Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Let me tell you about happiness in a cookie

I'm just saying: OH. MY. STARS.

First, start with your favorite sugar cookie recipe. Any one you like. I like this one:

I'd share the recipe with you, but Betty's not talking.

To your recipe add a little twist in the way of orange. Orange zest would be the BEST, but I didn't have any oranges, so I used orange extract.

How much? I don't measure. Surely you knew that about me already -- right? But if you just must have some guidelines, I'd say about 1 tsp zest or 1/2 tsp extract. Maybe more, maybe less. Hey look: I'm no Ina. And you're not paying for this little piece of genius, so just work it out. You'll be fine.

I am not a fancy cut-out sugar cookie kinda gal. Oh, I'd like to be, but let's face facts here for a minute: As I type this I have five baskets of laundry upstairs that I'm not doing and several kitty litter boxes I'm not asking Rob to clean out. I may or may not have had clean underwear to put on this morning (too much information?), and meal preparation for the last couple of weeks has been strictly optional. So -- I'll drop these cookies, thank you very much. But I'll use my grandmother's fancy cookie scoops to do it. I'm not a barbarian.

Once your orange-spiked cookies are done make sure they're fully cooled. I accomplished this by making mine about two weeks ago and parking them in the freezer.

Works every time.

Now comes magic time. Make yourself some frosting, starting with 1 stick of melted butter. Mix in some powdered sugar, cinnamon, and a little half & half (milk or water would also do but come on -- you've already got a stick of butter in there). Stir until you have smooth, velvety, cinnamon frosting.

Amounts again? People, people, people... I. Don't. Measure. Pay attention! But if you insist (and you seem to be insisting), I'd guess ~2.5 cups of powdered sugar and ~1 TBS of half & half. Mix the sugar into the butter til you have something that looks like dry/crumbly cookie dough, then add the liquid, a little bit at a time, til you have bliss. Sweet, blessed, cinnamony bliss.

Do not -- and I really cannot emphasize this enough -- do NOT slather this all over your body. You'll be tempted to (and your husband might really love you for it), but if you do you won't have enough for the cookies.

About 36 of them, to be precise (because I know you're all about the numbers). You'll have enough of this perfection to generously frost three dozen two-inch cookies. You might even have a little left over.

And what you choose to do with the excess is strictly between you & your spatula. I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

First, do no harm

You always hear about "Mother-love." They never tell you about "Mother-guilt."

As anyone who's done this for, oh, about 5 minutes can tell you, the truth is that motherhood is all about the love and all about the guilt. For me it started even before she was born, the day I was so sick and called the OB to find out what I could take for a little relief. Given the green light for an antihistamine, I took the approved dose only to find, much to my horror, that not only did it make me a little sleepy it knocked poor Sara completely on her teeny-tiny ass. Evidently the "Warning: May Cause Drowsiness" message applied not only to me but to my normally acrobatic fetus as well.

As I'm sure you can imagine I suffered through every subsequent head cold without benefit of pharmaceutical relief because, after the terror subsided (no movement? for over an hour? by SARA?), the guilt set in. "First do no harm" may be the physician's motto but let me tell you, Hippocrates' dear mother had to have come up with it because doing no harm is about the greatest achievement a mother can claim.

I know now, and probably knew then, that I hadn't really "harmed" Sara. But that didn't stop me from feeling like I did, or from feeling the guilt that comes along with doing something that hurts your child, even when it's unintentional. Mother-guilt manifests from all sorts of things: The sharp words spoken in frustration, the book unread because of exhaustion, the birthday party unplanned because you just don't have your act together. None of these things, in the long-run, are game changers; Sara won't remember the night I just didn't have it in me to read Pete the Cat, nor will she likely require therapy because I relented and actually bought a cake for her fifth birthday. From Wal-Mart. (Don't judge -- their chocolate cake is the best I've ever had, and though I am bitter about that fact, there it is.)

Enter the balloon.

Sara came home from her visit to Pennsylvania with a balloon. It was from Nana. Heart-shaped. Pink & purple. With Tinkerbell. Can you imagine anything else as wonderful for my five-year-old Sara-fairy? Me neither. But all though the drive to preschool this morning I had to tell her to keep the balloon down so I could see out the back of the car. Over. And over. And over and over and over. A block away from the school I had finally had enough and, out of frustration, let her know that if she couldn't keep the balloon out of my way it would be gone. For good.

And don't you know, for that last block she managed to keep her beloved Tink balloon under wraps. Crisis averted! I parked the car and gathered her gear. It's a cold and blustery day today, with the first snowfall of the Christmas season, so I braced myself and told her to get ready. I did an enthusiastic count down so we could make a quick exit: Ready Sara? Three! Two! One! Let's GO!!

Did I mention that's it's blustery? No, really -- very, very blustery?

You can see where this is going. I opened up my door and stood by hers while it slid open. She hopped out and just as I clicked the button to close her door the balloon -- her much beloved balloon -- was sucked out of the car. It had blown half a block before I registered what was happening, and was all the way to 46th & Illinois before I realized it was too late. There was no way to rescue Tink.

She tried to chase it, then turned to me in a panic. And then the tears came. Sobs, acutally. Real, honest-to-gosh tears and heaves of loss. You'd think Nana herself had blown away with the cold December wind.

I just let her cry it out. Because what can you do? I can't tell her it's no big deal, or that it's OK, or that she's going to be fine (even though all of these things are true). The fact of the matter is that from Sara's perspective it is a big deal, it isn't OK, and that she's not going to be fine. I'm not about to tell her that she's wrong to feel what she's feeling, so... she sobbed. All the way into school, and taking off her coat, and putting away her lunch, and washing her hands.

As for me? No tears, just plenty of guilt. Guilt because we argued about the balloon all the way to school. Guilt because I threatened to take it away. Guilt because I didn't anticipate it's escape. Guilt because I couldn't stop the wind, or move with the speed of sound, or freeze time long enough to allow us both to run after it, another crisis averted.

Motherhood is just a series of these events, small moments of little to no consequence -- certainly to me, and ultimately to her, too. But today, while December's icy wind turned my daughter's tear-streaked face a cold, raw red, Mother-love once again met up with Mother-guilt. My heart broke for my sad little girl and I all I could do was let her feel the loss, because sometimes letting her feel the pain is doing no harm. Sometimes, what seems to be the worst really is the best you can do.

And that is the truth about motherhood.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Amen and amen

It doesn't take much to make you realize how lucky you've got it when you sit down at a table with a friend, face-to-face, who is struggling just to get dinner on the table. Makes things very real, very fast.

So here it is: I have been blessed in this life with many wonderful things that I take for granted every single day. I have a reliable job. I have a pantry full of food. I can send my kid to preschool and can even consider making sacrifices to send her to private school -- in other words, I have so much that I'm actually able to give things up. I might have to wait until the next paycheck to buy those new shoes I want, but I can buy them. I can go out for a night with my girlfriends and know that this splurge, just for me, won't have a direct - and negative - impact on my family. I have health insurance and, more importantly, I have my health. I own the roof over my head and the car sitting on the street in front of it. I can buy plants and flowers to grow just because they're pretty, then have the audacity to complain about breaking a sweat to care for them. I have more opportunities than I can begin to imagine, then let fear keep me from taking advantage of those that are staring me in the face.

I know God. I know that He is here, with us and in us. I have no idea how He works, why my life is overflowing with comforts while others' are overflowing with hardship, but I do know that He is equally present in both. He is a great and wonderful mystery, and I am blessed to live in a time and place where I can not only say that, but I can write it for all the world to see. The small things that I can do to help someone are not nothing but they sure do seem to be when compared to the unimaginable things that God can do. And so while I sit and wonder how I can begin to help make a dent with the real-life, day-to-day struggles of just one family I am reminded that my offerings have to be matched with my prayers, and a hope that God will become known in their lives and hearts. Not for the sake of salvation but for the sake of hope and peace.

Look: I've had hard times. We all have. And though I'm certainly guilty of doing so in the past, I'm no longer in the business of saying who has it better or worse in this life. What I want to do - no, what I need to do, is learn to live in the knowledge of my blessings rather than the frustration my desires. I need to meditate every day on the needs of others and craft a life that is designed to help meet those needs, no matter how big or small. I need to live a Thanksgiving life rather than celebrate a Thanksgiving holiday.

Heaven help me.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

True confessions of a frustrated soccer mom

Newsflash about me: I just might, maybe, have some self-esteem issues. Kinda like you, and you over there, and you, too -- that's right, I see you back there. The one with the Sally Hansen Creme Bleach and Palmer's Skin Therapy Oil.

Oh wait a minute. That last one is me.

But anyway...

It was one of those mornings today when clean, wrinkle-free clothes were at a premium and I didn't seem to have the time, inclination, or raw materials available to pull together a particularly polished "look." And I didn't really care so much because I knew that today I wouldn't be seeing any patients, families, doctors, or co-workers except for one, and she & I would be holed up for the day in a work room on an abandoned Methodist psych unit. Awesome!

So I had made peace with my fashion fate as I headed out the door with Sara in tow, bound for another fun day at preschool. When we arrived I gave myself a quiet pat on the back for running late, as usual, because it avoided the crush of other younger, hipper, cuter moms and the awkward small talk required as the kids line up for their obligatory hand-washing routine. I parked in the lot across the street, my dad's old oversized, fleecy shirt repurposed as as a sentimental cool-weather jacket but, sadly, really rounding out my sad-sack appearance. I mean really. It was a What Not to Wear moment, and I knew it.

We got to the gate just in time to meet up with The Mercedes Mom. I've seen her lots of times during morning drop off and she has always annoyed me. Here's why: She drives a brand-new (ridiculous and ostentatious) Mercedes SUV. She weighs about 110 pounds. She always - always - wears spandex. Tight, and, at least this morning, very short spandex. She carries big, expensive designer bags and wears more makeup (to complement the spandex, I suppose) at 8:30 on a Wednesday morning than I did on my wedding day.

Certainly these are all very reasonable reasons for me to pass judgment.

Today she was also talking on her cell phone, carrying on an intense conversation about shaving something that I hope, I really really hope, was a family pet. I opened the gate for her & her daughter and didn't get the acknowledgement that I didn't expect to get (so no disappointments). We trekked up the walkway and got to the door, and as I stood on the stoop I paused for half a second, just to see if she would reach for the handle. She didn't and, still unsurprised, I opened the door & held it for her.

Me, in my dad's old oversized fleecy shirt and pants with the button missing (oh, I didn't mention that before?) waiting on Mercedes to wrap up her conversation so we could get inside & make our way to the hand-washing station. Paints a picture, doesn't it?

Even as I stood there I had this flicker of recognition: She wasn't expecting me to wait on her, she was just talking on the phone.

But a little bit of insight has never stopped me from hanging on to bitchy suppositions so I trudged in, marveling at that scrap of spandex barely covering her ass while simultaneously cursing myself for the sloppy shirt and overdue eyebrow maintenance. We got inside and passed a couple more of the Moms-I'll-Never-Be: proficient at small talk, sipping on their Starbucks and in absolutely no hurry to get anywhere. Sara walked ahead of me in her typically oblivious way, too engrossed in the ish on the walls and the conversations around her that she forgets to stop and hang up her coat and book bag in the hall outside the class room. I called out to her, and Mercedes Mom looked at me.

"This is Sara?
Yes, yes it is.

"Oh, well hi there! I'm Charlie's mom. I called your house and left a message for you a week or so ago. Charlie's having a birthday party and we wondered if Sara would be able to come."

Oh. I'm sorry (nervous laughter)... we're pretty bad about managing the voice mail in our house.

"Who isn't these days! I would have e-mailed everyone but the office didn't have the list together yet. Do you think Sara can join us?"

(relieved) Well, when is it?


Ah, well unfortunately she won't. We'll be in Pennsylvania this weekend.

"Oh... that's too bad. We'll have to get these two together some other time then. I know Charlie would really like that."

We walked into the class room, and just like that, all my assumptions evaporated. The skinny, rich, uppity bitch ended up being the friendliest parent I've talked to at Sara's school. I didn't feel judged at all for my shaggy hair ( I'm a little overdue for a cut) and dingy tennis shoes. She was completely normal (well, except for maybe the spandex -- no joke, I'm talking SHORT) and her hair, now that I looked it at, was kind of a mess too. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Turns out, I was the bitch. I was the one with the ugly attitude which, tragically, perfectly complimented my hot mess of an outfit and minimally maintained, unwanted facial hair. It was me, not her, that I couldn't stand.

UGH. I have such a long, long way to go. So with clean laundry in the closet and Sally Hansen waiting by the sink, tomorrow I'll make another stab at it. Here's hoping a little extra effort on the outside is just a stepping stone to a whole lot more effort on the inside.

(But I still retain the right to feel bewildered by the spandex. Because.... come ON.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A PSA about homemade bread, a la the Pioneer Woman

I hope Ree and her chaps-wearing Marlboro Man don't come after me for this. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

As I've mentioned before I am in love, love, love with Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Aside from the week we were gone for vacation, I can only think of a few days here & there when we didn't have dough ready & waiting in the fridge because I use it for everything: fresh, hot loaves to eat with dinner, pizza dough and pita bread are a few of the ways I've put the Master Recipe to use. And since we rarely (OK never) seem to polish off the entire loaf in one sitting I've started cubing up the leftover bread, tossing it in a zip-top bag and putting it in the freezer to use later. They make AMAZING croutons for soups & salads -- all you have to do is let them defrost for about 15 minutes then toss them in a saute pan with 2-3 tablespoons of butter & olive oil. Brown them on each side, toss with S&P and some garlic powder and Oh. My. Word. Sara and I could eat those by themselves for dinner & be perfectly happy. Or use them to whip up Ina's Panzanella and holy cow. That is some GOOD stuff.

But I digress. The reason for my ramble today is to provide photographic evidence of how easy it is to make, shape, and bake off a loaf of totally delicious (and really inexpensive) hot, fresh, homemade bread. This won't be a sandwich loaf with a soft crust & squishy crumb but a peasant-style bread with a crispy crust & chewy interior. It's awesome -- trust me.

Here's all you do:

First, get your hands on a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and open it up to the Master Recipe (nothing by flour, salt, yeast & water, FYI). They'll have it at the library if you want to give it a test drive. But you'll want to buy it, I'm sure. Well -- I'm pretty sure. Maybe you're not as hard-core as me about your crusty breads.

This photo is from the first batch I ever made and since I had bread flour on hand that day I used it. Ever since then I've just used good old A-P and it's fantastic. (Maybe better? Hard to say.)

Toss all the ingredients into a mixer and stir until it's just combined using the dough hook. Or, you can just mix it all in the storage container you're going to use. I'm too lazy to mix that hard so it's the KitchenAid for me.

Remember, you're not kneading - just mixing.

Dump the dough into your storage container. Mine is a 6qt plastic food storage bucket that I picked up locally at Zesco. (It looks pretty much exactly like the one from King Arthur Flour that they suggest in the book; they've since switched to this Cambro set from Amazon. But hey, it gave me an excuse to go to Zesco and that's always alright with me.)

Set the lid on top but don't seal it up. Let the dough rise til it doubles in size or flattens out on top, then put it in the fridge. Keep the lid set loosely on top.

That's it, friends! You've got dough ready & waiting for you any time over the next two weeks. And the longer it sits in the fridge the more sourdoughy it will taste.

When you're ready to bake, pull off a piece of dough about the size of a grapefruit and form into a round loaf. (Instructions on flouring the loaf are in the book so I won't go into details here but it's not rocket science, people. If I can do this, after 20 years of failed yeast bread attempts, anyone can do this.) Let it rest for about 20 minutes or so, then preheat your oven.

Just before you put it in the oven find yourself a good, sharp knife. I use our, um, BREAD knife. Wusthof, FTW!

You're going to make some 1/2 inch slashes in the top of the loaf. This will pretty it up (and do some other important baking-related stuff, I'm sure).

On this particular day I went for the scallop design. Nice, huh?

Now you're ready to bake. You'll notice I've let the dough rest on a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel. OK, it's not a pizza peel. It's a really lovely cutting board we got as a wedding gift. But I'm cheap & it works just like a peel so there it is.

Anyway, it's time to slide the dough into the oven and onto the preheated baking stone. Yeah, a baking stone. You know you've got one somewhere. And if you don't you can find one pretty inexpensively online. If you're dying to try this but don't want to find/purchase a stone, that's fine! Your bottom crust may not be as crispy as it gets on a stone but it will still work if you use a regular baking sheet.

As soon as you get the dough on the stone pour about a cup of water into an empty sheet pan set in the oven. This will make steam and that's what's going to give you this:

A gorgeous, crispy (but not tough!) crust.

As you can see Sara was ready to pounce on this beauty right after it came out of the over but it needs to sit for a bit before you slice into it. In full disclosure, we can never wait as long as they suggest. Because fresh, warm bread slathered with butter? Yeah... we're all over that at our house.

If you haven't already you should absolutely give this method a try. It's so simple, so inexpensive (after those 2 or 3 initial purchases) and SOOOO good. You'll love it!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Coincidence? I think not.

So, I'm wondering:

Let's say you've got some ish that you're dealing with. Kinda unflattering, kinda yucky, kinda wish you didn't feel the way you do, but... there it is. This little slice of you that is irrational and ugly and contrary to who you are.

(Except of course it's not at all contrary to who you are because hello! there it is.)

But anyway, you're wrestling with the ish, trying to make peace with it so you can send it on it's merry way, acknowledging the unflattering/yucky/irrational/ugly business that's camped out in your gut so it can have it's say before you summarily dismiss it. Whatever; you want it gone.

Oh, but a funny thing, life! Seems everywhere you turn the ish-trigger abounds. Left, right, up, down -- there it is! It might even be taunting you a little bit, late at night when you think you're safe from it but uh-oh! Looky-looky, there it is again. And so I'm left wondering:

Am I being ambushed by the ish because maybe I'm supposed to realize that it's not going to be so easy to let it go? Maybe I'm supposed to accept that some things just are what they are and I don't have to like it... but I do have to live with it. Graciously, even.

Or maybe, some things in life just suck. And lemme just say, that would really annoy me.

I've hit a rough patch in the writing-as-therapy exercise. Not sure what to do... plow on and see where it takes me, or set it aside and pick it up when some of the ish-dust settles. We shall see. But it seems I'm derailed every time I take to the page (as it were). Either the words aren't really me, or I'm interrupted, or I'm not actually addressing the big pink elephant in the middle of the room.

Blergh. This post sucks. Sorry, internets.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Me, Chapter 7

I meant it when I said I was going off the grid for awhile. I've been doing some fairly undisciplined writing, most of which I not suitable for any kind of public consumption. Let's just say the content is a bit "rough." But here's this, another rough ramble that it kind of sums up what all this writing is about. You know... if you're interested.

I’m beginning to believe that writing may be what saves me. I don’t even know what it’s saving me from – unless it’s myself, which is quite possible. I might even go so far as to say “likely.”

I find that although my mind pushes away the thought of sitting down “to write,” probably because it requires some sort of actual discipline to do it, my body actually craves it a bit. It’s almost as though I can feel myself taking in a deep Sun breath while my fingers, clickety-clicking across the keys, exhale all the toxic crap I’ve been harboring inside.

Is that a little too out there for you?

Well, I don’t know what to tell you. What I do know is that inside these formatted, 12-point Cambria walls I am entirely myself. I’m not anyone’s Mother or Manager or Therapist or Wife, I’m not a Sister or Aunt or Niece or even a Friend. While I’m not entirely certain about this I might even cease being Amy – because Amy brings a lot of baggage, you know. I think I’m just me. Just me, saving me from myself.

One word at a time.

Friday, September 03, 2010

When life gives you lemons, go for the club

I had a really crappy week. I'm not kidding -- it was crappy. I could go into it, but really? There's nothing new here, just more of the same crappy-crap-crap that makes me wonder why.

Why what? Why everything.

About 2 months ago my right shoulder started aching. I figured I slept on it funny & didn't give it much thought. A week passed & it didn't get better, so I figured it was just tension (see above re: the crappy-crap-crap). Another week passed & I figured something was wrong with it, but what was I going to do? So I waited & waited, and after a month or so I was sitting at my desk at work and couldn't pick up a pen without crying. I figured a visit with the doctor might be in order. After a two week wait (because I don't know? Is pain when you lift a pen an emergency?) she finally saw me & said it was probably a muscle spasm. Advil & time would take care of it, and a massage wouldn't hurt.

I'm sure it will come as no surprise to learn that I didn't make it to the masseuse. BUT!

I did find myself with a new spasm, this time on the left, creeping in during an all-day meeting at work on Wednesday (crappy-crap-crap). By Thursday morning I was worried, and as of this morning I knew I was hosed. Heat doesn't help, but mass quantities of Advil do take the edge off.

You'll never believe this but there's actually a happy ending in sight.

But not before my near-apoplectic moment this afternoon, when I arrived to radiology for my 1:30 patient, only to find that the doctor (a bitch on a good day) who was scheduled for the same room at 1:00 hadn't even bothered to show up yet. Her patient had been sitting there waiting on her for 20 minutes, and my patient -- who had been at the hospital since early that morning just waiting for me to see her -- was also ready to go. So where the two patients I had to see after her. AND THAT WENCH WASN'T EVEN THERE YET.

Oooooooh doctors!!! They really piss me off sometime.

But then, in an unusual moment of clarity, I realized I had a choice: I could stew and let her make my crappy-crap-crappy week even worse, or I could have lunch.

Let me just say, the turkey club was delicious.

After that quick lunch I came back and much to my surprise the unapologetically late, bitchy pediatrician (oxymoronic, right?) was gone. My kiddo was starving and a took her barium-laced bottle like a champ. And before I knew it reinforcements arrived to take over the other two patients for me so I could go do my actual job for a couple of hours.

The things that have made this such a bad week -- my neck pain, my job, my frustrations -- are still here; as I type this I am eyeing my Advil bottle with equal parts lust and anticipation. But in that instant when I went for the club rather than a meltdown something happened. Some might say my luck changed, but I think there's more to it than that. I think my choice to be a better person than I wanted to be (more faithful, more loving, more gentle, more patient) was rewarded with what I really needed at that moment (simplicity, assistance, space, and ultimately a grateful spirit).

And that was very, very cool.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Survey says:

Homemade detergent and vinegar "fabric softener" (with a few drops of peppermint oil) is a hit!

Seriously, I love it. Our clothes, towels, and sheets are just as soft as ever and don't smell overly perfumed. They don't really smell at all, except fresh. In fact when I gave Sara a hug tonight (or, maybe more accurately, when she put me in a headlock so I couldn't leave her room) I took a double-whiff. Her jammies just smelled... sweet. Clean. Lovely.

Tonight I did a little spot cleaning on one of Sara's new thrifted dresses. (Yes, I'll say it: Goodwill rocks when you're trying to dress a four year old fashionista.) Fels-Naptha to the rescue! This handy little bar of soap, along with Rob's special brew of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda for tricky stain removal*, rounds out our laundry room arsenal. I feel so... old school. : )

Speaking of soap, I've done some reading up on soap-making as well. I see vats of oils, lye, and frangrance in my future!

I am a convert. Now if I can just find a great, inexpensive way to make dish soap...

*Around here, Papa is also known as the Stainmaster... stains don't stand a chance if Rob's on the scene!

Monday, August 30, 2010

All's quiet on the western front

Actually, we're not on the west side of anything. Oddly enough when I was a kid I once made my mother tell me if we lived on the "east side" or the "west side," even though we quite obviously live on the "north side." I was hoping for west and was very annoyed when she said if she had to pick it would be east. Funny. (To me at least.)

Anyway I haven't abandoned the ol' blog, just taking any meaningful thoughts off the grid for awhile. I don't suspect many people will miss it, but I do and maybe that's enough.

I'm doing some writing - actually a lot more writing, thanks to some feel-good hits from this page -- that is not for publication. Just making like Jacob right now, and it's probably best to leave that between me & Him.

Although I've found myself dropping the f-bomb a lot. That can't be good, right?

Friday, August 20, 2010

My how I do loves me some green cleaning

I had no idea people really cared about my obsession with homemade cleaners, but lookey here -- a really long post about just that very thing!

[Disclaimer: I'm no expert and I wouldn't suggest you use any of these without testing them out on something relatively harmless first. But here's what I've tried and so far I'm happy!]

Bathroom cleaners

Start with:

Pour into a clean, empty glass jar*. Swish around to mix it together, then use as follows:

1. As a toilet bowl cleaner -- pour ~1/2 cup of the above mixture in the bowl, then add ~1/4 cup of baking soda. Enjoy the foamy show, then let it sit while you clean the rest of the bathroom. Clean with a toilet brush and flush. Done!

2. As a general purpose cleaner (I used it on porcelain, tile, painted wood work, faucets, acrylic tub, etc) -- Add 1/2 - 3/4 cup water to the remaining mixture and swish to mix. You could probably pour this into an empty spray bottle, but I just poured some onto a rag and used that to clean all my surfaces. Wipe down with clean water; be sure to dry off any painted wood surfaces and voila! Done and done.

Plain white vinegar is the shezizzle!

  • Fill your coffee carafe with water, topping it off with about 1/2 cup of vinegar, then run it through the coffee maker (without coffee, of course!). Flush it out with a couple of runs of plain water and you've just done a great job of cleaning out your coffee carafe and the reservoir.
  • I have read -- but not yet tried -- that vinegar makes the BEST fabric softener. I know, I know. Who wants to smell like a pickle? But here's the thing: the vinegar smell disappears as the clothes dry, leaving them very soft and residue/chemical free. What's that? You LIKE your freshly laundered clothes to have a pleasant smell? No problem! Just add a few drops (say 20) of natural essential oils to a gallon of vinegar. Add 1/2 cup of this in place of regular fabric softener.
  • To get sparkly, streak-free windows, spray on vinegar and wipe off with newspaper. Yes, newspaper!

I could go on, but why bother when this site has done it for me?


There are some times (gasp!) when vinegar shouldn't be your go-to cleaner. If you've got granite countertops, you can try this recipe for a quick, inexpensive, natural cleaner:

  • Pour 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle
  • Add 3 drops liquid soap
  • Swish to mix
  • Fill the bottle with water

There you go! Spray and wipe down to keep your granite surfaces sparkling. : )

Wood cutting boards

OK first -- you know you shouldn't be using your butcher block for preparing or carving meat, right? Right.

Still, even if you only use it for prepping fruits, nuts, veggies, herbs & the like, you've got to keep it clean. My fast & fresh-smelling solution is to cover the surface of the block in kosher salt (the only salt I cook with), then rub it in with a half of a lemon. I squeeze the juice in as I go so it doesn't get too dry. The salt acts as an abrasive and the lemon cleans & freshens the wood. Rinse with clean water & let air dry.

Furniture polish

FULL DISCLOSURE: I haven't tried this yet. But I think I will, one of these days!

To a spray bottle add:

  • 1 cup olive oil (cheap is fine)
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Spray a small amount on any wood surface then wipe til dry. I would be very careful not to be heavy-handed with this, as too much oil would get sticky and dirty very quickly. Still, might be worth a try on one inconspicuous piece to see if it works!

And hey, if you don't like it, you're all set to mix up a vinaigrette for dinner, right?

Laundry soap

Just mixed this up tonight & can't wait to try it! [This recipe is taken nearly word-for-word from Amanda Soule's website,]

  • 2 cups of finely grated castile soap
  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • 1 cup of washing soda (also called soda ash -- we found it with the pool cleaning supplies at Lowes!)
  • 1 cup of Borax

Mix it together & pour into a container that you can seal tightly. Add 2 tablespoons to your laundry; depending on your water you may need more/less, so do some experimenting til it's just right for you. This won't get real sudsy, which is especially helpful if you have a front-loading washer.

For the love of it all, what more could she possibly have to say??

There are some great resources out there if you, like me, have been bitten by the green/penny-pinching living bug. Here are a couple you might look into:

Do It Gorgeously by Sophie Uliano. You can check out her website, too:

Clean House Clean Planet by Karen Logan. I've not picked this one up yet, but my friend Hanne recommends it and she wouldn't steer me wrong!

The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan. No, this isn't about green cleaning, but it's a crazy resource if you're into home growing/self-sufficiency. by Amanda Soule. Amanda's website is not dedicated to green/economical how-tos, but she's had more than one post about just those very things (like the laundry soap above). An absolute must if you're into knitting/sewing, too!

Artisinal Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Alright, I've gotten completely off-track -- but only sort of, because fresh homemade bread is not only delicious, it's much less expensive than store-bought and you know exactly what's in it!

If you have any favorite books, tips, or websites I would LOVE it if you shared them in the comments section.

*If you don't already, I highly recommend that you start saving glass jars as you empty them -- pickle jars, mayonaisse jars, jarred fruits, jams & jellies, etc. Run them & the lids through the dishwasher and you've got free, environmentally friendly, reuasable/recyclable storage containers. I use them ALL THE TIME, for making & storing salad dressings, dispensing bulk items into smaller containers, storing left overs, mixing slurries, collecting spare change, saving buttons, mixing up cleaners... everything. In a pinch, I've even been known to throw my morning coffee in there when I haven't had a clean thermos available.

I remember when I was a kid my Aunt Lynne (hi, Aunt Lynne!) was the most far-out hippie chick I knew (love you, Aunt Lynne!) and I would always see her with jar after jar of sprouts and nuts and boiled eggs and God-knows-what-else. Probably carob, because I hated that carob, but she always seemed to have it. I always thought she was crazy with all the jars (still love you, Auntie Lynne!) but now I totally get it.

But I don't miss the carob. Not at all.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

You know, like bats

An actual conversation we had in the car on Friday night:

Sara: "Nanci, do you like witches?"
Nanci: Well Sara, I don't think I know any witches.
Sara: "Oh."
Nanci: When do you see witches?
Sara: At night. You know, they're nocturnal. Like bats.
[Long pause, while we process this newfound vocabulary]
Nanci: Sara, what does nocturnal mean?
Sara: You know, nocturnal - they sleep all day and play all night!

I have no idea.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Growing people -or- The pay ain't great, but the job security? Rocks.

I don't know how she does it every night, but every night it's exactly the same: Sara battles the inevitability of sleep in a tangle of blankets and sheets, surrounded by an army of stuffed animals and hunkered down in a bunker of pillows. I'm uncomfortable just looking at her, but it seems to take a particular mix of quilted and down-filled chaos to get her settled in for the night.

And when she is settled (finally), I watch her give in. Her breaths get deeper, her mouth relaxes, her eyelids fight their own weight until they just can't outrun the fatigue. Whether it's her body or her mind, this is a girl in constant motion. Even to that last surrendering sigh her brain is processing, processing... Often times the last thing I hear from her is some seemingly random question or comment, coming to me completely out of context. But I've learned that she's just taking inventory of her day, tying up the loose ends and making sure she's put everything in order -- at least until tomorrow.

I love watching Sara sleep because it's the only time during the day when she is really, truly, still. It's the time when I can still whisper to her how much she is loved without her wriggling away, or give her kisses with her wiping her cheek complaining that I got her face wet. (Honestly, I'm not that sloppy. Really.) I usually look at her every night and wonder happened, how that tiny little thing I used to rock to sleep grew -- overnight, I am convinced -- into this... person. I mean an honest to goodness person.

How the heck did this happen? And did anyone ask me if this was OK?

Of course, it is OK. I mean that's what parents do, we grow people. If Sara wasn't turning into this fabulous, ulcer-inducing little person then I'd have really blown it, despite the fact that I'm not all that thrilled with how quickly we seem to be moving. It just goes by so fast, you know? My mothering of a baby is behind me, and I didn't even know those days were gone until suddenly I had a kid.

(A really freaking awesome kid, FYI.)

I think about the job of mothering from a couple of different perspectives now. Sara is only four and I can't believe how fast it's gone, and I worry that it will all fly by before I've been able to teach her everything she needs to know. I sometimes wonder what Mom thought about her own mothering, in those blessed moments of lucidity, when we all knew there wasn't much time life. Did she worry, too? Did she wish there was more time to teach us what we needed to know? Or do you ever really feel like you've finished the job?

That's the question I'd love to ask my grandmother, although I know I never will. She was 92 when she buried her first born, my father. And I wonder what she thought, whether at 92 she still felt like she was burying her baby, the little boy she grew into a man?

I can't imagine how it could feel any other way.

I once wrote a letter to Sara explaining how she would always be my baby. And that's still true. But now I find myself in the throes of really being a mother, of raising up a brave, strong, kind, independent (gulp), compassionate, beautiful girl. Today it's lessons on how to play nice when you don't make your favorite match in Memory; tomorrow it may be the calm reassurance she needs when her own daughter is lying scared in the emergency room, preparing for her first set of stitches.

So no, I guess I don't believe this job ever ends -- and I think that's pretty damn awesome. A lifetime of helping my favorite kid in the world be the best person she can be sounds like a pretty good gig to me.