Thursday, January 15, 2009

Back at it!

I'm almost done with a sock! I've been working on a lovely yellow Reversi sock in Louet Gems sock yarn:


(Yes, I took that pic with my iPhone and then used the 1974 filter in Camera Bag.)

I love knitting. I have taken so long off that I'm not anywhere near what I used to be - can't knit for hours at a time - but what I'm doing, I love. :) Happy Thursday!

Monday, January 12, 2009


In response to PETA's latest publicity stunt (calling fish "sea-kittens" in the hopes it will make people stop eating them), Grady and Fee request that you now refer to them as The Land Fish.

Friday, January 09, 2009

An Asthmatic's Guide to Natural Oven Cleaning, and No, It Didn't Take All Night

We've done the carpet, darlings, and I've shared a bit of my wisdom for natural cleaning. Now it's time to move on to the hard stuff. If you have a self-cleaning oven, this post isn't for you.

I admit to you that before tonight, I've never cleaned the oven in this apartment. I've lived here for 8 1/2 years. I cleaned the oven at the last apartment I lived in using Easy-Off or some other foul cleaner. And honestly? Don't do it. Don't use those chemicals. They're vile and they stink and you'll get light-headed and sick from them even if you don't have asthma. And as I found out then, I'd rather have a dirty oven for 8 years than brave a chemical oven cleaner again. My lungs just plain can't take it.

So tonight, newly inspired by Kim & Aggie, I decided to look online for a natural oven-cleaning method. I went to a couple sites and some form of baking soda and vinegar was indicated. I made this up as I went keeping in mind what I know works for cleaning. Here's what I did; it got the oven relatively clean. It didn't get off some kind of burnt-into-the-enamel stain that probably got there the first time I cooked. Five solid minutes of scratching with steel wool didn't even mark it. But overall, it did an awfully darn good job of cleaning it up.

Time: about 20 min.

You'll need: a broom and dustpan, white vinegar, baking soda, dish washing liquid, tinfoil, a plastic dish for mixing, a tablespoon measure, a nylon scrubber, and steel wool (if you're so inclined). And some paper towels.


To begin, slide out your oven drawer and put it away from where you'll be working. You might want to put a flattened trash bag or newspapers underneath the door so that if crumbs fall out, they won't get in the drawer or on the floor. Get the pets and kids out of the room just for safety's sake - it is an electric appliance, after all, and stoves are very top-heavy. Make sure the thing is off, cool, and unplug it if you can (once the drawer is out it's not actually very heavy to move a stove). Otherwise work very carefully.

Next, you're going to need to clear out all the bits of burnt food that are hibernating in the bottom. (There was a black - no exaggeration - black tortilla chip in the bottom of my oven!) Fold a big piece of tinfoil in half and crumple it in a ball. Use it to scratch away at all the burnt food, which will shred up nicely. Sweep it into the dustpan with the broom. Your oven will look more or less like this:


Now, measure out 7 T of baking soda and three drops of dish liquid into your container:

add the vinegar

And add 3 or 4 T of vinegar. You're looking to make a paste, so add accordingly.

This mixture will foam at first - baking soda and vinegar is the original scrubbing bubbles duo. That's just carbon dioxide gas being released, and won't hurt you or your lungs.

Stir into a fairly goopy paste, and then smear it on the bottom of the oven (you can also do the sides and back but I didn't need to):


Take your nylon scrubber or another ball of tinfoil and go to work. You're looking to scratch up any burnt-on food, and you'll be able to easily tell when you've hit enamel. Don't be afraid to scrub. The enamel can take it. Keep your knees bent and the small of your back straight while you do this.

Next, I dribbled a bit more vinegar onto the mix wherever it was too dry and pasty, and kept scrubbing. This is where you start to see a vile brown liquid full of stuff that was once coating your oven. Ick!


(The crumbs on the bottom of the door came off the tinfoil, which is why I decided to add more vinegar.)

Use paper towels to wipe up the mess and check yourself - is it still dirty? Keep working with the foil or scrubber, or switch to steel wool.

Then you'll use wet paper towels to get all the residue up. It will take a few swipes, but just keep going. And pretty soon, your oven will look like this:


Which is not half bad for no chemicals, at all! I'm very pleased with it.

Now, honestly: If your husband wants to get you a self-cleaning oven sometime for your birthday, anniversary, or Valentine's Day, TAKE IT. TAKE IT AND DO NOT COMPLAIN. Think of all the years you'll save 20 minutes of elbow-grease. Think of being an old lady and trying to stoop and scrub. Think of how much time your beloved will save you from working.

And take the dang thing. It *is* romantic - flowers die, but a good oven will last 20 years. 20 years of no oven-cleaning. That is my idea of romance. :o) it.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

10 Ways to Winterize Your Life

This is a post I've been meaning to do for quite some time - we all know that everybody looks different in summer and winter, and summer beauty/makeup/fashion is usually a lot more effortless than winter. (Personally, I much, much prefer fall and winter in nearly every way.) Most people also feel different in winter than summer. So how do you winterize your life?

I'll begin with some ground rules, for anyone not already familiar with my sensibilities. The first is to put your expectations in keeping with the real world. Photos lie. Professional stylists and makeup artists are paid $75-$125 an hour here in Nashville to handle a person's clothing and makeup. During the typical album cover photo shoot, you will have at the very minimum a makeup and hair person, a stylist, an art director, a photographer, several assistants, a hospitality manager, and various other people. Every single one of them is skilled - highly skilled, as in chosen profession - of making Faith or Brad or whoever look like the recognizable celebrity you know (it's harder than you think) and creating absolute perfection in an image.

Photos are fantasy. Get that out of the way. Chances are you will never be able to achieve that level of fantasy yourself. Chances are also good that no matter how thin you are you will never even begin to approach the way a fashion model is built. So leave that behind. We are going to make the best YOU we can make - not make you into a fantasy.

Your house has to be lived in, and won't be showroom-perfect or even immaculate most of the time. But you can freshen it up, even when it's cold, snowy and miserable outside.

So without further ado...

1. Winterize your body by winterizing your diet. This is a no-brainer you hear all the time, but it's true - you need fresh fruit and veg, fiber, nuts, unprocessed food and water to be healthy. These foods do the job of getting crud out of your system and repairing cell damage. Look for brightly colored fresh food. Winter or summer veg are fine, just be in the habit of eating them every day. It will show on your face and in your body. Don't neglect good fats, either - sunflower seeds, for example, contain essential fatty acids that help your body process bad fats. They will do more than you can imagine to make you feel healthy.

2. Winterize your skin. It's possible you may need a heavier moisturizer. Don't be afraid of moisturizer with oils, just don't use any kind of "moisture" on your skin that contains mineral oil. Mineral oil has a tendency to dry your skin out over the long term. My personal favorite is Hope In A Jar (Philosophy). It's a bit pricey but very nice, not too thick or clingy and contains lots of goodies for your skin. If you're more of a drugstore-product gal, it's worth the money to buy Oil of Olay. As far as I have been able to tell, their Regenerist line is one of the few skin care lines proven to do what it actually says. Don't waste your money on La Mer. Don't shower in super-hot water, either.

3. Winterize your hands. Hands are one of the first places winter weather begins to take its toll, and once they start cracking and bleeding it can be very hard to heal them. Make sure you have a good hand cream on hand (ha ha) - I like Neutrogena's Hand Cream and Aveda Hand Repair - both stay on through repeated washings. Next, you'll need liquid soap, about a half cup of table sugar, and some olive oil. Suds up your hands with the soap and scoop up a big handful of sugar. Wash your hands normally - not too hard. The mixture will turn white. Rinse with warm water. Your hands will feel very smooth. If they're exceedingly dry, a few drops of olive oil worked in will do wonders. If not, use the lotion, and reapply it anytime throughout the day that your hands feel dry. Knitters, now is the time to pull out some lanolin-rich wool and work the lanolin into your hands...they will thank you. I would do the sugar scrub no more than twice a week.

4. Winterize your hair. The best advice I can give you in this department is do not wash your hair every day. (In fact, I'd only ever advise washing your hair every day if it's summer and you're outside exercising hard.) Every other day is absolutely fine for most people. If you're scared of looking or smelling manky, fill a spray bottle with five ounces of water, a tablespoon of witch hazel, and about 15 drops of lavender essential oil. (Or use Bumble & Bumble Prep.) Tip your head over and spray the underside of your hair. Stand back up and do the top. Now DO NOTHING for the next twenty minutes. Don't brush it - it will kill your existing style. Once it's dry, you can restyle your hair. You can wet your hair down and restyle - no shampoo. Just don't use the old high-school baby powder trick. Do you really want your hair smelling like a baby's bum? I didn't think so.

5. Winterize your hair colour. Last summer you loved your colour - now it's January and you're feeling washed out. This is all down to what's called contrast level. Your hair is one colour, and your skin is another. The difference between the tones in your hair and skin is the contrast level. Dark hair and pale skin = high contrast. Blonde hair and golden skin = low contrast. Chances are, your contrast level changed because your skin lightened up a little. You might feel the urge to make your hair lighter to compensate - but don't! You should actually go a shade or two darker. Increasing your contrast level will help you look better in your winter clothes - usually neutral - and will help you handle the darker makeup you're wearing. You can darken your lipstick and play a bit more with dramatic eye colour in winter. Generally speaking, highlights in the wintertime aren't a good idea. First, you'll indicate to everyone around you that your hair is dyed. Second, most people don't need a light-boosting lift in the winter. That's a summertime trick. If you don't colour your hair, now might be a good time to experiment with henna. It's messy and you have to do it right, but it can be a lot of fun. Check out Les Cacas over at Blondes might want to go a little blonder in winter - bringing their skin and hair colour closer together. If you are a porcelain girl - blond hair and the palest white skin, like a certain actress named Nicole - then you might carefully go from blond to gold or blond to strawberry blond. But if you go up too much it will be horrid. Be careful.

6. Winterize your...eyes. Ladies, wear your sunglasses in winter. It isn't just the risk of going snow-blind (a sunburn on your retinas caused by sunlight on reflected snow). UV damage to your eyes in winter can be just as bad as in the summer. Also, you don't need to squint. It won't help your look or your skin care regimen.

7. Winterize your makeup. It's a good idea to have your foundation tested to find your shade. I also seem to always change concealer shade in the winter. Look for a yellow-based foundation (yes, even you Asian girls! Pink skin never helped ANYBODY). If you are doing your own test, buy or test the two or three colors you think will work best on you. Using your finger, apply a strip of it vertically to the side of your face. Blend. The one that disappears WHEN YOU ARE IN DAYLIGHT is your colour. Do not test makeup under fluorescent, halogen, or other artificial light. If it looks good in daylight, it will not fail you under any other light. Keep your makeup more on the classic side in the winter. And use some type of bronzer - not a ton, just a bit - whether it's Warmth or a Shimmer Brick compact or even the great, great bronzers Sonia Kashuk has. It will really keep your look going. Darkening your hair will keep you from having to change makeup colours.

8. Winterize your wardrobe. I don't even really need to say much about this. Do try on unexpected colours. I never thought a gray wool coat would work on me, so a couple of years ago I got a really nice camel one. This year, I tried on and bought gray. It's amazing how much better it looks on me than the camel.

9. Winterize your exercise plan. I'm an outdoor girl - I don't like gyms and I'm happiest when sweating outside. But with a 17-degree wind chill, I'm just not going to go do the actual work. So I have some indoor tapes (a Kathy Smith indoor walking DVD) and an Indo Board balance trainer. And I can go to the workout room at my apartment complex. Not saying you have to join a gym or buy your own machines - just have a backup plan. The trick is to plan. Exercise is good for you on so many levels and it's the easiest way there is to take really good care of yourself physically. Just go for a walk. And having a cold is no excuse - recent research says that exercising during a cold does not prolong your cold or make you feel worse.

10. Winterize your household routines. I know - this one is kind of dumb. But it seems like every winter I am taking apart the oven to clean it, scrubbing behind doors I haven't thought of in months, and that my apartment is perpetually dirty. Watch Kim & Aggie on the BBC for some great cleaning tips. Buy a box of baking soda, a bottle of witch hazel, corn starch, some non-concentrated, natural dish soap, a box of Tide, a bottle of bleach, and a gallon of white vinegar. You can clean everything in your house including the toilet with these. (How did Granny get the house sparkling with no Scrubbing Bubbles? There's your hint.) All this stuff is dirt cheap and with the exception of the Tide and bleach, it's all-natural. Storing messy chemicals under your sink isn't good for breathing. Mix baking soda and vinegar for a sink-scrubbing foamy cleaner. Use baking soda where you'd use scouring powder. Put vinegar in your dishwater to make your sink and stainless shine. Mix up a dab of cornstarch in hot water, spray down the windows and mirrors, rub with a cloth and polish. You'll never buy windex again. And - the horror - get a dedicated sponge for cleaning the toilet. Put in a bit of Tide, a glug of bleach, and let it sit. Then scrub your toilet. No need to bother with cruddy toilet brushes. Flush it all down and you'll be amazed at how clean your potty is. Then use Tide and water to scrub the outside. Use rubber gloves.

Witch hazel cuts grease; cornstarch absorbs it; baking soda freshens and acts as natural scouring powder; dish soap is good for everything, from washing the sink to cleaning out the litter box; and vinegar or lemon juice works to cut the greasiest grease. You really don't need to spend money on cleaners. The one exception I'd make is countertop wipes. They are quick and easy, and they do the trick.

There's my monster article - hope you like! Happy winter!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Pony

My aunt Ester had big blond hair and bright blue eyes and a gap in her teeth. She laughed all the time. She was Norwegian, my grandma's sister, and she and her husband had A SHEEP FARM right under my nose in Hart, MI. (She died last year at 95 and I am positive she was laughing and twinkling when she went.) At Aunt Ester's farm they had a pony. WHICH THEY LET ME RIDE.

Did it make me happy? YOU BETCHA!


Mom's looking quite smart, isn't she?


Saturday, January 03, 2009

Dear AnnLanders,

Please advise me at what point I need to go to Dyson Users Anonymous. I've vacuumed three times in four days and feel I might be losing control.

Embarrassed in Nashville