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Archive for January, 2013

Oh my gosh is anybody as stir-crazy as I am? If I’m not trudging through snow, I’m slogging through mud or slipping on ice. I know I shouldn’t complain but I feel like outdoors I just can’t get anywhere, and as a result I am sore and crabby and not getting anywhere indoors either. It hasn’t been a terrible winter here in Michigan, but one certainly can become bored and sluggish easily!

One of my favorite ways to beat the winter doldrums is to rearrange something small in my home. I love to find an area of my home that I am unhappy with, such as the corner of our bedroom where I had previous stacked some large bins to later be moved to storage. They hadn’t ever made it to storage however. They just sat there and sat there, cluttering our bedroom. So this was the corner that I decided needed a change.

To get started, I took a short, metal, utilitarian table and turned it on it’s side, placing two wooden boards across the legs to create a small writing space. From there I grabbed an old shelf from storage (discovered when moving the bins!) as well as a writing lamp, and made myself a “nook” in the bedroom.

Obviously in order to begin working on the cluttered corner I needed to actually move the bins to storage, and before I knew I found I was tidying and rearranging various things across the house with a sort of organic, natural progression.

Little tasks that involve creativity are the perfect way to jump-start into your list of drab and dull tasks. They provide a pleasant way to get into those things that you’ve been putting off, too. In order to set up my little writing nook I had to move the storage bins, fix a chair, pick up the stacks of books from around the room and scrub the floor beneath the storage bins… of course these tasks then lead to sweeping and scrubbing of the entire bedroom floor, vacuuming the carpets (again), setting up a bookshelf by the bed, sorting through my antique sewing items, folding blankets that had been forgotten about in the laundry and ultimately tearing out the carpet and foam on the staircase and scrubbing the hardwood stairs beneath… Crazy? Well, yes… but these were all things that I needed to finish and had procrastinated so terribly that I had convinced myself they were unnecessary.

By providing myself that little bit of creative outlet in my redecorating, I managed to pull off completing tasks I never thought I’d get around to.

Do you ever rearrange or redecorate to inspire winter-time motivation? What else do you use to inspire motivation during the winter doldrums?

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I couldn’t have chosen a better week to be sick as a dog, because the U.S. Figure Skating Championships are this week. So fortunately, I only had to do one thing all week- watch the live stream.

There’s nothing more boring than being kinda sick. If you’ve got the full out flu, you feel like you’re going to die, but at least you sleep through most of it. Illnesses like this one– low grade fever, general lethargy–don’t even come with a loss of appetite and I always say what the hell is an illness good for if you don’t even lose any weight. Of course, I probably lost weight anyway, because my husband kept forgetting to feed me.

So here are some things to keep you from being completely stir crazy:

1. Technology
What in the world did we do when we were sick before there was broadband? In addition to figure skating, I’m pretty sure I got to the end of the internet. Also, you can still talk to people, even when you can’t talk, via chat and texting. Forget the tv– that’s so last century.

2. Rooms
As in, move from one into another. Fortunately, I just finished upgrading my kids’ rooms into guest rooms, so I spent the week moving from my bed, to the side bedroom to the front bedroom to the living room and back again. At least the scenery was different.

3. Complaining about the nursing
This is easy in my house, since they all learned their nursing skills from me (see above, re: meals), and I’m the world’s worst nurse. I am also extremely crabby when I’m sick, not that it’s all that easy to tell the difference.

4. Georgette Heyer novels
Just respectable enough to not be embarrassing to buy, but trashy enough not to require too much brain power.

5. Baths
Okay, while technically not “in bed,” you’re still prone, right? Don’t do this if you have a high fever, because it will raise your core temp, but it’s fine for a low grade fever, and again– change of scenery. Plus, sweetie, you know I love you, but after 3 days in bed, you’re a little ripe. Get your nurse, such as s/he is, to change the sheets while you’re in there.

6. Make lists
I always keep a pad of paper in the nightstand, on the theory that I can jot stuff down in the middle of the night so I don’t forget in the morning. Things like “Don’t forgetl;kajdao[kerh” So helpful. While you’re lying there semicomatose, however, you can take the opportunity to mentally walk through the house and write down all the projects that you’re not going to do when you’re better anyway.

7. Get your own damn dinner
I’m sure he meant well, but seriously, somebody fix meals for the poor patient. This is the major drawback of a whole foods (no, not Whole Foods) diet. You always have to cook, because there’s no prepared foods.

What do you do to entertain yourself when you’re sick?

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Sunday photos: underfoot

Gardeners and farmers spend a lot of time looking up, for the weather, and down, for the growing things.

***

I (Xan) had to go back a few years to find photos with snow, as we’ve had less than 5 inches in Chicago this year!

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Over the past few months I have helped a some friends start making up liquid laundry soap. Now that they have seen how easy it is they are asking more questions about additional recipes. One that keeps coming is is Dishwasher Detergent.

Dishwashing powder

My journey to the current dishwasher detergent recipe that I use has been a long one. Mainly that of trial and error. And then more trial…

The original basic recipe that I saw over and over was this:

  • 1/4 cup Borax
  • 1/4 cup Washing Soda (not Baking Soda)
  • 1/8 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1/8 cup Citric Acid

Use 1 T per load in detergent compartment.
You can see some discussion on this during the Real Clean Roundup over at Not Dabbling in Normal from May 2011. Same recipe as you see listed above

Well, that basic didn’t seem to work for me and there are several variables that seem to make this either; sort-of work, work really well, or not work at all. I have been through all of them.

The Big variable is the water. It is amazing how much difference there is in water. We all know about soft water and hard water, and then there is everything in between. All those “everything’s” are huge variables, apparently, in making your own dishwasher detergent.

In all my trials, what it came down to was the amount of citric acid in my recipe and the amount of homemade detergent that I actually put in my dishwasher each time. Here is the recipe that is working for me.

  • 1/4 cup Borax
  • 1/4 cup Washing Soda (not Baking Soda)
  • 1/8 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1/4 cup Citric Acid

1 T per load in the compartment (no more, no less)

If my silverware and glasses come out cloudy – that usually means I got carried away and added to much detergent mixture. If it happens, I am more careful about measuring it out next time I do the dishes.

For a Rinse Aide:

I use regular white vinegar in the rinse air compartment or a citrus infused vinegar (made by taking the peel (no rind) off any citrus and letting it sit in vinegar for several weeks.

Now that I have been making my own dishwasher powder for a few years, there is still one more things I have struggled with; the mixture getting hard in the the jar.

chipping away at itEvery time I wanted to run the dishwasher I would have to chip away at the jar of dishwasher powder to get some of it out. I am a pretty patient person, so I didn’t get too worked up about having to chip away at it, but the final straw was when I couldn’t get it broken up with a spoon like I normally did and I used a knife.

Not only did I chip away at the dishwasher powder, but I took a big chunk of glass out of the bottom of the canning jar it was in. Opps! This patient person reached her limit. Time for a change.

My quick fix to this problem was just to keep the ingredients separate. Ya, that means opening four jars to just get the ingredients out, but each ingredient isn’t clumping up anymore. No chipping away at it. It is working great.

Now instead of 1T out of a big jar I measure out just shy of 1 teaspoon of each ingredient per load and things are working great. No more clumping. No more chipping away. yes, I have to open four jars, but I still think that I am ahead of the game when it comes to frugal and environmentally safe.

Do you make your own dishwasher detergent?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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Many of my riding students really know how to really layer for the weather and it makes me proud. This is the product of years and years of lecturing, commanding and even bribing them to dress correctly for the weather. For some reason (I blame the commercial horseback riding industry and it’s skinny-legged models showing off the “latest thing” in equestrian fashion) whenever I get a new student they are absolutely convinced that they need to look the part year-round. The latest fashion and leather riding boots don’t do much to keep out the chill!

It will be a chilly 28ºF and inevitably a new student will show up in a single pair of stretchy leggings and maybe a hooded sweatshirt and a vest. Congratulations! You look great! You look like the damnable models in all of the catalogues. However, you’re not going to last five minutes in the cold, let alone the hour and thirty minutes required to complete a horseback riding lesson and put your horse back in the field.

This year I have picked up lots of new students. In fact, I’m not sure what’s going on with the economy (maybe people are just stir crazy) but this is the first winter, ever, that I’ve had so many new faces. I usually lose students for the winter because of the cold, but I decided with the influx of newbies I would find incentive for them to layer up and stay warm, which in turn keeps them riding through the most frigid months. Howso?

Good ol’ fashioned bribery!

I have started a contest with my students to see who can wear more layers than I do on a daily basis. If my students out-do me, they win five horse treats for their horses. On the most base level, this convinces my students to wear lots and lots of layers, but what it seems to have actually done is encourage them to want to understand how layering keeps them warm. Once they understand how layering works, they wear as many layers as they can stand and they stop complaining (thus, continuing to ride through the coldest of months). I mean, come ON. When I layer up to go outside, it’s often to spend 8-10 hours in the cold at a time, so it takes some serious layers to make it through the day.

My daily layers often consist of some or all of the following…

On the top: A camisole tank top, a layer of under-armor if it’s really cold, a t-shirt or two, a fleece layer, two or three wool sweaters, a hooded sweatshirt, a wool jacket and down vest if I’m riding or a down shin-length coat if I’ll be standing around a lot, and two pairs of gloves – one on my hands and one tucked into my layers to warm up so I can switch them out (and handwarmers if it’s really bad out). I top my head off with a knit cap or two, and sometimes a scarf wrapped babushka-style over that.

On the bottom: fleece leggings, wool long underwear, winter riding breeches, summer riding breeches, and sometimes a pair of insulated bibs if it’s really bad. I then wear wool (and ONLY wool) socks and either rubber boots or insulated boots – both of which are big enough for me to wiggle my toes in because that movement allows for air-based insulation.

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Layering isn’t about fashion… as made obvious by this photo.

A lot of times students will complain that they’re wearing three pairs of socks but their toes are still cold. This is generally because they only have one layer covering their legs. Honestly, the key to layering (without spending a gajillion dollars on the latest ski equipment) is creating space for air to get caught as it escapes your body. The more layers you are wearing, the more warm air will get trapped around your body. If you are layered around your core, this means your blood stays warm as it is pumped into your arms and legs. If you are layered around your arms and legs as well, this means your blood stays warm as it is pumped into your hands and feet. The goal should be to keep yourself insulated pretty much everywhere, so the blood doesn’t have time to cool as it travels around your body.

Of course, wind can be another challenge. If it’s windy I try to top everything off with a wind-proof layer. Wool is fantastic for rainy days as it continues to insulate even if it gets damp, but when the wind picks up it will blow right through even the tightest knit wool.

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In my case, enter the BIG POOFY COAT. My big poofy down coat has a collar that I can pull up technically over my eyes. It has a huge overlap so the wind can’t sneak in at the zipper and, as long as I’m wearing a decent hat, it does an amazing job at topping off the layers so that I can go to the horse farm and feed my horses in sub-zero wind-chills. Plus, it’s pretty sweet to look at! (I often refer to it as wearing my bed to work.)

Honestly, none of these layers cost me a whole lot. Some of the wool sweaters are thift-store finds, and some are old sweaters that are too grody to wear out anymore. They’re specifically for layering so it doesn’t matter what they look like. One of my sweaters has a huge burn down the arm from where I underestimated the temperature of our woodstove one evening, but nobody (except you) will ever know it because it’s buried under four other layers. The poofy coat was an awesome find at an outlet store for $50 (I think Old Navy). I have found that the quantity of down doesn’t make a huge difference if you’re planning to layer up anyway; it’s the wind-resistance that makes the coat valuable as a top layer.

Do you spend much time out-of-doors in sub-freezing temperatures? If so, how do you cope with the cold?

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Different lives

Your children live such different lives than you.

Generations ago this wasn’t true. You lived the life your mother, and your grandmother, and probably your 5 times great grandmother lived. Change came slowly; your family situation was immutable to a large extent. You actually lived with a lot of those people.

Enter the 20th Century and the dislocation of tens of millions (hundreds of millions?) from the agrarian past. Without the connection to the land and the community, there was really no reason to try to live the life your father lived, and your grandfather’s and great grandfather’s life was now out of reach. Those on the land continued, perhaps, to follow their ancient traditions and lifestyles a few more generations into the modern world, but those in the cities couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t need to. And the cities increasingly beckoned more and more people from the life on the farm, where the rhythms were becoming increasingly urban, or at least controlled by people whose rhythms were urban.

Suddenly there was this strange modern thing called “choice.”

But your children’s lives will also differ in more personal ways. My own family had broken down by the time I was my children’s ages. My mother was dead, my father immersed in an increasingly remote role that had no room for me. Wei’s mother remained (and remains) connected, but his elderly father died before my daughter was born.

My children retain strong bonds with us, and I can’t see that changing. It was something deliberate on my part. I feel very keenly how adrift Wei and I were as young adults, without the strong anchor of a stable existing home or parents and wanted my kids to know that we were always there for them. I watch my children struggle with relationships, jobs, and, frankly poverty, and am completely nonplussed about how Wei and I handled this.  We just had to make it up; the “adults” in our lives were, for the most part, absent, or useless.

Their lives are very different from mine. My kids know that they can come home.

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Everyday there is something to be thankful for. Take a deep breath and just look around you.

***

American Thanksgiving has come and gone, but I (Sincerely, Emily) do not think that is the only time that we need to pause and reflect on what we are thankful for. Everyday I look around me and can list many things I am thankful for. This is especially helpful when I am just plain having a bad day. I have been wishing for rain for many days, many weeks, many months. I know the saying, “be careful what you wish for” and I have to be really careful about wishing for rain in Texas because usually when it rains, it pours Texas-Style to the tune of 8″ + at a time. When it does rain “Texas-style” it comes down hard and fast giving the ground no opportunity to soak it up. What does that all mean? It means, that I live in Texas and we live in drought, with occasional flooding.

Grateful for the rain Jan 2013

A few weeks ago my wish came true. We were blessed with rain. Three inches according to my rain gauge over a period of 24+ hours. For the most part it came down nice and slow, allowing the ground to accept it and start soaking it up. What a dream come true. The rain barrels are overflowing and the plants and trees are smiling. I am grateful.

***

Two weeks ago my former junior coaching student and friend Dee had her second child, and is potting training the first. She’s not getting much sleep. My virtual friend Jo is in the throes of early tweendom. I just spent the afternoon with my grown children (24 and 27). As I told Jo and Dee,  new parenting and toddlerhood and the dread tweens is like childbirth– there’s an amazing person at the end of all the pain.

Crying Kids Jan 2013

What are you thankful for today?

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Lately I have been taking an appetizer to several different meetings. In the effort to make things easy on myself I just keep taking the same herbal cheese spread over and over. I don’t have to think about it, just make it and take it.

This spread is also great on toast and has been breakfast for me a few times over the past few weeks too.

Herbal Cheese Spread

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 4T or more sour cream
  • 1 T dried basil
  • 1 T dried dill weed
  • Chopped walnuts (optional)

Let cream cheese and blue cheese stand at room temperature until soft
Blend two cheese until smooth.
Adjust the amount of sour cream to reach the consistency that you want.
Add basil and dill weed
Mix thoroughly and put into your serving bowl
Top with walnuts (optional)
Chill until serving
Makes 1 1/4 cups of cheese mixture

In place of the cream cheese you can use the farmer’s cheese that Jen posted about here at NDIN a few years ago or you can use a yogurt cheese. I didn’t find a post here on NDIN about making yogurt cheese so I will post about that in the next few weeks. Using the farmer’s cheese or the yogurt cheese changes the consistency of this herbal cheese spread, but it still works.

You can use what ever blend of herbs you like. Play with it. Have fun with it.

Do you have a favorite appetizer that you tend to make a lot?

Sincerely, Emily

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Holidays

Today I am 57 years old.

That looks funny– 57 is old! I’m trying to remember how I felt about people who were 57 when I was, say, 20, and I can’t. I didn’t think about 57 when I was 20.

My birthday is  #5 in a string of eleven holidays, birthdays, and miscellaneous family events that string from Thanksgiving to Easter. Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year’s. Anniversary (30th this year). My birthday. Wei’s birthday. My brother-in-law’s birthday. Valentine’s Day.

It’s still not over at Valentine’s Day, but by the time February 14 rolls around I. Am. Done. with holidays.

Part of the problem is that I’m not a very sentimental person, so having to keep finding creative ways to express my love about once a week for freaking months is a challenge.

Plus, expensive.

Where were we.

Right. Valentine’s Day, Sister-in-law’s birthday, son’s birthday, Easter. Celebrated twice (once for the western Christian side of the family and once for the Eastern Orthodox). Although frankly, we kinda dumped Easter about 15 years ago, since no one on either side of the family is religious. The only vestige of Easter that’s really left is the Greek Easter cookies, unless my mother-in-law suddenly remembers it’s Easter, which she does every few years.

Then, thank heaven, we get a whole month before my daughter’s birthday. I don’t complain about Mother’s Day, because by that time I haven’t had a gift in several months, and I start getting greedy. Which then guilts me into the Fathers Day gift.

And with that, the gift-giving, meal-making holidays are over for several months, giving me time to develop amnesia about January again.

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I have had a FoodSaver vacuum sealer for the over 10 years. Since I have been buying meat from local farmers and ranchers, I have hardly touched the vacuum sealer in the past 4 years.

foodsaver play 2Over the past few weeks I have been doing a lot of planning ahead and pre-making some foods that will save me some time over the next few months. I will be having surgery and out of commission for a while and unable to spend time doing the things I normally do, like cook and garden. I will have lots of help to get me through the first few weeks, then the house will be back to the two of us. I want to do what I can now to be prepared and make the time easier on everyone, including me. So, I have been baking bread with onion, sage and oregano to make into stuffing and making bread crumbs. I have been stocking up on dry beans and grains (and cat food and cat little!) I have been drying more of my own herbs. I keep many of the dry herbs in the freezer to help keep them fresh.

foodsaver play 3

I have seen the jar sealers from FoodSaver and was curious about how they worked, but I couldn’t find anyone that had used them. I finally just took the plunge and bought both the jar sealer for the regular canning jar and the wide mouth canning jar (actually it was one of those practical Christmas presents that I ordered and told my husband he bought me for Christmas!) Hey, that works for us and I love those type of gifts.

I was so excited to receive the jar sealers that I have been on a vacuum-sealing spree and loving loving loving it. I have pulled all my dry herbs out of the freezer and vacuum-sealed them in canning jars. Most of the things in our cupboards are in glass jars, but I decided to switch them out into canning jars so that I could vacuum seal them. You may remember that I have an obsession with jars…. well, all those jars really came in handy.

I have gone through my soap/lotion-making cabinet and vacuum sealed the elderflower, the calendula and many other dry herbs. Next on my list is making crackers and getting those all vacuum sealed to retain freshness. When sealing anything in jars, just make sure it is completely dry. If there is any moisture and you vacuum seal your jars, you items will not be fresh.

Foodsaver play 1

I have not had these jar sealer for long, but so far I am thrilled with how they work and how easily the jars seal. I love that all the air gets sucked out and that means the contents should stay super fresh for a very long time.

I think these jar sealers make sense if you buy things in bulk, if you are planning ahead, if you are living in a humid climate and you want to extend the shelf life of you food. It all ties in with my frugal nature and trying to plan ahead and be prepared.

Have you used any jar sealers? I would love to hear how they work for you and how you like using them.

Sincerely, Emily

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