it might be behind the door but that’s better than the counter

2014-03-17 14.08.37Wow, now that is a provocative blog post title. Far superior to the last one. First, let me tell you that I put the snow boots down in the cellar. I hope this is not like when the stupid groundhog sees his shadow and now we’ll get that once last March blizzard. If that happens, I apologize to all my fellow New Englanders. I just cannot stand to even look at those boots for one more moment. (My mother just told me that the extended forecast is suggesting snow next Wednesday or something. To be fair, that forecast came out before I put the boots in the cellar. Clearly I am not responsible.)

This has nothing to do with the stellar topic of this blog. I was just excited about the boots.

So, I tried to create a workspace for myself outside of the kitchen. I have tried this many times. In more than one house. But ever since I had kids, the kitchen is just sort of my place. I am okay with it. It doesn't even make me feel less of a feminist. I've even been barefoot and pregnant in my kitchen and still remained one strong broad. (I don't think I'm supposed to say that ... ) In fact, I reclaim the kitchen as a feminist stronghold! Anyway, I can’t ever get out of this room. I try. I can sometimes get about 2 or 3 feet into the living room. I almost make it to the easy chair every day. My forays into other rooms have generally been colossal failures, so I decided to just move back into the kitchen. I mean, I am allowed to sleep upstairs—in a bed, even. I'm talking about my workspace. I created a nice little spot in the “coloring room"—as my kids refer to it—right in amongst my kids' workspace. It was a lovely concept. Didn’t work. I couldn’t get out of the kitchen. I brought all my stuff back in here. (Yes, I am in here now.)

I started out at the kitchen table, but it was such a drag to have to clear all my stuff away every time we had to eat. So I ventured onto the counter, but trying to toast anything, or use the blender, or food processor, pour juice, cut up pancakes—do you get what I’m getting at?—became a hassle with my laptop in the way.

The solution? 2014-03-19 22.41.51

A shelf behind the door! AND I used materials we already had so all I spent was one dollar on this new pad of paper. Pretty, right? And only ONE DOLLAR!

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You would think that the door might bang right into the shelf, right? No! It totally doesn’t! The 2014-03-19 15.24.07red step stool stops it! How awesome is that? (Totally, right?) Now I have everything I need all laid out and pretty and organized. This will change my entire life and I will never be disorganized or stressed or overwhelmed again! (Not true. But toasting things will be a lot easier.)

Also, Steve (not his real name) says this is a very ergonomic set-up. It does make me feel very ergonomic and I'm not sure what to make of that. But I think it's good. I may never sit again. Which is pretty much my life, so it works out perfectly.

Happy Friday, everyone!


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meet my new counter!

mems_house We moved into my grandmother’s house almost a month ago. We’re pretty much settled in and getting used to all the changes. The first week I spent a lot of time standing still, looking around with boxes piled around me, figuring out where everything would work best. I thought a lot about the places my grandmother kept her things.


This is my new kitchen—my grandmother’s kitchen.


The counters are a sort of cream color. My grandmother’s kitchen is a bit of a hybrid—old paneled walls and linoleum mixed with a counter and cabinet upgrade completed sometime in the 80’s. The cabinets were a warm honey color before, now a deep chocolate. I can’t recall the color of the old countertops. My grandmother—Mem we call her—was a meticulous cleaner, right up until she moved into her room at the nursing home. (By the way, she is happy there and very well cared-for, which is a great relief to those of us who love her.) She gives us her house in beautiful condition. I found some cool old stuff in the cellar, an awesome old tablecloth bordered with wide red rickrack (!) in a kitchen drawer, my grandfather’s dog tags from WWII in a small white box in the linen closet.


My DIY crate shelf in action!

I grew up next door, in the house in which my parents still live. Mem’s house holds a great many memories for me. My grandfather—Pep—who died 20 years ago, laid the wood floors with his brothers, built the laundry room, renovated the master bedroom with his good friend. His tools still rest on his workbench in the corner of the cellar. My sister and I used to sleep here most Saturday nights—buttered popcorn, Lawrence Welk, falling asleep to The Love Boat glowing from the portable black and white which had been moved to the bureau in the guest bedroom.


Virginia Woolf wrote a book, A Room of One’s Own, in which she extols the importance for women writers to have both literal and figurative space in which to write. She wrote this essay in 1929 when women enjoyed far less equality than we do now. (Not that the work is over, mind you...) I do have the support of a good husband who encourages my creative work, and even though I don’t have the kind of literal space Woolf wrote about, it is how I think of my kitchen.

Carving out a writing life, piecing my time together into some sort of quilted whole, amidst the busyness of my children, homeschooling, the care of my home, freelance work (when I can get it), this blog and my creative writing work is challenging on the most productive days and (most) other days entirely overwhelming.


The kitchen is very important to me. I rarely leave it for very long. That’s okay—everything I need is here. As I type this, I stand here at the counter and I prepare food for my family. I clean, I fold laundry, I make appointments with doctors, I answer emails. And I write. I have all my tools at hand: laptop and notes and notepads fanned out, my pots and big bamboo spoon at the stove, my cutting board and favorite knife, my crock of compostables. My ever-chattering radio. I begin each morning with great vigor and ambition and then, in the end, I do the best I can. I write in fits and starts. Scraps of paper, scrawled ideas, thoughts, lines, beginnings of chapters pepper my counter.

My domestic moments are miles removed from the writerly life I once imagined: a room of my own, money and opportunity flowing, big fat publishing contract, hours of stimulating conversation with other writers. An endless stream of unfettered time. But, even in my most frustrated moments, I am certain that’s not what I really want now that this good life has found me. I’m a mom, a home education facilitator, a homemaker, a writer, a reader. (And that’s only some of it.) This life I have now and the life I once imagined have blurred lines, not strong delineated borders.


Pep's hat still hangs in the entryway.

Before we moved in here, I worried that maybe this house would only and always feel like Mem and Pep’s house with us as intruders in their space. But it’s starting to feel like ours. The best thing is that our family life is not overwriting the lives that unfurled here—instead, like Mem’s kitchen, it is more of a lovely hybrid.

Mem loved (loves) this house well. This kitchen is very special to me. It is Mem’s and it is mine. I will feed my family here, fold laundry here, watch Felicity here. I will write in here.

A kitchen of one’s own—that is what I have.

(Parts of this blog post appeared originally in a somewhat different form on

vacation ends—what to do? more DIY!

2013-07-31 21.08.09 Vacation is over.


Okay, fine. FINE. Back to normal life and blogging regularly and—to quote Louis CK—the whole “spectrum of responsibility” that comprises life.

Oh, how I miss the beach. Just look at these photos.

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Don’t you miss it, too?

(You do.)

So, when one returns from vacation and successfully accomplishes the requisite 17 loads of laundry and misses the beach a little too acutely, the best thing to do is a project. Does one have time for this? No. Exactly.

Before vacation, I started to think about how I will manage storage in my grandmother’s—my new—kitchen. There is a lot less storage there than in my current beloved—dated-but-spotless—kitchen. I thought a nice little shabby-chic inspired shelf along the side of the refrigerator would be a good fit for mason jars and pretty serving dishes. I hit the consignment store and found nothing but bought 4 used books. In light of the fact that I already have so many to-be-read books did I need more books? Yes. I did. We need never question that. I found a bunch of totally cool but overpriced shelves. I mean, I am not spending $65 bucks on a shelf that is slightly but charmingly dilapidated and painted over with a pretty shade of paint. C’mon—what do I look like? So I dragged the kids around to some antiques shops and they LOVED it. No, they didn’t. They were just barely tolerably, as was I so it worked out perfectly. Also it was lunchtime. (I’m not a great mother.) But I suddenly was inspired by some old wooden crates. Wouldn’t they look lovely stacked together and lined with oil cloth? YES, THEY WOULD!


So, I found some old crates—for $45 bucks each. Are you kidding me? C’mon—what do I look like? Then at Jeffery’s Antique Co-op Mall I found a couple of crates for $5 bucks a piece! What?! Yes, I am totally serious. When I told Steve (not his real name) about my find, he said, “So, now you have 2 crappy crates you paid $10 dollars for.” He is just jealous of my expansive frugality and impressive originality with home decor. Also my vocabulary.


I already had a crate from Ocean Spray—Steve’s (not his real name) nonno owned cranberry bogs in Plymouth County and this was one of his boxes.


Although we have 27,000 boxes of nails, of course not one size was right. So, I took everyone down to Rocky’s Ace Hardware with the promise of squirt bottles all ‘round—because why wouldn’t that be an incentive?—and got me some nice little squat nails. (The second photo illustrates the use of the wrong sized nail. Don't do that. That is a cautionary pic.)



I nailed those crates together and voilà! Rustic shelf! And look how beautiful my green tea latté looks on there!


My local fabric store does not carry oil cloth, so I bought some pretty heavy cotton and whipped up some lovely shelf liners. This whole thing: less than $20 bucks!


Can you stand it?

(You can’t. That’s ok, though.)

Please share your (weird, or not) DIY projects. Maybe someday I will tell you about DIY sunscreen. (By the way, do NOT do DIY sunscreen.)

why do laundry when you can dream up more diy projects?

2013-05-29 09.30.57 More DIY projects? YES! What in the world makes me think I have time for this? Exactly.

2013-05-29 09.31.04

When my son was 2, he took a Sharpie and scribbled all over the sweet little table I liked to use in the dining room. Who gave the 2 year old a Sharpie? That was me. But in my defense, he is my first child and you always mess up the first kid and/or do the dumbest things with them. I feel sorry for him, but it’s not my fault he happens to be the first.

Apparently Sharpie ink bleeds deeply into wood so stripping it would do no good. So I put the table in the garage. Then I almost sold it at the tag sale we had last fall, then I remembered how sweet it was once it was sitting in my driveway, so I put it back in the garage. Then we put our house on the market and I needed a small table to use in the dining room to replace the useful but ugly one that was already in there. (Are you following this?) Then I threw a pretty table cloth over it to shield potential buyers’ delicate eyes from the horrors of Sharpie on a table.


This is a pic from the gallery for our MLS listing because I didn't think to take a "BEFORE" picture. Duh.

However, keeping a pretty tablecloth on your table is not a long-term solution when you have 3 kids who slobber everything (everything) they eat and also think a tablecloth doubles as a napkin. I thought maybe I ought to utilize a few tablecloths I could simply rotate through. But seriously, these children are SLOBS and I would have to wash tablecloths every single day and the thought of how that might make me behave did not fall in the good mother category.

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Solution? Paint the table! But it was not enough to paint the table. I wanted to distress the table. Because I am always up for a challenge and titillated by learning new things! Or maybe because I can never leave well enough alone. It probably also has something to do with the general crazy. All of that. I’m very complex. At any rate, here’s how I distressed my table.

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My method was to paint a festive color over the wood and then a couple of neutral coats over the brighter color. Then I used sandpaper to rub away some areas of the neutral color and expose the brighter color. (That might be some of the worst writing ever, but you get the idea.)

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Here’s what I learned: the more sharp edges and details in a piece of furniture, the cooler the results will be. The areas where there are details on this table came out really well, but the smoother parts don’t really result in the same effect. Now I know how to choose my pieces! (Learning is fun!)

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Overall I am pleased with how the table looks and and I won’t have as much laundry to do and that makes me very happy. It will give me more time to run around distressing more furniture in my house.

Next up: this chest! Stay tuned!

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(You know you won’t be able not to.)

sometimes you just have to do it yourself

Sometimes you simply cannot find the stuff you want. It might be a natural food product or a weird pocketbook item that probably does not exist. So what do you do? Make it yourself! I promise—you can DO these crazy things. I know because I do them. You don’t even have to be crazy. Although I am. 2013-05-21 17.32.06

Isn't she so slumpy?

For instance, I have an old, ugly bag I bought about 10 years ago. I am very attached to this bag. Yes, it’s rather unshapely and dingy, unstylish and lacking in anything couture-ish, but it has useful pockets all around the outside and can fit lots of junk in it. The only drawback is that it does not have inner pockets for all the little things that inevitably fall to the bottom and get lost and difficult to retrieve and then when in an emergency I need a band-aid or a nip of bourbon, I can never get my hands on the required item quickly enough. My solution? Weird but useful pocketbook organizing thingy!

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Useful AND oddly shaped!!

One long mini-bag with separate areas for all those little things I need somewhere between always and never. But just because you never use something is not reason enough to stop carrying it around, right? Exactly.

Here’s the thing, if you have some need that must be fulfilled but you can’t conceive of its solution on your own, you can use the Google to find anything and then tweak it until it is perfectly your own. For me, that is quite often a food item because ingredients of a questionable origin or nature totally freak me out. So, the choice often boils down to eliminating certain foods from our diet or paying crazy high prices for the natural version. Then I figured out I could simply make those things myself! I know—brilliant! Here is a sampling for you.

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What is this? WRONG! It's vanilla syrup!

vanilla and chocolate syrups For milk! Or whatever. I won’t restrict you. I am generally really stingy with sugar, but a little here and there in reasonable doses makes them stop bothering me. And then everyone is happy.

chocolate syrup ¾ cup cocoa powder ¾ cup sugar pinch salt ½ cup water ½ teaspoon vanilla

Boil it all up (except vanilla) together in a pan on the stove or over a fire in a cave, whatever, lower heat and let simmer for a few minutes. Turn off heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool, pour it into a jar and refrigerate.

vanilla syrup 1 cup sugar 1 cup of water ½ teaspoon vanilla

Boil it all up (except vanilla) together in a pan on the stove or over a fire in a cave, whatever, lower heat and let simmer for a few minutes. Turn off heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool, pour it into a jar and refrigerate.

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waffles Yes, I could buy frozen waffles and save myself a lot of time and trouble. But why would I do that? Exactly. These are delicious and you can also make pancakes with the same batter. Make up a big batch of waffles, freeze then toast them for a quick breakfast. You can easily break this recipe in half for a smaller batch of batter.

2 cups whole wheat flour 1 teaspoon of baking powder ½ teaspoon of baking soda 1 cup of buttermilk 1½ cups of milk 2 tablespoons of salted butter, melted 2 eggs 2 teaspoons of vanilla

Whisk all the wet ingredients and add in the dry. Whisk until just blended. Make waffles and/or pancakes. (Did you really need this last bit?)

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ranch dressing Have you read the back of a bottle of ranch dressing lately? Go ahead, I’ll wait... Can you believe what all is in there? You can make some yourself that will take minutes and be so much better.

¾ cup of all-natural mayonnaise (Doesn’t have to be fancy and expensive. Trader Joe’s sells one for cheap and Cain’s, found in any conventional grocery store, is all-natural.) ½ cup of sour cream dried dill, to taste celery salt, to taste black pepper, to taste 2-5 cloves of garlic, minced very finely milk or buttermilk to thin dressing to desired consistency

Mix it all together in whatever bowl you like with whatever implement you like. (You could get really creative here with such loose instructions.) Keeps nicely in a jar in the fridge for a long time. I mean not years, but lots of weeks. Just eat it up and don’t worry so much.

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Obviously I need to make some more...

granola I’ve written about this before but it’s so good and an excellent example of the kind of thing you can make better yourself. And cheap, too! Here’s what you do: combine 3 cups of rolled oats, 3/4 cup of unsweetened coconut, a tablespoon of cinnamon and/or some raisins and almonds—toss the mixture with 3 ounces of olive oil and 3 ounces of maple syrup and bake at 250 degrees F for an hour. Throw in some flax seeds if you got ‘em. Or chia seeds. Or whatever you like. But not gummy bears or anything of that ilk—defeats the purpose of healthy recipes. Or maybe balances things out. I don’t claim to know everything. Do whatever you like—it’s a free country.

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Obviously I need to make some more. Clearly I don't plan out my blog posts very well...

laundry soap powder (Don't eat this. While I'm sure most of you would have that figured out, one can never be too careful when posting stuff on the webs.)

Yes, I DO make my own laundry soap. That environmentally good stuff is expensive and I love a bargain! This has no harsh chemicals or artificial scents and is super-duper cheap!

1 cup Borax 1 cup Arm&Hammer Washing Soda 1 cup baking soda 1 bar of natural soap (I use Kirk’s Castile), grated (yeah, with a cheese grater)

Mix it all together and use 2-3 tablespoons per load. Crazy cheap! You have no idea! I have never calculated it because I am no good with math, but Steve (not his real name) figured it out once and even though I can’t remember what he said, I remember thinking, “Holy crap that is crazy cheap!” So it must be since I have a really good memory. Except for the part where he said the actual amount. But the other part is crystal clear as though it happened yesterday.

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I'm not actually making this today. I am crocking (yes, that IS a verb) lasagna. Know what's going behind the crockpot? Homemade ricotta. No, that recipe is not included in this post.
I really don't plan well...

!!BONUS RECIPE!! honey garlic thighs This is not really in the same category of weird things I make myself or all-natural things I make myself, or non-food things I make myself, but it is tasty and my favorite new recipe. I am blatantly stealing this recipe from somewhere on the vast and great interwebs. I just don’t remember where and I truly apologize—it’s just so simple, I memorized it and now I can’t recall where I found it. Anyhow, make this in your slow cooker, boil up some soba noodles and some frozen broccoli, bung it all together and eat it. It’s delightful hot or cold.

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon dried basil ½ cup tamari (or soy sauce) ½ cup ketchup ⅓ cup honey

Mix all the ingredients but the chicken in your slow cooker (Don’t have a slow cooker? Come on! Why on Earth not? Go get one now, okay?) then add in the chicken, coat it all around with the sauce, cook on low for about 6 hours, walk away and live your life to its fullest while your supper cooks, come back and shred the chicken, throw it together with the noodles and veggies. DONE.

I hope you found this post useful. Every now and then I like to share some stuff that does not simply leave you wondering why the heck you just wasted your sweet precious time reading it.

(You’re welcome.)

my kitchen cabinet renovation project OR why dante should create a unique circle in hell for people who promote DIY projects

2013-04-24 09.49.44

Cabinets BEFORE. I didn't think they were so bad, actually. I was WRONG!

The other day as the kids watched television, I tried to tell them something. (Yeah, I know... ) It was: “I’m painting cabinets in the garage and Daddy went out to get some food.” I said it twice and then paused the show and said, “What did I just say?” This was not a sociological experiment in child and television interactive behavior (Is that a thing?), it was simply me being deluded enough to imagine my words might have done anything but lap gently against the sides of their heads. Here is what they heard: the boy, “Huh?” Blank look from one twin and from the other, “Daddy went out for new shoes?” At least she gave it a shot. Once they understood what was actually happening, I returned to my cabinet painting.

So, this whole DIY ordeal blossomed out of a single word—the most highly utilized adjective prospective buyers use to describe my kitchen:


My beloved kitchen! One person described it as “dated, but spotless.” That’s right. Spotless. That was nice.

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Too bright! Oh, my blinded eyes!

So I decided that the least I could do to tone down the datedness was to spray paint the handles to take them from a glowing 80’s gold to a contemporary brushed nickel. Then Steve (not his real name) said, “Should we just paint the cabinets?” This would be unremarkable if I had not expressed this very idea—a near and dear desire—repeatedly over the years, at which he scoffed every time. Yes, scoffed.

(He will say this never happened. But it did. Repeatedly with repeated scoffing. You should see him scoff. It is something to see.)

Allow me to take a momentary aside from your mental image of Steve (not his real name) scoffing (I’m sorry) to clear some confusion. “Steve” is not the real name of my husband. It is a pseudonym I chose to use on this blog for his own protection. From what? Who knows, but most likely very bad things, which kind of makes me a superhero. You're welcome, Steve (not your real name). I wanted to mention this because several people have contacted me wondering what happened to the old guy I married and who was this “Steve?” Steve (not his real name) is the same old man I’ve been running with for the past 15 years. Confusion cleared.

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Our exposed food.

Back to kitchen DIY. Here’s a super-fun project for you! (Just kidding. It’s not fun at all. AT ALL.) You can give your kitchen a nice little inexpensive facelift by painting the cabinets. For my dated kitchen, I was shooting for a shabby chic/countrified (wow, according to spell-check, that’s a real word) feel.

Painting cabinets is super-easy. Ha! Not true! Well, it’s not exactly hard, either, but statements such as that imply super-funness (not a real word according to spell check) when really what you are more likely to experience is super-pain-in-the assness. (I knew “assness” wasn’t a word. Spell check did not have to tell me that.) First, remove all the hardware, then take the cabinets off the hinges, then remove the hinges (DO NOT get them all mixed up)—this will take so much longer than you think it will. SO MUCH. Use wood putty to fill any errant holes. Next, figure out where the hell you are going to paint these damn things. Rearrange crap in the garage and if you have 1,000 cabinets like I do (it totally does not look like that many when they are installed in the kitchen), also the cellar. This will take so much longer than you think it will. SO MUCH. Scuff all of them with fine sandpaper, wipe them with a damp cloth, roll on paint then brush with a fine paint brush to give it a finished look. Repeat last 2 steps. In between coats, scuff the cabinet boxes and roll on paint then brush with a fine paint brush to give it a finished look. Repeat last 2 steps. Put the hinges and doors back on, which will take so much longer than you think it will. SO MUCH. Also don’t forget (and this is a crucial step) to inadvertently fill in the holes that are supposed to be for the handles with wood putty so that you have to go through the extra step of knocking hardened putty out of the holes to reinstall the handles. This will take so much longer than you think it will.


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Here is me—unshowered day #3. Yes, I DID wear the same clothes for that amount of days, too.

You should definitely do this project (which is super-fun and easy) when under continued duress of possible house-showings and have 3 little kids you homeschool (they are always here—always). Don’t expect supper to make itself or the laundry fairy to make an appearance. She won’t. She is a selfish, selfish creature and I am starting to lose belief in her. So, all that regular crap will still need to get done—by you. (Don’t try to fool yourself.) Now (and this is another crucial step) go sew your own curtains. Go on now.

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Now that the kitchen is finished, I really am happy with the result. It is just the feel for which I was going. So, would I do it again? You bet! Why? Exactly. 2013-05-02 11.59.38

(How would you function without this blog guiding you with its bottomless well of logic and creativity? Tell me. You can’t, can you. I knew it.)

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