Friday, August 29, 2008

Don't Throw It Out

I just finished reading "Don't Throw It Out: Recycle, Renew and Reuse to Make Things Last" by Lori Baird and the Editors of Yankee Magazine. It was a fun and informative book, and organized in way that I loved. It had chapters for nearly every room in the house, along with Sports and Hobbies, Lawn and Garden, Home Workshop, and Cars and Trucks.

It gave ideas for new uses for old things like terracotta pots that were broken, old cutting boards, old tires and more. Under the Recreation Room chapter, there were sections on knitting, quilting, scrapbooking, general crafting and books... topics near and dear to my heart.

At the end of each chapter is a quiz, so you can check what you learned, but that felt too much like school to me, so I skipped them. At the end of the book, there are resources on where to buy recycled art, frames made from tires, hubcap creatures, items made from from old 45s and LPs and more. There is also a section on how to dispose of TVs, computers, tools, quilts, running shoes, etc.

I was using one of those irritating magazine subscription cards as a book mark (I try to find uses for those darn things), and I found myself ripping it in strips to marks sections that I wanted to make a note of later. One of my favorites was making fire starters out of old egg cartons, dryer lint and and candle wax. You know, I've been looking for other ways to use my dryer lint. I usually throw it out for the birds to make nests with, and I'm not sure they really appreciate it.

Another was using a product called PlastiDip to coat garden tool handles. It will give them a more comfortable grip, and it comes in bright colors so it will be easy to spot your tools outside. I don't believe in conspiracy theories, but it's certainly a sly marketing ploy to make garden tools in greens, browns and blacks. Once you put them down and walk away, you will never find them again. It's the Bermuda Triangle of gardening.
Check this book out of your local library, sit down with a cup of tea and a few magazine subscription cards cut into strips and find yourself in useful-tip-heaven.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Spice of Life

I used to hate buying spices for cooking. They were so expensive ($3 and $4 a jar and up), and the jars were too big. Spices have a limited shelf life and if they aren't used within a few months the flavor weakens. Another problem was that I had all these jars rattling around in the cupboard, but I could never find what I wanted, so I'd end up with three jars of cayenne and two jars of turmeric, and on and on.

A few years ago... back when the American dollar was strong against the Canadian... ah, sweet memories... we were browsing a kitchen shop in Old Quebec City. I found test tube spice racks. It was a eureka moment. All my spice problems were solved. They were right size... not so big that I'd be throwing out spice... not so small that they'd need refilling too often. They would be organized... I was nearly overcome with thoughts of making labels and alphabetizing. I get that way sometimes.

I bought three sets... enough to hold 30 spices, and I've never had a moment of regret. The cooperative market where I do all my grocery shopping sells bulk spices. At a glance, I can check the racks to see what I'm running low on and stock up. Today, I bought enough cumin to fill my test tube for a mere 60 cents.

I found these spice racks online here for $27.99, but you could also make your own. Edmunds Scientific currently has test tubes for sale at 50 cents. The corks can be purchased at most hardware stores for a few cents, and there are lots of online sources for test tube racks in a gazillion different styles. If you or someone you know is moderately handy with a drill and simple woodworking, I don't think it would be too difficult to make a rack. I used a Brother PT-65 for making my labels, but I see the "official" spice tubes come with labels.

I feel like a wizard mixing up potions when I cook.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


On Saturday, Pipsqueak was in her first horse show... also her first competition. She seemed calm and cool about the whole thing. She rode in two events: Walk Lead Line and Walk/Trot Lead Line.

I was snapping photos and shooting video during the first event with nary a care in the world. Then they announced the winners and Pipsqueak got second place. I was surprised and proud. I even got a little misty eyed. Suddenly, I became a different person. I felt something that I'm not sure I've ever felt before... competitive.

During the second event, I still snapped and shot, but I was also sizing up the competition. How was their posting? Posture? Did Pipsqueak have a chance at first place?

I've never been a competitive person. I played some sports in elementary and middle school (basketball, soccer, softball), but I was never particularly good (too klutzy), and I never felt the burning desire to crush the opponents. Mostly, I played because I enjoyed the social aspect of it... spending time with friends.

In high school, I was involved in drama and band. Trying out for plays wasn't too bad since I didn't have to actually see my competitors. I showed up at my appointed time, read and left. Later, I checked the list to see if I got a part. If I didn't, I'd work in production. Band was another thing entirely. We had to play each year for levels and seats. If you thought you were better than the person above you, you could challenge them at any time during the year. I played first clarinet all four years, and gradually worked my way up to second seat. I never challenged anyone, and I felt fortunate that no one ever challenged me since there was some challenging in the clarinet section. The flautists were cut-throat; there were challenges over there all the time. When someone was challenged, I felt the nerves and sweatiness for them.

As an adult, I've never felt like I was competing, not for jobs, salaries, anything. I always felt that I just had to be the best I could be, not necessarily better than anyone else in particular. Little did I know there was a competitive monster within me waiting for the next generation to go forth and win.

I am will not to be one of those parents that coach and criticize from the sidelines. I prefer instead to be a cheerleader. Maybe... hopefully, I'm no different than any other parent that wants the best for their child... for them to succeed and be happy.

I asked Pipsqueak how she felt in the ring. Did she feel nervous or like she had to win? "No, I was just happy to be riding a pony." She's a chip off the ol' block.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Highway Department Humor

After many months of traffic delays, detours and driving over pavement in progress, even the Highway Department realizes that patience was running thin...

As Sweetie said to me, "It's been... well... a long road."

Friday, August 22, 2008


Today I got to "play" with a friend. We sat, talked and sipped seltzer for a couple of hours while our kids played in the pool. We discussed what we've been doing, where we've been, what we've seen and read and general philosophies of life. We laughed, commiserated, cheered and supported. What a rare treat! I don't live a Wisteria Lane existence where desperate housewives are always dropping in for card games, coffee and gossip. Good quality friend time is infrequent, and it got my thinking about friendships in general.

Making friends was easy in school. I'm not sure how elementary age kids do it. I couldn't remember my own experiences, so I asked Pipsqueak how she picks kids as friends. She replied, "When they start being nice to me, I decide I want to be friends with them." Somehow, I think it's more than that... some sort of initial attraction. I don't know if it's something physical or a common way of communicating, but somehow kids seem drawn to certain kids and not to others. For little extroverts, like Pipsqueak, ice breaking is never a problem. She unselfconsciously introduces herself and asks the potential friend's name. Before you know it, they're running around giggling like they've been friends since birth.

In high school and college, we tend to make friends with those that have common interests. I spent most of my time with kids in band and drama. This is the time that friendships grow deeper. Friends don't play together anymore, but spend time talking and sharing secrets, hopes, desires and fears. These friendships often last a lifetime. I have friends from school that I still consider very good friends even though we may only be in contact once or twice a year or less. Some of these friendships started in elementary school, but deepened in high school.

Once married and with a family, making friends gets complicated. First, we tend to be a little more self conscious and reserved as adults. Secondly, it's difficult to find time to spend with friends. We have work and responsibilities, and any free time is spent with our children. It makes us choosier friend pickers. We want to spend our precious friend time with people that make us laugh and feel good, and not with complainers and downers.

It's easier to get together as families, but that opens another whole can of worms. If I make friends with the woman of the family, then I also have to like spending time with her husband, my husband has to like spending time with her and her husband, our kids have to like spending time together, and we adults have to like the behavior of each other's children. That kind of family harmony is difficult to find.

Every New Year's, I make a resolution to spend more time with friends, yet it's an impossible to resolution to measure it's success or failure. Do I measure it in quantity of time, quantity of friends or quality. I resolve not to make that resolution any more, but just to appreciate the time I do spend with friends, those emails back and forth, and the Christmas greetings that may be our only contact but lets each other know that we are thinking of one another.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hawks and Eagles and Owls, Oh My!

We went to VINS Nature Center in Quechee, Vermont today. VINS stands for Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences, and they are an education and rehabilitation center for raptors. Raptors are hawks, eagles, owl and falcons. They have thrice daily raptor shows, exhibit cages of raptors that cannot be rehabilitated to the point of release back into the wild, and a one-way window looking in a rehabilitation room. I can't say enough good things about this center. The employees and volunteers are knowledgeable and friendly, the grounds are clean and I feel enlightened and educated every time I go there.

Here is a Red-Tailed Hawk. He flew into a power line and injured his wing to the point that it couldn't be repaired for long soaring. He can still fly a little though.

This Bald Eagle couldn't take his eye off me...
unlike these Golden Eagles that wouldn't give me the time of day.

This Barred Owl has an injury from being hit by a car. He looks very proud and regal. We hear these around our house a lot, especially during the spring mating season.

Turkey Vultures are controversial raptors because some say they aren't raptors at all. They don't kill; they are carrion eaters, they have a good sense of smell; necessary to find that nice stinky carrion, and they have only one sharp talon on each foot; the others are soft toes. In case you ever wondered why they don't have feathers on their head, it's because they like to really stick their head in their food. They don't want to have a headful of feathers covered in entrails.

Finally, is this Harris's Hawk. I hadn't seen one before because they are a western raptor often used in falconry. He was photogenic and a good poser.

If you're ever in Central Vermont, check this place out.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bevy of Blackberries

When we were out for our walk last weekend, I noticed that our field was loaded with ripe blackberries. I thought to myself, "Self, you've got to take advantage of this." Picking berries in the hot sun is not my idea of a good time, so I made a plan to go out right after breakfast. It was raining, but that wasn't going to stop Pipsqueak and me. Our rain boots and jackets provided additional armor against the thorny bushes. In one hour, we picked 10 cups of berries, and an unknown number that went direct from bush to mouth. Our welsh corgi developed a taste for them and was eating them right off the bushes until he couldn't take any more snout scratches.
Our field has rolling hills, and I noticed that berries on the top of the hills were bigger, but they were riper and more plentiful in the valleys. There's probably some interesting science that explains that, but since I was more interested in boys than botany in school, I couldn't tell you what it is.
Today it was time to make use of these luscious blackberries. We made blackberry sorbet, blackberry ice cream,
blackberry muffins
and apple-blackberry crisp.
I felt like I had been given free food. Since my pantry is always stocked for baking, all I had to buy was a small container of whole milk and heavy cream. I didn't have to plant the berries, weed them or fertilize them. They were a gift from mother nature.

Some pickling cukes were demanding my attention, so I made 2 quarts of dill pickles, too. After dirtying every measuring cup, spoon and mixing bowl in the house at least once, I decided that was enough cooking for today.

I was reminded of many of my grandmother's diary entries from when she was my age when she would make bread, donuts, baked beans and more in one day. I can't compare my efforts to hers though when she baked in a wood oven and didn't have an automatic dishwasher. I enjoy using a few of her kitchen implements that I "inherited" and think of her while I cook.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cop Out Chicken

Sometimes I have a nice meal planned and when it comes time to cook it, I'm either too busy or too tired. That's when I whip out my Cop Out Chicken recipe. It's time to take the easy way out; hence the name.

4 T extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 t dried mint (if you can't find mint, use basil - this is Cop Out Chicken, not Stress Out Chicken)
1 t dried oregano
1 t salt
1 t ground black pepper
2 T lemon juice
1 1/2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts

Mix first 7 ingredients in a large bowl.

Bisect the chicken breasts, which is sort of like butterflying them, but cutting all the way through. This creates thinner pieces that will cook more evenly. Mix the chicken in the marinade and let marinate 30 minutes.

While it's marinating, prepare your barbeque and your side dishes. Grill chicken over medium high heat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. The chicken can be cut up and made into kebabs before grilling, if you wish. Serves 4.

The leftovers are delicious cut into strips and put on a salad or diced and made into chicken salad.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Children First

I can't believe that Pipsqueak will start first grade a week from tomorrow. It's unbelievable that, a) she's that old, and b) the summer is nearly over. We had this long list of things we were going to do over the summer, but we've only scratched the surface. I'm going to let everything go this week, and spend most of my time doing things with her.

Last Friday, we crafted all day. In the morning we painted rocks.

In the afternoon, we made jewelry.

On Saturday, we took a three hour walk and visited the local donkey farm.

Sunday, her friend, Stringbean, came over. They spent about four hours playing in the pond and then warmed up in the bin we use to wash the dog in outside.
Today, we visited the local pet store and saw all the fish, rodents and birds. I was so happy to see that they aren't selling dogs and cats anymore, because "there are enough animals in the world" and they want to encourage shelter adoptions. After that we went to paint-your-own pottery and painted for a couple of hours.

Who knows how the rest of the week will unfold, but I can tell you that it won't include much housecleaning or bookkeeping. I'll try not to care too much; in another week, I'll have plenty of time for that.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Suffering from SSS

Yes, it's the dreaded "Single Sock Syndrome". If you knit socks, you know the feeling. You get some beautiful sock yarn... something soft, a pretty color, maybe self-striping. You can't wait to begin. You knit to the exclusion of anything else until you get that heel turned. Oh look, it's starting to look like a sock! Then you can try it on periodically and dream of a sock drawer filled with these beautiful creations. Somehow the urgency abates and a few days or weeks later, you're ready to Kitchener Stitch the toe. Voila! A sock! You try it on, twisting your foot this way and that and swelling with pride. And here comes the let down...

you have to do it all over again! It's like a cruel trick. It feels like you finished something, but you're only half done. I read a knitting pattern that suggested that you work both socks simultaneously in sections. I get too excited to do this. I have to keep going and see what the next part is going to look like. Then there are the magic socks where two socks are knit simultaneously on one circular needle. I cannot get my head wrapped around those instructions. I feel pretty happy that I can successfully turn a heal.
The remedy for this syndrome is simple. I always have more sock yarn ready to start the next pair, but I don't allow myself to start using it until the first pair is done. It's a great motivator.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Neglected Harvest

This is what happens when I don't look to see what's ready in the garden for a few days this time of year. Salad, anyone? Looks like those cucumbers have gotten a hold of some sort of growth hormone, but I swear their organic. Looks like my dream of more pickles is about to come true.

Pipsqueak says she "loves farm-fresh food". It can't get any fresher; it was only picked two minutes ago. She won't let a temporary dental handicap get in her way.

What is this yellow thing growing in my pumpkin patch? Pumpkins start green and turn orange as they mature. This thing has been yellow from the start and it's now about the size of a cantaloupe. Mutant garden mysteries... gotta love'm.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I love where we live, close to nature. I never know what sight, sound or smell nature will provide in any given day.

On Saturday, Pipsqueak was out digging in the sand on the beach next to our pond when she unearthed three little painted turtles only about 1 inch in diameter. There was a small piece of egg near one of them, so they must have just hatched. She brought them up to the house and buried them in the gravel of her nature tank. The nature tank has been a "24 hour vacation home" for newts, salamanders, frogs, toads, a snake, worms and caterpillers for purposes of short-term observation, but these were the first turtle guests.

By Sunday morning, two of the little darlings had dug themselves out. Alas, the third did not survive. Its shell was soft, so we're thinking it was an abnormality and not any mishandling by a six year old. She is a very gentle and loving soul. It was time to release the little ones back into the wild. But wait! First, let's have a photo or two to remember this moment.

We released them on Turtle Log. It's a big log that Sweetie upon his tractor dragged part way in the pond so the turtles could climb up on it to sun themselves. These two looked around for a couple of minutes and went swimming.

Being a responsible naturalist, she then dug a hole in the beach and buried the deceased baby turtle.
We think this may have been the turtle mom. We found her in our driveway in early May when I was bringing Pipsqueak home from school. After a quick photo, we took her to the safer location of our beach where she stayed for an hour or so probably laying her eggs. That goes along with the 10-12 weeks that it takes for painted turtle eggs to hatch.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Weather Watch

I don’t talk about weather much or spend too much time thinking about it. I look out the window when I get up and maybe see what the temperature is going to be so I know what to wear. But a few times a year, extreme weather will get my attention.

I noticed in the past couple of weeks that there was a lot of weather talk at the post office, the grocery store, everywhere I went. Of course, people always talk about weather, i.e. complain. It's either too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry. Lately, everyone was talking about how much rain we’d had. The cover story of our local paper today were the farmers' woes of not being able to get in the third crop of hay this summer due to soggy conditions and mucky fields. Why didn't I notice this sooner? It’s true that I haven’t had to water my garden this summer and the lawn is still growing like gangbusters even in August, but I didn’t feel like the summer had been a wash out. We had good mornings with showery afternoons, or showery mornings with afternoon clearing and a lot of night showers, but I didn’t feel like life had been interrupted.

In the past few days there has been some area flooding, some of which has been serious and damaging (not in my area), and with the flooding, weathermen whipped out their statistics. We got 4.6 inches of rain in June, with normal being 3 inches. In July, there was a recorded 6.27 inches; almost 3 inches above the norm. I don’t know know what we’re at for August, but I can tell you that it’s more than normal, because I, the weather oblivious, have noticed that it’s rained a lot.

I used to be more tuned in to weather. I had to be. I worked in a bank. Have you noticed that when you walk into a bank during inclement weather, that the tellers question you about the rate of precipitation and its effect on driving conditions. “Is it still pouring out there?” “How are the roads?” Maybe that’s why I don’t pay attention to it now. After six and a half years of banking, I was weather worn.

Before banking, I worked in a small town news-dealer/stationer/bus-stop during high school. My boss always greeted his customers with, “Some weather, huh?” I loved that! It worked no matter the weather: a warm sunny day, pouring rain, a blizzard, a drought, or threat of a hurricane. I’m sure he usually got more than he bargained for as the customer spouted off all the ways the weather du jour was positively or negatively effecting their lives.

On Friday evening, rumbles of distant thunder had me looking to the sky when I saw this giant thunderhead with the top blowing off.

The sun was out over us, but somewhere up north, they were getting a whooping. Some weather, huh?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Fabulous Fashion Finds of the Week

I’m late with my blog entry today because I was a dunder-head. The battery in my camera was dead, so I plugged it in to charge. I went back in an hour and realized that I tried to charge it while the power was on. Duh! It doesn’t charge very well when it’s discharging power as fast as it’s putting it in.

I wanted to share some of the great deals I've found. I spent every morning this week shopping while Pipsqueak was at pony camp. It was a 45 minute drive from our house, so it didn’t make sense to go home for during a 3 hour camp session.

Here she is in jumping position. She doesn’t mind that the jump is only three inches high, and neither do I. I’m so proud.

I scoured three thrift stores and two department stores. I shop thrift stores often, but department stores I save for when I think I can get drastic mark downs (usually end-of-season). These are a few of the greatest deals I found.

I got these girls’ flip-flops at JC Penney. The regular price was $7.99; they were marked down to $1.97. These should fit Pipsqueak next year, and she lives in flip-flops all Summer.

At Kohl’s, I got this set of three girls’ headbands. Regular price was $10 (you’ve got to be kidding me); sale price was $2.00.

Also, at Kohl’s, I picked up this cool retro, faux wrap dress marked down from $59 (gasp) to $11.80 (ahhhh). I tried to stand in that celebrity-red-carpet pose that makes you look skinny. I guess I need more than a pose.

These GAP stretch, boot-cut jeans looked brand new, and were only $5 at a thrift store.

The coral shirt from Faded Glory was $1.75, and it's a great color on me. The black t-shirt is J. Crew and was $3.25. I got these at the same thrift store. I'm wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch fitted pink polo shirt today that I got from another thrift store for $2.99.

Another thrift store was having their back-to-school sale. I got Pipsqueak a couple of tops (Children’s Place and Gymboree), a Children’s Place skirt and sweater, a Talbots Kids jumper, a Ralph Lauren dress, a Rugged Bear sweater, and a brand new Gymboree lunch box (had the tags on it) all for $20.75.

The department stores still had a lot of summer clothing on the floor for only 30-40% off. I really expect 70-80% off at this point, so more great deals should be had in the next few weeks. Frankly, I’m feeling a little shopped out for awhile, so it’s all yours.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What Do I Need (other than my head examined)?

I just cleaned off my bedside table, and gathered all the books I've read lately. I've got to find a permanent home for them on the bookshelves or move them out. I noticed the titles and remembered that I read once that you can tell what a person needs more of in their life by the books they read, ie. if you read romances, you need more romance; if you read thrillers, you need more adventure.

Hmmm, this can't be good. Here's what I've been reading lately.

Driving With Dead People by Monica Holloway - This is a riveting memoir of a girl whose father was fascinated by death. She drove a hearse for awhile after she got her license. I couldn't put this down.

Survival of the Sickest by Dr. Sharon Moalem - A medical maverick discovers why we need disease. Can a person rust to death? Who gets drunk faster - European or Asians? Why? I found lots of tidbits to use as cocktail party conversation - if I went to cocktail parties.

The Front by Patricia Cornwell - Don't bother! I don't know what happened, but she's not the author she used to be.

Waiting for Daisy by Peggy Orenstein - A woman's quest to become a mother while struggling with infertility. I could relate since I went through this too.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - A humorous book talking about the science after death. The chapter on embalming is making me reconsider burial; cremation might be the more peaceful alternative.

The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood - A fictional tale of a woman who joins a knitting circle after the death of her only daughter. While learning how to knit, the other women share their stories of challenge and loss.

The Woman with the Worm in Her Head by Pamela Nagami, MD - I was expecting stories of unusual medical maladies, but instead she wrote of AIDS, staph infections and chicken pox. It made me wonder what little germs and bacteria were hiding inside of me that could strike me down at any time.

Comfort: A Journey Through Grief by Ann Hood - The Knitting Circle was so good I had to read her true life account of of dealing with the sudden death of her five year old daughter. Sad, but inspirational at the same time.

Drunk, Divorced and Covered in Cat Hair by Laurie Perry - It's not in the photo because I borrowed it from the library. A laugh-out-loud, true-life story of a thirty-something woman dealing with her divorce. I liked so much that now read her blog (Crazy Aunt Purl) regularly. The book includes some fun knitting patterns, too.

I don't think I need more death, divorce or disease in my life, but that seems to be all I'm reading about lately. Perhaps a change of genre is in order. Read any good books lately?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

An Illustrated Guide to Grilled Pizza

I'm always amazed at the looks of disbelief I get from friends and family when I ask if they've ever made grilled pizza. It seems like a very well kept secret, but it's easy and a great way to make pizza in the summer without heating up the kitchen.

With take-out pizza prices starting at $15, making your own pizza is a much lower cost solution and it's simple and fun. You can cheat by buying pre-made dough, but it's fast (save the rising time) and you can make enough to freeze for next time.

Here's my favorite pizza dough recipe, and I guess you could say it's my own since I substantially tweaked the one I originally found in a book.


  • Add 1/4 t (one of those little envelopes) of Rapid Rise yeast to 1 1/3 cups warm (not hot water).
  • Let it set while measuring the rest of the ingredients .
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine 4 cups flour, 2 T olive oil, 1 T sugar, and 1 t salt.
  • Give the yeast mixture a quick stir and add it to the flour mixture.
  • If you have a mixer with a dough hook, combine the ingredients and knead (low speed) for 10 minutes, otherwise stir until combined and knead by hand on floured board for ten minutes.
  • Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl.
  • Cover lightly and let stand in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours.
Punch down dough and decide how many pizzas you want to make now and divide the dough. Let these rest lightly covered about a 1/2 hour. This recipe makes approximately 4 12 inch thin crust pizzas. I divide the dough in three, freeze two balls and make the third into a 12 inch for Sweetie and me, and a 6 inch personal pizza for Pipsqueak.

Now for the grilling part...

Prepare your grill. We use charcoal, so I can't give directions on gas, but you'll find numerous sources on the internet. Once your coals are ready, push them around the outside of the grill, or if your grill is bigger, in a circle that resembles this photo.

Oil one side of the dough and place it oiled side down on the grill. It should only take a couple of minutes to brown the bottom. If you're making multiple pizzas, grill one side of all of them now.

Remove from the grill, and oil the uncooked side and turn it cooked side up. Add your favorite toppings to the cooked side. Sweetie and I have sauce, cheese, onion, red and green pepper, pepperoni and sometimes marinated artichokes. Pipsqueak has just sauce and cheese. The sky's the limit here. I've even heard of a dessert pizza made with caramel sauce, sliced apples and course-chopped walnuts. Once you have your toppings on, return it to the grill and put the cover on.

Check the bottom after a couple of minutes. Once it's browned to your liking, slip a heat shield under it. (A pizza pan would work, but keep in mind it will get discolored so don't use your favorite one and then yell at me because it's ruined.)

Close the cover and continue to grill until the top is hot and bubbly (usually under 10 minutes depending on how hot the coals are and the density of toppings.

Now you, too, can amaze your friends!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Survival of the Fitting Room

After having spent the morning sweeping for thrift store deals (more on that addiction another time), I thought I would pass on some tips to get through the dreaded store obstacle on the way to check-out... the fitting room.

First, I have to complain to the retailers, if any of you are reading. Do you realize that if you make us look good we'll buy more. Lighting is the worst offender. Some soft-light light bulbs would work wonders. It's usually fluorescent which makes everyone look like they need a long vacation or recently ate some bad seafood. The worst fitting room lighting I ever experienced was at Marks & Spencer somewhere in the UK (there are so many of them, I forgot where it was exactly). I looked green.... literally. I didn't even finish trying everything on, and I bought nothing.

Now for some tips...

1. Dress for comfort. Easy to remove clothes are a must. You don't want to get bogged down with a lot of buttons and zippers if multiple trips to the fitting room are required.

2. Wear slip-on shoes or sandals. This is important not only for speed, but for cleanliness. Some fitting room floors are dirtier than a barn and you don't want to be putting your feet down on them. With slip-on shoes, you slip a shoe off, put it through a pant leg and back into the shoe.

3. Prepare to sort. Ideally the room will have three hooks, but you can make do with two if you hang your purse on one and hang stuff from each side of the strap. One hook is for stuff that you need to try on, one hook for things you'll buy and one hook for back-to-the-rack.

4. DO NOT look at your near-naked self in those three way mirrors, unless you're prepared to run screaming from the store straight to a local Weight Watchers. Wait until you are fully clothed to check out the reflection, and then only a fleeting glance to the backside is all that's necessary to ensure good fit. Don't stand there twisting and turning for a better look.

5. Sit down while wearing your potential purchase. If there's no chair, do a squat, so you can feel if it's still comfortable. If you looked at your backside in the mirror too long, do three sets of ten squats.

6. Bend over and pretend to pick something off the floor and straighten back up. Did everything return to it's original position, or do you now have unsightly gaps or bulges that weren't there before? If you spent too long looking checking for gaps in back, do three set of ten bends.

7. Don't bring friends with you. If you do, don't ask for their opinion. If the potential purchase is uncomfortable on and they tell you that it looks great on you, you'll be more tempted to buy it anyway.

8. If you don't absolutely love it and it isn't unquestionably comfortable don't buy it. If you do, I can tell you that it will probably end up at the thrift store, and I might be trying it on next.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Spontaneous Pickles

Pipsqueak and I were poking around in the garden to see what was ready to be picked. We found lots of beans, a couple of tomatoes and a few cucumbers. Most were slicing cukes, but two pickling cukes were ready. I suddenly felt a strong urge to make pickles. They were on the big size, so I thought we might have enough to make a quart jar. "Pipsqeak," I said with excitement and determination in my voice, "we're going to make pickles!" "Right now?" she asked, a bit incredulous. "If we have everything we need, yes!" She knows, after six years, that when I get like this, she might as well just go with it.

First I hit the internet. I needed an easy dill pickle recipe. I found this one and divided everything by eight since we were only making a quart. We made another trip to the garden to pick dill, made the brine, sliced the cukes, peeled the garlic, put everything in the jar and processed it in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Voila! One jar of pickles in a half hour! (I skipped the ice water soak. I am not a patient woman when I get inspired.) Now we have to wait two months to open them. I can't wait, but in the meantime, they are beautiful to look at.

The fruit of our labor. Vlasic, eat your heart out.

Dreams of future pickles. Come on little guys... grow, grow!

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