Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Spring Has Sprung (Hopefully!)

The temperatures are slowly climbing again here in New Jersey after the crazy two-day snowstorm we had last week, and with the arrival of warmer weather comes the itch to get back into the garden.  I'm already plotting away on what to plant this year, and last night I submitted my application for a plot in our local community garden.  While I anxiously await word on which plot will be mine, I'm setting up a tentative plan for my much smaller backyard square foot garden.

If you've never heard of square foot gardening, it's a pretty neat method of plotting out your crops.  There are a zillion articles and links out there about it, but here is one to get you started:

I've also been toying with the idea of turning my little square foot garden into a pollinator garden, since I'll have the 20' by 30' plot at the community garden, but I'm not sure just yet.  Pollinator gardens are a great way to help out our bee, bird, and butterfly neighbors, as well as boost the chances they'll swing by to pollinate your crops.  That said, I've never had much luck with flowers and such though, so hmmm decisions decisions.

In the meantime, here is a rough layout of what I'll likely grow if I decide to stick with using my raised bed for veggies:

Asparagus (stinky pee be damned! haha!), tomatoes, artichokes, and red and green bell peppers.  I made that cool little graphic via Vegetable Gardening Online - definitely check it out if you're looking to map out your smaller garden space.  It was really easy and took just a few minutes to create.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Kitchen Chalkboard Wall: A Tale of Self Loathing

I originally wrote the below as an Amazon review for Rust-Oleum Chalkboard Paint, just for the sake of venting after a disastrous DIY project.  I was surprised to discover that it has become the top review, so here it is in its entirety for anyone who might want to have a giggle at my expense.  And yes, that's really a picture of me covered in chalkboard paint dust.

Ah, chalkboard paint. Let's see, where do I begin? *insert maniacal cackling here*

So I recently had the super bright idea to paint an entire wall in my kitchen with this stuff. Wait, don't judge me yet- it wasn't like I'd planned to let my kids at it with a bucket full of sidewalk chalk. No, I'd envisioned a stylish wall filled with beautifully scripted holiday menus, cheeky quotes, inspiring verses, and other adorable things. I wholly blame Pinterest for this temporary lapse in sanity.

Armed with the creative vision of Martha Stewart and the home improvement skill level of my German Shepherd, I purchased two cans of Rustoleum brand chalkboard paint and some allegedly smooth(hahahahaha) paint rollers. I taped off the edges and got to work smearing this stuff all over my wall. Two coats and a few hours later, I stood back and admired my shiny new chalkboard surface. I let it "cure" for a few days as per the package directions, and then decided to take it for a test drive.

I found a cute chalkboard drawing of a pumpkin via Google image search, and tried to replicate it on my wall. Given that I'm about as much an artist as I am a pterodactyl (which is to say, not at all, just in case there's any confusion), my pumpkin looked more like a sad, partially deflated beach ball wearing a toupee. Oops, guess I needed to practice a little more. No biggie! With the determination of a newborn foal, I grabbed my kids' chalkboard eraser and cheerily wiped at my drawing. EXCEPT IT WOULDN'T.COME.OFF. The surface was rough and difficult to erase. There was now a permanent, poorly drawn, sad-looking squash emblazoned on my kitchen wall.

See, what no one tells you when you buy this amazing, fancy paint is that unless you've used a really thick primer, your walls need to be sanded before you apply it in order to get a smooth drawing surface. And that you should probably then apply it with a foam roller rather than one of those fuzzy ones.

Since I couldn't just leave my wall looking like the side of an overpass, I realized my options were either to paint over it with the wall color I'd used elsewhere in my kitchen, or try to sand it. Because I definitely didn't have enough on my plate with three kids, a small business to run, and a ton of housework, and because I'm clearly not firing on all synapses, I chose the latter. I returned to my beloved home improvement store and purchased several packs of sandpaper and some more paint. (Not a mask though, because that would have been just plain logical, and ain't none of that happenin under my roof!)

I returned home with a vengeance and attacked the stupid chalkboard wall with this sandpaper. Now, if you've never had to sand a tall, vertical surface, let me just tell you that it's probably right up there with being waterboarded on my list of "Awesome Life Experiences". Actually, being waterboarded is probably more interesting.

After ingesting enough black dust to develop Coalworker's Pneumoconiosis and looking like I'd just crawled out of someone's chimney, my wall was nice and smooth. I wiped it down with a damp sponge to remove any residual dust, and then broke out a new can of chalkboard paint.

I began applying the paint with a renewed sense of joy, back to imagining how great my chalkboard wall was going to be once it was finished. Oh man, it was going to be AWESOME! And then I accidentally knocked over the can of paint and spilled half of it down the side of my kitchen table and onto my floor. Looking back, I think this was probably the point at which I totally broke from reality, but who knows.

After cleaning up this giant puddle of thick black paint (dish soap and water, for all you fellow clumsy people), I had pretty much lost all interest in finishing this stupid bleeping wall. Actually, I hated it. I began flinging paint onto the wall much the way an animal rights protester might fling blood red paint at old ladies in fur coats. That said, eventually, I did finish painting it.

I'm pleased to report that after allowing it to cure again, then rubbing a piece of chalk allllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll over it, then erasing all that chalk, then cleaning the entire wall with a damp sponge, it's working great! I mean I wasted hours of my life and probably sacrificed any chance at pulmonary longevity, but hey, I can write on my wall with CHALK now. So there's that.

(In all seriousness, the product itself works great. Just make sure you sand your walls and maybe even use a primer first.)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Gifts of Kindness

It's October... you know what that means right?  The holidays are right around the corner!  Before we all get swept up by the consumer monster, I wanted to share some gift ideas that come straight from the heart.  Here are some sweet ways to pay it forward this holiday season!

  • Go play board games with residents at a local nursing home!  Why not brighten things up for someone who could use an extra dose of cheer?  Just be sure to ask permission from management before you go- because getting arrested while attempting a good deed would be lame.

  • Can you knit or crochet?  Make and donate a few warm scarves, mittens, socks, blankets, whatever you're up to making to your local homeless shelter.  Sure, a cozy, handmade accessory isn't going to change someone's life- but it just might warm them up and brighten their day a little.  Not sure where to go?  Contact your local police department via their non-emergency line and ask.

  • Volunteer to wrap gifts for an elderly neighbor, or to take them holiday shopping.  Sometimes all the hustle and bustle of the season can be overwhelming, and a second pair of hands can be a real blessing for someone who could use the extra help.

  • Animal shelters can always use donations, and many of their most critical staples are items you can pick up for pretty cheap.  Here is a great list from Apartment Therapy (love that site!) of items that animal shelters commonly use.  Be sure to give your local shelter a call before dropping off items, but most are more than grateful for donations.

    I hope you find the above list inspiring.  Now go do something nice for someone!

  • Tuesday, February 2, 2016

    DIY Laundry Detergent!

    I've been seeing recipes for homemade laundry detergent floating around the web for a while now.  I've seen several variations, some liquid, some powder, but these recipes generally seem to have similar ingredients.

    I whipped up a batch of my own DIY laundry detergent the other day and gave it a test drive.  I do have a front-loading HE washing machine, so I was a bit wary of trying any detergent that wasn't specifically manufactured for HE machine use.  I was pleasantly surprised though to find that my cleaning rags (what, you didn't actually think I would test it on our clothing, did you?!) came out nice and clean, and with a pleasantly faint "fresh" scent.

    First thing's first- PLEASE WEAR GLOVES!  While borax and washing soda are naturally derived substances, they are still chemicals that can harm your skin, and are poisonous when ingested.  As with any household chemical, keep these ingredients and the finished detergent mixture out of the reach of children and animals.

    Here's what you will need to make your own laundry detergent:

    - Borax
    - Washing soda (please note, this is sodium carbonate, and it is NOT the same as baking soda, which is sodium bicarbonate.)
    - A bar of soap.  For this batch, I used Fels Naptha, which is a laundry soap.  (Update- since making this post, I've also used Yardley London Bath Soap. It works nicely as well and smells amazing.)
    - An old cheese grater
    - An airtight container for storage

    This detergent is extremely easy to throw together, and I chose to make powder rather than liquid detergent since the liquid seemed like far more work and a bigger challenge to store.

    Ready to get started?  You sure?  Okay!

    1.  Grate the bar of soap into fine flakes.
    2.  Combine the soap flakes with 1 cup of washing soda and 1 cup of borax in your container and replace the lid.
    3.  Shake, shake, shake the container until your detergent is well mixed.  Keep the mixture stored in your sealed container.

    And that's it!  I use 1 tablespoon of detergent per load, and because I always launder my clothes in cold water, I mix the tablespoon of detergent in a lidded jar with 1/2 cup of hot water and shake it until the soap dissolves, then add it to the dispenser in my machine- this is only because I've read some reviews of people having issues with the soap not dissolving well in cold water.  If you have a top loader, you may find that you need to increase the amount of soap you use to 2 tablespoons.

    Happy washing!

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    Scrappy Little Garden

    My first gardening experiment took place when I was 10 years old.  I planted a cantaloupe seed in a small pot and sat it on our back patio.  It eventually sprouted, grew a vine, bloomed into a pretty flower, and finally, an adorable little cantaloupe began to grow. I was ecstatic! THEN ONE DAY, MY DACHSHUND ATE IT. Yeah sorry, no happy ending there. I was absolutely crushed, and pretty pissed at my dog (a hairy little jerk who later bit me in the face, but that's another story altogether).

    Anyways, that little gardening adventure planted a seed (see what I did there?)- a love of gardening that would stay with me for years to come.  Now that I'm all grown up with my own little family, I've made it a thing to plant a small container garden every year.  In the past few years, I've only managed to grow some herbs (basil, parsley, and oregano), two lonely sugar snap pea pods, and one miniature carrot- no joke. Apparently, this is what happens when your containers are too small.



    my lone carrot, next to a clothespin for size reference
    Bummer, dude.  However, I am nothing if not stubborn and determined, so I've planted my little mish mash garden again this year, with high hopes.  Please excuse the travesty that is my backyard, we haven't mowed yet.  Probably should get on that.

    Tomatoes and carrots (in the big pot), potatoes, celery, green leaf lettuce, strawberries and blueberries, basil and parsley, spinach, chives, cucumbers, and watermelon.  I tried to keep the stuff that needs more room in the bigger pots (ahem, I'm looking directly at you, carrots).  The celery, potatoes, chives, and lettuce are grown from kitchen scraps- pretty neat!  I'll write more about that later.

    Sunday, April 14, 2013

    The Aurora BORE(alis)

    Last night was predicted to be prime viewing for auroras in our area, so I loaded the littles into the SUV and headed out to a remote field alongside a country road just before dark.  In spite of lots of anticipation and excitement, we didn't see any auroras in our area.  Bummer!  I did get a few neat photos of the night sky- not the sharpest images ever since I shot them through the sunroof (I was too chicken to get out of the truck in the inky darkness- sorry Jason Voorhees, I've seen way too many horror movies that start off that way) but still kind of neat.  You can see Orion in the upper left corner (shameful confession: I def thought that was the big dipper until a friend told me otherwise... guess it's time to brush up on my astronomy, eh?) and a crescent moon visible through the trees.

    While we didn't see any dazzling northern lights, the kids and I still had fun stargazing!

    Saturday, November 3, 2012

    Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

    It's fall.... and therefore, anything pumpkin is fair game!  Pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin candies, pumpkin pie, pumpkin gnocchi, pumpkin rolls.... you get the idea, I'm sure!

    One of my favorite pumpkin treats is pumpkin cake.  What's better than pumpkin cake, you ask?  Pumpkin cupcakes of course!

    Saturday, August 11, 2012

    My Super Duper Awesome Possum Green Cleaning Campaign: Part 3

    Whew, it has been a crazy month!  Between family gatherings, local events, and my son's lacrosse schedule we have been some busy little birds around here, and that doesn't leave much time for updating.  But I'm back today, and I'm going to share my remaining "green" household tips to wrap up my green cleaning awareness mission.  This post is kind of a long one, so bear with me!

    One of the most toxic, lethal cleaning products on the market is drain cleaner.  First, let's talk about the chemistry behind your typical drain cleaning product.  Do you remember talking about acids and bases in science class as a kid?  There's usually lots of discussion about how acids can burn the skin... but no one really ever mentions (at least not until you take a higher level chem class) that bases can be pretty dangerous too.  Bases consume hair and fat, and in strong enough formulations they can actually eat through skin.  D:  Ew!  This property is what allows drain cleaner to power through clogs, and while it's nice to be able to dump something into the sink and call it a day, do you really want to bring a flesh-eating chemical into your house?  Um, yeah, I definitely don't.  As an alternative to using harsh chemicals to clear your drains, you can utilize a two-step process to remove any obstructions.

    First, you'll want to pick up a tool known as a "drain snake".

    For about $2.50 USD at the hardware store, this little doodad will allow you to remove small obstructions from the drain, such as hair clogs.  Follow the instructions on the package to clear these items from the drain.  Fair warning:  the stuff that comes out of a clogged drain isn't pretty.  In fact, it's pretty much disgusting!  So you'll want to be reaaaaaally careful and wear rubber gloves.  Have a trash can ready so you can easily dispose of the grunk that you pull out.

    Next, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda into your drain, followed by 1/2 cup of vinegar, and stop the drain by stuffing it with an old rag.  Leave the mixture to work for about ten minutes, then return to the drain, remove the rag, and run the faucet on the hottest setting for about two minutes.  At this point, your drain should be completely clear and working really well- if for some reason it's not, you likely have a serious clog on your hands and should probably give your favorite plumber a call.

    While we're in the bathroom, let's talk about some of the alternatives to harsh bathroom cleaners.  One of the harshest but most popular chemicals used in bathroom cleaning is bleach.  While I love love love the cleaning power of bleach for the bathroom, the toxic fumes it releases are horrible!  As an alternative to bleach, you can utilize hydrogen peroxide- simply pour it into a spray bottle and use it to spritz your shower and tub, sink, and toilet.  You can also use white vinegar (I like to use 1/2 cup mixed with 1 cup of water) to clean and disinfect your bathroom- spray the surfaces with the mixture, let it sit for five minutes, then wipe with a clean, damp cloth.  It works especially well on mirrors- I love how streak-free and clean they get!

    Another great place to use this vinegar-water mixture is in your kitchen.  I use it to disinfect my counters, tables and chairs, and in my refrigerator and freezer.  Simply spray the surface with the vinegar-water mixture, let it sit for five minutes, then wipe it away with a clean, damp cloth.  As an aside, vinegar is also great for cleaning your microwave.  Heat a small bowl filled with 1/2 cup water and 1/4 cup vinegar on high power for about 3 minutes.  When the cycle ends, leave the microwave door shut for 15 minutes, then open, carefully remove the hot bowl (use potholders or an oven mitt!) and wipe the inside of the machine down with a damp cloth.

    I hope that if you've read through this series you have found it helpful!  Hopefully I'll be updating more frequently soon with the kids being in school.  I've got so many more ideas and projects I'd love to share!  :)

    Tuesday, May 8, 2012

    My Super Duper Awesome Possum Green Cleaning Campaign: Part 2

    Here are a few of my favorite DIY laundry recipes and tools!

    First up:  laundry soap!  Making your own laundry detergent is a great way to eliminate some of the harsher chemicals found in commercial detergent, and it's especially nice if you find the scents of those detergents bothersome.  You can find the recipe for powdered detergent here, or if you'd rather try a liquid recipe, there are zillions of them out there- just run a web search.  With the powdered detergent, I've used everything from Fels Naptha to Ivory to a frilly lavender scented soap... each worked great, so don't worry if you can't find the Fels Naptha.

    While we're on the subject of laundry... did you know that commercial dryer sheets and fabric softeners eliminate static by coating fabrics in a layer of chemical residue?  Gross!  Instead of resorting to such gnarly stuff, you can add a half cup of white vinegar to the softener dispenser in your machine- it acts as a natural softening agent, and can also help to remove stubborn odors.  A few dryer balls in your dryer can help with static reduction- you can make your own out of wool yarn (check out the tutorial I did for my friends at City to Farm, found here), you can purchase wool dryer balls on Etsy, or you can buy the plastic variety just about anywhere you find laundry detergent.  Taking your clothes out of the dryer before they're completely bone dry will help with static as well, as it occurs when dry fabrics rub against one another.

    If you really like the scent of commercial detergent, you can still make your laundry smell purty by using essential oils.  Dry your clothes as you normally would, and when they're finished, toss in a piece of fabric with a few drops of your favorite essential oil on it.  Run the dryer on the "fluff" setting (the one without heat) for about 5-10 minutes, and voila!  Your stuff will smell awesome without having to use the nasty stuff.

     Speaking of nasty stuff... I don't think it's really any secret that chlorine bleach is pretty harsh stuff- it smells hideous, it can burn skin and eyes, and if you spill it on your clothes or your carpeting you're pretty much doomed.  Did you know you can use hydrogen peroxide (the 3% stuff) in place of bleach in your wash routine?  First test for color fastness, just as you would any other spot treatment.  If all is well, spot treat any stained fabrics with peroxide, toss them in the hamper, and on laundry day run them through as usual.  You can also add peroxide to your machine's bleach dispenser to help brighten your whites.

    Next up will be Part 3 in this series... stay tuned!

    Saturday, May 5, 2012

    My Super Duper Awesome Possum Green Cleaning Campaign: Part 1

    More and more lately I've been steering our family toward a greener lifestyle.  The changes we've made haven't been anything fancy, but we've taken some little steps toward limiting our impact on the environment, as well as protecting our health.

    Want a few reasons to switch to more Earth-friendly cleaners?  Here you go!

    1. I'll give you the easy one first- it's cheaper!  The cost of items such as white vinegar, baking soda, and inexpensive bars of soap is lower than that of synthetic chemical products.  I mean come on, who doesn't love to save money?
    2. Many commercial cleaning products contain ingredients that are toxic to both human and animal health.  Want details on a specific product?  Take a moment to poke around over at the Household Products Database that is maintained by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.  You can check out the eyebrow raising warnings and health hazards associated with some of the seemingly ordinary commercial products we all know and (unsuspectingly) love.  In other words, if it's that dangerous, do you really want to use this stuff in and around your home?
    3. Using synthetic household cleaning products has a negative impact on the environment.  Factors such as toxic ingredients, manufacturing processes and the associated pollutants, and the impact of certain chemicals on our air and water quality are all excellent reasons to ditch the harsh stuff in favor of the more Earth-friendly cleaners.
    4. You're far less likely to poison yourself if you accidentally mix natural cleansers than if you mixed, say, ammonia and bleach (in case you aren't aware, mixing those two produces heavily toxic fumes- don't ever do it!)  I mean think about it... what's the worst that might happen if you unintentionally mix baking soda and vinegar?  A freakin' awesome faux volcano, that's what!

    I have put together what I feel is a really useful list of environmentally friendly cleaning agents, and I will get that posted up shortly.  (For the sake of not boring everyone to death I figured I'd separate these two posts.)  Keep an eye out for my next post if this sort of thing piques your interest!

      Friday, March 23, 2012

      Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies... No Eggs Required!

      Yesterday I found myself hankering for a nice, soft chocolate chip cookie, but thanks to a recent batch of deviled eggs I'd made we were all out of eggs.  So instead, I substituted whole milk!  The cookies came out perfectly- fluffy and chewy, my favorite combination.

      Recipe below!

      • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
      • 1 teaspoon baking soda
      • ½ teaspoon salt
      • 1 cup  butter, softened
      • 1 ½ cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
      • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
      • 3 tablespoons whole milk
      • 1 (12 ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chunks

      1.  Preheat your oven to 375°.
      2. Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium sized mixing bowl and stir well.
      3. In a large bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and milk, and beat using an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.
      4. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, and mix on low speed until well blended.
      5. Stir in the chocolate chunks by hand until they are distributed relatively evenly throughout your cookie dough.
      6. Spoon your cookie dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet in 2-tablespoon portions, spacing each spoonful of cookie dough roughly 2 inches apart from the others to allow for expansion during baking.
      7. Bake cookies one sheet at a time on the center rack of your oven for 10 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges.
      8. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a plate.
      9.  Enjoy with a cold glass of milk!

      One of the best things about this cookie recipe is that if you're a cookie dough nibbler you can have a bite of dough without having to worry about pesky things like getting horrifically ill from food poisoning since there are no raw eggs in this recipe!

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