Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Turotial: Firestarters: Useful reuse for backpackers to homeowners


Our neighborhood has an email system in place that serves as everything from announcement board to freecycle notices to debate central. Some good, some bad, like everything. Last year a neighbor asked if anyone wanted partially used candles - which I ended up taking. At first I used the candles to melt down and re-form into new candles in custom etched glass holders. Eventually though, I ran out of uses for red and yellow candles. Always red and yellow. Bags and bags of red and yellow candles. Why? Church? Anyone have ideas?

Around the same time as I was making candles we finally got the fireplace in our house working - and it was quite the wonderful winter treat. We spent many winter nights, lights off, fireside, sitting and talking - disengaged from technology and distractions. This coming winter we'll be ordering wood by the cord in preparation for more cozy nights.

Then, just recently, our local farm informed us we would no longer be able to bring back our egg cartons for reuse. New regulations prohibit the reuse of the containers, and though they are recyclable, it seemed like such a waste after all that wonderful reuse we had done.

Thus, the recycled egg carton firestarters entered our lives. Made easily and quickly with supplies we all have they are an easy way to start a fire. They ignite quickly, are light as a feather, and cost nothing - perfect for camping and backpackers to home fires and easy for kids to help assemble.

What you'll need

Cardboard/recycled paper egg cartons
Dryer lint
Shredded paper/newspaper/scrap
Bits of twigs/tinder/kindling or dried leaves
Old/scrap candles
Sharp knife or scissors
Matches or a small pot to melt the wax


You can build these one of two ways - the egg carton still in tact or already cut apart into individual cups. The easiest way, by far, is to cut the carton apart first. If you assemble while the carton is still in place two things will happen - first, you'll need a very sharp knife to cut the pieces apart and you may run into a twig you'll also need to cut through; second - you'll need more wax to hold everything in place because the process of cutting things apart acts much like ice cubes in an tray - it can pop the filling out.

So, if you like the easy way, cut the egg carton apart into individual cups before you begin.


Layer your scrap paper, lint, twigs/leaves in the cups. Lint ignites very quickly, scrap less so, and the twigs the slowest. You can layer any way you like - it all works together quite nicely. If you don't have twigs or lint, just use what you have.


Melt the scrap candles in a pot on medium low and pour a bit over each cup to hold everything together. You can also use a candle that you light and melt over each cup but the fully melted preparation is easier and more effective. You don't need a ton of wax - play around with how much you need and use the least possible - though the wax will burn off you don't want a ton of wax in your fireplace at the end of the season.


If you need to, go ahead and cut the egg carton apart. That's it! Your fire starters are done. Pop in your fire pit, light the corner and await the lovely warm marshmallow toasting glow!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

52 Pickup: Criticize with Kindness

Remember, all 52 pickups are open to interpretation. My interpretation might not be the same as yours - make it yours, make it a mantra, make it life lived well.
This week the pickup is:

How often have you heard some criticism of yourself and rejected it without a second thought? Has someone made a comment that, though it might be true, you refused to hear simply because of the way the message was delivered?

This week we're thinking about both our own self-criticisms and the comments we may have for other people - the way we reach out to connect, persuade, or even reprimand. Consider how much more effective your criticisms could be if you coupled them with true, honest kindness. Perhaps you are being self-critical, taking time to address issues you know need addressing – are you doing this with some self-kindness as well?

Perhaps you are a person who takes criticism well, perhaps not - but I'm of the belief that all things done with kindness are more effective and longer lasting than those done in a hurtful manner. Why not try to assuage the natural human reaction to criticism by coupling it with kindness?

Texting while driving terrifies me - and yet how easy is it to reach for a smart phone at a stop light? Luckily we easily ended that temptation when we ditched our smart phones...but I don't expect the whole world to be the same.

A few weeks ago I received a Starbucks gift card in the mail. I decided to go treat myself one day and while I was in the drive through line a younger girl narrowly missed rear-ending me. She then went on to text and play with her smart phone the entire time we were in line. She was so much life left to live, so many great things to do, see, accomplish, so many ways to grow and change - but not if she has a fatal wreck from distracted driving.

When I got to the front of the line I asked for the barista to charge her drink to my gift card as well, and please pass on a message: "Please be safe and stop texting and driving." I won't ever know if she heard the message but I can only hope that by passing along concerned criticism with a kind gesture that she saw past a quick reaction of anger or ignoring and heard the message.

Can you think of a time where criticism was more effective with kindness? Are you too self-critical with no self-kindness?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Made Better at Home: Iced Coffee 3 Ways


While there is something special about an cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day, sometimes an iced coffee just hits the spot. Regular, decaf, sweetened or straight, iced coffee can be that perfect summer drink when done right.

For years I longed for the amazing iced coffee I found in a little cafe just off the beaten path in Athens, Greece. With little way to return quickly and no one to ask the secret I experimented with some ideas - all which vastly improved my made-at-home iced brew. Finally though, I found out the secret - simple and wasn't a Greek coffee I was looking for at all – it was Vietnamese (or ca phe sua da) - and you can find the secret below, but first, a few other ideas for making that perfect iced coffee treat:

Change The Brew

If your version of iced coffee is pouring a pot or cup of coffee over ice, a slight variation in brewing style can make a vast improvement. You can use a traditional American drip-brew, but add more grounds for a stronger brew. Or, if you have the ability to brew espresso consider forgoing a drip-brew when making iced coffee and pouring a shot or two of espresso over ice for your iced coffee.

If you are brewing espresso and like your coffee sweetened consider trying Cuban style and add your sugar (preferably a Demerara style 'raw' or natural brown sugar) to the cup the espresso will drip into before brewing - the sweetness melted into the coffee as it brews makes a more smooth, well-rounded cup.

Hubs enjoying his after-work treat while assisting in important sidewalk chalk art

Change the Ice

If you prefer not to change your brewing style some changes made to the ice component can make a great change to your iced coffee as well. Personally, I find watery iced coffee disheartening, so, whenever we have leftover coffee in the morning I'll pour the extra into an ice cube tray to make coffee ice cubes - thus when hot coffee is poured over there is nothing to water down the flavor.

I recently tried a fancy flavored beverage from a well-known coffee vendor - it was painfully sweet and far too much for me to handle. Frozen into cubes though, that coconut mocha coffee gave a perfect hint of flavor to an iced coffee. So give freezing leftover coffee, fancy flavored coffee, or even hot chocolate a try as the ice in your frozen coffee treat.

Vietnamese iced coffee prior to mixing
Change the Condiments

Back to my Vietnamese all this time I had been thinking Greek. Then my friend Kim mentioned Vietnamese coffee. I tried it and, a ha! There it was, after all this time! Could it be more simple? I think not. Vietnamese coffee is 1/3 sweetened condensed milk to 2/3 coffee - or adjust to your preferences. While a can of sweetened condensed milk might run you a few dollars it will also make you a good 8-16 cups of better then bought iced coffee (you can mix up a big ol' pitcher all at once!). If you don't like the sweet then get straight condensed milk and give it a try. Mix the (sweetened or not) condensed milk and the coffee, pour over ice, and savor.

Or try a new sweetener - I mentioned Demerara sugar above but even agave nectar and honey make for an interesting taste variation. Try something new - but make sure to add the sweeteners when the coffee is hot as it melts and blends in so much better.

Considering how much an iced coffee will run you at a drive through or shop it's worth giving an at-home cuppa a try. What about you, do you have an iced coffee secret to share?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Food Photos and Hungry Mouths


Me: Oh! I have to shoot a picture. The deadline is today.

Husband: Ok. (pause) Can I blow bubbles?

Me: Bubbles?

Husband: Yeah, for the background.

Me: Oh. Ok. Yeah, good idea!

Husband blows bubbles a few times. Proclaims he isn't good at blowing bubbles and then:

Husband: Can I have that now?

Thus how food photography works in my house....

Nope. That's not the final image above. Nope can't tell you any more either - but someday, soon(ish).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Embracing Life

This past weekend was the stuff memories are made of - full from top to bottom with passion for the world we live in and the realities of humanity.


Saturday marked the kickoff for our summer travels - a list made long ago in the deep depths of winter. Each day-trip will take us to visit another local food provider we have come to know, love, or rely on. This Saturday was a visit to our beekeeper and honey provider.

I've thought about keeping bees for quite a while now – though various excuses and limitations have prohibited any further pursuit it still remains on my shortened bucket list. Interestingly, when the beekeeper strolled our way he refrained from a greeting and simply looked at me and said, "When are you going to start keeping bees so I can retire?". That was it. I witnessed him greeting at least 6 other people, never asking any of them to keep bees. When I paid for our 4 refilled jars of honey (16 pounds!) he slipped a copy of a beekeeping magazine into my box from 1997, saying, "Nothing much has changed. Learn the basics and use the internet, but this should get you started."

Wildflower, Clover and Cranberry Honey

From there we wandered on, allowing the tiniest of handmade signs along the road to lead the way. We stopped at a farm stand we'll return to later for strawberry picking, meandered through a tiny town populated by a post office and an art gallery, perused a garage sale, then tucked into a pottery studio nestled behind a house.

Sleeping toddlers make for foreshortened visits but I could have stayed and chatted the day away with the owners of the studio/gallery, David and Carol. Warm, engaging, full of knowledge, willingness to share, and absolutely oozing kindness they were completely enchanting. In a matter of minutes we covered every topic from wood fired pizza ovens to home brews, Buddhism to photography. David, at one point, popped over to the car where my patient husband was waiting, and handed him a home brew saying "It sounds like we have a lot in common." Topping off an already fabulous day with a completely connected conversation left my heart full to nearly bursting. We were spent but alive with the joy of it all. 


Sunday we rode our bikes to the hardware store to get the final pieces for our rain barrels, ate a picnic in the park and reveled in a beautiful day. I could tell my husband had finally started to truly relax. Then our plans were canceled, difficult discussions were had, and time was spent saying goodbye.

That evening we said goodbye to one of the most graceful dogs I have ever met. Cancer, ever persistent and cruel, had the final say and we could not bear to torture her with any further surgeries or treatments. She simply wasn't that kind of dog. She was regal, often sitting like a sphinx, stoic even, bearing the brunt of what we can only imagine was an unsavory life before we adopted her and her sister.


Sasha always allowed her sister to eat first, never begged for attention and was patient beyond measure. She was loyal to her human sister, motherly and understanding. No poke in the eye, tail tug, or other childlike learning could phase her. In the winter they often would lay together, toddler and best friend dog, talking.

In January we found a large lump and soon had it removed, but it came back, much sooner than we could have ever expected. Sasha simply began to fade away. She lost weight, function, and then the light in her eyes began to fade. I laid with her on Sunday and her eyes glazed over with distance or engaged with pleading. It was time. As selfishly as I wanted to keep her here through whatever pain just to have her a little longer it wasn't the compassionate choice...and if Sasha taught us anything it was selfless compassion.


We have always been adamant about two things since adopting Wendy and Sasha: first, they would never be in a shelter environment again and second, that if we had a choice they would depart this world at home. The were already senior dogs when we got them, paired and inseparable. Our no-kill shelter went to rescue a Basset who didn't make it but recognized the urgency in the situation for Wendy and Sasha and brought them back instead. They lived at the shelter for a considerable period of time when we adopted them, knowing that we might not have them very long, and that there may be obstacles. 

We brought them home to find them unable to negotiate stairs and difficult to bring inside. They had been outdoor dogs but were housebroken. Sasha remained aloof for a good period of time but slowly began to trust us, to wag her tail, and to even act, annoyingly, assuredly dog-like in her desire for affections.


Their life here was (and is) good. After an entire day of barely moving or hiding Sasha took one final walk, with more fervor and joy than you could have ever expected. She came home, ate her first treat in a week, and laid down in the yard with us. She was sedated slowly, in our arms, then passed on, her sister by her side, lifting her paw, begging her to stay. It was as peaceful as anything I have ever experienced.


In the afternoon, as I tried to wrap my mind around her sweet presence not being beside me any more, I walked by our wedding vows (they are done in the style of a Quaker wedding certificate), and a single word caught my eye. I read the passage:

When it comes time to part, to reflect on their time together with joy that they met, and thankfulness for the ways in which they have grown and shared what they have; pledging to cultivate gratitude for the boundless gifts they have received;

And that is how I said goodbye to our Sasha, with a heart full of gratitude; gratitude for her kindness, for her mothering to my daughter, for our ability to take care of her, for the option to be compassionate and peaceful when the time came, gratitude for the people who rescued her, and unending gratitude for her love - it was hard earned but strongly felt.

It was a weekend to feel and appreciate being alive. I am ever grateful for these memories, for this life, for those who share my world in big ways or small. It is a beautiful place.

A note: If you have a pet please do consider at-home euthanasia and do some research for mobile vets in your area. It is truly an option you will not regret when or if it becomes time to say farewell. If you need help with this research or reference and I can help please feel free to contact me.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tutorial: Easy arrangements with a simple floral arranger tool


A very quick and easy little tutorial for you today. We're making a floral arranger that will be sure to quickly become a favorite. This handy little arranger makes arranging flowers of all shapes, sizes and weights in almost any depth of bowl or vase a snap. Best yet? Even with the flowers it can be almost free and the entire project, including photos, took me less than 30 minutes. Even if you decide to splurge on flowers you can use less of them to great effect since the arranger holds them in place so well you won't need a ton of flowers to fill a bowl. A great trick for multiple party arrangements (showers, weddings, dinners, etc), a lovely mantle addition or a sweet little wake-up treat on a bedside table.

Technically this is a recycled recreation of a vintage floral arranger which you can sometimes still find on online auction sites or Etsy. Truth is, it's so easy to make, and you probably have most of the items needed anyway, so why buy it?


I'm using a noodle bowl given to me as a gift that I've always loved. We only have this one and it is quite shallow so it is mostly just on display. I did want to show you though, that even a very shallow bowl can host a full arrangement with the arranger in place.


You'll need a mesh bag recycled from some produce (potatoes, perhaps?), the tab seal that comes with it if possible, and filler. You can use marbles for filler, rocks (go raid a driveway!), sea glass, pie weights, or even a large pellet like buck shot - what you need is something weighty and mostly smooth. I considered dried beans but the organic nature of them simply wouldn't work.


Add the filler to the bag, twist and secure tightly. If you don't have the plastic tab you can tie a knot or use a twist tie, no matter. If you prefer you can trim any excess mesh but I prefer to leave it so that I can add or subtract filler for the next container I might use.


Place the arranger in your bowl or vase of choice, add water and plant food if you like.


To arrange: Push flowers or greens between the holes in the mesh and into the filler. I tend to prefer to do one element at a time - I add my greens first, then one flower, then another but you can arrange however you like.


I'm lucky enough to have all these flowers growing in my yard. Even more lucky is that they are fast growers and ofter overtake my fence - I trimmed the excess and used for my arrangement.


There you go - a beautiful arrangement in minutes for nearly no cost. My total cost came to $3.48 for marbles/filler. If you have rocks or other filler available, flowers to pick, and a bag available your cost will be $0. Pretty great for a beautiful addition to your space!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

52 Pickup: Erase The Tape

Remember, all 52 pickups are open to interpretation. My interpretation might not be the same as yours - make it yours, make it a mantra, make it life lived well.
This week the pickup is:

I could probably write an entire book of just the amazing little nuggets of wisdom my mom has dispensed over the years. Granted, like all children I sometimes tune out (sorry mom) but many sink in (and many I'm saving for later 52 pickups). One of my favorites has to do with 12 year old boys. It's not easy to summarize but basically it is this: We replay messages that 12 year old boys gave us, filled with negativity, and judge ourselves by them. This really has nothing to do with gender - or puberty...though puberty, wow, there is a whole lot of whacked out cruelty built right into that model.

Think for a second though - can you remember something unkind a peer said to you during that time? About your weight, your height, your physical appearance? Maybe about your smarts, your talkativeness, your shyness, or anything else for that matter.

Why do we remember, record and embed these negative messages? Why do we replay them over and over again to belittle, berate, embarrass or lessen our self-worth? It doesn't have to be a message from when you were younger, but any time you've somehow subconsciously remembered and replayed a negative message. Now is the time to let it go. Use it for good and empowerment or leave it behind. There is no other choice. It is time to erase the tape.

I don't have an image for the below so we'll pick salad, because, well, you'll see...

I can tell you a little account that was both good and bad for me.

The year I graduated from university was not a great one. The economy took a plunge that was both unpredictable and incredibly difficult for newly starting professionals. The country had been rocked by terrorism and tragedy. I had a terrible breakup. I ended up working for what ended up being a very innovative company but in my hometown and with a boss who sparked in me a little thing we call "panic attacks" or "anxiety" (PS that is very rare now, thank goodness). While all my friends were there and we were all figuring things out, it was also a little sad, a bit difficult, and a lot humbling to be living at home again. I ate.

I gained weight. I buried my depression, devastation and fears in food.

Then I went to my high school reunion. It was a pretty good time. Someone almost accidentally burnt a barn down but hey, he wasn't in my class. Then a girl who I've never really valued the opinion of said something, thinking no one heard..."Wow, everyone got so...FAT!"

I was pissed off. And out for revenge.

So I lost the weight. Fast. I did it with a program but still...from July until October (my college homecoming) I worked my butt off. I lost around 50 pounds. I kept it off too.

Then I had a kid. I gained weight, of course. I lost it after I had my daughter. Then I stopped nursing and I gained a bit of weight back. My body is different. My world is different. Yet I still keep hearing that message. "Wow, everyone got so...FAT!".

I chose to stop hearing that message as well. Sure, I would like to be 19 again, fit without effort, but I'm not. I'm ok with that. This time, what weight I have to lose (or rather, what pursuit of fitness I have) I will do for myself, not out of vengeance, opinions or malice...and certainly not of repeated reels of negativity. Does that make it a little more difficult? Maybe. More productive? Absolutely.

I abandoned the time when I was actually 12 years old and boy tried out the term "bitch" on me a long time ago...time to abandon the rest as well.

So, my friends, now is the time. Let go of those terrible tapes, negative reels, and replays and become that self-actualized person I know you can be. Go ahead, vent the negativity in the comments if you need to but leave it there, nevermore again...

For further reading consider this.

Edit: My mom wrote me an email regarding this post. I thought you might be interested in her response:

"I wish that I had known years ago that feeling good should be the motivation for being well.  Looking good comes as a side effect of it anyway.  We have it all backwards...we seek to look good, but forget how much more motivating Feeling good is.  Now that I am feeling good, I am looking good too.  And I find that the journey is simply day at a time of enjoying the views, learning a little more, keeping pace of life as a happier, feeling well and healthier person."

Isn't she awesome? I think so.