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.)

wednesday stew—a random collection of unrelated miscellany

piano2It is not nice to foist an old, out-of-tune, mostly-broken upright piano on anyone. I know because it happened to me and now we have to deconstruct it, which is neither easy nor fun. The last family who owned our house left behind an old, out-of-tune, mostly-broken upright piano which we have sort of just lived around but now must dismantle because no one—I mean, NO ONE—wants it and we can’t just have it here being all ugly, old, out-of-tune and mostly-broken when we want to have a nice open house so we can move. I admit, the deconstruction process has been a little fun and actually pretty interesting. (But I must still urge you not to foist an old, out-of-tune, mostly-broken upright piano on anyone because in spite of the up-sides, it’s still not very nice. Unless you don’t care about being nice in which case carry on with the assurance that it is indeed not a very nice thing to do.) But look how cool its innards are? piano3


This is the built-in cabinet in my dining room. built-in Until a few days ago, it had very ugly glowing gold knobs that I totally despised. Also, right through the glass all the mess I attempt to contain inside the cabinet was visible. (That’s exactly how glass works, in case science eludes you as it does me.) Why didn’t I make it pretty like this 5 years ago when we moved in? I have no idea. The next person will probably think this is ugly and despise it for years until she is ready to move and then changes it to exactly the way she likes.

March_snow1 This is what another 20 inches of snow looks like on top of about 20 other inches of snow that was already there.

Seriously? Enough already.

That’s all.

We went on a getaway this past weekend to a hotel with a (ridiculously over-chlorinated) pool. The kids went to bed too late, got overstimulated in general, slept too little which meant I also slept too little. It was a ton of work planning, packing, unpacking, repacking, unpacking. And I hardly relaxed at all. Now that we’re home, this is what I have to contend with. Yeah—that is all dirty. dirty_laundry

(Do I have a bad attitude or what?) is cool. Most likely someone told you this ages ago, but I am also telling you now! You can save web pages you want to read for when you actually have time to read them. You can organize and archive them, choose your favorites or simply delete the ones that are ehhh. What will probably happen is that you will stockpile a ton of stuff you will never have time to read, but at least you’ll know where it all is. (That’s my plan.)

laundry_basket1 And, lastly—THIS! Yes it is a laundry basket hung with those removable adhesive strips and hooks. It is where the dirty dish cloths and towels, rags, cloth napkins and burned potholders gather together for washing. I used to have a square container that sat itself on the top stair and often got accidentally kicked down into the basement which always totally pissed me off. Also it was very small and then a giant pile would grow which then got accidentally kicked down into the basement. Which totally pissed me off. This green basket once held all the girls’ stuffed animals until I repurposed a nice old chest which is now a nice toy chest. laundry_basket2 Anyhow, this is awesome, if I do say so myself. When full, I simply remove it from the wall and carry it down to the washer. Steve doesn’t like it because he says he keeps bumping into it. I told him to stop doing that and then he would be able to appreciate its greatness. I like to solve problems.

Happy Wednesday!

who needs a proper day planner when there are perfectly good scraps of paper on the living room floor?

planner4If I had a nickel for every organization system and notebook/folder planner I have pulled together in the last couple of years, I would be at least .60 cents richer. And while that is not an impressive amount of cash, and therefore fails to drive my point as effectively as I’d intended, it nevertheless represents quite a few attempts at creating an adequate organization system. Let’s say if I had a hundred thousand dollars for every organization system and notebook/folder planner I have pulled together in the last couple of years, I would be at least twelve hundred thousand dollars richer. (That could be wrong—I don’t do math. But, whatever it is, I think it comes out to a lot.) Now do you see what I mean? That sum makes things a lot more serious, doesn’t it?

planner1 But somehow, none of these organization systems ever stuck. I’ve tried day-runners (remember those?), small binders, big binders, We’Moon which is super-cool and divinely crunchy and I got it one year and looked at it twice, TeuxDeux which is a brilliant idea but I simply stopped using it for no decipherable reason, spiral notebooks, notebooks with perforated pages, little purse-sized calendars.

planner2 My most recent foray into the organized life was in the form of a pretty binder, some free life-organizing printables I found online and a weekly calendar I designed with the help of a Google docs template. Yeah. Didn’t stick. But it looked impressively nice.

But the thing is, I am not actually disorganized at all, because as it turns out I already have an effective organization system. It’s called mining the living room floor for useable scraps of paper.

planner 3 Lists! As it turns out, I am all about lists. They work for me. Steve once asked me if my lists freaked me out—that seeing everything to do and think about in writing caused me stress. It does not. I am actually semi-psychotic without them. A legal pad (12 for $5 from Ocean State Job Lot), sticky notes and scraps of paper—detritus from the living room floor—upon which I write the pressing stuff to leave right on top of the pad. So I won’t forget. Backs of rejected kid artwork, torn construction paper—either works beautifully. I have daily lists and house to-do lists and books to read lists. I have lists of lists I need to list.

To complete my system, I printed out a simple 2013 doodle calendar from Creative Mamma (love her stuff) for keeping track of events and birthdays and plans. I stapled half a sheet of cardstock to the back of the legal pad creating a pocket to hold other all the other lists.

I think the trick is not any one thing—any perfect thing. You simply keep trying until you find that thing that works for you. It might be a cheap-o legal pad and some free printables. It might be right under your nose. Or your feet. Look down—you just never know.

Here’s the beautiful thing about a legal pad: rip off the top page and you have a fresh start every time. You gotta love the metaphors. planner5

who has the time to moisturize?

lotion3Who has the time to use hand cream? I would like to meet the lucky lady who does and learn her time-management secrets. I keep hand cream close-by, in eye-shot, so that I will remember to apply it to my flaking hands. But then every time I think I’d better moisturize (usually just after accidentally glimpsing my crispy skin) my very next thought is I don’t have time. I am not even making that up. Seriously.

In the interest of best-utilizing my time and providing you, my dearest readers, with fun stuff in which to bathe your mind, I thought I might serialize some of my short fiction. For the next bunch of Fridays I will post some of my long-ish short stories, a little at a time.

The first story I selected is from a story series I’ve been working on here and there for a few years. It’s loosely based on my childhood. But all events and characters are fictitious. I made them up. That’s what writers do. Those of you who know me might recognize some glimmers of other people you may also know, but I swear I made most of it up. You won’t find yourself no matter how hard you look. Except you. Yeah, YOU. You know who you are.

I’m kidding! (Am I, though?)

lotion2 Once, after reading a novel I had in progress, the reader (a friend) said, “You need more of the Steve character.” Steve is my husband. (Steve is not his real name—I blog-o-gized his actual name for his protection. From what is he being protected? I have no idea.) Steve was not in that book, though. The husband in that book is NOTHING like Steve. The reader automatically assumed the protagonist (a woman) was me and her husband was Steve. Other readers assumed the sister of the protagonist was my actual sister and the mother my actual mother.

Truth is, some of my characters are hybrids of people I’ve met and some are entirely made up and some are blatantly stolen (but in that case only people I don’t know well and I suppose it’s more an imagining of how I think they think and act, their histories and opinions). The danger in knowing a writer is that something of you might just find its way into her work. You should know this: we artists are thieves. But it’s still mostly a lot of imagined stuff.

Come back next Friday for some short story enjoyment! Unless you are moisturizing. Oh, wait—I have a better idea. Read the story while you moisturize. That is called multi-tasking, a required skill of the 21st Century, and probably how the lucky ladies get it done.

lotion1 (I might even find the time to moisturize, too. I doubt it, though.)