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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sharing the Bedroom


Toby shares the bedroom with me. A kind and lovable, vertically-challenged German shepherd, who doesn't mind how I decorate, as long as the air conditioning is on, we go to bed by 11, and I stay quietly on my tiny edge of the bed. But others aren't so lucky (?) Many people I know have to share their bedroom with another human - one who speaks and has an opinion, and might even care (a lot) about the number of threads they can count on their sheets.

So, how does this work? Do we really need to compromise in the bedroom? I think we do. I was struck this last week by several couples who had decorated their bedrooms as if they weren't sharing it at all. The one who had decorated it firmly believed that the opinion of the other person who they slept with wasn't important. I have to say that it was mostly women - they assured me that their husbands didn't care, and several of them even said that their partner had no taste, so why on earth would they even consider letting them be involved in any of the decorating and design decisions?

But taste is really subjective, and I strongly believe that if we're sharing a space, then it should reflect who we both are, and, at the very least we should ask what our partner does (and doesn't) like before we steamroller ahead. Even if they say they don't care, then shouldn't we still choose to care enough about them?

The bedroom is one of the most important places in our home - it's where we are all supposed to recharge and relax at the end of the day. It should be a peaceful and welcoming space for everyone who steps inside.
The benefits of sharing our ideas is kind of obvious - if someone feels comfortable in a space then they want to spend time there, and, if they can see that their taste and opinion really does matter, then that makes them feel cared for. Both of which makes for a much happier relationship (both in and out of the bedroom, of course).

Monday, July 17, 2017

5 Dorm Room Essentials

'Tis the season, and if you have a college-bound teenager then you just might be in the middle of your very own personal hell - surrounded by a peripheral madness that you are trying really hard to resist, every email and letter that you receive pushes your anxiety to new heights, and you wonder what on earth this experience is supposed to be about anyway.
Of course you don't want them to go, but why are they suddenly telling you that your child must have a printer and a matching pair of salt and pepper shaker's? Oh, and you must send her a welcome kit of candy, delivered straight to her room - with a sweet reminder that if you don't, she will be the only candy-less, unloved child on the entire campus....

So, with all these thoughts floating around in your head (not mine, of course) I thought I would give you five of my favorite dorm room essentials. They won't rescue you from the madness, but all are readily available, all are infinitely useful, and nothing is over thirty dollars.


Bed Lifts are not the most glamorous thing on the planet,
 but they will give your messy teen an extra 6 - 7 inches of space under their bed (and, it makes it feel less like a twin bed). The new ones even come with an AC outlet and USB charger. For less than $30, it will help them be more organized, or at the very least they can just grab some storage bins and stash everything under the bed when you go to visit them. 

This seems odd, and I absolutely trust all the little darlings who will be attending college, but a space to hide something is not such a bad idea. Something unexpected, like a hidden drawer, an old book, or even a pair of funny toe socks, is not as obvious as a dorm room safety box, and may come in useful now and again. This one is from Amazon, and is about ten dollars.


Another cheapie - this isn't really glass, but it does just what you need it to.
Available at almost every inexpensive, large retail store, it needs no installation, and just hooks over the back of a door. As well as needing them to look into, a mirror makes the room seem a bit brighter, which can be a necessity in some of those dark, crowded, Vitamin-D deficient  dorm rooms.   


Clear, hanging shoe pockets are not just for shoes.
If they can fit it in there, that's what they can use it for. From toiletries to underwear and gadget chargers, these are indispensable for every type of student. They're extremely durable (and even washable, if they need to be). Yes, the fabric one's are cute, but the clear pockets are so much more practical. 


Forget the fancy bath buddy's and cute shampoo organizers, 
a shower container has to be waterproof, durable, drainable and easy to carry. Do you really think they are going to stand and put everything back in the right spot, and leave the mesh out to dry for three days to avoid the mold? No. Keep it simple with these adorable, colorful, tough $3.99 totes (which would also be great for holding so many other things).  

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Shoo Fly! Shoo!


As a rogue fly whizzes around our house, I quickly run downstairs to find my old-fashioned, umbrella food tent to protect the cake that I had just pulled from the oven. Eternally squeamish about flies (thanks, Mom) it is rare they get into our house, but when they do I won't rest until they are either outside again (or very obviously dead).

Not into using chemicals, I will chase them down with a can of hairspray, or grab a catalog to frantically (maniacally comical, perhaps) swat at them - well aware that I am amusing everybody except for myself.
Insects and flies (Are flies actually insects? Yes, I just checked) both fascinate and repulse most of us. Some people like to watch scary movies that involve them (Jeff Goldblum will always be my one and only favorite fly) but we don't want them in our homes, or casually landing on our freshly, unpacked ham and cheese sandwich.
So, with creepy crawlies on my mind, here are a few, non-deadly ways to keep them away from you this holiday weekend.

WASP CATCHER

A traditional, glass Wasp Catcher, filled with all sorts of concoctions, will lure flying insects into them, making it impossible for them to escape.
If you don't have one of these, you can quickly make your own with an empty, plastic soda bottle (instructions here).

 FOOD UMBRELLAS

So simple, yet so effective. With a bit of a retro vibe, 
mine were bought at a Fair many years ago (for about a dollar each).  
These adorable mesh umbrellas are still very inexpensive (usually less than five dollars), and are available on-line,
or at many nearby home and garden stores.

FANS


Most flying insects prefer it when the air is still, so a fan will keep them away for most of the afternoon. Install a permanent one on the inside ceiling of your porch (extra points if your ceiling is pale blue, as that is supposed to deter insects too) or grab your favorite one from inside, and point it towards your picnic table. 

PLANTS AND HERBS


There are many plants and herbs that are said to repel mosquitoes and flies. 
Citronella is the one we hear of the most
(usually found in candles) but you can also buy this,
and many other repelling plants, at your local garden center. 
 For best results, you may want more than one, so for a full list,
check out these plant ideas from Natural Living.

COFFEE GROUNDS, LEMON AND CHALK

Common garden ants are rarely more than a passing nuisance,
but if you don't want a small army of them invading your next outdoor party, 
there are a few precautions you can take. 
Although they often seem to be the Houdini's of the insect world, they are also easily deterred by the most harmless of ingredients. Try stopping them with a path of chalk, a squirt of lemon or one of these other unexpected household items.

 SHOOFLY PIE

It didn't seem right to finish this blog without a recipe for traditional Shoofly Pie, but there were so many recipes that I just chose the one that I have used in my own kitchen. The story of its name seems to vary, with some saying it was named after people yelling, "Shoo fly!", and others say that it was named after a type of molasses that was called Shoofly. 
Whatever the origin, it is simple and delicious
- in spite of its very unfortunate name.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Can You Really Do It Yourself?

We had the plumber over the other day to fix several leaky faucets, and when I called him on the telephone he barely remembered who I was. When he showed up on my doorstep, he said that he had assumed I had found another plumber, because it had been over four years since we had needed him.

As we chatted, he told me that some of his customers call him several times a year, and many of the visits could have been prevented. 

This got me thinking - what should we tackle ourselves, what should we know, and when is it time to bring in the professionals? 

PLUMBING
At the very least, we should all know how to turn off the main water valve for the house, and where the individual turn off valves are for each faucet. Why not ask your plumber to give you a tour next time he visits?

Unclogging a Toilet 
This is not fun at all, but if it's (how can I say this delicately?) an organic clog, then there are plenty of (easy) non-chemical ideas you can try before you call the plumber.  
Turn the water off behind the tank, open the window, put on your grungy clothes, boil some hot water (not for tea, for your toilet) then click here for some simple solutions. 

Leaky Faucet 
I will take the end bit off a faucet, but I won't dismantle an entire unit
No matter how many times they tell me to carefully line up the parts, and reassemble them in reverse order, I can never get it back together, but if it is a small, rubber washer inside the water spout end, I won't hesitate to twist that bit off, take it to the hardware store, and get a replacement.

Smelly Garbage Disposal 
I don't have one, but I know they need regular maintenance, and unless it's completely broken, you should always try these simple DIY solutions first. 

Clogged Kitchen Sink or Water Leaking under the Sink  
Usually, this is caused by gunk in the "U" bend under the sink.
  • My first course of action is to tip some baking soda (a cup or so) into the drain and add a good measure of vinegar (2 - 3 cups of whatever you have handy - not balsamic) let it bubble, leave for about 20 minutes, then flush with scalding hot water. 
  • If it's still clogged, grab a bucket (to catch whatever falls out) and a flashlight, and see if you can unscrew the curled bend under the sink and investigate what is in there (you might need gloves, or want to cover your hands in plastic bags). It's a simple mechanism, that may take you a few tries to get familiar with, but you can't mess this up. For more detailed information (with pictures) go here.  

ELECTRIC
Having an older home, means that I won't mess with the wiring on my own, but I have learned a couple of useful tricks from my electrician.
  • Know where your circuit breaker is, and label it. Spend an hour or so with a friend, and have one of you turn the circuit breaker switches on and off, then label which room/area they belong to. If something goes wrong, you can check here first - turn the main on and off, and/or flick the switch on and off for the room that is giving you a problem. This is especially useful after a storm or power outage, when some don't reset themselves.
  • Screw in your light bulbs tighter than you think. I had my electrician out several times in a month, only to find that I wasn't putting my light bulbs in tight enough (!). Crazy, right? But if they aren't making a full connection they might not work, or they could jiggle loose and blow the light. I was always afraid they would break, but that has never happened.

OTHER DIY that I think most of us can do

Laying peel and stick tiles on a kitchen or bathroom floor
This is not hard - they are easy to cut, and if you're considering this, then you probably have an old, yukky floor anyway. It's not permanent, so why not give it a try

Painting a small room 
If it's a bathroom, or a small bedroom, you can do it yourself, and it is the perfect place to be daring with your color choice. Allow yourself a weekend (you might not need it, but it's better not to be rushed). Grab painters tape, small brushes, a roller, lots of music, and maybe a bottle of wine.

Spackling holes in your walls or ceiling
This is easy-as. The hardest bit is often finding the paint to touch it up afterwards. Just spackle (I like the pink spackle that dries to white) smooth, let it dry, then paint. Less is always more - you can add more layers after each one dries. Sand if needed.

Re-caulk and grout tiles
Again, your attempt might not be as perfect as a professional's, but if it's a little touch up, then give it a go. By the way, I left mine for too long once, and the water started to leak through to the downstairs ceiling, so it's worth keeping up to date with repairs. Here's a video from Martha and Home Depot that explains how to do it.   

Gutter cleaning
This depends on your home (and how tall you are). I can do some of mine, but not all, and if you can fearlessly climb a ladder with a bucket, you could give it a try. No roof walking though. 

Fix squeaky doors and hinges
Before you buy new ones, try tightening the screws, loosening the pins and coating them with petroleum jelly (Vaseline). Most recommend using a spray lubricant, like WD 40, but that is really messy, and Vaseline works great (olive oil doesn't). 

Well, that's heaps for now, but I hope this gives you some new ideas before you reach for the phone and grab your checkbook. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

DIY with Dandelions


When my daughter was young I used to pay her ten cents for every dandelion that she picked from the lawn. My complete laziness combined perfectly with her thinking that they were pretty, yellow flowers (and not some weed that managed to evade the lawnmower when I went over it, then pop back up just in time to send millions of seeds out into the universe).

I don't dislike dandelions at all, but I do think their seeds are prettier than the flower itself, and I would never pass up an opportunity to blow on one and make a wish. I am fascinated by the way that they always seem to right themselves as soon as they are set free - reminding me of Mary Poppins, these small fairy umbrellas stand perfectly poised for a moment, then elegantly catch a ride on the nearest breath of wind. Not caring where they go, they quickly disappear, even when the day around them seems so very still.

So, I saw a recipe for dandelion wine (which reminded me of those sweet, sunny days when my daughter could happily fill an afternoon with picking flowers) and I thought it would be fun to share some practical things that we could do with dandelions...

Dandelion Wine: This particular recipe I like because it is so simple (and I don't feel that anything to do with dandelions should be complicated). It's from Epicurious - a delightful word, supposedly made up by one of my favorite chefs, Michael Lomonico.

Dandelion Jelly: I haven't made this yet, but I will. The reviews say that you might need a bit more pectin than the recipe calls for, but they also say that it tastes good even if it doesn't set up quite as jiggly as it should.

Dandelion Salve: Any salve, cream or ointment that is made from just a few, natural ingredients is usually very good for you, and this one also has beeswax in it, so the healing properties are even better. * Please be careful about potential honey/pollen/bee allergies though - especially with young children.

Dandelion Cupcakes: Why didn't I think of this? From The Nerdy Farm Wife comes a simple recipe for just adding dandelion petals to your regular cupcake batter. It's barely even a recipe, but just a few yummy guidelines on what (and what not) to do.

Dandelion Paleo Cupcakes: This is what I would call a proper recipe. Proving that a Paleo diet doesn't have to be boring, these dandelion and lemon cupcakes (main photograph) sound delicious (in fact, everything on Andrea's site looks and sounds delicious).

Dandelion Lemonade: There is nothing like making your own homemade lemonade, and this one tastes exactly like Summer.

Preserved Dandelion Clocks: Why not capture them before they fly away, and turn those ethereal puff balls into the most delicate of garden decorations? (A fun craft for a fairy themed birthday party).

Dandelion Everything: From quesadillas to pesto and cookies, Jill over at the Prairie Homestead has sixteen of my favorite (and unexpected) dandelion recipes.

A few dandelion notes....
  • If you're using any of these recipes, please collect dandelions from your own pesticide and chemical free garden, rinse gently, and be sure that they haven't been sprayed with anything other than nature. 
  • By the way, did you know that Crayola retired their Dandelion Yellow Crayon this year? We are not quite sure why, but they did say that he had "an adventurous spirit" with "a case of wanderlust", which could be useful considering that Dandelion, at only 27 years old, seems far too young to retire. 
  • A dandelion is so nutritious that the delightful Dr. Andrew Weil affectionately calls it, the accidental vegetable

                         *Thank you to Andrea at Forest and Fauna for the main photograph.