, and sauce together in a bowl, then spread into a 8-by-8 inch pan. Sprinkle the panko or bread crumbs over the top.

8. Bake until it's bubbly and brown on the top--20 or 25 minutes should do it.

Yum!

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So you all know I love to thrift shop. What I may not have blathered on about as much is my love of discount stores. Part of both loves, of course, come from the thrill of low prices, but that's not the entirety of it. There is also the joy I get from shopping at a store I can't count on to stock any particular thing at any particular time. The treasure hunt, to see what new great items are available. Often, these are things I'd buy anyway at another store. Sometimes, they are things that I never even knew existed. But they always make me happy to find.

I've mentioned this love to friends before and been met with looks of skepticism. "What," I've been asked, "can you possibly be buying at Big Lots?" So, today, I thought I'd show you. There is no such things as a "typical" Big Lots trip, because the shelves are always stocked with different stuff. But this is what jumped into my cart last night:

What you see here is:
-three 32-oz shelf-stable boxes of Wolfgang Puck Free-Range Roasted Chicken Stock, $1.50 each (typical price $3.50-$4)
-two 32-oz shelf-stable boxes of Wolfgang Puck Organic Vegetable Broth, $1.50 each (typical price $3.50-$4)
-two boxes of Double Stuf Oreo Cakesters, $1.80 each (typical price $3.75-$4)
-two bags of Ghiradelli All-Natural Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, 2/$5 (typical price $4 each)
-two bags of Ghiradelli All-Natural Milk Chocolate Chips, 2/$5 (typical price $4 each)
-two tubes of Toms of Maine Anti-Plaque Toothpaste in Spearmint, $2.50 each (typical price $4.50-$5.50)
-package of 100 Royal 100% cotton rounds, $.80 (typical price $1-$1.50)
-two rolls of 2" x 1600" USPS packing tape, $3 each (typical price $4.50-$5.50)
-one package of SomaDream sleep capsules, $2 (typical price $2)
-one package of Seven Moons Udon Noodles, $1.50 (typical price $3.50-$4 for similar)
-one package of Seven Moons Soba Noodle, $1.50 (typical price $3.50-$4 for similar)

As you can see, nearly everything I bought was at a substantial discount from what I'd have paid regularly, unless the item happened to be on sale (I don't coupon, I just am not organized enough). And most of it was even at a similar price to a BOGO sale or similar, which is about as good as regular sales and coupons get. Now, were these all things we needed, or at least things I would have bought anyway? With the exception of the SomaDream capsules, yes--each of these items was something on my regular shopping list, that I would have picked up at Target or the grocery store had I not seen them in Big Lots. It's not always that way--sometimes most of what I come home with falls into the bizarre category, rather than the necessary one, but usually it's more like this.

While I was browsing Big Lots (I totally go down every aisle, I find it mesmerizing), I saw several other things at high discounts that I personally don't need, but I know others would find useful. Boxes of Green Mountain coffee pods were $4 (regular price around $10). Condensed soups were $.50/can (regular price around $1). There is always a wide variety of pet products (I often buy cat toys there, and occasionally they have our brand of litter at a substantial discount).

This post is not intended as a Big Lots sale's pitch--they aren't paying me. I just think it's an interesting and often really money-saving experience to shop discount stores. It helps, of course, if you are willing to take a chance on some products that might suck, but if you go often, you'll likely find a few of your regular purchases every time. Plus, it's a lot of fun (well, it is if you're me, anyway).

3 Comments

I loooove Big Lots! I've bought Crocs there for 5 bucks before. I've found, though, that sometimes the food isn't the best. We had some pretty pitiful Little Debbie snack cakes, but then again that might just be that we bought Little Debbie snack cakes.

I freaking love big lots sometimes. I've gotten big bottles of good laundry detergent for half of regular store prices, and have regularly found good organic foods at ours.

Big Lots is my "Go To" store for bargins. I've found exceptional low prices on grocery items. For example,Seven Moons Soba Noodles for $1.50 a 12-oz pkg is one example...a $2.00 savings. Great prices on seasonings, Spanish olive oils, Italian whole wheat crackers, etc. And then there are great prices on most everything else. The selection of gardening related items is very good and priced right. Oh, I'm in no way connected to Big Lots other than going there to shop
or to browse. See you in the international food isle soon.

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I've mentioned before that I can't cook. Can't is probably too strong a word--it's more don't. And mostly, I don't because Mark is a very good cook, and I, even on my best day, am a very basic cook. I'm very willing to take shortcuts, and I don't make anything fancy. But, if it comes down to it, I am perfectly capable of feeding myself.

And, as it turns out, feeding others. Our neighbors are just about to have a baby. So, I wanted to take them a couple of meals for their freezer, since I know it's hard to cook during the first weeks with a newborn. I was a better person for this particular job than Mark for a couple of reasons. First, my style of cooking is much more suited to freezer meals than is Mark's. Secondly, Mr. Neighbor is quite picky and not too much into eating "weird" stuff. Finally, more than half of our kitchen is already packed, including a lot of Mark's fancy cooking equipment. And he's not so keen on cooking without it.

Given what I know about Mr. Neighbor's food preferences, and my own limited skills, I decided on two easy and easily freezable meals: lasagna and enchiladas. Keep in mind that these are the easy, lazy recipes. I know these things could be made better and cheaper without so many convenience items. However, given time constraint and the half-packed kitchen, convenience is a major factor right now. And, from the neighbors' perspective, it's got to beat McDonald's, right?

First, to the supermarket.

Ingredients for enchiladas

These are the enchilada ingredients. A package of 8 flour burrito-sized tortillas, a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts (a bit over a pound), two cans of enchilada sauce (one medium, one mild), a small can of diced green chilies, and a one pound bag of shredded Mexican blend cheese (a mix of pepper jack or even regular jack and cheddar would work too). If I were making these for myself, I'd use a can of diced olives as well, but I know Mr. Neighbor doesn't like them. The red sauce can be replaced with green sauce, and the medium and mild sauce combination is just my preference--any heat will work. I don't have any preferences regarding brands here, I just bought whatever I saw first.

Ingredients for lasagna

These are the ingredients for the lasagna. A tub of ricotta, a package of frozen chopped spinach, a box of noodles (the kind you don't pre-cook), a jar of sauce (if I am going to use jarred sauce, I really like Paul Newman's Sockarooni), a package of mild Italian sausages, and a one-pound bag of shredded mozzarella. You also need a couple of eggs, but I forgot to put them in the picture. A pound of ground Italian sausage would be better than the link stuff, but the store I went to didn't have any, so this will work. You could use turkey sausage if you prefer it. Do not, for God's sake, use cottage cheese in place of the ricotta. That's nasty.

Raw chicken breasts

The first thing you want to do is get the chicken breasts cooking. Heat the oven up to 400 degrees. Put a little bit of oil on a sheet pan, then plop the breasts down on it. Salt and pepper them liberally, then put them in the oven.

Splitting sausage

Next, get the sausage ready to cook. Because I used link sausage, I first had to cut it out of the casing and break it up into the pan.

Cooking sausage

Put it in a pan over medium heat. Keep it moving so that it doesn't stick.

Cooked sausage

After about five minutes or so, it should be broken up and cooked. Might take a little bit longer. You don't want to mess with undercooked pork, so make sure it's done.

Adding sauce to sausage

Add the jar of sauce to the sausage.

Finished sauce

Mix it up and heat it for a few more minutes until it's heated through, then take it off the burner.

Next, mix up the ricotta layer for the lasagna. You'll need the ricotta, spinach, salt, pepper, and a couple of eggs.

Ricotta mixture

Toss it all in the bowl and mix. If the spinach isn't thawed, make sure to break it up and squeeze out as much extra moisture as possible.

Cooked chicken breasts

For me, by this time the chicken will be cooked through (takes about 20-25 minutes). You know it's done when you can cut the largest breast in half and it's not pink the middle. You don't have to worry about how these look, so cutting them up to test them is no problem. Pull them out of the oven and set them aside to cool.

Lasagna ready to assemble

With the ricotta mixture and the sauce mixture finished, and the sauce cooled some, you are ready to assemble the lasagna. I am using two 8 X 8 disposable pans, since this is for our neighbors and I don't want them to have to worry about returning pans. If I were making it for us, I'd probably use two Pyrex pans of the same size, so I could freeze one for later and cook one for now. Using one larger pan (like 9 X 13) will also work.

Preparing lasagna pans

Prep the pans by spreading a thin layer of sauce over the bottom.

Lasagna noodeles first layer

Cover the sauce with a layer of noodles. I like using the noodles you don't pre-cook because the finished product ends up a bit firmer, plus it's easier. As a side benefit, they are exactly the right size for the 8 X 8 pans.

Lasanga with ricotta first layer

Next, spread about half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles.

Lasagna with cheese first layer

Follow with about a third of the mozzarella.

Lasagna with sauce first layer

Then about a third of the sauce.

From here, repeat the noodles-ricotta-mozzarella-sauce layers. This should use all the ricotta mixture.

Lasagna with cheese first layer

Then do another layer, this time just noodles-sauce-mozzarella. You don't want the ricotta mixture close to the top, so you end up with three layers of noodles, sauce, and mozzarella, but only two of the ricotta mixture.

Shredded chicken

By this time, the chicken should be cool enough to handle. Shred it up into a bowl.

Sauce into filling

Add one of the cans of enchilada sauce to the shredded chicken. I use the medium sauce in the filling and the mild sauce on top, but it really doesn't make any difference.

Peppers into filling

Next, add the chili peppers to the filling.

Cheese and filling

Finally, mix in about half of the cheese.

Readying pans for enchiladas

Prepping the pans works similarly to the lasagna, only use a bit of the other can of enchilada sauce.

Filling enchiladas

Put about an eighth of the filling into one of the tortillas.

Putting enchiladas in pan

Roll it up and stick it in the prepared pan. These big flour tortillas are actually a bit big for these pans--it would work better to use taco-sized tortillas for these pans. You can use corn tortillas too, if you prefer those.

Enchiladas before sauce

Repeat the rolling until you have two pans of four enchiladas each. Once again, you can do them all in a 9 X 13 pan if you want.

Enchiladas with sauce

Pour the remainder of the sauce over the enchiladas.

Finished enchiladas

Cover the enchiladas with the remaining cheese.

Finished and labeled meals

Now that everything is done, cover each pan with tin foil if they are going into the freezer. Be sure to crimp the edges down so they don't get freezer burn. Then I put the plastic tops that came with the pans on and labeled each one with what they were and cooking instructions. The lasagna should take about an hour at 350 degrees and the enchiladas about 45 minutes at 375. That assumes that they start out thawed, though. If they are frozen, it will take about twice as long.

There you have it. Freezer feeding for the terminally lazy. Each pan is 3-4 servings, depending on how hungry you are. Add a little salad from a bag and you're good to go.

3 Comments

I stopped putting eggs in my lasagna when I got my allergy and didn't notice much of a difference, other than it's a little messier than it usually is.

That looks so good! My due date is tomorrow, I'm hoping for similar offerings from my neighbours (but may very well be happy with McD's!). :-)

Christine

Wow, that looks yummy!!

Re your comment. It is worth it (the cash system). For online purchases, keep that money in a jar and take it to the bank to pay your credit card bill.

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Anybody want to buy a great house?

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I just realized I didn't tell all you (all. heh. all five.) readers about my house! Our listing went up on Friday! So far, we've had four showings. No offers, but a couple of really positive responses, so our fingers remain crossed.

The listing is here, if you are interested. And, because someone did ask for more pictures of the house at one point, let me show you how well it staged!

Front patio:
front patio.jpg

Kitchen:
kitchen.jpg

More kitchen:
kitchen 2.jpg

Dining area:
dining room.jpg

Living room:
living room.jpg

Guest room:
guest room.jpg

Master bedroom:
master.jpg

Office:
office.jpg

Fountain and pond in the back:
fountain and pond.jpg

Back herb garden and arbor:
back yard.jpg

1 Comments

Not planning to emigrate, but I love, love, love your kitchen cabinets and copied the picture into my reno ideas folder!

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In contemplation of the cul de sac

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As I mentioned, we're looking for a place to live in Virginia, with the intent of moving there at the end of the summer (likely in late August). Before we actually started looking, Mark and I both had a romantic notion of living outside the cities and suburbs, in horse country, maybe on a few acres. I imagined having space for lots of rescue dogs. I imagined quiet and solitude. I imagined a stream, and maybe a barn. I neglected to consider the impact of all that solitude on my work-at-home self. Or ony having one car. Or the million or so things that totally blow about living out in the country, like lousy Internet service and long commutes. But when I actually went and visited the area, these things all sprang back to mind.

And so, it seems quite likely that we're headed for the suburbs. I grew up in the country and have lived in a city since then. I've never lived in a suburb. In fact, I've spent a good part of the last decade or so making merciless fun of suburbs. Places where you can't walk or bus anywhere. Places with houses all built the same, with lots of rules, with no real trees and cardboard neighbors. Edward Scissorhands land. Why would anyone want to live there?

Turns out there are reasons. Long drives every day to work suck. Space is nice to have. My dogs need a yard, and I'd like a bathtub. It's a difficult thing for my trying-to-be-hip self to say, but there are benefits to living somewhere with sidewalks and "safe streets." I'm still not thrilled about the idea of moving into one of a hundred houses that look just the same, or having someone come down on me if I put something they don't like in my lawn, or having to get in the car to get coffee/go to the library/whatever. But I do understand the reasons a bit better now, having compared what is available in the 'burbs to the city and country options.

This is yet another one of those weird growing up things. Just like I never expected to work at a desk from 9-5, or wear makeup every day, or pay someone to paint my house, I never expected to live in a much too-big house in a suburb. Just like I pictured exciting, important jobs and cutting edge clothes and a do-it-myself life, I pictured either rural simplicity or the excitement of a city. I was never going to be halfway anywhere, I was never going to let people tell me what to do. And suburbs are the epitome of halfway.

It never ceases to amaze me just how much things change. It seems like almost every day right now it's something else. What's next? Once we are installed in our multi-bedroom sububan home, a couple of proper DINKS, then what? A baby? A SUV? A subscription to Rachael Ray's magazine? Where will it end?

13 Comments

I have the perfect mix of suburb/country. Maybe there's a better suburban option than tract housing? I've lived in some lovely, character-rich, walkable suburbs.

HAVE A BABY!!!!

then i can play with it.

So if you are going to the place I think you are going, it's not too long of a drive to be in the real country--or in the city proper, more or less (except that's hard with dogs). I don't know that part of VA real well, and I don't know where you'll be working, but I'm happy to pass along any DC metro area knowledge that's helpful.

I don't know much about Chantilly, but I do know its not too far from (and not all that different from) the Centreville/Manassas area, which I am familiar with. The houses around Centreville/Manassas do (in my opinion) have a nice mix of suburban and country living- enough space so you can breath without being so isolated that you're cut off from the rest of the world. Yes, you definitely need a car to do ANYTHING around there, but it's not like you will be living on a street where all the houses are practically on top of each other and all look the same (like where I grew up (shudder)).

Does this discussion remind anybody else of the book "A Wrinkle in Time"?

Many suburbs do not have sidewalks and aren't safer than cities. The assumption that cities are unsafe annoys me. (not aimed at you, in general)

Didn't you already have an SUV?

Since you discuss the environmental impact of your clothing choices, how do you feel about the environmental impact of suburban living?

Cul-de-sacs always remind me of a story on NPR a few years ago that high-lighted their safety statistics. I guess more little kids are harmed/killed by cars backing up than by cars moving forward. Cars have to back up a lot in cul-de-sacs. Ergo cul-de-sacs are dangerous for little kids. I'd guess that driving a high SUV in a cul-de-sac would make things even more dangerous. Some cities even ban new cul-de-sacs for this reason.

That was a bit of an aside. Oops. But best of luck finding a good place to live. Moving is hard.

It is so crazy when that moment happens and you've suddenly transformed into "adult".

Funny, life's what happens while you're busy making other plans, no?
I still look at my kids, mortgage and car some days and wonder: where did they came from, how did I get here? Not a bad feeling at all, and it really makes me laugh too. Sometimes the inside needs catching up with the outside of yourself or something. :-)

Christine

I would check my www.walkscore.com before buying any house. We're in the suburbs with a walk score of 75, and I love it. It can be done!

Grace, I if you're moving to the D.C. area . . .

Paul's sister and her husband are thinking about selling their house to move here. It's near the Beltway (my BIL works in D.C. and the commute's not bad).

They used to live in Manassas, but when they bought a house they moved up to the Maryland side. They live in a really neat neighborhood near College Park. Nice neighbors, older house with character, fenced yard, no suburban tract styling, great Farmer's Market nearby.

Here's the town website. Their house looks like the little one in the slideshow. Theirs is surprisingly large inside because of a big kitchen/family room addition in the back: http://www.berwyn-heights.com/

Let me know if you want to know more . . .

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My life in a box

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What's going on at my house?

Let Atticus give you a hint:

Yep. We're packing. It's part of a a multi-step pack-renovate-pack-show-pack-sell-pack-move process.

Why yes, I AM in hell!

I don't think of myself as being overly attached to my stuff, but I realized today, when faced with not seeing my craft supplies until September, that I am. And I am putting off packing up all of the non-necessities in my bathroom. Two months plus with no changes in soap??

Seriously. I'm going to try to keep blogging regularly (my laptop, needless to say, will not be packed until the very last moment), but things are getting extremely hectic around here, so if there is some radio silence, it's probably because I'm up to my ears in boxes and tape.

Pity me.

4 Comments

I do feel for you!! I moved last November and I STILL haven't found/unpacked my crafting supplies--very frustrating! Packing/moving/unpacking is never fun. Hang in there!

I hope that the move/showing/renovations go so smoothly for you, Grace.

Where are you moving?

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Pointy faced guest

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Look who picked our yard as a vacation spot?
Our pointy-faced guest

She even brought the kids!
Mama with babies

Mama with babies

For some reason, I am guessing that her run-in with the all-canine welcoming committee is going to convince her to seek a more habitable environment.

At least I hope so. Ew.

5 Comments

I don't particularly love her, but I still think that her snarl looks like a smile. Are you sure she wasn't giggling?

I gotta say, those babies are pretty cute!

Mom looks pretty fierce though.

Well, forgive my ignorance, but what is it, a rat? The ones we have here are brown. Looks kinda cute in the pics, but you don't want them around. I once had one flying out of a closet we hardly ever use, it was the only time I've ever seen our dog, who has NO prey-drive at all, come to my rescue because I was screaming so hard. The rat ran for its life, dog barely missed it and I called the exterminator who came that afternoon and got rid of it. Such excitement!

Christine

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The power of smell

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Since I wrote this post about my addiction to fancy bath stuff and perfume, I have had it in my head to write something about the smells I prefer and why. Obviously, since I make my own essential oil scented products, as well as spending an embarrassing amount of time picking out the smells I want from other people's stuff, I have preferences. There are a set of smells I love and a set of smells I can't stand, and some of it is probably just random taste, but a lot of it does have to do with the feelings that those smells invoke in me. I don't know if I really believe in aromatherapy or not, but it seems undeniable to me that smells do have bearing on your feelings. Bad or overpowering smells are distracting and irritating, while subtle and pleasant smells are calming. Smells can make you nostalgic, obviously, but also tense and troubled. Smells can help you to relax or energize you. But not all smells work the same way for all people, so please don't think of this as instruction or advice. This is just what works for me.

Smells I Love
Lavender: For me, lavender is probably the most overall useful and pleasant scenting agent. I use it everything from bath stuff to cleaning supplies, combine it with nearly everything, and it is almost never wrong. My laundry soap is lavender lemongrass, with a lavender dryer sachet; there is a lavender and sweet orange spray near my cat boxes; and if I am making bath products for myself, they are more likely to contain lavender than any other single smell. Lavender makes me feel calm and relaxed, and it also gives me the sensation of being clean and fresh (which is why I love it so much for laundry and cleaning).

My favorite lavender products: There are a ton to choose from, but the first two that come to mind are Aveda's Balancing Infusion for Sensitive Skin (which contains lavender, patchouli, geranium, and rose oils) and EO's Lavender and Sweet Orange Room Spray, which I believe is found at Whole Foods.

Orange: Like lavender, I find orange to be a versatile and almost univerally pleasant smell. It has to be a natural orange smell, though--the kind that smells like an actual orange, not like orange candy. Many people find citrus smells invigorating and energizing, but I don't particularly (probably in large part due to the blends I choose). For me, orange, like lavender, invokes feelings of calm and cleanliness.

My favorite orange products: My own orange and clove bath stuff has to be up there, but I like other people's orange products as well. One I've been enjoying lately is the Orange Sherbet Bubble Bath Dough from Red Leaf. It's a nice warm orange scent with a little bit of vanilla in it that smells very natural and I find both cheerful and soothing.

Fig: Though it is slightly more esoteric than the first two scents I mentioned, I'm nuts about fig scented products. I love fig because it's a natural, fruity smell that has some earthiness to it and isn't too sweet. For me, it's a very grounding, centered smell. In particular, I love bath products with a fig element.

My favorite fig products: The product that introduced me to my love of fig was Lush's Figs & Leaves soap, which is made with actual figs as well as orange and ylang ylang and is my hands-down favorite thing from Lush. More recently, I have been crazy about Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab's Carnal scent, which pairs fig with mandarin.

Rose: It took me a long time to warm up to rose, mostly because there is so much badly done rose stuff out there. Nicely scented rose products should smell like an actual rose, not your grandmother's underwear drawer. There is a weird underlying power or talculm scent in some rose stuff that I just cannot get behind. Real rose, though, is a pure, beautiful scent, and not just a floral but also an earthy, almost spicy note. I like to wear it because it makes me feel not only feminine, but somehow more mature and confident.

My favorite rose products: Once again, BPAL does an amazing job with rose. Their The Rose perfume is probably the perfect pure rose scent. I love the blends with rose even more, though, particularly Catherine, which is rose, rosemary, and orange blossom; and Mata Hari, which is a five rose blend with jasmine, vanilla, fig, tonka bean, mahogany, and coffee.

Clove: The more I experiment with scents, the more I realize that I strongly prefer "warm" scents to "cool" ones. I like spicy, rich scents. And nothing adds spicy and rich to a combination faster than clove. I mix clove with nearly as many things as I do lavender (though I do not mix them together!). I love orange and clove, rose and clove, vanilla and clove...I could go on. The smell of clove makes me feel warm and safe and at home.

My favorite clove products: Once again, I am awfully fond of my own clove blends, but nothing I've made can hold a candle to Villainess' Embargo. Embargo is a complicated scent, "Indonesian Patchouli spiked with imported spices - cloves, sandalwood, and cedarwood, and a drop of perfume - Tunisian jasmine, tuberose, lily of the valley, grape and Tahitian vanilla," but mostly, to me, it smells like a warm library. BPAL's Madrid is another great clove scent, mixing clove with red wine and mimosa.

So tell me, what smells do you love? Why? How do they make you feel? Do they invoke specific memories, or just general feelings? How important do you think they are in your life?

4 Comments

What laundry soap is lavender and lemongrass?

I love lavender, lemongrass, licorice, cinnamon, ginger, cedar, grapefruit. Spicy or citrusy is good

I HATE all musk, patchouli sort of stuff. And I hate vanilla with a passion. As well as iris, which is the main baby powder component. It's IN EVERYTHING and I have always always hated it. It's all orris root.

When I got allergy tested, it turned out I am really allergic to that stuff! So now it makes sense. I once borrowed Simon's deodorant and he uses something with it in there and I got hives. Blech.

Lavender is so disgusting to me. It is not a preference thing. It is something genetic and innate. My sis and I both had the gag reflex go off when we smelled lavender. I know 99.9% of the population loves it. I wish I did.

Smells I love: jasmine. The real deal. Either flowers or the oil that costs about $25/ml. Mmmmmmm.

Black pepper makes me weak in the knees. LOVE.

A nice light licorice smell. Like fennel.

Ylang ylang. It has a nice feminine mystery to it.

I really love peppermint, eucalyptus and pine. I think because it smells fresh. Doesn't matter whether it's for the bath or shower or to make the room smell nice.
I agree with the fig, a while back we bought Oyin funk butter and it had a fig smell I really loved. Never realized it could smell so good! I should check out the Lush you mention too.
Lavender can be really nice, but a lot of times I think it smells kind of chemical. Rose and orange are nice when I smell a bottle but I wouldn't buy it. Actually washing myself with it would be too much.
For laundry, we definitely prefer no smell to the detergent.

Christine

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Chicken Tagine: A Guest Post by Mark!

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Y'all, I have a treat for you! As you know, I don't cook. 99% of the cooking at my house is done by my partner, Mark. Tonight, Mark made one of my very favorite meals, chicken tagine. And because I am really really nice to him, he agreed to do a guest post so that WINOW readers can create this wonder in their own homes if they have the urge. Sweet! So, without further ado, I give you Mark:

***

Tagine in the potTake one chicken (I like free-range organic ones) - butcher, reserving back for stock and breasts for another meal. Marinate wings, legs and thighs (I leave the wings whole as well as the leg/thighs), with skin on in:
2 teaspoons Harissa (Morroccan spice paste; I get mine from chefshop.com from a line called Mustapha's).
2 teaspoons Ras el-Hanout (Arabic spice mixture; its got like 20 different things in it, including Fennugreek, Rosehips, etc. inimitable in my opinion. Can be kind of hard to find.)
1 tbls olive oil
copious sea salt and fresh black pepper

Rub this mixture all over the chicken parts and leave to marinate for a while (all day would be great, but I've done it just for like 20 minutes and it works fine). Remember to wash your hands. Harissa in your eyes really sucks.

Brown the chicken parts (starting skin side down) in a hot dutch over or other similarly sized dish in some olive oil ( like 2 tsps - not too much). Get some nice caramelized browness all over the chicken but be sure not to let the brown bits in the bottom burn. Keep an eye on the heat and regulate. You should see a fair amount of dusty, henna-colored oil in the bottom.

Once the chicken parts are nice and brown, remove to a dish and add:
1 whole chopped yellow onion - chopped pretty fine, but no need to mince
2 carrots , chopped - abou the same size as the onions.
Use the moisture released from the veg to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the delicious brown stuff stuck to the pan with a wooden spoon. Make sure you get it all up. Add some salt and pepper while you're deglazing - helps release liquid.

After most of the moisture cooks out of the veg - 5 to 10 minutes, add
4-5 cloves of minced garlic
a few tsps of minced fresh thyme (not essential, but nice)
½ of a large preserved lemon, diced or minced (I make my own, but you can use the store bought stuff. Just scrape off all the flesh and dice the skin, including the pith. You should have about a tblsp or more).

Dishing up the tagineStir this around for a few minutes, letting the garlic sauté in the oil and get fragrant with the thyme and the lemon. Then add:
2 cans chickpeas
2 cans tomatoes - you can use whatever format you want here I think. I usually use whole peeled, and crush them into bits by hand as I use them. But you can use diced or whatever too.
1 whole dried bay leaf.
Stir that all around, get it all mixed up, and then add maybe a little more salt and pepper.

Add the reserved chicken back in, burying it in the veg mixture, and add back any of the juices released by the chicken.

Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook for at least an hour at a slight simmer - you should see bubbles, but not many and not too frequently. You really have to keep an eye on the heat. Alternatively, you could put it in a slow oven, but you have to keep an eye on it. Stir and turn the chicken a few times during the cooking, making sure to scrape the bottom.

Towards the end of cooking, remove the pieces of chicken, take the skin off and discard, strip the meat from the bones and connective tissue and add it back to the tagine. Let it simmer and thicken uncovered for a while until it reaches the thickness you want with the shredded chicken in there and its ready to serve.

I check it for seasoning at the end, adding more salt, pepper, fresh lemon juice, thyme (or parsley) or harissa to taste.

I serve it with coucous made with toasted pine nuts and sliced almonds, dried cranberries and seasoned with cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

***

Kiss the cookGrace again. Sounds good, huh? It's also pretty healthy. This recipe makes about 6 servings, and each is about 7 WW points, by my count (plus however much couscous you eat with it, of course). And it reheats wonderfully, and freezes well.

Don't forget to kiss the cook!

3 Comments

Mmm... my husband wants to make this!

Fantastic! I'm always happy to have new recipes to try (and I'm going to use what little willpower I have to keep myself from spending the rent money at chefshop.com!).

Man I love tagine. I like to make it with lamb, but I'll take any excuse to eat lamb.

Thought I'd share the bookmark I have with Paula Wolfert's recipe for Ras el Hanout, along with several others: http://www.spicelines.com/2006/10/ras_el_hanout_the_secret_ingre.htm

Not that I've gotten around to making my own yet, cause I totally haven't.

I should make it and do a KYS blog post about it. I owe the world one of those....

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What does a small household buy at Costco?

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I've been asked before if Costco is cost-effective for a two-person household. Though my impression is that it definitely is, I've never done the math before. Given the current emphasis on saving money, I thought I'd do that exercise now.

Today, I went to Costco. I bought most of the staples we buy there regularly, as we hadn't been in months. This is what I came home with:

Costco

Here you see:


  • Two whole organic fryer chickens, $21.25

  • Three Amy's Organics spinach pizzas, $13.99

  • Two large jars of Jif peanut butter, $8.99

  • A dozen Einstein's cinnamon raisin bagels, $4.99

  • A dozen organic Jonagold apples, $6.79

  • A bag of mini tricolor sweet peppers, $3.79

  • A 190-ct bottle of glucosamine condtroitin, $23.45

  • A large jar of pesto, $7.49

  • A large tub of Sabra hummus, $5.99

  • A big jug of white vinegar, $3.29

  • A two pack of organic spinach ravioli, $8.89

  • Two big bags of Stacy's pita chips, $5.69 each

  • A four-pack of organic chicken broth, $9.99

  • A block of sharp Tillamook cheddar, $7.49

  • Two pounds of Parmesan, $17.97

  • A five-pack of celebration crackers, $7.69

  • A 25 lb bag of cat food (not pictured), $14.69

  • A 10 lb bag of baking soda (not pictured), $5.69

Was my trip cost-effective? Well, if I'm comparing it to not buying convenience items at all, probably not. But frankly, we're gonna eat some convenience foods. So let's compare some of those:

The cheapest I've seen Amy's spinach pizzas is about $6 at Target, and they are much more than that at our regular co-op. 3 for $13.99 makes them less than $5 each.

Costco's pesto is marvelously cheap for the quality. I've paid that much or close to it for 1/4 that much or less before, and Costco's quality is better. Same thing with hummus. Sabra is my favorite brand, and it costs about 1/2 what that giant tub costs to get 1/4 that much in a regular grocery store.

The prices on basics are pretty good, too. Cheapest vinegar and baking soda I've found, and definitely the cheapest-for-the-quality cat food.

Yep. My two-person household gets their money's worth at Costco. What about you?

9 Comments

Also a 2 person household with a Costco card. On the food side, we break even, but - if you are into photography - their developing equipment is some of the best around. So when you factor in the cheap, high quality photo development (if you are into that sort of thing) you definitely come out ahead.

You included the chicken just to taunt me right? ;) (I can almost buy one for that price, but not organic--those are more like 35-40 dollars apiece, depending on the exchange rate)

For comparison, several items on your list--in the bulk quantities mind-- are similar to what standard sizes cost here. I don't think you can find peanut butter for less than 6 bucks, and that is for a small jar.

And that quantity of cheddar would be anywhere from 15-25 dollars here, depending on brand. (Cheddar is uniquely expensive among cheeses here and not universally available; it's bizarre.)

So, keep up the Costco love!

Interesting to see those prices. We don't have Costco here and we're with 4 people so it doesn't compare, but I'm shocked something like peanut butter is so expensive in the US! Or are those jars 2 pounds each? And I don't mean to be nosy, but why do you buy so much Parmesan? It's very expensive (here also). And also cheddar, are you guys big cheese-lovers? ;-) The chicken (organic) and apples are about the same price as here. The spinach ravioli seems very expensive to me. I always buy (especially when I can get it in bulk) bottles or jars of strained tomatoes (passata). You can do so much with it and it's usually not expensive.
I know packaging is usually much larger in the US than it is here, interesting to see in your pic it really is. Pesto only comes in really small jars here. :-)
Great post!

Christine

I had no idea about the pesto, thanks for letting me know. I just realized they had tofu last week, why don't I know these things?

When I could afford it, I kept my Costco membership just for the Tillamook, hummus, fresh salsa, and 3-lb bags of spinach. Mmm.

For people who have to really watch their money, Costco has the potential to kill in 2 ways: (1) They only take debit cards or American Express. Even though the cost of Costco items is RELATIVELY small, it's still not small in absolute terms, and it adds up really quickly. I'd easily spend $75 per visit by just sticking to a few basic things. Without good planning, you risk overdrawing your bank account if you go the debit route. (2) Somewhat related--Costco depends upon impulse sales for earning lots of money. I don't know what it is about things in bulk, but some sort of primal hoarding instinct makes it really hard (at least for me) to resist buying things that I wouldn't buy in regular sizes. (Avoid the candy isle!!) And they rotate their inventory a lot, so every time you go in there, there's something new--and they'll give you a sample of it to make it even more tempting. So it can be hard to go into Costco and stick to a budget.

So if you're limited in terms of money and you have weak self-control, you may want to avoid Costco. :)

This makes me want a Costco really, really badly. I can't believe all the organic stuff you can get at such a good price!

We have a Sam's Club, and I was actually planning to do this kind of side-by-side comparison this week. I think we probably get our membership cost back just on Oxi-Clean, DD's gummy vitamins, and Cabot cheese alone.

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Joyful corners

| 4 Comments

I really want to blog, but my brain is so allergy-addled I can't even make sentences. So, instead, I wanted to show you a few little corners of my home I particularly love. I really enjoy seeing pictures of other people's houses on their blogs, so hopefully you will feel the same about seeing a few pieces of mine.

Craft table

This is my craft table in the office Mark and I share. Just looking at this nice, clean, creative space makes me really happy.

wine bar

This is the wine bar in our living room. I bought it for Mark for his birthday several years ago. It's the first new piece of furniture I remember buying (and honestly, it came in a box from Target, so it wasn't THAT much of a milestone). It has held up really well and I still love the way it looks.

bookshelves

These are two of our many bookshelves. We have....eight more? I just cleaned off the top shelves and put the pictures of them last weekend. I love bookshelves. These are neat, too--they are actual wood, but they fold up. We got them off Craigslist from some people in the suburbs who were replacing them with something fancier.

dresser top

This is the makeshift "dressing table" on the top of my dresser, where I hold all of my prescriptions, jewelry, hair brush, etc. I don't know why I love this space, but I do. I'll love it even more when I remember to get some high-gloss spray paint for the unpainted wood tray.

IMG_0122

Lastly, the basket of soap in my bathroom. You can't really tell, but most of what is in here is local handmade or swapped handmade soap. I love handmade and fancy bar soap.

Hope you enjoyed this tiny tour! If you're inspired, I'd love to see some of your favorite nooks and crannies on your blogs!

4 Comments

This post makes me want to go home and organize my house! I love that wine bar. And I love to see other people's bookshelves... do you ever read this blog? http://theblogonthebookshelf.blogspot.com/

It's just pictures of lots of strange bookcase designs. I love bookcases, but then, I am a librarian so I guess it makes sense!

First, your new camera is DA BOMB and tell Mark your blog readers say thank you too! LOL

Second I also love the wine bar and need to go buy one just like it. Right.now.

Third, how fun to see little nooks in your home. I'm definitely doing this next week on my blog.

Fourth, I love the colors you've chosen for the walls in your house. Just looks like such a fun place to live.

Dear god these spaces are tidy. Did you tidy them for the pictures or are you just some kind of grown up or something?

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Shrimp mango sweet potato curry recipe

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By request, here's the recipe for that curry. It's adapted from Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast.

1. First, get your rice started. I used basmati and it was really good. The recipe on my bag is to soak 1:2 ratio of rice to water with a little sesame oil and salt for 15 minutes, then bring it to a boil, then turn it down and simmer it covered for 15 more minutes. Seems to work pretty well.

2. Cut up the following:
--two green onions/scallions (small rounds)
--two sweet potatoes (you want about 2.5 cups of smallish cubes)
--a mango (you want about a cup of smallish cubes)

3. Heat up some sesame oil in a nonstick and fry the green onions for about a minute. Then add about 1.5 tablespoons of curry paste (if you don't want it to be super hot, use less or use a mild paste), 2 teaspoons of fish sauce, about 2/3 can of coconut milk, and about a cup of chicken stock. Bring it to a boil.

4. Once it's boiling, add the sweet potatoes and turn it down to simmer. Simmer it until the sweet potatoes are softish--about 15 minutes.

5. Add a bag of cleaned and deveined frozen shrimp (about 16 oz). Return to a boil and cook for a few minutes until the shrimp are cooked through, then add the mango and a big squeeze of lime (a couple of teaspoons) and heat a minute more.

6. Serve the curry over the rice. Nigella says to put fresh chopped cilantro on top, but I skipped that because I didn't have any.

Yum!

3 Comments

YAY! I called Terri and told her about this recipe. Think we're putting it on next weeks menu! YUM!

Question: Do you think it would hurt the recipe to leave the mango out?

Second Question: Do you like the cookbook? Are there lots of good recipes?

We put together this for our the main meal a couple of days ago. The whole family liked it, I will be cooking it frequently from now on, it is lovely to discover outstanding recommendations for dishes combined with easy to understand techniques to create them. Appreciate your providing them.

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Check out Chef Grace!

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Grace cooks! 011009I cooked again tonight--my most successful venture yet. I used this recipe for red curry with shrimp, sweet potato, and mango from Nigella Lawson's express cookbook, and it was really really tasty. It ended up way too hot, due, I guess, to the type of curry paste I bought, but it was still good, and I'll definitely make it again, with half as much curry paste.

I also spent all afternoon cleaning our house to make it more presentable and pleasant. Look at me working on my resolutions!

3 Comments

This looks yummy.

It looks really good, Grace! Do I even spy some cashews in there? Yum!
Impressive progress on your 2009 goals already, by the way. The new year is only 12 days old!

Christine

If you get a chance I'd love this recipe, it looks so yummy!

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NaBloPoMo #8: Show Me Saturday

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It is a lovely Saturday morning at my house.

perfect cup of coffee

I have the perfect cup of coffee.

rising cinammon roll dough

I'm making old-fashioned yeast cinnamon rolls, from my mom's recipe. The dough is on its first rise right now.

mark and leo watch the footie

Mark and Leo are watching footie on the couch. And I could probably tell you more, but I am going to go join them.

Have a great Saturday!

1 Comments

I am just loving these. It's like looking through the peep hole in your door. FUN!

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NaBloPoMo #1: Show Me Saturday

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Since this is my first post this year, and I am hopeful that I have a few new readers (maybe some of you from the contest stuck around?), I thought it might be a good use of my first Show Me Saturday post to introduce you to the players here in the What If No One's Watching saga.

First, there's me. I'm Grace, and I'll be your host. I'm a 29 year old Oregon native, transplanted in Austin, Texas by reason of education. My Austin-education is over (Masters in Public Affairs that I plan to never use), and my partner's is nearly completed, so we'll be moving on here within the year. I work as a University number cruncher, which is not my passion but does me just fine for now. My actual intellectual passion is U.S. history, and I'm still playing with the idea of getting a Ph.D. in that field some day. My non-work passions are dog rescue (more on that in a minute), reading, movies, crafting, thrifting, and, recently, the English Premiere League (football).

cranky mark drinks wineNext up is Mark, my partner. Mark and I have been together for seven years, and we were friends for four years before that, so we've known each other pretty much our entire adult lives. He's a fantastic human being, even if he doesn't think so. He's a Ph.D. student in neuroscience, and he's very, very smart. He's also truly good-hearted, which he sometimes tries to hide. He's into gourmet cooking and home repair, as well as sharing my passions for dogs and soccer.

Leo close upThe next eldest member of our family is Leo. Leo is a rescue dog. Mark and I adopted him in August of 2005 (read about it here). At that time, we thought he was between 6 and 8. Three plus years later, it's clear he was definitely closer to 6 than 8, because there is no way he's 11 now. 9, maybe. We don't know what Leo's mix is, though we're always game to hear a guess. The current best-guess is Pyr/Old English Sheepdog.

Leo is basically my soul mate in dog form. I loved our previous dog, Chance, whom we lost way way too soon, but Leo...Leo is something else. He truly makes me believe in miracles.

fat atticus 2Our next addition was tabby cat Atticus, in September 2005. We adopted Atticus from a PetSmart, where they were housing cats that had been moved out of shelters to make room for animals orphaned by Hurricane Katrina. It took me a bit to sell Mark on the cat idea, but I really wanted one, and then I met Atticus. His name was Sam then, and he was about 4 months old. All of the the other cats were mellow and friendly. Sam jumped out of my lap and made a mad escape into the store. Yep, that's the one I want. He continues to be alternatively cranky and affectionate, and to love Mark and only barely tolerate me. (You can read Atticus' story here.)

Ata likes to read 2 1-1-2003In January of 2006, we added our second dog, Atakan (pronounced Ah-tah-kahn, called Ata). Ata is another rescue, this time from the next county over's county shelter (read his adoption story here). He was a pathetic case when we adopted him, but has grown into an absolutely beautiful Anatolian Shepherd. With a kind of strange personality. Honestly, if Leo is my dog soul mate, Ata is Mark's. He's socially phobic, yet sort of outgoing. He's a guardian breed with a fear of thunderstorms. He's weird, and atypical and totally awesome.

At this point, with our two dogs and our cat, we thought we were done. The perfect pack. But things happen...

Comfy EsmeWe inherited our tortie cat, Esme, when our good friends moved to Europe. They wanted to take Esme, who they'd adopted not that long before they learned of their move, with them, but they were moving into a small apartment with their two big dogs, and poor Ez wouldn't have had a good place to escape the dogginess. So, in October 2006, she came to us (read that story here). And I will tell you absolutely unequivocably, Esme is my favorite cat. She's our most low-maintenance animal, spending most of her time chilling on or under our bed and in our bathroom, but she's extremely cuddly once she gets to know you (unlike Atticus, she doesn't make a game of showing you her claws). Give her something soft to stretch out in a sunbeam on and let her drink from the faucet when you brush your teeth and she's a happy, happy cat. I adore her.

After Esme, with two of each, we really were done. We were fostering dogs (all of whom have great stories, spread out over the last couple of years--click on the "Dogs" category on the sidebar if you want to read those), and we had a full house. But thing still happen...

kittens playing with illy 4The thing that happened next was Illy. In October 2007, this incredibly scrawny, sick-looking Siamese mix cat showed up in our neighbor's yard. Said neighbors have two great dogs who are not cat friendly, so they brought the scrawny cat over here to ask for our advice/help, since they knew we have cats and do animal rescue. And we said we'd take her (read about it here). We made a cursory effort at finding her people, but she had pretty clearly been stray quite a while, and nothing came of it.

Come to find out, a couple weeks later, that the cat, who we'd dubbed Illy after the espresso company, was pregnant. It was impossible to believe--she was SO little--but there you have it. So we took care of her, she thrived (all she really needed was to be fed, she was already pretty friendly), and in December, she had four healthy kittens (read about them here). She was a great mama, the kittens did wonderfully, and we adopted them all out by Valentine's Day. But kept Illy, who has since grown extremely fat and rules the roost here at our house with an iron paw.

That wraps up our permanent crew. But we do have two long-term temps right now, so I should probably introduce you to them as well. We have been fostering with a local organization called Hound Rescue (see that button on the side bar? Click it to give HR a chance to win some cash!) for a couple of years now. We typically only have one dog at a time, and we often have larger dogs, rather than beagles, but this time we have two beagles.

belle in basketBelle came to us in June, from the city pound, where she had been owner surrender (read about that here). She's one of the nicest and most well-mannered dogs I've ever met. She won't get on furniture, even with an invitation, even though the rest of our crew goes where they want when they want. She's not loud. She's gentle and calm and just fantastic. Plus she's Leo's BFF--they play non-stop, which is wonderful to see in a dog Leo's age. Belle has clearly had a hard road, and she has some scars to prove it (most significantly some pretty advanced cherry eye, which isn't bothering her, but doesn't look so great), but she's come out an incredible dog. She's one of those foster dogs I'd be happy to keep.

huey 2Our more recent addition is Huey P. Long, who came our way in September. Initially we were only supposed to have Huey for a few days before another foster would take him, but the rescue is overrun right now (hard economic times will do that), so we've needed to hang on to him. Huey is very, very fat (he weighted 62.5 lbs on the day we picked him up, hence the name I bestowed him with the minute I saw him). He's also old (9 or 10 is the best guess) and has a host of medical problems (a horrible ear infection when we got him, bad teeth, various lumps and bumps, some skin conditions, arthritis, and most recently a torn ACL which will have to be repaired surgically). Despite all of that, he's a joy. He's active, friendly, and seems to have no idea he's old or sick. He's probably a long-term boarder, given his host of issues, and honestly, that's fine. He can be a bit of pain (likes to bark at the cats), but he's a super sweet dog, and we're enjoying having him.

Whew. How's that for a first post of the month novel? Hope you got through it OK, and now that you've been introduced to the players, you will know who I am talking about when I write my posts for the rest of the month. Welcome to NaBloPoMo at What If No One's Watching. Happy to have you!

2 Comments

I loved reading everything about you and your family! How cool you're a foster home to those dogs. I'd like to do that one day, once the kids are bigger and we have more space. I love dogs. And you're 29! You spring chicken. ;-)

Christine

Greetings from the blogosphere. I'm also participating in NaBloPoMo, as I have done for the past 2-3 years. In addition to writing my own blogpost each day, I try to leave a comment on someone else's blog. Curiously enough, I start at the end of the alphabet and work my way up. At any rate, your blog title intrigued me, so here I am. Stop by The Zone sometime and say hello!

Love the menagerie you have there!

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Update on reed diffusers

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Several readers have asked for an update on how my homemade reed diffusers work. Now that we've had them for a few weeks, I feel like I can honestly answer that question.

They do work, but they aren't as strong or long-lasting as the commercial ones. In part, I suspect this is because of my not using chemical perfumes or scent enhancement, but I think it's also because I was too cheap and skimpy with the EOs. It makes sense that something that you are using to fragrance a whole room would need to be more concentrated that a bath product would, but I didn't really think about that to begin with, or at least didn't realize how much more concentrated they would need to be. So when I make them again, I'll use more EO in each one.

The ones with the added alcohol have, as expected, evaporated much more quickly than the oil-only ones, which have hardly evaporated at all. Since I don't notice much of a difference between the two formulas when it comes to scent, I will probably do all-oil in the future, just because it looks nicer in the bottle and will last longer.

Lastly, I made a silly mistake with the ones I made that you shouldn't repeat if you do this project--when I was cutting the bamboo skewers, I cut the in that went in the bottle not very carefully. They are crooked and jagged. I figured it didn't matter, since you couldn't see them. However, given that you have to flip the reeds periodically to make these diffusers work, that was a stupid oversight.

All in all, though, I'd call this project a success.

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How to: make your house stink less

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To those who have never been to my house: imagine, if you will, a household in which seven of the nine members are covered in fur, unable to turn shower nobs (and likely afraid of water anyway) and unable to use a toilet.

Which is to say, to those who have been to my house: I'm sorry about the smell. I know it smells sometimes. We do try to handle that as best we can, but see above re: number of non butt-wipers among us.

Yesterday, Mark and I had a bit of a disagreement about the smell in our house. We both agree it smells, but Mark's solution is often to spray Febreeze all over everything. To my mind, that just makes it smell like dog butt+chemicals, which doesn't improve anything. My best air freshening solution thus far has been judicious use of reed dispensers. When I posted this out to Mark, he told me those don't work.

Which got me to thinking. They do work. At least, the one in my office works swimmingly. It makes the air smell nice without giving me the impression I am inside a fabric softener bottle. So why don't the ones in the house work so well?

What it must come down to, I decided, is volume. There were two mostly-empty bottles in my entire 1000+ square foot house, as opposed to one nearly full bottle in my small office. We don't need something different, I declared--we need something more!

The obvious answer would be to run over to the conveniently located Ross and buy a half dozen of the little things, complete with their unnecessary packaging, probable chemical ingredients, and steep price tags. However, it seemed to me that there was another way.

What you see here is what I started with. Two mostly-empty dispensers (formerly lavender and jasmine, I believe) and one new, full one that I didn't ever use because the "wild berry" scent makes me want to retch.

old diffusers

The first step, if I am going to reuse these, is to wash them out. So I poured the nasty berry one down the sink, filled the sink up with hot and soapy, and got scrubbing. For the bottles that still had labels on them, a little rubbing alcohol mixed with hot water did the de-stickying trick. Realizing I was going to need more bottles to fill every room in my house with these suckers than just these, I dug into my thrift supplies and found some similar small bottles and stuck them in to wash too.

washing the bottles

After everything was washed up, I found I had seven little bottles ready to fill--just enough to fill every room! I was, however, going to need some more reeds for my diffusers, so I found a package of bamboo skewers that Mark will never miss and added them to my supplies.

bottles to be filled

Next came figuring out what to put in these little guys. Clearly the commercially prepared ones include some sort of scent agent (maybe EO, probably perfume) and some sort of carrier oil. But is that all? Commercial air deodorizers are usually alcohol based--should I include alcohol as well? How will alcohol mix with the carrier oil? Finally, I decided to try some oil-only versions and some alcohol and oil mixture versions and see which ones worked better. I still only needed a few easily accessible and inexpensive ingredients:

supplies

What you see here is a isopropyl alcohol and mineral oil, both available at any drugstore or supermarket (probably for less than a buck a bottle), and essential oils. Since my aim isn't flowers and bunnies, but rather making my house smell less like the great hairy unwashed, I wanted to go with something simple and air clearing, so I choose a mixture of lavender and rosemary EOs.

For the alcohol and oil combination, I did about 1/2 and 1/2, with a really generous amount of EO added. For the oil only one, it was just the mineral oil and EOs, again with a generous amount (several dozen drops in about a cup of total oil).

Since the mouths on these little bottles are tiny, I went with funnel to distribute the mixture. The whitish liquid in this picture is the alcohol and oil blend--it's not as pretty as the straight oil.

filling the bottles

Finally, you see my completed project. The clear jars in the front are the just-oil mixture, the ones in the back contain alcohol. I've distributed them around the house and I will let you know if one variety seems to work markedly better than the other.

finished products

Obviously doing this saved resources over buying a new ones, but what about money? A conservative estimate would put these at about $4 each, or $28 for the seven of them I made. The bottles I used that were thrifted were at most $0.25 each, so if I had thrifted them all, that would be $2.75 max. Maybe $0.50 for the skewers. If I used a half bottle of alcohol and mineral oil total, that's another $1or so. I used maybe $1.50 worth of EOs. That totals $5.75. Savings of $22.25.

Not bad.

16 Comments

Hey Grace - Those are awesome - I might have to swap you for some!
(Quaniliaz)

P.S. you description of your house made me lol - we have several non-butt wipers in our house two - some of them are even human...

Great idea, thanks for sharing. I may need to make a couple soon myself -- with a brand new non-butt-wiper in the family it's sure to be getting stinkier in here.

LOVE THIS! You rock, Grace!

This is SO COOL. Please do let us know if they work. I image they would make lovely gifts as well!

I've been thinking about trying to make these too, so this post is right on time. But I worry that my non-butt-wiper would chew on the reeds, and don't have enough high places to keep them out of reach (that kitty can get into anything!). Have you had a problem with your animals getting to them?

Thanks for posting!

Lydia

Thanks for the info on this. Funny thing, while at the grocery store today I ALMOST bought one of these. Now I am glad I didn't. Little did I know this info would be waiting for me on my computer.
Beth in PA
http://www.lavenderandoldlace.com

This is SUCH a great idea!!! I'll be linking to this!

this is really useful. I just balk at spending the outrageous price for those in the stores so this is wonderful information.

could you post about which ones seem to work the best?

Oh yes please post which ones worked the best.

Love the blog!

Cassandra

I just saw your FYI, sorry the coffee hasn't kicked in. :)

can you tell which version is working better yet??

This is a great idea! I read that wood won't wick so wondering if this worked. Did it? I can't find reed or willow sticks anywhere here. Not even the craft stores.

I bought some mineral oil to see if this will work. I bought my reeds on ebay. I got 100 for 6$. Wondering which works best pure oil or oil alcohol mix?

I also read that bamboo doesn't work as well, and you really should use new reeds each time you fill it up. (I think another use out of them if its the same scent would be fine, again just might not be as strong) I know you can get reeds online for cheap, but you can also get them at your local dollar store. I'm just going to buy the packages for a few dollars and dump out the scent and make my own. I also read a few other places that instead of a 50/50 ratio, just adding a splash of alcohol in the oil will help it to go up the reed, and it won't be cloudy like that either!
I am going to make mine tonight!

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Carrot cake

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carrot cakeToday is Mark's birthday. Mark likes carrot cake. Last night, I made him a carrot cake. I used a couple of different recipes with modifications to our tastes/what I had available, and the end product, I am told, is "perfect." So I thought I'd share the recipe.

In your mixer (or by hand) mix:
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 tsp vanilla

Sift in:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg

Stir until mixed, then fold in:
3 cups grated carrot
1 cup chopped pecan

Spread in a buttered and floured 9"X13" pan, bake at 350 degrees for about 35-40 minutes.

When cool, frost with a blended (or better yet, food processed) mixture of:
1/4 cup soft butter
8 oz cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Then sprinkle with another 3/4 cup or so of chopped pecans.

This is not for the faint of heart. I put it in WW and discovered it is like 14-18 pts per serving, depending on the serving size.

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What did you have for dinner?

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Mark and I haven't been eating all that well at home lately. Between the heat and my Weight Watchers-inspired insistence that all meals be under 7 points, we've been doing a lot of "scrounging," which generally entails my eating hummus and veggies for supper and Mark eating chips and salsa or something similar. Because of this, when I spent the first part of our ride home from work whining about my dire need for iron, I expected that, at best, we'd stop for burgers.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Mark insisted that instead we stop at Central Market and buy a steak to curb my iron cravings. And then, he made me dinner.

Here you see the boy with his meal.

And here, the meal itself.

What you see here is a "cowboy cut" (bone-in rib-eye) steak with a salt, pepper, thyme, and fennel pollen (from our garden!) rub, grilled in a grill pan to medium rare; fresh white corn with thyme butter; and a mixed baby green salad with Cypress Grove Purple Haze fennel pollen and lavender rubbed goat cheese, fresh local figs, and Marcona almonds. We enjoyed it with some really fantastic Brandborg Northern Reach pinot noir (from my home town!). Completely and totally amazing.

There's food, and then there's this. I am a lucky, lucky woman.

1 Comments

Wowza! You are eating delicioso Cypress Grove! Cypress Grove is from Arcata where I live! Right down the street too. How fun. And yummy - ooo so yummy. I am a big fan of the Humboldt Fog myself. Mmmmm - now I'm hungry...

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A day late and a dryer short

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So Earth Day was yesterday. I had a post composed in my mind to write about that, but my posting ability was curtailed by my attempt on Monday night to cut my thumb off and my subsequent need to spend yesterday afternoon in the urgent care, where they glued it back on. Still, as I drove home from the urgent care, the only passenger in my SUV on a backed up freeway full of other one-passenger SUVs, I was thinking about Earth Day, and about how much we've changed our lives to be more environmentally conscious, and about how much more is needed.

We have definitely made some changes. We still commute by not-all-that-efficient car, which is bad, but we commute together, which is good. We recycle everything our curbside recycling will take, which is good, but we don't save the other stuff and take it to a recycling center, which is bad. We have mostly phased out paper towels in favor of cloth napkins, which is good. I still take a shower nearly every morning and a bath several nights a week, in very hot water, which is bad. We compost, which is good, but my dear partner and in-laws spread chemical fertilizer on our roses this weekend, which is bad. So while we're improving, it is definitely safe to say we're not there yet.

What else, I wondered as I sat in traffic, should we do? What one change should we implement on this Earth Day? But by the time I got home, I'd forgotten all about it. Why? Because I was greeted by a sweaty, ranting Mark and a disassembled clothes dryer. It stopped working. He took it apart and discovered that due to an ill-fitting pipe, hot air and lint have not been going outside, as they should, but back into the dryer's cavity. This, he suspects, has either led a thermostat to trip (good) or the motor to burn out (bad). It also very easily could have caused a fire, but luckily didn't. However, we're not sure at this point if it's something Mark can fix, or if it will have to be repaired by someone from GE. Neither of those things was really going to happen last night. And in the meantime, there was a load of wet laundry in the washing machine.

Mark said he was going to ask our neighbor if we could use her dryer. But it seemed to me there was a far better plan.

A clothesline.

We live in Texas. It's hot here, already. We've got solar energy to burn. We have a decently sized yard with lots of trees to string lines between. Why on Earth have we not been using a clothesline? Why has it never occurred to me? My mom almost never uses her dryer--in the summer, she hangs clothes outside, in the winter, she hangs them inside. Rural frugality works like that. It's ridiculous that I hadn't thought of it before.

So we strung up a rope, hung the bedding that was in the washer to dry, and put dealing with the dryer off. Mark seems skeptical about the whole idea, but he'll come around. He hated the idea of compost to begin with, too. I'm going to suggest we use the dryer on an emergency basis only all summer. And I'm going to go out today at buy some clothespins.

Happy Earth Day, y'all.

5 Comments

Don't you love when the universe answers questions for you!

I actually only hang dry my clothes in the winter....its too humid here during the summer and they tend to get moldy. Even in the winter, I can't seem to solve the problems of stiff clothes (although I've been told a dose of fabric softener should do the trick...I just hate adding another product to my routine) or linty clothes. For some reason, when we hang dry we get all kinds of weird, hard to remove lint.

So if anyone has any tips on resolving that one, I'd love to hear them. :)

Happy earth day!

I haven't had a dryer in over five years and while it would be nice to quickly dry clothes sometimes, I got used to doing my laundry on a schedule so that things I need a couple days from now are washed and then hung out to dry in time. In the summer it only takes an hour or two anyway. And there's nothing like the smell of laundry that's been line-dried!

I strongly recommend a drying rack placed next to the washer, esp. for smaller items like socks. Saves a bunch of time.

Be careful putting things like pillowcases and sheets out on heavy pollen days. That can be a problem.

I used to hang my clothes on a line when I lived in Texas, and in fact still do in CO when it's not snowing or something. It's just how I was raised, in a country where electricity is very, very expensive. Things dry quickly enough, even in the humidity. Also, your clothes stay nice for longer -- so it's all good!

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Something borrowed

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(This is the third installment of my contribution to the OTHER mother's blog carnival.)

Most people, I suspect, don't think of their houses as borrowed. Maybe you do if you rent. But when I face a mortgage statement every month that tells me how much money we still owe on our house, you can bet it feels borrowed to me. So I thought I'd use this "something borrowed" to introduce you all to my house, which is something I wanted to do anyway.

front entrance

What you see here is the front door and entrance hallway, as seen from inside the house (the living room). The unusual tile floor is a product of the previous owners, who did it themselves. It's kind of one of those things you either really like or really don't. Personally I love it, but I think we may re-do it before trying to sell in order to appeal to a broader audience. On the left wall you can barely see a piece of local art, on the right wall is an ugly candle holder I should take down and a collage photo frame of pictures of Mark and I through the years that I gave him for Christmas a couple of years ago. You can also see our second (third?) attempt at keeping a bamboo plant alive. And on the floor you can see Ata's bowl--for some reason, this is one of his spots in the house.

living room 1

If you were to turn around from where the last picture was taken and move slightly to the left, this is what you'd see--the living room, where we spend most of our time. The floor, as I mentioned yesterday, is less-than-attractive uncovered concrete. But it's practical right now. Again you can see local art on the walls, and our ridiculous and space-hogging TV-stereo set up. The old wooden trunk we use as a coffee table is something we inherited when our good friends moved to Europe, and I am so in love with it I can't even tell you. The couch is inherited from the same folks. The chair is remarkably ugly and I'd love to replace it. My favorite thing about the room is the French doors, which you can see at the left. There are actually three sets of them going across the room, and they are so fabulous I can't even tell you.

If you were taking the previous picture, your back would be against this built-in bookshelf.

built in

From the other side of the living room, it looks like this.

living room 2

More local art, new Ikea lighting, cool wine bar.

On one side of the living room is the kitchen, which is the most interesting part of the house, I think, so I'll show you a few views.

kitchen 1

This is the kitchen as taken from one end.

kitchen 2

As taken from the other end.

The details:

kitchen floor

Similar tile floor to the entry hall.

kitchen cabinets

Groovy hand-carved cabinets.

kitchen sink side

Open shelving over windows, poured concrete counter tops, sink side.

kitchen stove side

More open shelving and concrete counters, stove side.

If you go back through the living room, there's a hall, of which there are three bedrooms and a bathroom. At the far left is the master bedroom.

master 1

From the doorway, it looks like this. There is another set of French doors just like the ones in the living room, which is really nice. There is also a bathroom off it, but I don't have a picture of that. It's where the kittens have been living.

master closet

It also has a closet, which looks, embarrassingly enough, like this.

The next room down the hall is the guest bedroom.

guest room 1

This is what it looks like from the doorway. The pineapple light fixtures are also a hold-over from the previous owners, and they really, really need to go.

The guest room also has a much more organized closet (go Elfa!).

guest closet

Across the hall from the guest room is the bathroom. Where you can usually find one or more cats.

bathroom

Finally, at the end of the hall, there is an office. It is a complete disaster.

office

One day, it will be clean.

That's it! Thanks for visiting my borrowed house!

8 Comments

Damn. I love the colors, the carved cabinets blow my mind. Those ones above the sink look like they open from the other side, is that right?
Gotta love any house with so much character even if some of that character is a little "crazy".

Actually no, they have windows behind them. Which is kind of an odd design, but actually works out really well.

PLEASE don't rip out the floor! Anyone who loves all the other arty touches would give you way more for the house with the awesome floor! The awesome floor's destruction makes me sad!

I love your house! Great use of color and bold decorating and paint. I don't have the guts for that!

Love love love that kitchen!

That was fun! I love looking at people's houses.

Living in a cold clime, I shivered at the concrete floor and countertop, but can totally see how they work where you live. I love your cabinets.

If your r/e agent says it will be an easier sell with uniform floors, a way to cover, but not damage the funky flooring is to put a floating laminate floor over it. It isn't secured anywhere and if you pull it up, the original floor is still there.

My house seriously lacks art on the walls.

Great place! I love all the colours and stuff on the walls. I am the kind of person who buys a painting or mirror and then lets it sit on the floor waiting to be hung for three years. Sigh.

Oh wow, what a great kitchen! I googled how to put shelving in front of a kitchen window and found your site. I have a tiny guest cottage that I am updating for renters, and the tiny galley kitchen needs some more storage. I am sooo doing this! Love your floors also!

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The deal with my floor

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For any inquiring minds who have noticed my odd living room floor, as shown in this picture, the deal is thusly: When we bought our house, the carpets were made of sea grass. It is not allergy friendly and not animal friendly. After a while, we got sick of it and pulled it up. What you see is the bare concrete floor that was beneath it. Before we sell the house, we will put in new flooring, but we're waiting as to have new flooring that has not been animal-trod when we sell. While it isn't the prettiest thing, it's practical for us right now, and we're not going to live here much longer, so we deal.

1 Comments

I was just curious. It looked a lot like the situation in our house for a bit - it came with a carpeted bathroom and that's no good with 2 little boys, and even less good when your toilet starts leaking.
Anyway since you're already lurking on MD here's the thread:
http://www.mama-drama.us/forums/showthread.php?t=10532
I can give you more info about the stuff we used if you want. It's supposed to be durable even under dog claws, it was easy to install, and it cost less than $2/sq ft.
I was mostly curious that in some pics it looks like there are brightly colored tiles mixed in with the black/white, and they look interesting.

Are those your cabinets that are so ornate?

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Good stuff

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Jenn over at Breed 'Em and Weep has a great post up today. Among other things, she writes:

It’s why I like it out here in blogland, because people are less neutral than they seem to be in person. There’s a certain audacity (or idiocy, some insist) to Putting Your Stuff Out There. Certainly the blog idiocy theory has been argued in full. But I see value here, value that I’d like to coax into my real life.

This puts a finger on something I've been trying to articulate for a long time, and I appreciate it. Y'all should go over there and read the whole post.

In other good stuff, we had this amazing spread for our first course for dinner last night:

amazing antipasta

What you see here is (from top left): Marcona almonds, sesame flat bread, chianti salami, Braeburn apple slices, Serano ham, lightly dress microgreens, shaved fennel, marinated fresh mozzarella, lavender dusted goat cheese, and assorted olives.

It was so good I forgot to take pictures of the rest of dinner. I am a lucky woman.

Long live the three-day weekend.


1 Comments

That is my favorite kind of meal - lots of tasty little things including cheese glorious cheese. I ate serrano ham at the fancy food show last weekend, which is remarkable only given that I have been a vegetarian for 20 years.

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Where are the cats?

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When you can't find Atticus and Esme, it turns out they might be making out in the linen closet. I remember the days when these two hated each other. Ah, young love.

Atticus and Esme in the closet
(The photo is of two cats, Atticus and Esme, curled up together on a shelf of folded sheets and blankets in a linen closet.)

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Decking the halls

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Last night, with the help of some good cheer in the form of a hot chocolate spiked with Cointreau, I set about decking our halls. Or our kitchen and living room, anyway. Given that we have a plethora of pets, we have no chimney, I'm allergic to pretty much all trees, and we're going to be gone for quite some time over Christmas anyway, some compromises had to be made. That being said, I'm very happy with the results.

The stockings (made by my mom, and just like the ones I grew up with at home) were hung in the window with care:
stockings in window
(The picture shows six homemade felt stockings hung on the curtain rod in the kitchen window. Each has the name of a family member: Mark, Grace, Atticus, Leo, Esme, Atakan.)

And the tree is a foot tall rosemary plant. This is suitable for several reasons, including the pet and allergy ones mentioned above, and the fact we can plant it outside and use it for cooking later.

Of course, due to its small stature, it's a bit ornament heavy. But that's OK.

rosemary tree with ornaments, left side

rosemary tree with ornaments, right side
(The pictures show the right and left sides of a small rosemary plant shaped like a tree. It is hung with several safari-animal ornaments, including an elephant, a hippo, a crocodile, a monkey, etc.)

Not even a quarter of our ornaments fit, so we had to add the set of AKC dog ornaments to the stand the tree is on. You can't see them very well in this sub-par photo, but there are four doggies hanging from each shelf.

tree stand with ornaments
(The photo shows an iron plant stand. The tree is on the top shelf. Each lower shelf has a framed photograph on it, and there are dog ornaments hanging from each shelf ledge. The entire stand has lights and tinsel on it.)

That will probably be it for holiday decorations, given our constraints. However, I'm pretty happy with it. Beats the hell out of the giant wind-filled Santa my neighbors have in their yard. They never have the wind on when I drive by, it seems, so they just have a puddle of Santa in their yard. It's kind of sad, actually.

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Weekend extension

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Can I just say how wonderful it is that it's only Saturday morning and I feel like I've already had a full weekend? Extended weekends are possibly my favorite thing ever.

I do have a good bit of work to do this weekend--revisions on my PR--but I can't even get worked up about that, since I feel like I have plenty of time and I'm still faintly interested in the project and I know it will be completely done forever in just a few days.

My blogging guru The Princess upgraded us to Movable Type 4 last night, so as I'm posting this, everything looks totally different. It's kind of disorienting, actually, and I think it's causing me to write in a semi-disoriented way, so I apologize. I have already noticed a couple of excellent-seeming new features, including post auto-saving. So I'm sure I'll get used to it.

Today we're making turkey pot pie. Doesn't that sound good? It's all rainy and nasty outside--what could be better than a pastry crust to deal with that?

I had fantastic luck thrifting yesterday. Not much for myself, but several cool swappable things. I also shopped some excellent online Black Friday sales at small shops yesterday, which I shouldn't have done, but couldn't resist. I should be set for bath products for some time. And a few gifts as well. I love Etsy. Speaking of, have you heard of the Buy Handmade Pledge?

I suppose if I am going to be typing, it ought to be on the PR. Or I could nap...it will be very convenient, as I've not changed out of my pajamas yet.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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Happy Thanksgiving! I'm posting early today because we are having guests and plan a full day of cooking, eating, drinking, and socializing. Mark and I generally do Thanksgiving by ourselves (though we have had guests before), so this is a nice change and I'm really excited.

Thought I'd share the Thanksgiving playlist I made up for us last year and to which we are currently listening. I'll probably make up another one today if I have time, as this one is seeming a bit outdated and also completely non-thematic. I was kinda drunk last year.

Nevertheless:

1. "I Ain't Marching Anymore" by Phil Ochs
2. "My Ai'n True Love" by Alison Krauss
3. "Do Re Mi" by Ani DiFranco
4. "When the Man Comes Around" by Johnny Cash
5. "Have I Told You Lately that I Love You" by The Chieftans and Van Morrison
6. "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" by Shawn Mullins
7. "Lullaby" by Shawn Mullins
8. "Righteously" by Lucinda Williams
9. "Everest" by Ani DiFranco

More later...guests are here!

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Sunday morning

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Sunday mornings at my house are really nice. Mark and I are currently sprawled on the couch, drinking very good coffee, watching Manchester United beat the pants off Blackburn (boo!). I just made myself some scrambled eggs with extra sharp cheddar and Mark had his usual cinnamon raisin toast with peanut butter (yuck).

Of course, the repose is short lived today. I've spent all weekend hard at work on my master's thesis (or professional report, as LBJ insists on calling it), as the full first draft is due on Monday. I only have about 2/3 of the last chapter left, so I'm making good time, but I'm still going to be working on it most of the day today. The part I have left is in some ways the heart of the thing, and I am just not quite smart enough to get started on it yet. Maybe after another cup of coffee.

Have I mentioned our current foster dog? I wish I could post a picture, but our camera cord is kaput and I haven't had time to go for a new one yet (maybe Mark will do that today). He's great, though. He looks, I swear, like a beagle crossed with a corgi--he's got a beagle face, but an exceptionally round and long body and exceptionally short legs. His name is Yogi, as he looks like a little bear. Or, like Mark says, like he's part beagle and part badger. He's got a lovely personality and is only terrorizing the cats a little bit. More than they'd like, I'm sure, but a lot less than his two predecessors. Anyway, he's a joy. Which is great, since I so don't have the extra mental and emotional energy to coddle a problem foster dog right now.

My mood is going to be so much better once this draft is finished. So, I guess, I'd better go make some more coffee and then work on it.

1 Comments

Ugh, I do feel your thesis pain. Best of luck to you. Deadline's here--how'd it go?

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Mmm...soup

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Last night, I made myself a really good, quick, and healthy dinner. Which is so completely unlike me as to be almost miraculous. If you don't want the recipe, you should. And I'm going to give it to you either way. So there.

I think I'm in need of beta carotene or something, because I have been wanting orange food. So I decided to make pumpkin and sweet potato soup. And I was too lazy to look up an actual recipe, so I improvised.

First, dice up a small onion or half a big one and a couple of cloves of garlic. Get them pretty small. Then cook them in some olive oil with salt until translucent. Add two cans each of pumpkin puree and sweet potato puree (you could, of course, use the actual vegetables, but quick was the name of the game last night, so I used canned) and a quart of chicken stock. Use natural/organic if you want it to not suck, and use veg stock if you are of the non face-eating persuasion. Then add a good dose of heavy cream (1/4 cup, maybe?) and whatever spices suit you. I used curry powder, a bit of cinnamon, and cumin, along with plenty of black pepper. You could add red pepper if you like your food spicy. Simmer it all up. Try not to splash it all over yourself like I did while you are pouring it into your bowl. Eat it with some bread and a nice brown ale.

This is enough to feed you six or eight times, but I only cook in bulk. Use a big pan and eat the leftovers for lunch or something.

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Mmm, that sounds really good. I love all things pumpkin. I'm also a big fan of carrot and coriander soup, which is pretty similar to your recipe except that it takes chopped carrots and leeks (or onions) in place of the squash, a little more simmering time, and a trip to the blender. And coriander, of course.

For shock value:
brussel sprouts and bacon-

set water to boil
slice up a white onion and some garlic
put a spoonful of bacon fat in a frying pan and set it on "high"
throw some brussel sprouts in the water for 2 minutes
throw the onion into the frying pan
throw the sprouts in a collander and run cold tap water on them
start slicing the sprouts in half
shove the onions to the side and put the sprouts in, flat side down
grind a bunch of pepper onto the sprouts
cut some pepper bacon in half
let the sprouts brown/blacken on the flat side, then shove them to the side
throw in the bacon
shovel the sprouts on top of the bacon
cook that shit
then eat it

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Bounty

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I really love it when people post pictures of the hauls they make from their farm shares. We don't have a farm share--I wish we did, but I haven't been able to find a reasonable local option. However, we do now have an organic, local produce delivery, from this company. And that's almost as good. It doesn't all come from the same farm, but it (at least our box) is all organic and all local, changing depending on what is in season. I'm so for that. So I wanted to share a picture of our first delivery, which we came home to today like a present from Santa:

produce delivery picture

It includes: kale, chard, beets w/ beet greens, sunflower sprouts, cabbage microgreens, mixed salad greens, a yellow onion, a bunch of green onions, 2 grapefruits, two yellow squash, two zucchinis, a jalapeno, some green beans, a small box of blackberries, and a small bag of red potatoes.

Heaven. Well, heaven plus beets.

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Sunflower sprouts rock.

I don't think a couple of beets can spoil heaven.

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Life in the multi-pet household

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A perennial favorite question: how many cats do you need to have to be the crazy cat lady? Alternatively, how many dogs do you need to have to be the crazy dog lady? What if you mix it up and have both?

The current size of our menagerie is four: two feline, two canine. For some people this would clearly be too many. I respect that. Four pets is a lot of work, a lot of expense, a lot of poop scooping and litter box cleaning and lugging bags of dog food and a million other not wholly enjoyable things. We always have vet bills. We always spend a lot at the pet store. We always have hair on our clothes, on our furniture, and often between our teeth. We spend a ton of time grooming and feeding and medicating and walking and playing. Our pets are our number one priority, the first place we direct our money and time. For many, probably most, people, there is little appeal to this lifestyle.

For Mark and I, though, it simply can't be any other way.

We're only stopped at four due to constraint of space and money. We want a bigger brood. In my perfect world, I'll have a big house with a big yard, rundown is fine, so that I can be surrounded by a whole herd of ambling big dogs and sleek, tempermental cats.

The question, then, is whether that makes me a crazy cat/dog lady.

I'm pretty sure it does. And I'm OK with that. My quality of life has increased exponentially with each pet we've adopted. The extra work is easily overshadowed by the extra love and extra joy each new animal brings.

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The lovely weekend

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We had just a very lovely weekend. The big exciting news is that our family grew by one feline member. Our friend S. and T., and daughter H., are moving abroad, as I've mentioned. They are taking their dogs with them, but decided it was best not to take their cat, Esme, as they will be living in a much smaller place where it will be hard for her to have her own dog-free space. So we're adopting her. She's a joy to have so far--very cuddly when she can catch you away from Leo's prying nose, even sleeping in the crook of Mark's arm on her first night. And our brood are dealing fairly well with her arrival--Atticus is mad, but he's not particularly violent with his anger, and he'll get over it. Leo is very curious, and has had his nose swiped twice now for his trouble, but Esme will get used to him and realize he's not a threat to her, and I think they'll be friends eventually. Ata doesn't care one way or the other. I think to Ata she's just a new member of the flock--someone to be observed and watched over, but nothing to fret about.

Another pet-related note is that we took our dogs to a Pet Expo on Saturday. It was held at a big training facility up north of here, as a benefit for the SPCA. It was great fun, with lots of exhibitors (read: free stuff), games, and demonstrations (we saw a police dog demonstration, which was very cool). Our dogs got a ton of attention. There weren't a lot of other large dogs there--a couple of danes, what looked to be a Cane Corso, one Pyr that I saw--so Leo and Ata were stars. Ata ate up all the attention, and even Leo warmed up to it after a while. It was a beautiful, perfect day, and the boys were wonderfully behaved.

Yesterday we did several hours of yard work at S. and T.'s house, pretending we were on Designed to Sell or something. It went super well. We found some very economical and very healthy plants at Lowe's to put in (mums, mostly--I love how things bloom so far into the fall here), weed-whacked, raked, and did some general clean-up. It turned out great and was fun to do, with another perfect weather day. I really hope it helps them with the house sale.

It also really inspired us to get some more work done in our yard. Well, inspired us in theory, anyway. We don't have any money to spare on plants or mulch right now, but when we do, we're talking about making some renovations in our front yard, which would be great. I love the idea of more flowers...

Anyway, it was a lovely, active weekend. I always feel better on Monday when I did something over the weekend, rather than sitting around watching football for ten hours. But I'll probably do that next weekend anyway...

1 Comments

You two are stars for all that you did yesterday. The yard looks incredible. Shortly after you left, I had a truck all but screech to a halt in front of the house to get a better look and jot down details. So, the curb appeal is definitely better!

I took H out to look at the flowers after her nap and she said, "I DO like it!" So, do I. A million thanks for your hard work.

Glad Esme is settling in. :)

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Get offa my lawn!

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Yesterday in the mail, we received this gem from the City of Austin:

No Parking letter

You will note, I hope, the helpful definitions of front yard, side yard, and motor vehicle, and the specific mention of operable AND non-operable vehicles. The same text was provided in Spanish on the other side of the page, because Austin is equal opportunity like that.

My reaction to this letter was, chronologically, the following:

1. We have a neighborhood association?
2. Jesus. People need to chill about their property values.
3. Are there really that many cars in yards in my neighborhood? Is this perhaps a "problem" I just don't notice when I am walking the dogs or driving around?
4. Why specifically call out panel trucks? What's a panel truck, anyway?
5. Who is on our neighborhood association?
6. Can I get on our neighborhood association and push through legislation disallowing cutting your grass?
7. How far into the suburbs does this mandate extend?
8. Mostly, motor vehicles that are parked on lawns are not going anywhere on a day-to-day basis. Is the fine per day?
9. Doesn't the City have anything better to do than this?
10. Haha. Annie Pennie is a funny name.

However, I couldn't just toss the page in the recycling and not think anything else of it. It bugs the shit out of me. I'm irritated both by the idea that the neighborhood association, whomever they are, and the city, think they need to tell people what they can and cannot have on their lawns and by the condescending and irritating tone of the missive. It has no effect on me specifically, as we only have one motor vehicle and it's generally parked in our garage (although it's in our driveway at present, due to the garage being my red chair painting zone). But it will effect some of my neighbors, including the retired mechanic neighbors directly behind us who have a small travel trailer parked in their side yard, which I suspect they take on trips with their Boston Terrier, Red. (I noticed this when walking the dogs last night, after reading the letter. I had not noticed it in the previous 18 months.) And why should it? Because some fuss budget is afraid of what their trailer will do to his property values? Good Lord. It seems almost certain they'll be after the old milk separator that serves as a planter in my front yard next. I think it's cool, old school industrial lawn art. But you'll notice they never asked me to be on the committee.

One of the things I really love about my neighborhood is the increasing diversity of people and households. What was once clearly a semi-suburban white bread neighborhood, with all of the three-bed-two-bath houses built in the same ten year period and with very similar guidelines on largish, "child friendly" lots is becoming a really interesting mix of older folks who have lived there for years, young people in their first homes, renters, families entering the home-owning middle class, college students, people who drive, people who take the bus, people who have dogs, people who have cars in their lawns. That's a good thing. Good for our quality of life. And I don't give a damn what it does to property values.

1 Comments

When I read this I chuckled because having a car on your lawn is like, the stereotype of "white trash"/"hick." I mean the letter seems straight out of "King of the Hill" or something.

While obviously it's a silly letter, I think in most residential neighborhoods, it's pretty much assumed that parking on the lawn is a no-no. The fact that they'd have to write a letter about it seems weird to me as, in my experience, it seems like something people take for granted. Like in the same way that it isn't cool to paint your house polkadotted. (Neither of which *I* have a problem with, but then, I am not a residential homeowner--I am a dirty renter.)

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Miscellany

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I have not been blogging of late. The reason, in short, is that I am lazy. I spent a good deal of time this weekend in the bathtub, reading, and watching football-football and football-soccer. I spent none writing. I'm in that kind of a phase.

That being said, we did get a fairly major (for us) household project out of the way this weekend. The guest room closet, which we started demolishing last summer (the previous owners built an entertainment center into it, as they used the room as a TV room), is now patched, painted, and installed with wonderful new Elfa shelving and a hanging space. I haven't finished putting everything that is going to go in it away (linens, extra blankets, etc.), but it's looking pretty awesome. Next weekend we are on to painting at least one of the bathrooms and hopefully acquiring some new dining chairs. This is all in preparation for my folks' visit in early November. It's good to have a reason to get some of this done.

It's been a sad few days, as well as a productive one, as our friend T. left yesterday for Scandanavia. S. and their baby, H., will follow in about a month. I am indescribably sad to see them go. It's odd, actually--I've never had as much trouble saying goodbye as I'm having this time. It may have to do with me not being the one who is leaving, or with my not having prepared myself for them to not always be around from the beginning of our relationship, as I did (wittingly or not) with my college friends. Or maybe it's because they are going so far. Or because I doubt my ability to adequately keep in touch with them, given how poorly I'm doing with my other far-flung friends. I don't know...but it's really, really hard. It's nearly impossible to imagine life here without them, and seeing them packing up to leave makes me wish Mark would just finish up already so we could move on to wherever is next.

But onward and upward...

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Weekend

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What a lovely weekend I had! I wish it weren't over. Mondays are so depressing. No matter how much I like my job, Mondays are just sad.

We sold the Mazda, which was fantastic. We got $200 less than we asked for it. We probably could have held out for full price, but it's nice just to have it over and done with, and the family to whom we sold it were very nice. So now our floor fund is complete, I think, and we are going to start figuring out what our plan is for the floors. Finally. Mark got all emotional about letting the car go--it's such a great car, it was our first major purchase together, etc. I thought it was funny. But I apparently have ice water in my veins, so there you go.

LeoI watched a couple of movies, finished a book, hung out with my friends The Princess and Siobhan, and generally just had a fantastic time all weekend. We took Leo to the vet for his annual shots on Saturday morning and he came away with a clean bill of health, down 5 lbs (124, yay!), and looking great, except for his teeth, which are a mess. Dr. Julian, our beloved vet, says that he doesn't have to have a dental cleaning right now, but there is likely one in his near future, and his two broken canines will need to be extracted at that time. The cleaning and the extraction are no big deal--he's not using the teeth anyway, and they are damaged enough to be a risk for infection, so taking them out is the right thing--but we, as always, fear anesthetic. Even though there is no earthly reason Leo shouldn't come out of it fine, there's always that back of the mind concern. So I'm glad we can put it off for a little bit longer. In the meantime, we're trying to brush his teeth, which seems to be a pretty lost cause. Does anyone have any input on how to successfully brush a dog's teeth? I'm at a loss.

We bought some new houseplants and potted them last night, which was a pain in the ass (the mosquitoes wouldn't leave us alone and it was still hot at 9PM), but they look great in our living room. I made a major effort to choose plants that are supposed to thrive in low light, so hopefully they won't die. Much as I love my house, it doesn't get very good natural light. Given the climate in which we live, that is mostly good, but it is hard on plants. The plants I have in my office do much better than the ones at home. We have a peace lily that is outgrowing its pot every couple of months, though. Apparently they require neither light nor care in order to thrive. I actually hope it stops growing soon, as it's now in the biggest pot that I want in my living room. Is there a way to stunt a plant's growth? Should I water it with coffee?

1 Comments

Dog toothbrushing depends on the dog. You can watch how I do Layla's sometime if you want, though she's a lot smaller.

And Mark shouldn't feel bad. When I posted my old television on Freecycle, I burst into tears and finally had to tell the nice lady that I had to keep it because it had been with me for so long.

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Home

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It has not escaped my attention that the extreme majority of what I have posted here lately has been silliness, song lyrics, and pictures of my pets. It's not that I'm brain dead--really!--I'm just...dulled, recently.

That being said, I have an interesting exercise. In my Family Policy class a couple of weeks ago, we were asked to list all of the families (or, if you prefer, households) we've ever lived in. Basically, just make a list of all of our living situations. The point that was being illustrated was about lack of family structure stability, but I sort of found making the list useful in and of itself--I hadn't realized how many situations I've been able to call home.

So here's my list:

ELKTON:
1979, for a few weeks (months?) post-birth: Lived with my mother and my grandparents, at my grandparents' house
Fall 1979-Summer 1983: Lived alone in a house with my mother.
Summer 1983-Spring 1985: Lived in a house with my mother and stepfather.
Spring 1985-Summer 1997: Lived in a house with my mother, stepfather, and brother.

PORTLAND:
Fall 1997-Winter 1998:Lived in a college dorm room with a roommate, C.
Winter 1998-Spring 1998: Lived in a college dorm room alone.
Summer 1998: Lived with mother, stepfather, and brother again.
Fall 1998-Spring 1999: Lived in a college apartment with two roommates, J. and M.
Summer 1999: Lived in a duplex with three roommates, B., S., and K.
Fall 1999-Spring 2000: Lived in an apartment with my then-boyfriend, S.
Summer 2000: Lived in a college apartment with my then-boyfriend, S., and another roommate, J.
Fall 2000-Spring 2001: Lived in a single dorm room by myself.
Summer 2001: Lived in a duplex with two roommates, J. and N.
Fall 2001-Winter 2002: Lived in a duplex with two roommates, J. and N., and Mark.
Winter 2002-Summer 2002: Lived alone in an apartment.
Summer 2002-Summer 2003: Lived in an apartment with Mark, a roommate, E., and a cat, Potter.

AUSTIN:
Summer 2003-Spring 2005: Lived in a house with Mark and Chance.
Spring 2005-Summer 2005: Lived in a different house with Mark and Chance.
Summer 2005: Lived in a house with Mark and Leo.
Summer 2005-present: Lived in a house with Mark, Leo, and Atticus.

So what does this all tell me? I'm not sure, other than I haven't spent much time living alone. I've moved around a good bit. In 26 years, I've lived in three "cities" and 15 different locations, by my count. Two boyfriends and eight roommates. Two dogs and two cats, not counting my childhood pets (which I don't count because they lived outside and weren't really pets). Some of these living situations were good, some had big problems. A few had really big problems, mostly on the neighbor frontier (see Won't You Be My Neighbor?). I'm sure they all taught me something, though I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what.

Actually, maybe I'm not so hard pressed. I think what they've taught me, and what looking back on them is teaching me all over again (because, you know, I can't just learn something once and be done with it), is that there are many, many ways to be home. I still miss Portland, and refer to my upcoming visit there as "going home," but in truth, Austin is home now. Specifically, Mark is home. The house we're buying together is home. My dogs--first Chance, and now Leo--are home. Atticus is rapidly becoming home. And all three stanky dorm rooms I lived in where home, as were both even stankier Reed College Apartments (TM). The studio apartment I rented by myself, so proud and my mom so scared of the "bad neighborhood", was home. And the falling-down house in the little town where I spent my incredibly painful formative years will never be anything but home.

Maybe as we get older we collect concepts of home. Maybe this helps us be more at home where we are, or at home with who we are. I hope so.

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"Maybe as we get older we collect concepts of home. Maybe this helps us be more at home where we are, or at home with who we are. I hope so." I like this idea, and I think you're on to something there!

My concept of "home" is intensely rooted in geography. It is the "island off the coast of America" where I was born, where I have spent the past 23 years on one block, in two apartments. It is where I learned to walk, where my heart has been broken, where I have become who I am.

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A tale of Atticus

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AtticusSo last weekend I finally broke Mark's resolve and he agreed to getting a cat. I went to the Humane Society a couple of times this week, but they were closed due to helping with animal refugees from Katrina. Undeterred, I got in touch with a couple of private rescues locally. I set up an appointment to go look at a kitty after work this evening, and went off to Petsmart on my lunch hour to obtain kitty paraphanelia.

Like all my best laid plans, this one went awry. What was meant to be a quick trip to get a litter box turned into a two-hour cat adoption session.

See, the Petsmart near where I work had a bank of cats in tiny 2'X2' cells pens. They were from the Humane Society in a small town outside Austin. Apparently they hope for greater visibility at the Petsmart, so they rotate some of their cats through there, with the hope they'll be adopted. After I bought my cart full of paraphanelia, I went to glance and them.

And there he was. There was a pen full of kittens, and there were several pens of older adult cats, and between them, there was a cat named "Sam." "Sam" was rumored to be three months old, though I'd guess he's a bit older. He was literally bouncing off the walls of his little cage. He looked like Potter, a little bit. I opened up his pen and he snuggled on me for about 20 seconds, then ran back and forth across the tiny cat room as if he was being chased, then climbed the wall of wire mesh cages and jumped off.

And there was no choice. My cat had found me.

So I went back after work and picked him up. Petsmart isn't exactly rigorous in their adoption process. It took me about 30 minutes all together. Paid them the $75 and now he's part of our pack.

So he's in the laundry room, on one side of the baby gate, and Leo is on the other. So far, so good. Atticus has bailed out and run around a couple of times. Leo has attempted to chase and been far outrun. I think they'll be fine together, but we're going to try to go a bit slow, just to make sure. Leo is very, very interested in Atticus. Atticus is less interested in Leo. Atticus is, however, very interested in toys.

More to come, I'm sure. I've been waiting for this for quite some time.

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Update

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I talked to my friend The Princess last night, and she kindly pointed out to me that though I have left cryptic clues in my blog, I haven't actually said whether I have moved yet or not, how things are going with the new house, etc. And since there are some folks who use this thing to keep up with me, perhaps it would be good for me to give an update.

Well, we're moved in. We've actually been moved in for almost two weeks. And things are going and have gone rather swimmingly, with a few exceptions.

Packing was pretty much a nightmare, as Mark had a million work/school related things that had to be done (end of the semester) and I basically had to pack by myself. The move itself, though, was great (well, after some morning hassles from U-Haul). Mark managed to wrangle 4 of his lab folks to help us out, plus the amazing Tony, and we got everything moved in just a few hours.

Unpacking has been less successful, but we're getting there. At this point, everything except for the office and the garage is pretty put together. I hope to make a final push this weekend (Mark is going to be out of town) and get everything ship-shape for our housewarming party next weekend. Every time something else gets unpacked or put away, I love the house a little bit more. It really is almost perfect.

Except...

We had our first homeowner problem last weekend, when I looked in the kitchen sink Saturday morning and saw that the draining washing machine was backing up into it. We spent much of the weekend snaking and plunging (and arguing about snaking and plunging) to no avail, and ended up $100 poorer after having a plumber come out on Monday. But everything works now, and hopefully the grease build up won't cause this to happen again anytime soon.

In other news, I have been thinking a lot about my life and changes I need to make, and I've come up with three main goals, in order from easiest to hardest:
1. Stop biting my fingernails, it's disgusting and it is part of the reason I am sick all the time.
2. Live on a budget. For real. Without cheating.
3. Go on a diet, wherein diet means both learning to eat healthier foods in general and restricting calories as much as is needed to take off the extra weight I've put on in the past year. This also needs to include regular exercise.

So far my progress isn't stellar, but it's not bad, either. I have some stuff I am putting on my fingernails to help them get stronger, and I'm not biting them (though I'm still picking at the cuticles some, and still have gross, bleeding cuticles). I am one week into my new budget and am on track there, with spending money taken out in cash every two weeks on the "when it's gone, it's gone" principle. As always, the third goal is the most elusive, but my amazing friend M. is helping me, and I am developing a plan to get what I need to do done without feeling horribly deprived. I am so bad at moderation.

So yeah. That's where I'm at. Thanks for caring.

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Go Grace! Here's a site I found helpful in figuring out calories. I also use a book of calorie counts (Art Ulene, maybe, is the author?). The site is useful because it disparages the magic bullet approaches. It provides helpful tools for figuring out how many calories you burn, and how many you want to eliminate in order to lose X amount of weight, if you want to think of it that way. but, in general, I really think your idea of eating healthier foods and getting exercise--i.e., a lifestyle adjustment rather than a "diet," per se--is a good one. Good luck to you on this and all of your other goals. And congrats on the new house!!

stop biting fingernails? wait, i don't understand?

I wasn't trying to point anything out - I was simply expressing my own ignorance! :)

Only $100? That's way cheap. Good for you! frog, who paid about three times that not long ago to a plumber for a smallish task

Whew, go you! Three difficult self-discipline tasks sounds like a lot to begin at once, tho, in addition to moving and stuff. It'd be great to succeed at all of them--and you sound like you're off to a smashing start--but if you start slipping, you may want to save one or two of those goals for later, after you get two or one of them well-established. Congrats on being mostly moved in! You're probably more moved in than we are... I was looking around at our house today and realizing how much we still need to unpack and organize. It doesn't help, tho, that our kitchen is currently in our dining and living rooms. Be sure to post pics of your housewarming party! Wish I could be there!

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Coloring it all in

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We closed on the house this afternoon! Closing went as well as I possibly could have imagined, with an added bonus of our monthly payment being $125 less than we had estimated it would be (due to our overestimating taxes and insurance). How cool is that?

After closing, we came home and got a picnic dinner and Chance and went and spent the evening at the new house. We finally had the chance to run from room to room, holding paint swatches up against the wall, and we choose our colors.

The living room is currently painted a very light gray, with built-in bookcases painted dark blue. We are repainting the bookcases, because I don't like the shade they are and because the paint is in bad shape, and painting one wall (an "accent wall," as they say.) The book cases will be Blue Reef (scroll down to see it) and the accent wall will be Beach Purple (again, scroll down).

The hall is currently lavender and it's awful and must go immediately. We wanted something to blend all of the other rooms together, so we picked Dream Catcher. The trim will be white.

Our bedroom is currently the grossest sponge-painted yellow you could imagine. It is a beautiful little room, with French doors that look out to the yard, and we want a mellow, peaceful feel, so we choose Eeyore's Rain Cloud (bottom left-yep, it's from the Disney Behr collection). The trim here will be white as well.

We wanted to keep the color in the spare bedroom mellow and peaceful as well (it is currently a different, but no less nauseating, lavender than the hall)l, so we choose Contemplation, with white trim.

Finally, the office is in the front of the house and has bigger windows and more light than the other two rooms, plus it isn't meant to be a bedroom, so won't need to be as peaceful (and it's far from it right now, painted bright lime green). We went back to our living room color ideas there, choosing Cozumel (second row from the bottom). The trim there will be white, too.

What do you think?

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So, so happy for you. There is nothing like your first house. Getting to finally try all the things you've dreamed about for so long, but didn't dare for fear of losing that security deposit. And knowing, it can be yours as long as you like. Enjoy.

We thought about crashing your picnic, but decided to leave you in peace.;) Can't wait to see it! Congratulations.

So awesome!! Huge congratulations! I'm so happy for and proud of you two. The paint colors are beautiful. They all have a lot of blue in them--very mellow and calming. Are there other colors in the house that you are leaving, or will the house interior paint have a blue theme? Have you thought about having one bright, non-blue/grey room that you can escape to when *you're* feeling "blue"? Like something in red, yellow, or orange?

The paint colours all have such nice names... although they're not very descriptive.

The kitchen and entry are very bright, with good light and bright colored floor tiles, and as you might or might not remember, my dishes and kitchen chairs are in a primary-colored theme, so I think that will be the "bright" room.

The kitchen as a bright room is good. You guys spend a lot of time there, and cooking is happy (if you like it). I think our kitchen will be blue-grey, but the dining room is going to be some sort of flaming red. Happy painting!

My understanding is that bright rooms and yellow rooms lead to violence in those rooms. Is that myth? Did I really not need to paint everything soothing tope in order to safeguard myself? But seriously - isn't yellow supposed to be one of those colors you think is going to make a room cheery, but it turns out it just makes you mad?

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The Big News

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Blogging has kind of fallen off the "To Do" list this week. Actually, I have part of several entries written and saved as drafts, but finishing them has fallen off the list.

But there is a reason.

The reason is that WE BOUGHT A HOUSE!!

Well, let's back up. We're buying a house. We have an offer on a house that should be accepted in writing by the seller today. We have an inspection on a house on Tuesday. We have financing offers for a house from several reputable companies. But we have to wait until April 25, then we will actually HAVE the house. Which, given everything we're going to have to do between now and then, is just fine.

And what a house it is. To say it is everything I dreamed of and more sounds really trite, but it honestly it. I could not be happier with it. I can't figure out a way to link to the pictures without linking to the address, which doesn't seem smart, so that will have to wait. Instead, I will bore you with the list of things it has that I wanted but didn't think we could get:

  • French doors. There are actually FOUR sets of French doors in the house--a triple set in the living room and a set in the master bedroom, all of which open into the most amazing yard (garden is really a better word for it).
  • Doors outside from the bedroom (see above) for easy letting the dog out when we're sleeping in. :)
  • An actual "master suite," with master bath and walk-in closet.
  • A good-sized indoor laundry room/mudroom/pantry with lots of storage.
  • An attached garage (two-car even!).
  • A beautiful, residential neighborhood that is also just a few blocks from major city thoroughfares.
  • Location a few blocks from a public park.
  • 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.
  • A beautiful, amazing, magical, storybook yard, complete with pond/waterfall, arbor, flagstone paths, amazing plants...
  • A huge built-in bookcase taking up one whole living room wall.
  • Poured concrete and butcher block kitchen counters.
  • Open kitchen shelving rather than upper cabinets (but there are hand-carved lower cabinets).
  • Wood privacy fence.
  • Corner lot (neighbor on only one side!).
  • Open kitchen/living room/dining room.
  • Uniqueness (the listing calls it an "artist or landscaper's dream house," and it really is). This includes multicolored tile in the entry, seagrass carpeting, and a million other unique and lovely features.
So I'm pretty much on Cloud 9. Pictures to come...

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Wow! I'm so happy for you! Congratulations! We're not too far off from house hunting ourselves, so it's really great to hear such a wonderful story as yours!

congratulations!!!!

Wow. What an awesome house! The pictures are great. And it's even decorated in such a way that you can see the awesomeness and don't have to imagine what it would look like without the pink gingham wallpaper. Congratulations!

You are together for 25. I wish I was as, then.

Your house is gorgeous. It reminds me of the one I just sold, due to a divorce. I now live in a small house in town....but more happily, I must say.

I wish you happiness in your new home. And, of course, I'm jealous too! Best.

Having seen the garden pics, i bet Chance is pretty happy too. :)

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Blame it on the Sims

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All weekend I meant to blog, but I was distracted. You see, 5 years after the rest of the world, I finally got The Sims (for $5 at the Goodwill, no less). And I am an instant addict. It's not even funny. They had me at hello.

It was a busy weekend otherwise, as well. Mark is sick and had to be babied, I went to see Ani, I looked at a bunch of houses, and I watched the Puppy Bowl. Oh, and I attempted to make gingerbread from Laura Ingalls Wilder's recipe (did you know today is her birthday?). I don't suggest you try it. Either the recipe is bad, or one of the spices I used was too old, or something, because the shit isn't even edible.

Ani was amazing. Inspiring. Better than I have seen her in years. She played better, she played longer, she seemed relaxed and upbeat--like the old Ani. I was really really happy I forked out the $40 and went, and if you are of the Ani persuasion, I suggest you do the same--even if you haven't been impressed with her in the last handful of years. It's just her and an good, understated (cute) upright bass player named Todd. Then when you go, tell me what you think about Andrew Bird, who is opening for her on this tour. I am honestly perplexed as to what I think, except to say that the man has a mean whistle.

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You should get the new playboy game! I heard tell it rocks, and it was made by a place in Northampton.

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simple living guide coverSo I'm reading Janet Luhrs' The Simple Living Guide. Well, not so much reading it as being consumed by it, actually. I have hardly put it down all day. With every passing chapter I am more and more sure that my life needs major changes, and that parts of what Ms. Luhrs writes about should be speaking to me very directly.

So, I'm probably about to embark on a whole bunch of navel-gazing entries. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The first thing she's got me thinking about is money, and shopping, and why I do it and what it means. This is hardly a new subject for me, but it's one I've sort of put aside for a while recently. It's cropped back up now not only because of the book, but also because Mark and I have started really looking at houses, and this is shopping like I have never known it before. First of all, with the exception of my education, I've never bought anything on credit before (I mean, I've used my credit cards, but I've never used them much and I've never used them to finance anything major). The whole idea of it feels really weird to me. Shopping for something that not only costs more than I have, but costs more than I will have for the next x amount of years, even if I remain gainfully employed--it's just a new way of looking at things.

The more interesting thing, though, is my impatience. Stupid as it is, I want to shop for a house like I do for everything else--on impulse. We looked at ten houses today, and if it had been totally up to me, I'd probably be writing up an offer on one of them tonight (Mark, thankfully, does not have this affliction). I can hardly stand the idea that this is going to take months. Now that we have decided to buy a house, I want to do it! And I'm like that about everything. What does that say about me?

One thing it says is that I have no patience and no attention span (surprise!). I've always just thought of those things as "the way I am," but in reality they can be changed if I have the discipline and the drive to change them. What would the benefit of being a more patient, mindful person be? Would I be healthier, sleep better, feel more at peace? I've never had any patience, can I learn patience now? Do I even want to?

Another thing it says is that I am massively insecure. I want to jump on a house right now because I am afraid it won't there tomorrow, and I'm like that about everything, too. I make decisions hastily for fear that my options will disappear if I don't. Why is that? It seems like most people are either "something better might come along" people or "I'll never have this chance again" people, and I am definitely in the latter category. But what makes us like that? While on one hand I have no desire to spend my entire life waiting for something better to come along, I also should know by now the danger in settling for something just because it's what is available now. Why is it so hard not to? Where does that insecurity come from? Does it come from growing up poor? From having an absent parent? Better stop, lest I start getting Freudian here.

I'm going to start a running list of things I'd like to do, for one reason or another. It's probably not going to make much sense, but I am going to keep it here so that it will be easy to add to and will stick in my mind.

1. Buy only used clothes. There would be some exceptions to this, like underwear and shoes, but I would LOVE to stop contributing to the demand for mass-marketed clothing, and the best way to do this, besides learning to sew, would be to only buy my clothes used. I know I could do this, too, if I had the discipline. It would make a huge difference financially, obviously, but it's something that I should do for political reasons as well.

2. Save 40%-50% of my income. Sounds like a lot, but I also know that a year ago I lived on less than 50% of what I am making now, so it's possible. Why can't I seem to do it?

3. Learn to meditate. I've always wanted to be able to meditate and my attempts so far have been dismal failures. A still mind is something I can't even imagine myself having. But I should at least try.

4. Get serious about volunteering. I have been volunteering here and there and everywhere for years, but I've not made a serious long-term commitment to anything. There are several things I feel strongly enough about that I'd like to commit time every week to them, and yet I don't. Where does the fear of being over-involved come from? Is this were I, too, am guilty of always thinking something better might come along?

5. Find my spirituality. This is a quest I have been on for awhile, off and on, but I need to get back to it. There is a hole in my life where my spirituality should be--I recognize that. I also recognize that I have to look for it, because sitting here and waiting for it to find me isn't working. Trying out different places/kinds of worship and seeing if anything felt right was my plan of how to go about looking for it, and I still think it's a good plan, but so far I haven't put the time into it that I should have (I've gone to one Lutheran church once and one Unitarian Universalist church twice--that's not going to cut it). I need to make time for this, not only to go, but to think about it, to reflect on it, to try and find prayer.

All this list is at this point is ideas, obviously. I'm notorious for making lists, coming up with plans, and then not following through. It's just easier to remain the way you are. And I am, in many ways, happy with the way I am. Sometimes I'm even happy, and that could be enough. But I know there is more out there, and it's up to me to find it.

*Title courtesy of Utah Phillips.

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Ummm . . . did I offend in some way with my last comment to this post? If so, I apologize!

NOt in the least! I lost all of my old comments when I switched my template. :(

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An argument for renter's insurance

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We adopted out our last puppy on Sunday. This was a happy and sad occaison. Sad because we'd gotten quite used to her and we'll miss her, but mostly happy, because six and a half puppy-filled weeks is really enough. They've all gone to great families, we have done our job, and we feel good about it.

There were two things about which Mark and I were very excited. The first was having a clean house again. Puppies are messy. We spent all of Saturday afternoon/early evening cleaning, and had 75% of a deep-clean done, I'd say, by the time we crashed out to watch The Wire at 8 o'clock.

The second thing about which we were excited was a long, uninterrupted night's sleep. I happily crawled into bed early (11ish), while Mark stayed up for a bit reading and then took Chance for a walk. When Mark and Chancey came to bed at around midnight, it had just started raining. (Again. Still. It's been raining here for days.)

I woke up at about 1:15 to extremely loud thunder and pounding rain. Something just didn't quite feel right. I got up, I'm not sure exactly why--I think I was planning to look out the front window at the lightning. I walked into the living room and suddenly my feet were submerged. Being as I have been inundated with non-house trained dogs for the last month and a half, my first thought was pee puddle. But I quickly realized that a) the only dog in the house was locked in the bedroom, and b) there was WAY too much pee here for it to have come from a dog.

So I flipped on the light, and found that most of my living room and kitchen were under water. Yep. House flood. Wonderful.

So I woke Mark up and we started trying to figure out what the hell to do. First we shoved some towels under the front door to attempt to stop the water that was coming in from our flooded porch. Then we opened the kitchen door to try to get the water that was already in the kitchen to go out that way. Then we called our landlord.

Four hours later, after much furniture moving, Shop-vac'ing, pumping of water off the porch, digging of trenches, etc., we had no more standing water in the house. However, an elaborate system of fans and a dehumidifier had to be set up to dry everything out. It's loud, and the dehumidifier is drying my skin out.

It looks as if the damage is slight, as far as our posessions are concerned. As for the house itself, who knows? I can't imagine it's good for the floor or the walls. I've never been so happy not to be a homeowner.

And it's still fucking raining.

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Adulthood!?

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We are buying a bed. This bed, to be precise. Let's hear it for getting the mattress off the floor! I feel so grown up!

We're also trying to figure out what to do in our guest room to get that mattress off the floor. We'd like to just buy a box spring for it, but we can't find one used and don't want to pay for a new one. The mattress is actually in fairly sad shape, so we may just scrap the whole thing and put a futon in there (I think that's the best idea, but Mark just can't stand the idea of getting rid of anything, especially not a mattress we hauled across the country).

Is there anywhere you can donate mattresses that comes to pick them up?

Chancey has graduated to a group agility class! Our first one is tomorrow morning. I'm less than thrilled about the Sunday morning classes, but Mark was fairly beaming when the trainer told us he thought Chance was ready to move on to group work. Mark's been itching to try agility stuff for awhile, too. I'm sure it will be fun.

I still don't want to have to get up at 9:00 on Sundays, though. If I were able to get up at 9 on Sundays, I'd go to church. This class wipes out any possibility of my doing that for the next two months.

Oh well. Guess I'll have to remain a heathen a little bit longer.

By the way--what do you think of my fancy new template? Blogger added a bunch of new ones when they did all their other upgrade stuff. Very exciting. Now I don't have the same template as half the other blogs I look at!

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Nearly perfect weekend

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We have had a most excellent weekend. First, on Friday night, Mark and I went to dinner and a movie with T. and S. We saw Spartan. It wasn't great, but it was pretty good, and it was an enjoyable experience in general (non-crowded theater, good company). Then on Saturday we had an unexpected nice day, so I made Mark get up early and we finally went plant shopping.

After our hard day's work, we took naps and watched some of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure on cable. Then Mark made dinner and we split a bottle of red wine. After half a bottle of wine, it seemed incumbent on us to keep drinking, so we did, both getting pleasantly smashed before we walked Chancey, hung out some more, and finally passed out.

Then today we slept in super-late and just hung out until about 5pm, at which time we went on a super grocery shopping trip. We now have food in the house! Before we went grocery shopping, however, I spent an hour or so cleaning out the fridge.

Then we came home and watched The Sopranos, and now I'm going to take a bath. It's started to storm here, complete with real thunder and lightening, and I don't have anything I have to do before my 2pm class tomorrow.

Life couldn't be much better.

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A beautiful day in my neighborhood

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Actually, it's not really all that beautiful--it's cloudy and I think it might rain. Still, I made a few observations about where I live while I was walking Chancey this morning, so I thought I'd share:

10 Things I Noticed on my Morning Walk
1. My neighborhood is full of very strange cats. These are large, fluffy cats who like to curl up into balls and sleep in the very center of a damp lawn. I have never seen cats behave this way before, both in terms of getting wet and in terms of being out in the open. And there are at least four of them along our route, all on different lawns.
2. There is one house that has two large vans and three full-size trucks parked in front of it/in the driveway at all times. How many people can possibly live there?
3. Same house as above still has their Christmas decorations up. Not just lights, either--it's a complete display, with Santa Claus.
4. There have got to be more birds here than anywhere else in the world. I'm not just talking about the plethora of grackles, either. There are also a jillion crows, a lot of very fat pidgeons, and a bunch of other birds I can't identify.
5. The mountain laurel is almost done blooming and falling off. Which is too bad, it's very pretty, and it smells like artificial purple (think grape Kool-Aid).
6. Some people on the corner have a giant prickly pear cactus. It stinks and attracts bugs. I had a very romantic view of cacti before I moved here. Now not so much.
7. We met the woman who walks the two French bulldogs in two different spots on our route today. I think she basically goes the same way we do, just in the opposite direction. Her little dog looks like this, her larger one is brindle and looks more like this. She's not terribly friendly.
8. Squirrels are mean little creatures. I like that about them.
9. There is a four-way stop on the major street we walk down, and I see someone run one of those stop signs nearly every morning.
10. The school in our neighborhood must start awfully early, because we walked by just before 8am (or maybe just after...) and all the kids were already inside.

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Won't you be my neighbor?

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I don't really have time to be blogging today, but I need a break and I'm feeling verbose, so lucky, lucky you...

I wanted to write about my neighbors. There are two possible things going on with me+neighbors. The first is that I just have incredibly bad luck when it comes to neighbors. The second is that the problem is not them, it's me. Hopefully after reading these total unbiased accounts of my neighbors, you'll be able to decide for yourself which is the problem.

Note that I am leaving out dorm neighbors here, because that is a whole other problem.

Case study #1: "Arg Fuck"
My junior year in college, I lived in an apartment with my then-boyfriend, Simon. It was my first long-term experience living off-campus and on my own. Retrospectively, the tiny apartment was kind of a hellhole, but at the time I was quite excited.

Or I was excited until I experienced Arg Fuck. Arg Fuck was my next door neighbor, an emaciated man with long stringy hair. Arg Fuck was, in my best guess, a man with a small methamphetamine problem. Or perhaps a large methamphetamine problem. This became apart to Simon and I when we were awoken the first time by his midnight tantrums. These were the most extreme tantrums I have ever had the displeasure of listening to, at least thrown by an adult. They included what sounded like throwing furniture down the stairs and repeated yelling of "Arg! Fuck!" (hence the name). They included screamed phone conversations with one of many women. Then, one night, they included what sounded like physical assault of a woman. That was the first time we called the police. There were at least half a dozen other times in the space of about six months, and many of those came with added bonus of having him come pound on our door after the cops left and scream that he was going to kill us. Keep in mind that this man had a balcony adjoining ours. It was freaking scary. There was also an incident in which he smeared blood all over the walls of our hallway.

We complained to the police. We complained to the management. Nothing happened. It was awful. So after that I moved back to campus. Dorm neighbors may be loud and obnoxious, but at least they aren't usually frightening.

Case Study #2: Don and Pauline
After I graduated, I moved into this great house with two friends, Natalie and Jenny. The "house" was actually a tri-plex, with a small upper unit, a large lower unit, and a small basement unit. We rented the middle part, the landlord, Don, lived in the basement, and another woman, Pauline lived upstairs.

At first, it seemed like a good situation. Pauline was quiet, Don seemed like a pleasant old man (he was in his mid-80s, I'd say), and the house was great.

Then a few things came to our attention:
1. Our thermostat controlled Don's heat as well as our own--and he insisted it be way the fuck up all the time.
2. Don came into our apartment when we weren't there. All the time. He didn't even try to pretend he didn't. And there was a door that connected his place to ours, which locked only from his side. He often left us rambling notes, giving instruction, with many exclamation points and always signed off, "God bless."
4. Sometimes Don would come in when we were there. He called it an inspection. He was a WWII veteran. These occasions were very odd. He wanted to make sure we weren't repainting or anything, he said. What seemed more likely was that he was checking for alcohol and other contraband. He was not just a little bit Catholic and he had very specific ideas about what was and was not appropriate for three young women living alone to have around.
3. Don liked to make rules. No doing laundry at night (we learned of this rule when he came pounding on our door at 9pm when we were doing laundry, screaming at us about how inconsiderate we were), no washing your hair in the shower because it clogs the drain (yeah, right), etc. These rules were subject to change at any time and without any notice, and we may or may not be notified by screaming note or screaming voice.
4. Don was deaf. Don's living room was directly under ours, and although he otherwise lived pretty much in squalor, he had a giant big screen TV with cable. It was turned up so loud whenever it was on that we could not only tell whether or not he was watching a war movie or the Christian Broadcasting Network (his only two choices, apparently), but we could tell which war movie or what the sin of the day was.
5. After we'd lived there for a few months, Don tried to raise our rent by several hundred dollars a month, saying that he'd been mistaken about how much he charged us in the first place. This was only one of several times he tried this. We were always able to talk him out of it, but it was still weird.
6. I could go on and on about Don, but you probably get the idea.

Above us was Pauline. Have you seen What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. The mom in that movie was Pauline, both physically and temperamentally. She had some sort of condition that caused her to be very very obese. What exactly that condition was wasn't ever clear. At first, she was very nice, she invited us up and wanted to meet us, etc. (she was housebound). Then it became apparent that what she really wanted was three free caretakers. She'd call all the time, asking us to run to the store for her, and later to come up and rub her feet. Her heat was always on and her apartment was always at least 85 degrees. And it smelled bad enough to make you gag, literally. I felt sorry for Pauline, she was sick and lonely, but she was also very demanding. Then, one day, I came home from work and kept hearing this weird sound, like a cat crying. I went up to Pauline's apartment and found her on her kitchen floor, having fallen and not been able to get up. I had to call EMS and they send the fire department as well, to haul her back up. It was humiliating for her and for me. She went downhill after that and moved out and into a nursing facility a month or so before we moved out (which we did as soon as we could get out of our lease), and she died a few days before we left.

Case Study #3: The 1331 crowd
The next place I lived was a double-studio apartment in a very rundown building. The price was right, it was the first place I'd ever had of my own, and I was jazzed. And in general, my neighbors were OK. Except. Except that there was an old man in the building, an alcoholic who used to be the building manager and sometimes thought he still was, who would come knock on your door and solicit money. Except that my next door neighbor had a delinquent grandchild who beat on her door and threatened her in the middle of the night every now and again. Except that the person who lived above me bowled in his apartment every now and again. In general, though, it was a step up.

Case Study #4: Jack and Jill
The next place I lived was the upstairs bit of a really great duplex in a wonderful neighborhood. Well, wonderful except for the methadone clinic two blocks away. Anyway, I lived there with Mark and our friend Erica. Below us lived to student from my alma mater. They had annoying matching names, so I'll call them Jack and Jill. Jack and Jill were nice enough at first--they were in their first place, they were students, whatever. Then we realized a few things about Jack and Jill that were a bit annoying. Jack thought he was a musician and played a guitar and sang, often late at night. Jack was NOT a musician. Jack and Jill liked to have loud-ass friends over. Fine, they were college students, whatever. Normal annoyance. Jack and Jill also liked to have very loud, very melodramatic sex. They sounded like porn. We heard everything.

All of that was minor, though, in comparison to the laundry problem. The laundry problem was as follows: the shared washing machine and dryer in the basement was hooked to their water/electricity. They asked us the first week or so we moved in if we�d mind paying them back for the water/electricity we were using, and we settled on a figure of $25/month. We thought that was kind of odd, but didn�t think a whole lot of it, didn�t want to rock the boat, etc. We found out months later than their rent was $50/month less that ours. This was, at least in part, because they had to pay for our laundry use. When we confronted them with this information, they told us we had to keep paying or we couldn�t use the laundry. It turned into a gigantic battle involving the (extremely worthless) landlord. We eventually won, but they hated us from then on and there were a few nasty encounters.

Case Study #5: The jazz musician
This brings us to our current case. Mark and I love our house. We knew when we moved in that we�d be sharing laundry facilities with a man living in a one-room apartment attached to the back of our house. However, he was a nice-seeming old man in a wheelchair, we didn�t share any non-closet walls, and all we were going to be sharing was the washer and dryer, so we didn�t think it would be a big deal.

We were wrong. So wrong.

First, the annoyance was just his music. See, we were told he was a musician. We assumed, stupidly, that meant he was a real musician. He�s not. He plays what sounds like a little kids Casio keyboard. He likes to play it at 8am. Also, he does laundry nearly every day---at least three times a week, anyway.
However, those seemed minor things and we tried to make friends with him. Before we got a dog, we asked him if he would mind a dog around/in the yard, and he said no problem. This was important, because his back door/small deck faces out into the backyard. Which we didn�t realize was shared space. But it is. But I digress.

Once we got the dog, Chance was understandably scared and confused when he went into the yard and suddenly someone popped up out of nowhere in a terrifying machine (wheelchair). We told the Jazz Musician we�d be happy to work with him in making friends with the dog, etc., so he wouldn�t get barked at and stuff, and he said great.

But all he ever did was yell at the dog. To make matters worse, he spread food out not only on his deck (which is low�at the dogs nose level), but in the yard as well. And then yelled at Chance when he ate the food, as I would assume nature for someone of the canine persuasion to do. The Jazz Musician calls the food �bird feed,� but it consists not only of bread and crackers and stuff, but also of whole fruit, sausages, frozen peas, you name it. He also throws cigarette butts out, which the dog, being a dog, tries to eat. We asked him numerous times to stop this, explaining that it is very difficult for us to keep the dog away from him/his porch when there is free food there. He hemmed and hawed and then said he�d stop if we got him a bird feeder to use instead. We got one. He hasn�t stopped.

Recently, the Jazz Musician asked Mark if he could have a word with him. He will only talk to Mark, not to me. OK, whatever. What he told Mark was that he�d like me to stop
�invading his privacy� by �looking in his house� when I was in the yard with the dog.

Yeah. Right. Like I want anything to do with his scrawny ass. If I look at his house, it�s because I�m trying to make sure he isn�t out on the porch, poised to yell at my dog for no reason. However, he sits in his house with his blinds (sliding glass door) open 24-7, often in his underwear. Even though it looks out on what is supposed to be our yard. So I can see why he�d feel like his privacy was in question.

Things got worse when he got a prosthetic leg (he�s a diabetic who had to have one leg amputated last year, hence the chair). Now that he�s more mobile, he wants to use the yard more. And that means we have to keep the dog out of it, because he is certain the dog is going to attack him (which at this point I�m not sure I�d blame him for) or one of his family members (his grandkids come over sometimes, etc.) He says that he�s going to �teach the dog a lesson.� This is terrifying, because if all 87 pounds of him tries to teach my 110 pound dog any kind of lesson, it�s pretty obvious who will come out on the bad end of it. And if Chance hurts him, then Chance gets put down. So we have to keep Chance away from him.

For awhile we only took Chance in the yard on a lease (what exactly is the point of having a yard then?). Recently things came to a bit of a head and our landlord (who is fabulous and 100% on our side, or at least it seems that way) put a fence down the middle of the yard, separating about 1/3 for him and 2/3 for us. So hopefully that will take care of it.

Some more things about this particular neighbor? He is on 19 different types of medication for his various illnesses, yet he grows a giant pot plant outside on his deck and our yard reeks of ganja all the time, even at like 9am. He also occasionally throws loud fits, yelling and cursing at nobody, although it seems, from what I hear (since I care so deeply about him and his life), that he thinks someone is there. He�s also irritatingly incapable of discerning what is and is not recyclable and how it should be separated, so I always have to take his stuff out of our joint recycling bins and put it where it should be.

Keep in mind that these are just snapshots of my neighbor experiences. All of this really happened, but a ton of stuff I didn�t have the energy to write down happened as well. What do you think�is it them, or is it me?

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How to make bath salts

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It's easy-peasy, as Jamie Oliver the cutie-boy says, so go for it:
First mix up your salts. The kind you use really depends on what texture you are going for. I usually use about 1/2 espsom salts, 1/2 sea salt, and a good amount of baking soda. Mix all that together. Add a bit of vegetable glycerin (about a teaspoon for every two cups of salt, I think). You get get vegetable glycerin at a health food store, generally. Then add essential oils and colors of your choice. The color is the hardest part, because liquid color (I use food coloring, because I'm cheap, but you can get special soap colorant at a craft store) doesn't adhere very evenly to salt. The best thing to do, I think, is to mix and mix and mix and mix with your hands to get the color as evenly distributed as possible, and even then larger grains of salt are going to hold more color than smaller ones, so don't be too much of a perfectionist. Scent is really to your liking--I use a little 1/6 dram sample vial of a scent for about 4-6 cups of salts, but it depends on the flavor. You want the smell to be fairly strong when you are mixing it up, because otherwise you have to use too many salts at a time, and the smell seems to fade over time.

For containers, you can use whatever, but my current favorite are old glass containers from the Goodwill, particularly the heavy glass type with latching lids like folks keep coffee and stuff in.

I think I'm going to try sugar body scrub next, so I'll let you know how that goes.

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Essential oil in the air

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I just spent an hour or so whipping up several batches of bath salts. I made grapefruit (my personal fave), orange ginger, blood orange rosemary, and rosemary lavendar tangerine. They smell great seperately, but the mixture of all of the smells, in conjunction with the amount of salt I got in tiny papercuts on my hands, is less than pleasant at the moment.

If any of my loyal readership would like a care package of homemade bath salts, lemmeno which flavor strikes your fancy.

I spent a good hour and a half this afternoon cleaning out and reorganizing my dresser and closet. My closet is now color-coded (I can't believe it took me so long to do that) and all of my drawers are reorganized and neat. I'm on a real organizational binge lately. I want to get some more clear plastic containers and organized our pantry cupboard (pasta in one container, nuts in one, dried fruit in one, etc.), but Mark begs me not too. He'd never be able to find anything that way.

This is the trouble with someone like me cohabitating with someone like Mark.

That and the piles of fucking papers everyfuckingwhere.

I have to go to work tomorrow morning. I didn't think I was going to have to go in until 11 or so, so it's a bitter pill to swallow that I have to be there at 9. Oh well. I could use the hours, and there is stuff to do. I'm not so sure the working from home thing is going to work out as well as I'd hoped, actually, because I haven't been able to get it together yet. Hopefully next week.

Ug. My hands smell mostly like rosemary essential oil, with this sort of background citrus smell. It would be nice if it weren't so damn strong. Also my left index finger is stained yellow from the coloring. Looks like I have jaundice of one finger.

I am fairly successful so far in my quest to stop biting my nails! They aren't past the ends of my fingers or anything yet, but they are to the point where they pretty much look like I just cut them short, rather than gnaw them off. I'm impressed.

Yeah, I know, it doesn't take much.

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Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down

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When I was a kid, I hated Sunday. Sunday inevitably meant being stuck at my house with parents, fuck-all to do, only books I had already read around, and extreme boredom. Seems like it was ALWAYS raining, my parents were ALWAYS home, and the day ALWAYS ended up in some sort of boredom-induced battle.

Now I love Sunday. Love. It. Waking up this morning was like waking up into a good dream. I've got my man (heh), my dog, it's unexpectedly sunny outside, and we've got all day to play. We're going to go to the park (or the pee-eh-are-kay, as we are forced to call it in front of His Highness) and make the most of this weather, even if it will be muddy. He scratched the living shit out of me trying to wake me up this morning, but I don't care, I'm still having a lovely Sunday morning. As I post this, I'm in my frog pajamas, I haven't eaten yet and am secretly hoping for challah french toast, and I am waiting for Mark to get out of the shower so we can take our beast for a nice walk. Does it get better than that?

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Fire

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Weirdness at my house last night:

It's about 12:30, and I'm fast asleep. Mark has just gone to sleep as well. All of a sudden, Mark sits up in bed and yells, "Holy fucking shit, get up!" I jump up to see there is a lot of what looks like fire outside our front windows. Aggg!

As it turns out, what I thought was fire was just flashing lights from our street being completely full of fire trucks. The house two doors down from us burned practically to the ground! By the time Mark went outside to check it out, the fire fighters had most of it out, but we fell back asleep an hour later to the sounds of them chainsawing through walls to get at embers. Then, when we walked Chancey this morning, we went by and the house is obviously completely demolished. The outside walls are still up, but the windows and doors are all gone, and the inside is just black. The lawn is covered with burnt debrise, etc.

Isn't that awful?

On the upside, it didn't spread, and the man who lives there got out just fine.

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Mark

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Mark is the other room, singing to the dog. "Who's the good little Pantsers-dog, Pantsers-dog, Pantsers-dog? Who's the good little Pantsers-dog, all the livelong day?"

Is it any wonder I love this man?

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Kitty!

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It's possible that we may have a new addition to our happy household.

Last night when we were walking Chance (it was 11:30 or so), we got by the gated condo community where I always encourage him to pee, and a cat started following us. We tried to keep Chancey's attention and figured it would go away after awhile. We were wrong. It followed us (at very close range) the entire way home. Then, when we got home, it ran up to the porch and attempted to go inside with us. So Mark took Chancey inside and I brought the kitty some milk. It's a smallish long-haired cat (really funny looking, actually, like with a Siamese body and tail and a calico face) and it's pretty thin, no collar, full claws. It sat on my lap and purred and I petted it. I have no idea whether or not it's a stray, but it's obviously a pretty damn spunky cat if it's willing to even get close to us with monster dog around. Mark and I talk about it and realize there is no way we can bring it in--Chance would kill it, even if he didn't mean to. So I figure if it's still around in the morning, we can start feeding it outside and see what happens. With the claws and everything it should be OK with being an outside cat.

In the morning it seemed to be gone, so I figured it had moved on.

Wrong.

Mark and Chance were just outside, and the cat showed back up. And took a stand against Chancey. Chance barked and growled and the cat stood his/her ground and gave him a swipe across the nose that drew blood.

So...we'll see. S/he seems to like it here. Maybe we can work something out.

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Stuff

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The problem with Do Whatever I Want Day is it is directly followed by "Do All The Stuff I Should Have Done Yesterday Day." Damn I wish Mark would get better so I'd have some help with all of this shit.

My current plan is to skip PFM (it's a guest speaker, something about taxes--I feel guilty for not going, but this is the first time I have skipped without a legitimate reason and I just can't go to campus and come back three times today). I have a meeting with my PE group at 2, but I can do housework and get things back into shape until then. Then hopefully I can work on my PFM problem set, which sneaked up on me and is due Wednesday.

Fascinating, I know. I don't know why I feel the need to post the intricacies of my daily schedule on my blog. Mmm...narcissism.

I am tired of Mark being sick. It's horribly selfish, I know, but I was so looking forward to his return because then I would have some HELP, and instead all I got was more work. But at least I am not feeling sick myself. I can handle it.

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Stuff

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So there is something wrong with my shoulder. It's like the pain that I had when Chancey pulled my shoulder out that one time, but a bit less. And it's persistant. Taking a shirt off over my head just about makes me cry.

Great. A health problem. Just what I don't have time for.

Today I am attempting to outline my PD paper, do my research for PFM and PE, and not lose my mind. So far I am failing on all counts, but it's still early. I am also making curried squash and mushroom soup from the Moosewood recipe. We'll see how that turns out. The baking squash smells really good.

I really really want to take a nap. Chancey woke me up every two minutes from 8am on this morning. I finally just got up a bit after 9, I think. Damn dog. I am going to start locking him out in the morning, I swear.

For some reason he really wants to be outside, which is massively inconvenient for me, because it is muddy outside and he's a mess whenever he comes back in. He's not cooperating terribly well with having his paws cleaned off, either. So he's staying in here for now.

Why am I writing this and not doing my damn work?

I attempted to "chunk" my hair yesterday, but it didn't reallyw ork. The chunks are a lot smaller than I wanted them to be, and a lot more bleachy-orange instead of blonde. It's not really all that noticeable. I should probably fix it, but honestly I don't have the time or the desire today. Maybe later in the week.

Chance is panting at the window because he wants to go outside. Dammit. I wonder what his deal is? I think he wants to chase birds and squirrels.

Ug. I have got to get something done...

Or maybe take a nap...

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Sunrise

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I walked Chance into an amazing golden sunrise this morning. It almost made being up at 7:30 when I don't have class until 2 worth it. Almost.

I have a stupid group project meeting at the massively inconvenient hour of 9am this morning. Then I'm coming back here and working (read: coming back here and taking a nap) before 2 o'clock class.

So far, having my schedule split into work week and school week seems to take a lot of pressure off.

I am trying to decide if I want to submit a paper/which paper I want to submit to the Women's Studies Colloquium thing. I am tempted to submit an abstract of the paper I am going to write for PD on HPV, since I would like to get more into women's health policy work, and presenting some would be good for the resume. However, I feel weird about signing up to present a paper I haven't written yet. Hrm...The deadline for abstracts is Nov. 14, so the chances of me writing it before then are pretty low, too.

Still, I think that's what I will do.

I am going to try to have grits for breakfast. We'll see how that goes.

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Mmmmm...it's Sunday night and my

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Mmmmm...it's Sunday night and my life is just good. I love my Mark, I love my dog, I love what I'm doing (school and work). I love that I made lentil soup today and it's cheap, it's good and it's nutritious. I love that even though I am tired, I am tired from actually doing school work and chores and playing with the dog. I love that the TV hasn't been on all day and isn't on now.

It's hard to just be content. I don't trust it for very long, and it worries me when things get too quiet and seem too good. But I am content with this. This is what I want. Mark and were sitting on the couch and Chance came up and sat between us (on both of our legs) and we petted him and he just stayed there for several minutes. This is my family, I thought. And it is. I love my family of origin, but this is the family I am creating--the family we are creating. There isn't anything better than that.

OK, I should go get some more reading done before I melt completely into a puddle of gooey romantic nonsense.

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Sunday mornin' comin' down

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This morning has a very Sunday kind of feel about it. Mark is off walking Chance; when he gets back we'll go on an errand run (grocery shopping, Target, etc.) Then later we have a play date with Chance and Tosca, and Mark wants to make a Sunday fried chicken dinner. What could be better?

The only problem is that my neck is hurting like a mofo again. Dammit. I am trying to figure out if it's better with my hair up or better with my hair down, but I think it would be better with my hair off completely.

My interest in actually doing the reading for my classes next week has dwindled to sort of a sad trickle. I did the reading for my Monday night class, but haven't cracked a book for any of the others, and it doesn't look like there will be tons of time to do that today. Oh well, at least I had four weeks at the beginning of the semester of pretending I am a dedicated student.

I wonder if anyone is reading this thing? I kind of feel sorry for them if they are--it is so rambling and so very uninteresting.

Someone on the Ms. boards called me inauthentic the other day. Is inauthentic even a word? I felt like an imposter Van Gogh painting or something.

Today's shopping delimma: Does (fruit flavored) nonfat yogurt WITHOUT artifical sweetners in it exist? If so, why can't I find it?

Things that say Sunday morning to me:

The Sunday Times
Waking up with the sun streaming on to your bed
Sitting around in pjs or whatever passes for them for hours before you take a shower
A long slow stretch and the feeling that although you should probably do something productive, you don't really have to
The church bell down the street

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