Friday, January 30, 2009

Frugal Friday - Squeaky Clean

I am one of the lucky ones. My husband does laundry. Hallelujah the man has domestic skills, laundry and dishes to boot! I am blessed. I can’t complain. Or can I? Well, yes, yes I can. Because, you see, the man uses way too much detergent. If a little is good a lot is faaaaar better. Man theory seems to be that clothes can’t get clean without a significant outpouring of soap. And this is the last thing we need.

You see we use Kirkland Brand High Efficiency Detergent. I researched this brand before making the switch. This is a high-sudsing detergent and therefore one should use significantly less than what is called for on the packaging (and this makes sense - I mean how many of you really wash your hair then rinse and repeat according to manufacturer instructions? Not me!). Anyway I bought the soap then the hub and I had an engaging discussion about appropriate detergent volumes (because what better way to get down to business than by reviewing the chemistry of laundry).

But here’s the thing. We talked about it. He didn’t listen. Because laundry simply can’t get clean without lots and lots of suds. Case closed. I was confronted with two choices. One - do all the laundry myself. Um, yeah, no. Or two - find another means to an end. I chose option two.

Today I filled an empty detergent bottle half full from a new detergent bottle. Then I diluted both bottles with equal volumes of water. Problem solved. The hub can continue to do laundry and use a large volume of soap. Me, I’ll know we’re actually using less detergent. Shhhh! This'll be our little secret!

And along those laundry lines ... I’ve been giving our softener sheets triple duty. Twice through the drier and then used as dusting clothes. However, I still feel guilty as these sheets end up in the landfill. So, as soon as our supply runs out, I’m going to try making my own fabric sheets. To do this I’ll need liquid fabric softener, a spray bottle and an old washcloth. Dilute the fabric softener 1:4 with water. With each dryer load spray a couple of squirts of the mixture on the washcloth and place in dryer. I’ll let you know how that pans out. Also, synthetics cause the most static. Therefore consider line-drying your synthetics to eliminate the cling. Plus synthetics dry fast anyway. If only I could find that indoor laundry line ...

And one final thought for the day. I came across this no poo post and am thinking of giving it a whirl. Fewer chemicals, better for the environment, frugal ... what’s not to like?

Happy Frugal Friday all!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ordinary Day

Bowls full of caked on rice are strewn about the kitchen; remnants of last night's dinner which, for the kids, consisted solely of rice. The adults had Martha's Asian Stuffed Cabbage Leaves. Apparently cabbage is not an appropriate offering for children. No additional offerings were made.

Overnight the laundry multiplied like a couple of love-starved rabbits; clothes are spilling over the baskets and onto the floor. Yesterday's load is still laid out over the living room couch.

The upstairs is an unspeakable disaster except for the girls' room which is now clean. Mom fully expects to come home tomorrow morning to find her housework undone.

A portion of the carpet appears to be covered in glue - permanently. It goes well with the permanent marker on the wall and paint on the windowsill.

The kitten has endured his daily squeeze.

The sun is out.

Yoga was good.

Mom and little Sis swam in the ducky pool.

Now it is time for afternoon carpool then the work which pays the bills.

It's just another ordinary day.


Happy Love Thursday!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Adventures in Painting

I am happily tinkering away at my Whisper's Art Journal. Above is a sneak peak of the cover. I'm also starting a sketch book with an unused moleskine journal. I've never used the moleskine because I did not know how to draw. Well it suddenly dawned on me that the best way to learn is by doing. *Thump to the head* You should've had a V-8! I'll admit to being slightly slow when it comes to my personal growth.

Anyway - the whisper journal is made from the covers of hardback books. Yesterday I bought the books from a local thrift store. I grabbed the least expensive hardbacks without looking at the titles. After all I wasn't going to read them. Then I promptly brought them home and removed the covers. Though I did not intend to read these books I felt guilty dismembering them and wanted to find some use for the interior (something akin to using the whole animal after a kill). So I set the pages aside pending creative ingenuity.

Well the book skeletons were still on the table when middle daughter came home from school. She picked them up and asked if she could have them -- I said, "Sure, why not?" thinking at least they'd get some use. A few minutes later Sis wandered back into the kitchen where I was journaling.

"Mom? What's this? There is a section called Petting."

"Petting?" I asked, my mental cogs turning, "Let me see that."

She handed me the book and low and behold I bought Facts of Life and Love; which includes chapters on the menstrual cycle, masturbation, homosexuality, syphillis, petting, dating, sex and, finally, marriage. Granted my daughter has a relatively firm grasp of most of these concepts already. Nonetheless an unanticipated conversation about sex might have been enough of a mood killer that I'd never pick up a paintbrush again. I'm thanking my lucky stars this was a 1950's addition. I coyly suggested that working on an art project with me might me more interesting than reading that old book. Thankfully she was happy to start her own journal and quickly forgot all about the text. Here's a little peak inside:

In these days it is not so easy to tell the respectable girl from the girl who plays fast and loose...

Indeed there may some good wisdom in there. Perhaps I'll let her read it after all.


Here is a Ted Talk I came across today that seems particularly timely. Enjoy!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Life with Art

Today I started Kelly Rae Robert’s book Taking Flight: Inspiration and Techniques to give your Creative Spirit Wings. And I am inspired. So what if I don’t know how to paint. So what if I have no supplies. I’ll simply get some. I’ll learn to paint. If I can teach myself to type I can teach myself to paint. Right? Right!

So over the hill and through the snow off to the art store I went -- with a coupon of course. As luck would have it my coupon expired (it seems January has gotten away from me). I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and bought the supplies anyway; my entire spending allowance for the month. I am leaping in with both feet.

My first project? Kelly Rae’s Whispers Art Journal; a place to record all those whispers, those yearnings, those little hints life has been dropping. My secret yearnings have been to write, to photograph and to experiment with other artistic mediums. To allow myself the freedom to get dirty, to mess up and to blissfully play like a child.

My head, however, has had a different narrative; you are not born of creativity. My parents did not (do not) have a creative bone in their bodies. Instead their collective marrow pumps out science, facts and practicality. As I am genetically linked to my parents I’ve assumed I, too, lack the necessary tools to lead a creative life. Art was not an important part of my upbringing. I was raised with the mantra: you are science, you are responsible, you are practical. Could that be any more boring?

I followed my given path well; off to college straight from high school, graduating early, working a few years and then back to obtain my veterinary doctorate. At the same time I married and had kids.

Now I have it all. Family, education, career...only something is missing. Joy. This is not to say there aren’t moments when I’m happy, because I am happy, I’m content. But I’m rarely joyful, filled with that bursting happiness, that giddiness, that thrill. Arms spread to the side, palms open to the sun, head back, mouth open - gleeful, spinning, spinning, spinning in a field of flowers -- this is what I’m seeking. I am seeking absolute Joy.

And I hope to find it by welcoming creativity into my life; by opening myself up the possibility of what could be. By writing, photographing, knitting, painting, drawing and playing I'll be a better mother, better doctor and better scientist. Life will be better with art.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Another Photoshop Tutorial...

I wrote another post for My Baby Photos ... click here to learn to use the Photoshop pen tool to eliminate distracting backgrounds!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

44 for Forty-Four

LinkI vow to do what I can to change our nation and our world. I will live my life with hope, dignity, simplicity and grace. I will reach out to those who need my assistance. I will fill this world with joy and love.

For more of 44 go to Shutter Sisters.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I Spy

Last night we had a pizza party. We invited three couples and their infants over to dinner. I was busy sliding pizzas in and out of the oven and didn’t have a chance to take pictures while people were over. But I did snap one of the table before our guests arrived. The table is busy and looks a lot like a I Spy book.

Can you spy six matching forks (and seventh in the dishwasher)? Do you see seven matching margarita glasses and one aberrant blue rimmed one? How many different kinds of water glasses do you see? (Hint: there are spaghetti jars, beer glasses and two glasses with chips in their base). Can you tell our plates do not match? Do you spy a flour encrusted apron?

Can you see the garbage which provided a late night snack for the dog? Can you spy a throw rug hiding a blemished wood floor? Do you see the open spot in the hutch that belongs to the pitcher on the table? Do you see blank spots on the wall where two of our haphazard chairs normally sit?

My point is ... we had a perfect little dinner party in an imperfect house with imperfect dishware and imperfect decor. But it was perfect in it's imperfection.

No one appeared to notice our dishware or decorating discrepancies. And if they did they didn’t say anything. Why? Because it didn’t matter. What mattered was gathering. What mattered was friends and family. Yes, the dishes were helpful. What didn’t matter is that they came from the thrift store. And if it did matter? Well lets just say those people wouldn’t be our friends.

The most popular pizza of the night was date, prosciutto and goat cheese topped with basil and parmesan. I’ve got left overs if you want to stop by ... we’ll be watching the game. The door is open -- come on in!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pizza Party!

Tonight we're having friends over for pizza. Homemade pizza that is. And, as promised, here is my favorite dough recipe. We'll use the whole recipe tonight but our family of five typically uses only half the dough. The other half goes into the freezer for another day. Simply pull out and thaw in the refrigerator when ready to use.

As for toppings -- here are a few of my favorites:

* Grilled asparagus, prosciutto and roasted garlic topped with parmesan (I squeeze the garlic onto the dough and use as a paste instead of sauce).
* Sauteed mushrooms and onions with fennel topped with goat or blue cheese. Sometimes I'll toss mixed greens over the top and sprinkle with white cheddar. Mmmm, mmmm!

And for the kids ... peanut butter pizza (peanut butter topped with cheese --really!)

1 1/2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar

Combine in a food processor or the bowl of a mixer:
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour

Set aside: Small amount of corn meal

Combine water, yeast, olive oil and sugar. Set aside. Assemble dry ingredients in food processor or mixing bowl (I use my kitchen aid mixer with the dough hook).

Add the bubbly yeast mixture to the flour mixture while blending and mix for about 2 minutes. If too sticky add small increments of additional flour. If too dry add small increments of water. After two minutes turn the dough out onto a well floured surface. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a well oiled bowl. Spin dough in bowl so all dough surfaces are lightly coated in oil. Cover (I love to use pretty dish towels) and set in a warm place to rise until doubles in size (about two to three hours).

After the dough has risen punch down then divide into eight equal pieces. Roll pieces into a circle about 1/8th inch thick and store between sheets of lightly oiled waxed paper (note if dough is sticking to the waxed paper put in the freezer for a few minutes).

Place corn meal on a pizza peel (it will allow the dough to slide), place dough over corn meal and top as desired. Cook on a pizza stone in a 450 degree oven until edges golden brown and toppings bubbly.

Slice and enjoy!


Have a great weekend!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Here I sit in this very spot at my kitchen table, which is now clean. Sprays of light are dancing through the back door. I'm dreaming of french doors in my bedroom to capture this same light; perhaps someday. Someday the day will come when I'll get my doors and my backyard pizza oven and the wide plank wood floors and all the other accouterments I fantasize about. But today is not that day. Today I'm content to sit at my clean table, with my working laptop and favorite tea. Today I'll let the light cavort about me and dream of things to come.


Look up to see more of that gorgeous light . . . it was definitely time for a new header.  

Click here to see Donna's wonderful heart photo.

Tomorrow I'll post a frugal pizza recipe. Right now I'm checking off items on my chore list. One by one they are getting done. Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Love Thursday

Today I love:
  • Learning new photoshop skills (see above, original photo here)
  • Record temperature highs in January
  • Trips to the library and park
  • My still clean car
  • The freedom to play
Happy Love Thursday!

What do you love today?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The last several days (and nights) have been harried. I’ve been working and feeling that ever familiar tug between family and career. I haven’t seen my husband for 48-hours; he’s been working days and me nights. He leaves for work just before I get home and returns just after I leave. This morning I came home just in time to take middle daughter to school and drop little sis off at the neighbors. Then I had to go back to work for a meeting. The boy had already left for school and I hadn’t seen him since Sunday either.

I was running about the house -- gathering ballet clothes, schoolwork, etc. and stopped to look around. The place was a disaster. I sighed, picked up a few things and raced out the door feeling like a domestic failure. My car was equally as filthy which did little to improve my mood.

My meeting, of course, lasted longer than anticipated. I hurried home to retrieve little sis. Little sis, however, had other plans and wanted to stay to play with her friend. Suddenly, after four non-stop days, I found a free moment. So what’s an overworked domestic failure to do? Clean out the car!

Goodbye skis and snow shoes -- back to the garage you go. Goodbye unopened bottles of grape juice, miniature skateboards and tennis balls. Hello missing snow boot and missing piano book. And I found something else --I found my groove. Out came the vacuum; away with the dirt, the pine needles and pine cone bits. Away with the dog hair and Cheerios. Out came some cleanser and a sponge. Away with the crusted milk, unidentified goop and dashboard dust. And away with my bad mood. Why didn’t I do this sooner?

Were this a typical January day you would not find me cleaning my car. But today is not a typical day. I've been given the gift of sunshine. It is warm and nearly 50 degrees.

I felt industrious and just darn good. Now I have a clean car and improved state of mind.

The thing is, I forgot my car could be clean (relatively speaking of course). I became so used to the filth muck that I forgot there was another way. And I think the same holds true for life. We get so used to living the harried life that we forget there are other ways, other paths begging to be explored.

So now I’m going to start on my house -- cleaning and contemplating. If nothing else I'll have a lovely house in which to begin the first day of the rest of my life.

Here's hoping each of you are gifted with a warm January day to tidy up your own lives, both mentally and physically. Let's meet in the slow lane and compare notes, shall we?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Delurking Day 2009

I have been informed that today is Delurking Day 2009.  This makes me quite happy for two reasons.  One - I want to know who you are, you people who read this blog.   And I really do love comments.  Two - I'm too tired to write anything substantive today.  Hooray!  Two birds with one stone.  

Please stop by and leave a comment.  I'd love to get to know you better!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fluffy pink clouds,
Palpably longer days,
Footie pajamas
and remnants of snow.
A Saturday night
in January.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Frugal Friday; the Core of the Matter

Today was one of those days; a “money talk” day. You know ... the why are we working so hard and yet have no money discussion. December was a financially poor month for us. We barely met our fixed expenses and had little left-over for food, gas and debt reduction (not to mention gifts). December was simply not stellar. January is looking slightly better but now we have to pay for December’s excesses and look ahead to April 15th.

We are taking a cold hard look at our finances. Can we go down to one car? Should we cancel the kid’s extracurricular activities? Does the basic cable have to go? Our expenses have been pared down but we’ve allowed ourselves the above non-essentials. Should we refinance our house (it’s at a good 30-year fixed rate but we might be able to combine our first and second mortgages)? Can we refinance our house? Are there other ways to cut expenses?

And, on the other hand, can we increase our monthly income? I’ve put some of my yarn stash up on Ebay. I’m making a small income from freelance writing. Could we sell our plasma? I mean really, I’ve got the initials Dr. in front of my name and I’m thinking about selling plasma to meet expenses. This from a household with two people working full-time and not prone to excess. What is wrong with this picture?

Long story short I chose to invest in my clinic as a 1/11th shareholder. This veterinary business is making enough money for me to owe taxes but not enough money for share distributions to be made. There was not a gun to my head. I took a risk that, to date, has not paid off. At the same time, due to economic and other reasons, my monthly pay has also taken a hit. And now we have to find a way to make things work; to ride out this recession.


So, in the spirit of Frugal Friday here are some things I’m doing this week to save money:

*Shopping at home for gifts. And I mean literally at home. This week our friend turns 30 (ah -- youth). She’ll be getting two very nice hand-thrown ceramic bowls and a lovely set of chopsticks. We love the bowls. We bought them for ourselves. But they get little use and are therefore getting a new home. Don’t you know ... appropriate re-gifting is now chic.

*Along the same lines ... I made my own gift-wrap. I used scrap material to sew a simple re-usable gift bag and topped it off with a recycled ribbon. A homemade gift card will complete the package. It's frugal and environmentally responsible!

*Walk more, drive less. Yesterday I used my feet to run errands. Tonight I’m going to walk to work. And yes, it will be cold. And yes, after working all night I’ll have to walk home. It’s okay. I can meditate and appreciate nature, exercise and save money in one fell swoop.

*Eat at home. Tonight is chicken enchilada casserole. We’ll make it this afternoon and I’ll hoof it to work for dinner.

*Use left-overs. Tomorrow is chicken enchilada casserole.

*Use the library. On my reading list this week: Yankee Magazine’s Living Well on a Shoestring.

*Sell un-used items on Ebay or Craigslist. Some of my yarn stash is up for bid should anyone be interested.

Today I am grateful for:

*A husband who canceled brunch with his friends to save money. Instead he’s doing dishes and going grocery shopping.

*Beautiful babies who watch library movies in dappled sunlight.

*The ability instantly process photographs on my computer (I’m sorry digital photography, it took me a while to warm up to you).


Happy Frugal Friday!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Love Thursday

I love ... walking downtown to do errands (bank, post-office, library and the market).

I love ... sunny brisk days with robins chattering in the background.

I love ... bright red doors to punctuate a winter's day (and no this is not my door though I do pine for this house with its river front location and gorgeous mud/sun room).

I love ... the library (hello new reads and free kid's videos!)

I love ... cookies baked at home after a long walk.

I love ... curling up into my reading chair with a good book.

I love ... that I could go on and on with this post.

In case it isn't obvious today is love Thursday. For more love visit Chookooloonks gorgeous blog.


What do you love?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Learning Gratefulness

Housing prices continue to fall. Household expenses are increasing while annual income is decreasing. This economic recession continues it’s negative spiral with no end in sight. And there is no better time to be grateful. What? Grateful? Absolutely!

Now is the time to appreciate all that we do have - from the roof over our heads to the scent of a fresh-peeled orange. Given the right framework most lives are truly abundant.

When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears
Anthony Robbins

Abundance is not the possession of material objects. Instead abundance is a state of mind, a meditation of daily gratitude. And this meditation can make you happy. A 2003 study* by Emmons and McCullough showed that .. “the gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being.” These groups were more optimistic about their future, felt better about their lives and exercised more; all a direct result of gratitude.

Furthermore a 2008 study* by Froh, Sefick and Emmons showed adolescents who practiced gratefulness had ... “enhanced optimism, [and] life satisfaction.” Is this not what every parent wants?

But here’s the problem. My children do not practice daily gratitude. They do not see the abundance before them. Rather each day arrives with a litany of complaints (could mom’s cooking be any more boring!).

This morning I became so frustrated with my eight-year-old’s attitude I threatened to make her sleep in the garage (the theory being she would then appreciate the roof over her head even if said roof included sharing a room with her sister).

Short of shoving my kids out in the cold I am at a loss. I want to teach my children gratefulness and thus gift them with truly joyful life. But what’s a parent to do?

Here are some ideas:

1) Start a thankfulness tree. Have each family member make leaves of gratitude to hang on the tree. Periodically change the leaves on your tree and take time to sit down and pour over all the things you have to be thankful for.

2) Volunteer for those less fortunate (a soup kitchen, a nursing home, a pet shelter, etc). Discuss how you and your children could improve these people’s lives.

3)Leave Hope Notes scattered about your town to brighten someone’s day.

4) Lead by example; take the time to find beauty in each day and share this beauty with your children.

5) Have Earth Hour once a week. Learn how people lived before the creation of all our modern conveniences.

6) Routinely donate toys to those less fortunate.

7) Keep a daily gratitude journal with your kids. Nightly write five things for which you are grateful.

8) Turn off the television and monitor computer use. Eliminate those flashy ads which vie for our kids’ purchasing power and simultaneously diminish their self-worth.

Gratefulness is a skill, a skill that can be learned. And the benefits of daily gratitude can be seen in as little as three weeks. Three weeks! A mere 21-days to a happier healthier child and happier healthier family. What’s not to lose?


Today I'm grateful for warm breezy winter days, hot showers, the scent of a lemon in the disposal and an invite to a knitting group.

What are you grateful for?

*Emmons, R.A., McCullough, M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.

*Froh, J.J., Sefick, W.J., Emmons, R.A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study in gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 213-233.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Food, Family and Friends

Slow Cooker Chili and Homemade Pretzels

Mr. Peculiar is once again watching "the game" through the back of his eyelids. The remote is balanced on his belly moving up and down with each breath. I'm debating whether to confiscate it and change the channel. I can't fault his fatigue -- he's been up since five and worked all day. And now his belly is full.

This is the second time I've made these pretzels -- they are still a hit. You can find the recipe here. Serve them with honey mustard - mmmm, mmmm!

You might notice the pretzels aren't quite pretzel shaped. You see I had a bit of help in the kitchen ...

Messy Marvin making pretzels

The chili is a simple conglomeration of ingredients on hand: stew meat, kidney beans, 1/2 white onion, chicken stock, diced canned tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, salt, pepper, corn and the piece de resistance ... a smattering of cocoa powder. The cocoa adds the perfect touch of bitter sweet and gives the chili a full-bodied flavor. Instant espresso powder does the same thing. But, shhhhh, don't tell the boys at the brewery ... this year I'm entering the annual chili contest and I don't want them to have a leg up.

Ah, as I was writing this post a neighborhood friend popped by -- beer in hand. The five year old embraced the persona of a lion and began growling in our friend's face (thankfully he has kids of his own). And the hub is now up and watching the game. Good thing I didn't commandeer the remote.

This has been the perfect mellow evening - surrounded by friends and family. Nothing fancy, nothing difficult, nothing expensive. The boys are watching the game. I'm blogging and half watching the game. The baby is doing a puzzle and middle sis is coloring. Tonight is just right.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

How to Spend a Winter's Day

# 1 - Sleep in late but get up before the kids
#2 - Have ghetto* mochas or lattes with the hubbie
#3 - Make rosemary red potatoes and scrambled eggs
#4 - Wake children and eat breakfast
#5 - Pack five peanut butter sandwiches, two sliced apples, oranges and pretzels
#6 - Fill camelback with water
#7 - Have kids scurry about for their winter clothes
#8 - Load everyone up in the car
#9 - Buy a winter snow pass ($22.00)
#10 - Go snoweshoing!
#11 - Come home and warm up with hot tea/OJ and rum (mmmm!)
#12 - Feed the family homebaked mac and cheese
and finally ....

Confiscate the remote from the sleeping husband and switch from "the game" to HGTV - he'll never know!


I hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Ghetto Mochas:
* Heat milk, put it in a french press coffee maker and froth, mix with coffee, add chocolate as desired.