Thursday, February 21, 2013

Inspiration from Ira Glass

Sometimes I'm discouraged that I'll never be able to produce anything as spectacular what I envision in my head. Do you ever feel that way? It's so easy to compare ourselves to others who appear to be more successful or more talented, or who have better homes. I read other blogs and scan images on Pinterest to be inspired, but occasionally I end up feeling "not good enough" instead.

I came across this quote by American public radio personality Ira Glass today, and it seemed to pertinent to my mental struggles that I thought you might like to read it too.

I guess I'm still in that gap, the phase where I need to get projects completed in order to work through my creative evolution. Thank you, Ira Glass, for letting me know that eventually "[my] work will be as good as [my] ambitions." I'll keep fighting my way through!

How do you fight through those restless thoughts?


Saturday, February 16, 2013

The natural, easy way to turn your shower head from ick to slick

Have you ever realized just how disgusting something in your house is ... just as company has arrived?

My teenage son is responsible for cleaning his own bathroom. There have been times we've had to school him on exactly what "clean" means, and how to achieve it. But usually I'm noticing the shower walls, floor, and shower curtain. Or the bases of the sink faucet or handles. Or the mirror with all the toothpaste flecks.

But last week, just as an old college friend was coming in town, I noticed the shower head in our son's bathroom. This is the same shower our overnight guest would be using. It looked like this:

Eew. Ick. Yuck. If it's been cleaned in the five years we've lived here, it's been a looong while. I'm pretty sure our son has no idea it should be part of his cleaning routine.

Luckily our overnight guest is a guy's guy, and he may not have even noticed or cared that his shower water was coming out of something not so shower-fresh. However, for my own peace of mind, I had to remedy the situation as soon as possible.

I'm sure you're like me, and would rather not spend your money on expensive cleaning products that are full of nasty chemicals, and don't even work all that well. And who wants to ruin her manicure with excessive scrubbing? (Ha! As if I had a manicure. But maybe you do. I don't want those gorgeous nails to be ruined.)

Enter the miracle product. One so powerful, yet so economical and natural.

Yep, here's all you need:

  • White vinegar (1/3 cup or more, depending on the size of your shower head)
  • Baggie or bag with no holes (double bag if you're unsure)
  • Rubber band, tape, long twist tie, or string

Your contraption will look like this while it's working:

To figure out how much vinegar you need, do a dry run with your bag. Hold it over your shower head and twist it closed. Visualize how much vinegar you'll need to cover the front of the shower head entirely. 

Here's how to rig up your contraption:
  1. Pour the appropriate amount of vinegar into a glass measuring cup. Heat up the vinegar in the microwave until it's hot, but not boiling
  2. Take all your supplies, including the heated vinegar into the bathroom.
  3. Pour the vinegar into the bag.
  4. Carefully hoist the bag up and over your shower head.
  5. Twist the bag closed to keep the warmth inside (make sure the vinegar completely covers the dirty part of the shower head) .
  6. Tie the bag off securely.
  7. Let it sit for several hours (mine was about 8 hours but that may have been excessive).

When I pulled the bag off later, most of the grime was floating in the bag. All it took to remove the rest was a damp cloth. The gunk slid right off.

To give my brushed stainless steel shower head a nice polish, I gave it a quick wipe with some dust spray. That step is not necessary, but now it's all shiny and new-looking!

Wow, that was a lengthy commentary for such a simple process. It really is quick and easy. Unlike reading this blog post. Now go forth and clean your icky shower heads.

What are your favorite easy, natural cleaning methods? I'm trying to start using more natural products for cleaning. It's amazing what some of the simplest products we have in our pantry can do!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

If you were like me in elementary school, you over-analyzed the meaning of the Valentine cards you received from certain people. Is this his sly way of telling me he really likes me? Since Valentine packages usually have an assortment of messages, I was careful which message I gave to whom, and I wondered if there was any special meaning in the messages I received. Yes, I've always been neurotic.

On this Valentine's Day, I have two messages that I picked out especially for you, my readers. Thanks for hanging out here with me, and for sharing the love!

A special Darwinian Valentine

A sentiment of love for my fellow Downton Abbey fans


Monday, February 11, 2013

Recipe: Chocolate ice cream cake roll with chocolate glaze

When I was young, my mom always let me pick out what type of birthday cake I wanted, and she made it from scratch. Every year I chose a chocolate ice cream cake with mint chocolate chip ice cream. Mmm ....

These days I carry on the tradition with my guys. The Mr. prefers carrot cake, but The Teen loves his ice cream cake. Unfortunately he's not into mint, so we use cookies and cream ice cream instead.

The chocolate cake rolled up with ice cream is tasty as-is, but what makes it decadent is the addition of a chocolate glaze. I'm drooling just thinking about it. Good thing I have some in my freezer right now!

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus extra to coat towel
1/4 tsp baking soda
4 eggs (yolks and whites divided)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 + 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups ice cream (any flavor)

Spray a 15x10x1-inch jelly roll pan with cooking spray, then line it with a sheet of wax paper, tucking the wax paper into the corners. Spray the wax paper with cooking spray, then dust with flour. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.

Combine flour, cocoa powder and baking soda; set aside.

In mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed for 5 minutes. Gradually add 1/3 cup sugar, beating on high speed until sugar is nearly dissolved.

Mixture will be a creamy yellow color

In a separate bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl). Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight).

Tips straight and stiff

Fold yolk mixture into beaten egg whites. Sprinkle flour mixture over egg mixture; fold in gently just until combined.

Mixture will be airy

Spread batter evenly into prepared jelly roll pan.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched near center. While cake is cooking, spread a thin towel out on the counter and sprinkle it thoroughly with cocoa powder. (The cocoa will keep the cake from sticking to the towel.) Once cake is baked, immediately turn it over onto the cocoa-covered towel.

 Peel the wax paper off. Starting from the short end of the cake, roll up the towel and cake tightly.

Cool on a rack. While the cake is cooling, set a piece of foil over the jelly roll pan.

Once the cake is cool, unroll cake. (The end you started with should have a roll to it.)

Spread cake with ice cream, almost to each edge. (You may have to let the ice cream melt just slightly so that it spreads, but work quickly so it doesn't melt too much.)

Quickly roll up the cake.

Transfer to the foil-lined jelly roll pan, seam side down. Immediately freeze until the ice cream is solid again.

2 oz. semisweet chocolate baking squares, chopped
1.5 Tbsp margarine or butter
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1.5 Tbsp hot water
Sprinkles (optional)

In a small saucepan, melt chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat; stir in powdered sugar and water. Stir in additional hot water, if needed, to create a drizzling consistency.

When ice cream is re-frozen, remove cake from freezer and drizzle glaze over cake, allowing excess to drip down sides. (You can use a small rubber spatula or spoon to help spread the glaze around.) Shake sprinkles on top, if desired.

Return to freezer until glaze has hardened. Once glaze is hardened and ice cream is re-frozen, the cake can be served. To make a better presentation, loosen cake from foil and transfer to serving platter. (This step is optional, but the glazing process is messy and the cake looks better if transferred to a clean dish.) You may need to let the cake warm up a few minutes at room temp before you can cut it into slices.

  • A stand mixer will make the cake batter process easier. I use my stand mixer for the egg yolk mixture, but I use my hand mixer for the egg whites mixture. This is partly because I don't have two stand mixer bowls, and partly because I like to have more control when working with the egg whites.
  • If you want to save a step, you can go ahead and freeze the cake roll on your serving platter rather than on the foil. I don't like the messiness of the pool of glaze (although I certainly do like the taste of it!).
  •  Once glaze has hardened, you can pipe icing on it if desired

Are you drooling yet? Let me know if you try this out!


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tinkering with our living room layout (part 2)

Thanks to everyone who voted on my living room layout options, and to those of you who made other suggestions. At your request, I have tried a couple more options.

Layout #4 uses just the larger part of our sectional, opposite our two chairs and side table in the same position they used to be. Then I set our new white bench on the end, across from the fireplace.

It's a very traditional layout, and I'm a fan. The bench doesn't quite fit on the rug (just barely the legs on one side), so that's making me feel a little uneasy, but maybe I'm overthinking it.

Visually, I think this layout is very appealing. We lived with it like this for several days, and we did miss three things about the full sectional. First, only one person could lie down to watch TV. Second, it was not as comfortable to sit together and watch TV, because both of our necks would be turned to the side. Not a huge deal, but just different than we're used to.

Layout #5 is just like our original layout, only we pulled the sectional out from the wall about 18 inches.

I know that pulling it out from the wall was supposed to help create more intimacy between each side of the room, and floating furniture often works. But in the case of the giant black blob, I think it just makes the sectional look more overpowering.

To review, here are all the layouts together:

(As you can see, my paint color photographs very differently depending on the time of day and the white balancing. And apparently I never edit it the same twice. Oops.)

Voting is open once again. Obviously things feel differently in person and our family will know what is most comfortable to us, but I am interested in your thoughts and any additional ideas! 


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