Love Actually and DIY Sugar Scrubs

Tonight, I had a date with two vital elements of life, Love Actually and a DIY Christmas craft, as I haven’t given up on my “homemade Christmas.” Unfortunately, I can never seem to work our seven different TV remotes when Nicholas is out of town, and so I settled for the Love Actually soundtrack on my iPad instead.

I wanted to make sugar scrubs, but didn’t want to have to run back out to the store, so I used a hodge-podge of household goods: sugar, salt, rosemary from the sidewalk, essential oils, limes, mandarins, olive oil and baby oil. The recipe is simple, and in the absence of one scent or ingredient, I just substituted what I had. (This way, I can convince myself that I made these for “free”).

Recipe: these are all approximations…you really can’t mess it up. 🙂
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10-ish drops of Essential oil
Rosemary, lime zest, or something for color/texture.

Mix the ingredients together, and it’s enough for two jelly jars.

Substitutions:
-I used olive oil until we got dangerously low and wanted to save some for Sunday gravy; then I subbed in baby oil. When I ran out of baby oil, I used mineral oil (we usually use it for hydrating our cutting boards, but ironically, it was the best sub. It keeps your mixture pure white, and doesn’t have the strong smell of olive oil or baby oil, and thus requires less essential oil. In the future, I’ll just buy and use regular mineral oil.)
-I wanted a citrus scent, but didn’t have lemons, so I used limes for zest and juiced it into the mixture. When I ran out of limes, I used clementines. (Good thing I stopped there…I think pineapple, the only other fruit in the house, would have been really funky.)

In spite of my jumbled ingredients, I ended up with an awesome product that was super easy, cheap, and as an added bonus, my hands are soft and smell all rosemary and citrusy, just from cleaning the excess off the jars.

I’m sure the folks on my Christmas list are hoping for fancy gift cards, but I’m giving a little “scrub-scrub” instead. 🙂

Happy holidays, y’all.

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An Ode To My Mason Jars

(Well, It’s not really an ode…just a blog.)

This past spring I made a few road trips from Atlanta to central Illinois, where my parents were cleaning out and preparing to sell the family farm. Regardless of whether it was just nostalgia, or a general need for certain items, I hauled full loads in my CX7 back to our townhouse, in hopes of preserving pieces of the farm in the city.

One of the many items I rescued was a serious stash of Mason/Kerr jars that were in my parents’ cellar or in the chicken house. Much to my dismay, my mom actually admitted that she had thrown a load away already, and terrified at the thought, I took as many as I could box up.

My sheer delight regarding my farm things hasn’t exactly been shared by my husband, who is under the delusion that I have inherited too many jars. Too many?? That’s impossible! The options are endless, but he doesn’t quite appreciate that, as he only sees the precarious stack of them on a garage shelf. I say I’m hoarding them because I use them for my homemade detergent, but the reality is, I have a hard time parting with them, even for a sale.

In perusing Pinterest the other day, I determined it was time to begin my fall decorating, and as I began changing the seasonal goods around our house, the ideas for my sacred jars began: candle holders, toothbrush holders, make-up organizers, vases, weight loss marble visual aids, and the list goes on.

I love to find a purpose for them, but I don’t mind just having a serious stash of them for the intended use—next summer when I have a neighborhood garden plot, I’ll can up any kind of fruit or veggie I can harvest from our red-clay soil. Until then, I love having them sprinkled throughout the house, and don’t mind that there’s still an un-used stash in the garage. I feel a bit of the simple, country life every time I dust one off and use it, and the older I get, the more inclined I am to cling to a few things from the past.

Disclaimer: I know this is a lot of pictures–that’s the point. 🙂

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Random Tips and Tricks: A Partial List

Today I was planning the menu for my sales meeting on Friday, and as I pondered ideas of possible soups, Paninis, flatbreads, and crostinis, I thought about my former colleagues who are probably already knee deep in essays to grade; it’s funny how quickly we can adjust to new things in life.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about little tips and tricks, (mostly for the kitchen, but a few others) that have become “normal” to me, although I didn’t learn most of them until I was an adult. While they may be fairly common, I wanted to share a few—just for giggles—in case anyone discovers a new tidbit here. (And I apologize in advance if these are too obvious, but I went at least 20+ years not knowing most of this list.)

The inspiration here began when a friend/salesperson for the company I work with met me at my house to grab food samples. I opened my freezer to snag appetizer bags, and she’s like, “Why do you have bags of Ziploc-ed Doritos in your freezer?” I always freeze my chips. They taste better, and never go stale. Plus, if they’re out of sight I don’t eat them in one sitting. But seriously, try some frozen Cheetos. They’ll blow your mind.

So here’s a few random tips and tricks that are common place in our home:

  1. Keep your chips in the freezer. Any and all of them—they don’t actually freeze. They just get super cold and are delicious.
  2. Dry your sheets (or any blankets) with a few tennis balls. It’ll make a bit of racket, but your goods won’t get as tangled up, and thus are less wrinkly.
  3. Add any type of fruit that you have in excess (or is about to go bad) to ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze. I pop them out, keep them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer and love to dress up water or cocktails with colorful cubes.
  4. Don’t crack eggs on the edges of bowls—that’s how I always ended up with shells in my cookies. Instead, gently crack them on the counter, or any flat surface—you’ll never have an egg shell escape in your food again.
  5. If you burn votive size candles in the glass holders, pop them in the freezer for an hour or two after they’ve burned out. The wax shrinks and pops right out so you don’t have to pry it out.
  6. Use an ice cream scoop to make perfectly round cookie-dough balls, put each scoop in a muffin tin, and freeze. Then Ziploc the dough balls and you can bake a few cookies at a time instead of the whole batch. (I make big batches of the kind we like, and I prefer a 10-minute bake for a fresh cookie versus keeping some pre-baked in the freezer.)
  7. When making any boxed-mix of muffins or bread, use apple or orange juice instead of water—your finished product is moist and flavorful, but people never say it tastes fruity–It’s more of an enhancer than a flavor profile change.
  8. Rub your skin with baby oil after your shower, then dry off. Your skin will stay super soft all day without the need for any lotion. (This is especially nice in the winter when the air is dryer.)
  9. Invest in a $3.99 bunch of wildflowers at Aldis. They last about 2-3 weeks and one bunch is enough to make 3-4 ball jars worth of flowers for the bathroom, table, etc. It’s a small price for the splash of happy it brings.
  10. I know by now I sound like a freezer nut, but keep your grapes frozen. Wash them, Ziploc them, and freeze them for a quick treat. They freeze part way, but are still soft enough to bite through, and there’s something about the sugar that intensifies when they’re frozen. It’s our favorite pool snack.

I know it’s silly, but picking up quirky tips from family and friends—mostly family—is one way I always feel connected. Nona (Nicholas’ mom) taught me about the eggs, my Aunt Jane always kept her chips frozen, and my mom loved her baby oil. I like to think we’re just a pretty montage of the most important people in our lives, and the tidbits and quirks that make them, and us, unique.

Gatsby? My Gatsby.

I didn’t teach The Great Gatsby this year– for the first time in 11 years of teaching. I have a somewhat bizarre obsession that began long before Leo and Jay-Z made it cool again.

I first taught the Gatsby the fall after I turned 22, when my one of my only serious relationships finally came to its last end. in a lot of ways, I still chased my own past while I struggled to teach a novel that I didn’t even enjoy in high school. I found its lessons on love, letting go, and reserving judgement profound, long before I became enamored by the glitz, glamour, pearls, and lace of all things flappers and Daisy Buchanan.

My first go at the Gatsby probably left my students with few memorable classroom lessons, as I think I was the one who learned most. In many ways, I grew up this last decade with Gatsby by my side– a trusty friend and teacher who reminded me that that a long summer ahead holds all kinds of promises and life will inevitably start over again in the fall. As a teacher, this has absolutely held true, every year for the last decade, as summer always provided renewed hope and fall meant another chance to be a better person, a wiser teacher, and correct the mistakes from the prior year.

Over the years, I’ve honed the lessons of Gatsby into ways to reach students and have learned how to make a classic applicable and even modern to teenagers. The last few years my classroom has turned into a full fledged 20s throwback, complete with a movie project and a full costume Gatsby luncheon on the last days of school in May.

Last May, I wrapped up my last full year of teaching in a style of which I’m sure Fitzgerald would have been proud. I began the day in white as Daisy Buchanan, and most of my students dressed up; the guys wore snazzy suits and the girls went all out with flapper dresses, pearls, floppy hats and feathered hair pieces. We drank school appropriate versions of Mint Juleps, ate finger sandwiches and watched the student remakes of Gatsby scenes. It was a fantastic final day of glitz, jazz, pearls and Gatsby charm. As the new movie released, we took our party to the theater in partial costume to witness the modern interpretation.

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Daisy Buchanan at our luncheon last May.

In the absence of a classroom to decorate this spring, I redecorated our guest bathroom in Fitzgerald’s honor. My two copies of the text with 10 years of annotations and insights made up the wall paper and I hung the 70s movie posters from my classroom. A few bits of homemade lace and old pearls helped to soften the space, and while I have yet to figure out how to hook up motion censored audio, I’m pretty content with my Fitzgerald tribute.

In spite of the fact that the past constantly does reshape my future, I also know that summer does stretch out ahead with new promises and life most certainly does start over each year; the lessons of Gatsby are inevitably accurate, even this year as the school year ends without me in it.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald

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East Atlanta, Pink Detergent, and Scott Antique Market

Pink pomegranate DIY detergent.

Pink pomegranate DIY detergent.

East Atlanta Foodie tour begins...

East Atlanta Foodie tour begins…

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East Atlanta Farmer's Market--just down the street!

East Atlanta Farmer’s Market–just down the street!

Dinner at Harper Station.

Dinner at Harper Station.

My favorite piece from Scott Antique Market--it will hold cook books and wine glasses!

My favorite piece from Scott Antique Market–it will hold cook books and wine glasses!

The thing about blogging is that even though I have no idea if anyone is reading, I feel this need to write often and feel as if life is slipping by too quickly when I fail to complete even a short post. Last week I had something I wanted to write about almost every day, and not doing so made me feel like I missed a week of vitamins and need to start tripling up on my calcium and fish oil. At any rate, here’s a week-in-review.

I made really fabulous laundry detergent the other day, trial washed a few loads and then decided I should make more. I got my recipe from http://www.diynatural.com/homemade-laundry-detergent-soap/ and love it because it is a perfect starter recipe. You only need three ingredients: a bar of your favorite soap, Arm and Hammer washing soda, and Borax. Everything is in the laundry aisle at your local grocery store, so it’s super easy to get what you need and get started. I grated a bar of Dove Pomegranate soap, and stirred in one cup of Borax and one cup of washing soda. That’s it! The only tedious part is grating the soap, but I’m going to try the food processor next time. The beautiful thing is that it smells great, cleans well, takes only one tablespoon per load and translates to about .03 cents a load. In the future, I might try to get fancier with a granule mixture that includes fabric softener beads, but for now? Success.

The majority of my week was spent in brain-melting academic sessions at the Atlanta International School, which was the site of my training in order to teach courses in the International Bachelorette program this fall. After full days of “let’s look at the interstices there that creates the enjambment” and trying to figure out acronyms that everyone else seems to know: the IO, the IOC, and the IOP, I literally felt like there was smoke coming out my ears. The remedy? A tour of East Atlanta’s downtown, about a mile from our townhouse. Nicholas and I spent an afternoon taking a foodie’s tour–we started at Tomatillos for a light queso snack and margarita on the patio before sampling Dollie’s ice cream and East Atlanta’s pizza. We walked the streets, admired the graffiti and read the local circular. We planned on one more stop–to Glenwood Neighborhood Pub, who supposedly serves Reuben egg rolls, but they were filming a movie and wouldn’t let us in. Leisurely kicking around the streets was a perfect way to regain perspective and appreciate our new space and community. We ended the day with a visit to the East Atlanta Farmer’s Market, which has similar venders as the one in Grant Park, but had cheaper produce and a more neighborly feel. I loved the sense of belonging in pointing and saying, “We just live down the street. We’ll be here every week.”

Friday night, we walked a portion of the Atlanta beltline for the first time; we were in route to dinner at Harper’s Station, a restaurant on my growing bucket list. Friends of ours just live down the street, and we met at their house, and followed the unpaved railroad tracks to the restaurant. The city is about to continue the paving of the beltline which is going to be really cool in the fall to walk and bike to restaurants and shopping. We sat outside and enjoyed a breezy evening of hilarious stories, great food and dear friends. I haven’t felt like I really fit in anywhere in a while, and it’s amazing and yet humbling to feel this sense of belonging–like coming home even when it’s someone else’s place.

In my quest to continue furnishing and decorating the house on a budget, I went to Scott Antique Market, which takes over an airplane hanger and the surrounding properties once a month in order to display a little junk, some shabby and lots of shabby chic. It really was an incredible experience, and because I couldn’t take in enough in yesterday’s three hours, I went back again this morning in order to bring home another round of gems. I spent the better part of this afternoon refinishing furniture instead of annotating Shakespeare’s Sonnets for a planning session tomorrow.

It was a great week, and I anticipate an even better one–in spite of a lengthy reading list to accomplish for school, the menu board is sporting some new ideas, I have a peach and strawberry “jam” session with a friend, plan to stir up my grandmother’s cinnamon bread, have a girl’s day out with two old friends and leave for Savannah for a belated birthday weekend. Somewhere in there, I’ll be sharing some of Poppi’s Italian recipes, starting with the famous marinara–I can’t wait to share a piece of our kitchen with you!