Frog

An Homage

With Halloween fast approaching, I finally got around to donating the kids’ remaining outgrown costumes from years past. I don’t often form emotional attachments to possessions, but this lot has been hard for me to let go (as evidenced by just how many costumes I had available to donate). My mom hand-made each of these costumes for her grandsons (just like she did for me every year when I was a kid) so they were not to be parted with lightly. But saving them in an old plastic tub in the basement year after year didn’t seem like the best use of space–and they still all had plenty of trick-or-treat life left in them. So, new homes it was.

I used my local Buy Nothing group to find recipients for each costume, which made it feel more like handing down a treasured family heirloom to an old friend. And I dug up old pictures of (nearly) all of them, which I share with you here in homage:

Not shown: the cutest freaking skunk costume you’ve ever seen (because Riley wore it as a 14-month-old and that was so long ago it predates my digital camera ownership), plus some others that have either been repurposed or worn out over the years.

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A Few of My Favorite Things

There have been some things in the making that I wanted to share here but couldn’t because they were super secret gifts and I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s surprise. But now Christmas has happened and surprises have been had and sharing can happen safely once again. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite things from this Christmas season.

The Homemade Stuff

We tend to be one of those families that makes a good portion of the gifts we give. But 2013, as I’ve mentioned before, has been a particularly difficult year financially. So this year, nearly everything gifted to an adult was handmade. It’s definitely more time consuming (especially when the kids are hand-making gifts too), but I kind of love the excuse to get crafty. And, from a parental standpoint, I also love seeing the extra thought and care the kids pour into the gifts they make with their own small hands. Here are the best of the best this year (if I do say so myself):

Feather string art by Riley

Feather string art by Riley

The last two years, Josh has gotten me a new piece of artwork. I started referring to it as a tradition, in the hopes that doing so would ensure that the practice continued and more and more art would find its way to my walls. This year, though, Josh and I agreed to skip buying gifts for each other and instead focus on the kids. But no need to mourn for my naked walls: Riley came to the rescue with the feather string art he made for Josh. THE TRADITION LIVES!

You know those art projects your kids make that you love with all your heart… and maybe also think are completely atrocious? This is not one of them. Good job, Kid.

Full disclosure: We completely, 100%, unabashedly ripped off the feather design idea from Design Curiosities.

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Book_Closed

My mom loves Dickens. My mom loves Christmas stories. It should come as no great surprise, then, that my mom loves A Christmas Carol.

A million years ago, she got me a copy of A Christmas Carol for my very own. I remember the apartment we were living in when I got it, which would put me at 7 or 8 years old – so that’s a picture of a 30-year-old book right there.

A few years ago, I noticed that the binding was breaking and the pages were beginning to fall out. The hardcover was otherwise in pretty good shape, and the pages had a nice old-timey feel about them, so I set the whole thing aside with the idea that I would find some clever way to repurpose it someday. Then I saw this. And then, obviously, my mom got this for Christmas:

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As an extra stroke of awesome, my copy of A Christmas Carol included lots of illustrations, both color and black and white, which lent themselves beautifully to becoming gift tags. And then I used a bunch of popsicle sticks and hot glue to turn the hard cover into a box to organize the tags (which, admittedly, is kind of a tacky way to make a box, but I was given strict instructions to not spend money and we already had the pospsicle sticks in the back of a drawer somewhere, so…).

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A black pen to write “To”s and “From”s and a hole punch at the top, et voila! A gift tag box set made from one of my mom’s favorite books. Good job, me.

Full disclosure: I kind of (totally) stole this idea too. I saw something similar on Pinterest, and tried to follow the links through to the original poster, but it just sort of dead-ends after some random Tumblr, so… just go here.

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Owl

I think this guy is my favorite of all the gifts this year. He’s a delightful take on a scarecrow, made from old crap I found in my basement. His name is Moby, and he’s meant to be hung in the garden to scare away the birds. His body is an old Moby CD (hence his name), and the sun reflecting off its shiny side is supposed to discourage birds from approaching. This is just a thing I’ve read, so I can’t say whether it actually works or not. I’ll check in with my mom in the spring and let you know if Moby is adequately doing his job. If not, at least he’ll look cute hanging out there.

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I like his caster talons the best.

Again. Stolen idea.

The Store-Bought Stuff

But not everything was homemade. I received some pretty awesome (store-bought) gifts that I’m super excited about. My faves:

(Spoiler alert: they’re all books Probably no surprise there.)

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So… maybe you should keep it to yourself if one of your favorite gifts is a grammar guide? OR you could fly your nerd flag high and proud. I choose the latter. Plus, it’s an illustrated edition of The Elements of Style and it’s AWESOME. So, shut it.

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This has been on my list of books-I-must-read ever since I realized that everyone I know who has read it uses the same two words to describe it: Life. Changer. Man’s Search for Meaning is part memoir and part psychological theory. It chronicles Viktor Frankl’s time as a prisoner in concentration camps during World War II, and uses his experiences there as a sort of case study for his logotherapy theory. I think. I’ve only just started reading it, so I’m probably describing it terribly, but that’s the basic gist. It’s a bizarre thing to say I’m excited to read a horrific Halocaust tale, but you know: Life. Changer.

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I’ve wanted to read Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison since before the Netflix show was a thing. I realize that’s a terribly hipster kind of thing to say, but it’s true. Plus, I’m not saying it to prove my superiority over you (hipster), I’m saying it to demonstrate that I’ve wanted it for a long time and so I’m really excited to finally have it (book nerd). There’s a difference. Anyway, I’m guessing you already know what it’s about, but just in case you don’t: it’s Piper Kerman’s memoir of her time in a women’s prison, after her conviction for drug smuggling and money laundering.

And, for the record, I love the show. Crazy Eyes is my favorite.

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This is my new 5 Year Diary. It’s not huge, like you might expect a 5-year diary to be. Instead, there’s a day on each page, and each page is divided into five sections. You write in the first section the first year, then start over again the next year by writing in the second section, and so on and so on. Cool thing number one: as you write in it each year, you can read what you wrote on the same day in previous years. Cool thing number two: there’s only enough space to write a few sentences in each entry, so it’s not an overwhelming undertaking to journal daily. So far, some of my entries have taken the whole space… and others have said, simply, “Wine!”

There is a time and a place for soul-searching, introspective writing exercises. And there is a time and a place for writing exercises that center entirely around what type of alcohol you most recently consumed. Now, I have a place for the latter. And it is delightful.

So tell me, what fantastic things did you give (or receive) this year?

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This post’s song: My Favorite Things by Avila

 

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Disclaimer: Some links that appear on this page may be affiliate links. That means I will get a very small amount of money if you should happen to click one and buy something. However, I would never in a million years link to anything that I didn’t sincerely think was super crazy awesome. Also, I feel compelled to encourage you to buy local and independent whenever you can so, for example, I would support picking up any one of the books I mention at Elliott Bay Book Company (or your favorite independent book seller) instead of Amazon – despite the fact that it directly and negatively affects the coinage making its way into my pockets. Ethics before profits, yo.

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Out with the Old, In with the New

And lo, we have arrived. Twenty fourteen. Which, among other things, means that Josh and I have been engaged for two years now. We should probably add “get married” to our list of things-to-do this year, yes? Yes. Let’s work on that. But that’s not all. I’m still trying to be more intentional about the way I spend my time, and so I like to make some resolutions every year that line up with my free time priorities. Here’s a list of what I’d like to accomplish this year (in addition to matrimonial knot-tying), along with a quick report on how 2013’s resolutions went.

Eat Food

2013 Resolution: Limit ordering take-out to once per week.  I was pretty successful here, at least during the week. The weekends? We still ate out a lot. BUT we were eating in the restaurants rather than taking out. So I totally nailed this one, technically speaking.

2014 Resolution: Resurrect the garden. Josh put in raised gardening beds in 2012, and then we had an unusually unsunny summer and our yield was kind of sad. So we showed the sun who was boss by not bothering to plant anything in 2013. And that year, when we had no seedlings poised to benefit from it, the sun shone and shone and shone all summer long. Because the sun is an asshole. This year, we’ll make some modifications to the beds and try again. We will plant. We will harvest. We. Will. Eat!

Be Green

2013 Resolution: Make a batch of homemade deodorant. Done and done. And it works GREAT. The recipe is here (my most popular post of 2013, so I guess that means you guys like it too). I made one batch, and it lasted me the entire year.

2014 Resolution: Homemade shampoo. In addition to 2013’s homemade deodorant, I starting washing my face with oil. Both changes were wildly successful (and saved money to boot). I already use eco-friendly shampoos, but this is the year I’ll be brave enough to test out some homemade recipes. I’m mentally preparing myself for the terrible hair days ahead – and you should too, since you’ll be subjected to the photodocumentation.

Make Stuff

2013 Resolution: Pick a project and make it. Success! I made some things. Mostly to give to other people for Christmas presents, but that still counts.

2014 Resolution: Make 6 lovely things, at least one of which requires a sewing machine. I don’t have anything specific in mind yet, so I just gave myself a quantity of made items to work toward. I will consider them lovely if I want to show them off when they’re complete. This may not mean that they actually are lovely, but good enough to inspire shouts of “Hey World, look what I made!” should count for something.

Get Out

2013 Resolution: Have one adults-only outing every month. Fail. Fail. Fail. Oh, did I suck at this one. I’m trying to recall how many times Josh and I had something even sort of resembling a date night, and I can only think of two: one in February (a concert) and one in December (a play). I also squeezed in a couple rushed coffee dates with friends, but all in all it was an abysmal year for adult time.

2014 Resolution: One. Adult-only. Outing. Every. Month. I’m just re-upping this one.

Read Books

2013 Resolution: Finish reading two fiction books and one non-fiction book. Nailed it, plus extra credit. Books finished in 2013:  Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.

2014 Resolution: Don’t buy any new books. That sort of feels like an anti-resolution, but I have stacks of books I already own that I haven’t read yet. I’m trying to get through that stack before adding to it. I am still perfectly willing to accept new books as gifts, however. Just so we’re clear.

Learn Stuff

 2013 Resolution: Learn to open a bottle of champagne, for chrissakes. This was the first resolution to get marked off my list, since I opened the New Year’s bottle of champagne precisely one minute after 2013 began. I’m pretty certain I’ve since forgotten how to do it, and I’m entirely certain it still makes me shriek because I’m convinced the cork is going to take my eye out. But still, I’m considering this one complete.

2014 Resolution: Participate in a writing workshop. Along the same lines as the champagne, I’d originally resolved to learn to use a drill. But, really, I know how to use one, I just don’t know how to use one well. (My drill holes are always wobbly and drunk looking.) I just need practice, and that’s a lame resolution anyway. Instead: a writer’s workshop. I already signed up for this YEAR-LONG one, before I had time to think too much on it and lose my nerve.

Get Involved

2013 Resolution: Finish my PTA Legislative Chair position off strong. Done. It was a semi-strong finish, at least. And then I started a new term as the Legislative Liaison at Riley’s new school. So there.

2014 Resolution: Bring the kids along. We’ll do some sort of volunteery thing as a family. A beach clean up. A weeding party at a park. Organize donations at West Side Baby. I don’t know exactly what yet. But we’ll figure it out, and do it. All of us.

Raise Citizens

2013 Resolution: Teach Avi new songs and guide Riley through a summer service project.  Done and done. Avi learned most of his new songs at preschool rather than directly from me, but it still counts. And Riley raised and donated over $400 to World Wildlife Fund to help endangered gorillas. Because he’s awesome.

2014 Resolution: Have the kids complete one Good Citizen Deed each week. This has been a trickier project to put together than I anticipated, but I’m giving the kids 52 assignments to complete throughout the year. The assignments vary from simple (pick out a can of food at the grocery store to donate to the food bank) to more involved (research a topic important to your community and write a letter to your state reps about it). All of Avi’s are pretty simple since, you know, he’s only 3.

Be Well

2013 Resolution: Complete three workouts/week. Didn’t happen. Me and exercise just aren’t getting along regularly right now. I squeeze it in when I can. I know it’s important for my physical health. But you know what? So is sleep. And on those rare days that I have a little extra time to spare, sleep wins. Moving on.

2014 Resolution: Go to the doctor(s) and write one day/week. I haven’t been to the doctor in a long time. I’m overdue for a pap, breast exam, glaucoma screen (family history there), glasses that actually correct my eyesight. And the dentist? Haven’t been there in over a decade. Don’t give me that look. I’ve had the shit shitty shittiest insurance that only medical emergencies have been dealt with. But now? Obamacare, yo. I can finally afford this. And for my mental health, I vow to get myself away from children once a week for some focused writing. Wish me luck on that one. I’ll need it.

Life List

2013 Resolution: Go to the dentist. Nope. No money. Shit insurance. We’ve covered this.

2014 Resolution: Give new life to an old piece of furniture. I have piles of old furniture in the basement that I refuse to sell/donate/take to the dump, because I am convinced I can rehabilitate them. This is the year that I try, at least once.

Lighten Up

2013 Resolution: Ride in the Fremont Solstice Parade. Yeah, the naked part.  I did it! I did it! I did it! It was fun. You should do it too.

2014 Resolution: Yell less. Like, waaaaaaay less. This one’s for you, Avi.

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This post’s song: Best Year by Elk and Boar

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DIY-All-Natural-Reed-Diffuser

DIY All-Natural Reed Diffuser

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Our bathroom smells funky. There. I said it.

I blame the boys, of course. And that’s fair to a certain extent (it is where we keep the diaper pail, after all, which is the direct result of one boy in particular), but really it’s more a function of an old bathroom with old (leaky) plumbing and no fan and towels that never quite dry. Mmmmm, mildew and piss.

We clearly need an air freshener but, if you know me at all, you know there’s no way in hell I’m going to use a store bought solution. Aside from being expensive, commercial air fresheners are made with known toxins. Toxins like phthalates, hormone disruptors linked to reproductive issues, birth defects, and developmental disorders. And then there are formaldehyde, benzene, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have been linked to headaches, nausea, asthma, neurological damage, and cancer. Plus, according to National Geographic, “Many air fresheners contain nerve-deadening chemicals that coat your nasal passages and temporarily block your sense of smell.”

I’d rather my bathroom smell like the  aforementioned mildew and piss than the titillating scent of cancer and birth defects, thankyouverymuch.

We have some incense set and ready to burn, but that only happens when someone poos. And, to be honest, I don’t care for incense. It makes my throat scratchy and it smells of hippies. (Not that I have a problem with hippies. I quite like many of them, in fact. I just don’t want hippie-scented air, is all.) Plus, I want round-the-clock freshness, and incense only works well while it’s burning. I prefer reed diffusers, myself, but they’re crazy pricey and full of those synthetic cancer-causing fragrances mentioned above. (Also, the synthetics make The Man’s face wrinkle up in perpetual disgust, and that’s not the way I prefer his face.)

So, what’s a girl with a funky bathroom and a distaste for cancer to do? Make her own reed diffuser with items she already has laying around the house. Duh.

DIY Reed Diffuser

DiffuserSupplies

What you’ll need

  • glass bottle
  • bamboo skewers
  • carrier oil (safflower, sweet almond, or grapeseed oil are recommended)
  • 10 – 30 drops of your favorite essential oil(s)

Instructions

  • Pour carrier oil and essential oils into glass bottle.
  • Add skewers.
  • And, done.

Really. It’s that simple.

Here are a few of the details of how mine came together, in case you’re wanting a few more specifics:

A narrow necked bottle will hold the skewers better, and slow the rate of evaporation of your liquid. I don’t remember the reason, but we set aside several San Pellegrino glass bottles about three years ago. I grabbed one of those. I had about half a package of bamboo skewers left over from grill seasons long past. I used about 10, I think. You don’t have to use bamboo skewers, but they’re inexpensive and easy to come by (your grocer will likely have them) and they soak up the oils well. I cut off the pointed skewer ends with my garden shears to make them look a little less aggressive.

I went with the essential oils we already had in the house that aren’t used for other medicinal things. I used peppermint in the first batch. I liked the way it made the room smell… except that it was fairly strong and, within the context of the bathroom, mostly made me think of toothpaste. A lot of toothpaste. Like someone had had some sort of toothpaste accident. So I made up a second batch blending sandalwood, ylang ylang, and bergamot. It’s much more subtle. (Almost too subtle. I’ll probably add a few more drops of each oil to kick up the scent a bit.) For the carrier oil, I used safflower oil for no particular reason other than it’s what was on hand.

There are probably ideal ratios of carrier to essential oils, but I just decided to wing it. I filled the bottom 1/4 of my bottle with safflower oil and then added essential oils until the scent was pleasant but not overpowering (about 20 drops of peppermint; considerably more with the sandalwood/ylang ylang/beramot blend). Then I blended the oils, using one of the skewers as a stir stick. I put my skewers into the bottle and let them sit for about a half hour and then flipped them so that the wet (scented) ends were out and the previously dry ends had a turn to soak up the oils. Flip your skewers once a day (more or less as needed) to keep your scent fresh.

Now my bottle is parked in the bathroom, smelling good, looking pretty, and not giving me cancer. Win-win-win.

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Simple Real Food Recipe: Split Pea Soup

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There are three primary oppositions I hear from people regarding what I term a “real food” (aka whole foods) diet:

  1. It’s too expensive.
  2. It’s too complicated.
  3. It takes too long.

This split pea soup recipe is one of my go-to real food recipes, and proves that at least two of these assumptions are NOT always (or even often) true. It’s inexpensive and it’s super easy. It does take a while (cook time is about an hour), but most of that is just the soup simmering. Active time is about 15 minutes, depending on how quickly you can chop your veggies. When I was working full-time, this soup was reserved for a weekend meal because I just didn’t have an hour of cook time during the week. When I started working from home, it was an easy dish to get going in the evening and then return to work while it simmered. In either case, it reheats well – so cooking a double batch meant the family could eat off of it for several meals.

And it’s vegan, if you’re into that (just skip the optional bacon topping, obviously).

Simple (Vegan) Split Pea Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cups dried split peas, picked over (Honestly? I’m pretty lazy about the picking over. Be like me, and save yourself some time.) 
  • 1 small (or 1/2 large) bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp – 1 tsp white peppercorns (feel free to sub fresh black pepper if that’s all you have, but the white is really delicious)
  • 1 tsp quality salt, plus more for seasoning at the end
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1 or 2 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 small potato, halved or quartered and thinly sliced  (I usually use a red potato, skin on)
  • 1/2 large yellow or sweet onion, diced (about a cup-ish)
  • 2-3 medium cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3-1/2 cups water (feel free to replace some or all of the water with chicken stock if you’re not veg)
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar (more, to taste)
  • Optional toppings: chopped bacon (obviously, it’s no longer vegan if you go this route), chopped tomatoes, snipped fresh parsley, or whatever you have that might be good
  • Wine, for sipping while you cook

Put on some music. Cooking is always better with music. Gather up your veggies.

VeggiesBefore

Place the bay leaf, white peppercorns, and mustard seed into a reusable spice bag (or tie up in cheesecloth). If you’re using black instead of white peppercorns, don’t add it yet – you’ll just season to taste at the end. Add water (or stock), peas, spice bag, and 1 tsp salt to a large stock pot and bring to a boil.

Water

(If you don’t have a spice bag or cheesecloth: add the bay leaf directly to the water along with 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder in place of the mustard seed. Omit the peppercorns, and add freshly ground black pepper at the end, to taste.)

Lower the heat to a low simmer, partially cover, and set the timer for 20 minutes. Now is a great time to chop your other veggies. Or pour yourself that glass of wine. Whatever.

VeggiesAfter

When the timer dings, add in your veggies: celery, carrot, potato, onion, garlic. Here’s the part where you remember that you should use the bigger pot when you make this soup.

FullPotEdit

Stir it all up. Add a bit more water (or stock) if you’re running low. Partially cover again, and continue simmering for another 40 minutes.

You’re basically done, so now’s a great time to get started on whatever accompanying dishes you’re planning for the meal. Maybe cook up a few slices of bacon if you’re planning on adding some at the end as a topping. Check your pot occasionally and add small amounts of water if you’re getting low.

Every once in a while, for no particular reason, lift the lid and scowl at the cooking soup. I’m not sure what this does exactly, but it’s what I always do and the soup is always yummy. I thought I should include the scowling just in case it’s the secret to really great split peas.

When the timer goes off, taste it. (The soup, not the timer.) But blow on it first so you don’t burn your tongue like I always do. Add vinegar and additional salt and pepper to taste. Remove spice bag. Dish up, and top with chopped tomatoes and/or parsley and/or chopped bacon and/or whatever you think sounds yummy (or nothing at all).

All Done Edit

Makes about 6 servings. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. It’ll thicken, so you’ll probably want to add a bit more water when you reheat it.

Enjoy!

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