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What I Learned from Moving

It's been quiet on this site for a while; the sort of gaping silence that TV shows highlight with chirping crickets.  It started with the usual end of semester rush of work, then there was a two month purge of unwanted belongings, followed by a remarkably smooth move into our very first house!  After a few years of looking each time it came close to the end of our lease, we finally found the right house at a price we could afford. 

And now that almost two months have passed I feel like I can take a deep breath and share a bit of what I learned from the experience.

  • Buying a house is ranked right up there with divorce and the death of a loved one in terms of the stress it causes.  I didn't make that up; a therapist friend told me.
  • Put a piece of painters tape on any cord that could possibly get separated from its machine, and write what it goes to.
  • If you're trying to get rid of items in a hurry, skip Craigslist and go straight to Freecycle (everything is free so people jump on it), or call a charity like the Epilepsy Foundation to have them pick the items up at your house.  Either way the items are kept out of landfills and making someone happy.
  • Getting boxes is so much easier today than it was 10 years ago.  No more doing the rounds of toy and liquor stores.  Boxes are almost always available on Craigslist, and Freecycle.com.  In addition if you buy boxes from U-Haul, they'll take back any that you don't use.  The boxes at Lowes are cheaper though I don't know if they have the same return policy.  We got incredibly lucky in that some friends offered us the boxes from their move, which we used, then passed on to other friends who were moving a few weeks after us.  Sometimes the universe just comes together.   Alex new kitchen 05312014
  • Keep the labeling on your boxes simple.  Write the room and then a couple key words to maintain your sanity when it comes time to unpack.  Our movers said that people do all sorts of number and color coding systems, but nothing helps them unload faster than just having the room name on the box.
  • The amount of time it takes to pack seems to increase as you get closer to the end.  A wise friend told me "At some point in packing you're going to get to the 'ah f**** it' stage and just not care any more."  She was right.

Misc boxes 05312014

  • The most useful tool while moving is a Swiss Army knife.  With that in your pocket you never have to look for a screwdriver while you're packing, or scissors to cut open boxes once you've arrived.  You may even want to take advantage of its bottle opener feature.
  • As soon as the boxes are off the truck, send someone to the store to get those few food essentials that help you feel all is right in the world.  In our house that means bread, peanut butter, milk, cereal, Diet Coke and Mountain Dew.  Wow, that does not paint a flattering picture of our eating habits. 
  • When moving to an unfamiliar town, it's worth calling the Town Hall to see if they have maps available. 
  • All empty houses do not sound the same.  The echo of a place you're moving into is cold and industrial.  It sounds like a solid block of ice, daring you to try to make this place a home.  But, the echo of a place you're leaving is music, something a little bitter sweet but with a rhythm that makes you want to dance.  Because when a place is finally empty enough to echo - the endless packing is over!
New hall 05312014
1st morning in the new house

Yankee Thrift Bread

I thought about calling this post "Refrigerator Bread" because the recipe is  great for using up fruit that has outstayed it's welcome, but the more I thought about it, the less appealing that name sounded.  "Ice box" sounds homey and fresh.  "Refrigerator" conjures up a big humming machine which has an open box of baking soda in it for a reason. 

Refrigerator bread cut 033014

Therefore, let me introduce Yankee Thrift Bread.  The center is moist, rich with cinnamon and chock-a-block with baked fruit.  The crust is slightly sweet and crunchy.  And best of all the recipe is easy (one bowl, no mixer needed) and incredibly forgiving.  How forgiving?  The recipe started out as zucchini bread (from simplyrecipes.com) and was very good.  The next time I made it I didn't have enough zucchini, so it became summer squash bread (mixing green and yellow).  No one noticed the difference. 

For several years I've made it as zucchini carrot bread.  This version I always associate with camping trip breakfasts and early morning walks.  The bread freezes well, which is great for that stretch in August where the world becomes overrun by zucchini.   I did try zucchini, carrot and parsnips in one batch, thinking if one root vegetable works, another should too.  Not quite.  That batch was eaten, though I think it was by the squirrels. 

So it's not that surprising that today when I realized I had an overripe pear, a bruised apple and dried figs from 2013 in my fridge, I considered throwing them in the compost bin, then thought better of it.  What would be better on a gray, rainy day than cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and fruit?

Foggy fence tree 022214

Yankee Thrift Bread

Ingredients

2 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup sugar - The recipe started out as 1 1/3 cups of sugar.  I keep reducing the sugar each time I make it.

2 tsp vanilla

3-4 cups fruit or veggies - For a smoother texture grate them.  Dicing also works, though it makes the bread more likely to crumble.  Whether to peal or not is a personal preference.

1/3 cup (or 6 tbs) melted butter

1/3 cup (or 6 tbs) apple sauce - If you don't have apple sauce on hand, you can double the amount of melted butter. 

2 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

3 cups all purpose flour - if you use a heavier flour you'll need to add more moisture

1/2 tsp nutmeg

2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup nuts (optional)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C).
  • Grease two 5 x 9 inch loaf pans.  A smaller size will also work, but the timing will need to be adjusted. 
  • In a large bowl mix eggs, sugar, vanilla.
  • Mix in the fruit/veggies, butter, apple sauce. 
  • Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the mixture.
  • One cup at a time, add the flour and stir.  If you do it all at once it will be very hard to incorporate.  This is a thick, sticky dough. 
  • Mix in the cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts (if using).
  • Divide the batter between the two pans.
  • Bake for 45 minutes to an hour.  I find the zuchini version takes longer to cook.  You'll know they're done when the tops are golden and a fork stuck into the center comes out clean. 
  • Cool in pans for 10 minutes.

Refrigerator bread 033014

 


Never Too Late to Relearn

I'll be turning 39 in a week and there are certain things I thought that I knew by now.  In fact, if asked about them I would have laughed then looked around for the hidden camera.  Of course, since I used the past tense "thought I knew", you know what's coming, right?

First - How old am I?  Oooh yes.  I got this one wrong twice in the last week.  And both times I said I was older than I am.  I have no explanation other than last year about this time I thought I was turning 40, which I wasn't that year either.  On the up side, by the time I am turning 40 it will feel old hat.

Second - How to make paper snowflakes.  I told you these were things that I thought I had down pat.  I did know the basics; you fold a piece of paper then make cuts along the folds.  What I didn't remember (or maybe never knew) is that you get more recognizably snowflake shapes if you fold the paper a particular way.  If you are now doubting your own paper snowflake making skills, I recommend the tutorial at HighHopes.com 

Third - How to tie shoes.  OK,  I'm oversimplifying a bit.  I was looking through the TED talks website and found a really short talk on how to tie shoes.  I thought it must be a joke, but the speaker actually had a minor change to the bow making process that made it slip proof.  This is especially helpful for shoes with round laces.  My walking boots (which I've switched to since the weather dipped below freezing) have round laces and used to drive me a bit crazy since it took knots on top of the bow to hold them tight.  I would be exaggerating if I said this new bow technique has changed my life, but it does make me smile each time I use it. 

  

Now to go learn something I know I don't know, like how to make english muffins from scratch.


Easy Last Minute Halloween Ghosts

 

 

Whether Hurricane Sandy decided your Halloween decorations would look better in someone else's yard, or the holiday snuck up on you, it's not too late to get in the spirit.  

I've made these ghosts three years in a row now, each time trying new tweaks (no, arm like protuberances are not an improvement) and learning from them.  No, these ghosts will not make the neighborhood kids shriek in fear, but I love how each one ends up with an individual personality and the way they sway when the wind blows.  The more you make, the better the effect.

Materials:

  • roughly a yard of fabric per ghost.  Muslin is really cheap (a little over a dollar per yard) and works well.  Old sheets would be classic, but I never seem to own white sheets.  Blue ghost anyone?
  • Yarn or string
  • Big needle - yarn or darning needles are ideal
  • Waterproof markers such as Sharpies
  • Styrofoam ball for each ghost - 6" diameter or larger works best.  These can be found at craft stores.  You could also use a plastic, rounded container like a large yogurt container, gallon milk jug or soda bottle.  It needs to be something that will give the ghost shape and is easy to pierce with a needle.

What to do:

  • Thread the needle with about an arm's length of yarn. 
  • Poke the needle through the styrofoam ball.  The trick here is to get it as deep into the ball as possible (so the ball doesn't just rip when weight is placed on the yarn), but still be able to push the needle through the ball without it getting stuck.  I have occasionally gotten a needle stuck and been able to shove it out the other side with a chop stick or other thin device. Ghost attaching the head
  • Tie the end of the yarn that went through the ball, to the big long tail.  Head tied

  • Now for the fun part.  Fold the yard of fabric in half so it is roughly a triangle.  Nothing needs to be precise here, these are ghosts afterall. 
  • Find the center of the fold.  This is going to be the top of the ghost's head.  Move down a couple inches.  This is where you want to place the eyes.  If you do use Sharpies, let me warn you that the purple and maroon will run when they come in contact with rain, no matter what the package may say. Ghost draw face

  • Make the face big and have some fun with it.  I've gone with the classic black holes for eyes and mouth look.  I've also made faces that look like candy (candy corn teeth and lollipop eyes).  The kids I've done this with have colored big orange pumpkin heads on their ghosts, have written spooky messages and have made some of the funniest faces you can imagine.  This can even be done with toddlers, as long as you keep on eye on what they decide to color with their Sharpie.  It's the making that matters.
  • When the masterpiece is complete, one again attatch the needle to the thread hanging from the styrofoam head.  Put the head inside the fabric and poke the needle through.  Remove the needle and tie the ghost to a tree.   Ghost final product

 

 

When Halloween is just a fun memory, the fabric can be ripped up for rags or added to your compost.  The styrofoam balls can be reused year after year. 


DIY Mailbox - Tutorial

I wanted a red mailbox.  Someday I want to live in a red house with white trim (like the classic Swedish country home). Red makes me happy. Deciding what to do on the red to make it unique and maybe even say a little about me, that took more time. 

I didn't want to buy a lot of supplies for this little project, which quickly lead to the decision to use spray paint.  That way there was no paint thinner to buy (and then figure out how to dispose of), no brushes to purchase, no temptation to buy lots of colors and then potentially worry about if I had the painting skills to make my ideas happen.

In the end I decided I would make my mailbox into a quilt block - wonderfully geometric and an example of one of my hobbies.

Supplies:

Painters tape

Flexible Ruler

Scissors

Outdoor gloss spray paint: Main color, Secondary Color and Flag color.  You won't need much paint (especially for the flag) so you may be able to use leftovers from other projects.

Drop cloth/cut open trash bag - to protect the ground

Steps:

  1. If the mailbox has been in use, wash it with your choice of cleaners.  This may take some work if there's pitch or other resistant dirt.  Rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer is often effective in loosening pine pitch.  I also had to remove some paper that had been decopaged on to my mailbox by a previous DIY mailbox decorator. 
  2. Open the mailbox and slide out the pin that holds the flag on.  Place the three pieces (pin, flag and circular base for the flag) somewhere safe.
  3. Spread out your ground covering, make sure there's no breeze (I learned the importance of this the hard way) and spray the entire exterior  of the mailbox in your secondary color.  Allow to dry according to the directions on the spray paint.  I admit I didn't do this step so my secondary color is the mailbox's original, slightly faded black.  It worked, but the color looks a bit dull compared to the fresh primary color.
  4. Using the painter's tape, make a design.  There are many (more exact) ways to do this than what I did, but I know myself.  If I started trying to measure exact angles and the like, I would have given up in frustration and never completed the project.  Instead I opted to use the lines of the mailbox as my guide.  IMG_4573
    On my mailbox there was a rectangle embossed across the top and sides.  I followed the lines of that rectangle with my tape to get started, then used those lines as a point of reference for any lines I added.  IMG_4575
  5. Feel free to experiment.  Drawing with tape is very forgiving.  I found having a flexible ruler was helpful in making my design reasonably symmetrical.     IMG_4576

  6. No matter what design you make, there are a couple things to keep in mind. 1) make sure your tape ends overlap other pieces of tape.  This will create a clean, square end and guard against any primary color finding a way under the tape.  IMG_4574
    2). When you're done taping, take the time to rub all the pieces of tape, to ensure the edges stick to the mailbox completely.  Otherwise you can get some bleed through.
  7. When you're satisfied with your design, spray the entire box in the primary color and allow to dry.  Now is a good time to paint your flag too, if you want to.
  8. When the paint is dry (really dry, not just tacky) start removing the tape.  If you liked peeling dried glue off your hands as a child, you're going to love this. IMG_4581
  9. Reassemble the flag.  Sit back and enjoy what you've created.

  IMG_4583