Monday, December 21, 2009

Elven Idea Factory #4 - From Around the House

Posting this one earlier than Weds for all you procrastinators :)

DIY Gifts, Kits, and Baskets you can make with stuff from around your house in less than an hour if you receive from a stranger, forgot to shop for a last minute party, or procrastinate without savings!

After a visit to the dollar store in late November, I've usually stocked up on little dishware sets, colored glass bottles and jars, candles, and other inexpensive items that can be used as last minute gifts for the holidays, hostesses at parties, and housewarmings. Then when I'm in a pinch, I'm able to throw together some stuff that's always around the house. While you may not have pre-planned like this, some of these things will be around your house, too, I bet!

  • Putt herbs and garlic in a small bottle, filling with olive oil and pairing with four olive dishes.
  • Fill small cello bags with herbs from the garden like peppermint, chamomile, and sage and pairing with a small tea set or just one tea cup.
  • Combine beads and wire to make wine-charms and pairing with 4 new $1 wine glasses.
  • Follow the recipe of favorite bread or cookie by placing dry ingredients in a jar, preferably something with a layered effect (flour with chocolate or herb layers), and pairing with a How-To label with wet ingredients that are needed, and the recipe's steps. Tie a bow around top of jar.
  • Glue corks you've saved to an old yet newly painted or decorated frame and pin 5" strips of decorated ribbon in diagonal patterns to make a photo pin-up board.
  • Melt down old candles in an old pan on the stove, pour into greased molds or old glasses or mugs, dangle strand of twine down center while cooling to make your own candles. Layer different colored waxes after previous one has cooled. Place glitter, leaves, or other decorations in mold or jar before pouring in wax for designs.
  • Homemade granola is great if you really need to dig through your cabinets- use cereal, chocolate chips, nuts... I take a handful from each bag in the baking cabinet and I'm good.
  • An easy one is affirmation cards, even better if you have an old antique box to put them in. Make about 30 cards that say things like Dream, Love, Believe.
Baskets: (I shop for used baskets at second-hand store frequently, and am "ok" with letting go of ones given to me so there are always options for baskets around here!)
  • Place in basket: candles of various size and color, jams or other homemade kitchen items, a recipe kit, books, frames, dried flowers, photos, magazines...
  • Decorate with ribbons around gifts and ribbon on basket, glitter and sequens, yarn or tissue.

If you still need more ideas, see my early posts on Regifting and Card Making

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a fabulous new year! See you in 2010- from Andy and the Elves.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Elven Idea Factory #3 - Bath n Body

Chocolate Lavender Bathtub Cookies
This year one of my new gifts is a chocolate bath cookie that my dear friend Heather at Aroma Pharmica posted last year, and was reposted on one of my BlogHer peers, Mom Most Traveled. Talk about making the bathtub a heaven on earth, this cookies are almost good enough to eat!

Chocolate Lavender Bathtub Cookies

  • 2 oz. Cocoa Butter
  • 2 oz. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 cup Oatmeal, FineYour browser may not support display of this image.
  • 1/4 cup Whole Milk Powder
  • 1/4 cup Hot Chocolate Mix
  • 3/4 cup Epsom Salt
  • 1 cup Cornstarch
  • 1 cup Baking Soda
  • 1/2 cup Citric Acid
  • 1 tsp. Lavender Essential Oil


    Warm the cocoa butter and olive oil in a hot water bath until completely melted. Remove the Cocoa Butter and Oil from the heat, allowing it to cool slightly, but not to harden. Next, line a small baking sheet with waxed paper and set it to the side. In a medium sized mixing bowl, combine the Oatmeal, Whole Milk Powder, Hot Chocolate Mix, Cornstarch, and Epsom Salt. Stir the ingredients well, making sure to break up any clumps in the powders. You may want to grind the oatmeal in a blender or food processor to achieve a fine consistency. In a second mixing bowl, combine the Baking Soda and Citric Acid. Again, make sure to work out any clumps in the mixture. Next, combine the two bowls of dry ingredients and mix well. Add the Lavender Essential Oil to the melted Cocoa Butter and Extra Virgin Olive Oil then pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients. Begin stirring and kneading the mixture immediately. You must work quickly at this point to get the cookies formed and placed onto the baking sheet. Using your hands, form tablespoon sized balls of the mixture. Place the balls onto the baking sheet then press them down gently, flattening the top. They should be similar in shape to a gingersnap or sugar cookie. Continue shaping cookies with the remaining mixture. Allow the cookies to harden for a full 24 hours before attempting to remove them from the baking sheet. After 24 hours the cookies should be hard enough to be handled and packaged.

Usage & Packaging

    Chocolate Lavender Bath Cookies should be stored in a tightly sealed bag or container. Moisture or humidity can cause the cookies to fizz or “flower” prematurely. These cookies look adorable in Cello Bags or 1/2 lb. Tin Tie Bags. To use the Cookies, simply drop one or two into a warm bath. They will fizz and bubble, filling the bath with the delightful aroma of Lavender and Chocolate.
    Heather A. Howell teaches classes such as ‘Facials from the Frig” and other aromatherapy classes from her studio in Charleston, SC. She is also the Chief Organic Skincare Formulator and Aromatherapist for Aroma Pharmica. Visit the website for most nature inspired skincare.

For more Bath and Body present ideas see these two posts: Facial Toner and Clay Scrub

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Elven Idea Factory #2 - Kitchen

3 favorite DIY recipes that make Great Holiday Presents

1. Irish Cream Liqueur (Bailey's) - This makes #1 because it takes the longest to make but is worth the wait. Like a tincture (herbs distilling in alcohol over 3-4 weeks), this creamy and chocolaty gift makes your friends lick their lips at the thought of it. This is an old recipe I've been making since I was in my twenties, and no matter what age group I make it for, it's a hit. The sweet-toothed elves like this one best as well.

Makes about, keeps at least 1 month, and takes 3 weeks to make.
750 ml Irish Whiskey
12 oz milk chocolate
28 oz condensed milk
24 oz evaporated milk
2.5 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon instant coffee granules

Pour 1 oz whiskey and condensed milk into small double broiler, add chocolate and melt, stirring constantly until smooth. Stir in coffee granules and let heat for one minute, then add evaporated milk, stirring constantly, and remove from heat. Stir in cream and the rest of the whiskey.

2. Salsa - Been there, Done That - one of my favorite holiday gifts, my salsa is usually made around August or September, and is therefore the easiest to holiday gift for me to pull off. But it's no simple task in the beginning, and I usually spend two weekends making several batches from the early harvests of peppers, tomatoes, and garlic. Look for that recipe in this previous post.

3. Biscotti - The easiest to make, this biscotti recipe comes from the Joy of Cooking and impresses everyone. Great for the holidays when more people drink coffee or tea to keep up with the pace, I usually make several different kinds to satisfy all tastes. This recipe isn't Gluten Free.

Makes about 3 dozen. preheat oven to 375
3 cups flour
2.5 teaspoons baking powder
.5 teaspoons salt
Beat separately:
.25 cup corn oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon zest
.5 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla

Gradually combine and blend to smooth. Shape dough into 2 smooth 11 x 2 inch logs with lightly floured hands, lay on greased cookie sheet and flatted to 1.5" tall.

Sprinkle with coloring, drizzle with chocolate, or crumble nuts for toppings. Can also leave plain.

Bake for 25 minutes, let cool 2-4 minutes, transfer baked logs to cutting board, and slice diagonally in 3/8" slices. Return to oven and bake 10 more minutes, turn slices over, and bake 5 minutes more. Cool on rack.

There are more great recipes for dipped and flavored biscotti at Biscotti Zone, a personal favorite.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Elven Idea Factory # 1 - the 2009 plan

The Elves have joined us at the Idea Factory the month of December, and I'm seriously excited to share their ideas with you!

There are a few holiday points that they want me to make before we proceed with this month's first of four installments; they say these two points are very important things to remember this holiday season and beyond!

1. WATCH joyous things like ELF or your favorite holiday movie that makes you think of laughter, singing, giving, and acting like a 10 year old. The elves want to make clear that the more joyous you are in your daily routine, the more light your being in both luminosity and weight, and the easier you can uplift all those around you!

2. DON'T WATCH negative things like the news, crime shows about murder, and depressing talk shows about crumbling relationships or other nerve-striking topics. The less you conflict and inflict your joy with pain, the easier it is to maintain. (Sorry, the elves like to rhyme, it's been very hard keeping this even remotely serious for you.) :)

On to IDEA #1 - our 2009 plan
This holiday we decided to help rebuild our personal economy and carbon footprint by not mailing as many gifts, and making all our gifts green and intentional (but still appreciable)! This means we'll be making many of our gifts, reducing our gift load by not exchanging gifts with the sisters out of town and thus reducing the carbon footprint of shipping these gifts, and thinking of creative new ways to give. Some great ideas for personalized items that don't cost much but mean much more include:
  • a knitted or crocheted scarf or hat
  • a photo session or photo album from the year [best for family members]
  • a personalized music cd
  • homemade bath products
  • homemade food products
  • books or other "white elephant" items [best at a theme party]
  • a massage by you or cleaning session for their house [best for girlfriend or boyfriend]
  • a drawing or painting, poem or photo in a frame [best for mom, think of 5th grade]
  • a babysitting session [best for new mothers] or other traded service
  • a family heirloom or other item [best for younger relatives whom you trust]
  • your used electronic devices, furniture, computers [best for the new college student]

The elves say that making gifts brings the spirit of Christmas to a new high because they are the most thoughtful and fitting and provoke the most smiles from the recipients. We'll break down this list in the next three installments; look for new DIY bath products (and old ones), holiday recipes, crafts, and more!

Happy holidays to everyone celebrating a holiday this December and beyond!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pamelas Pasts the Holiday Test

Early this week while planning the holiday meal for Thanksgiving, I went into the local health food store to pick up a bag of bread mix for myself, and found a little gem called Pamela's. Knowledgeable staff turned me on to it I must admit; I was bee-lining it for the best of the recent test but couldn't find the right aisle. What the clerk told me was that this one has recipes for pizza and pie crusts and bagels, too! So I decided to buy two bags to try this new brand to make myself some bread, and then test out Pamela's on mom's pumpkin pie recipe for the holiday - the hardest test of all!

First, as a sandwich bread, Pamela's passes the parameters - it's firm enough to cut in slices that don't fall apart for a sandwich, panini, or egg-in-the-middle; and most important, it tastes like regular white-flour bread. It was also a better bread than the other three, the taste and texture were most real and the crust is also generally firmer and better tasting as well.

Second, as a pie crust, Pamela's also passes brilliantly for pumpkin pie, and I can already tell from its pliability for rolling and sugary taste it would be great for apple pie too. I'm used to making my own crust, and while this one is less flaky than the traditional flour version, it holds together nicely, rolls out on wax paper, and tastes even better in my opinion. I used shortening for the even-comparison, as my traditional recipe calls for that instead of butter and my family thinks it makes a better crust. Testing Pamela's for the pie crust was the most exciting to me because I bake a lot of pies at the holidays, and want to eat them too!

I can also tell from it's rolled-out width and texture that it would be fine- although perhaps a little sweet- for pizza crust as well. Will be testing that!

Last, for bagels, it's a hard comparison up here in the altitude that we live (6900), and I'm partial to the NY ones so even the bagels from the store don't satisfy me here. That said, Pamela's were really really good. The sweetness helped, and we added cinnamon and raisins to add some additional flavors and texture. Since it's been so long since I've had a glutenous bagel (10 mos?) with a little melted butter and cream cheese these tasted as good as the typical Colorado version to me!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Social Media 101

Most of my peers have this subject nailed down.... but occasionally I run across someone who I think has it all figured out, all this social media hoopla, and yet they are missing one key element about the system (yes it is a system!) that would make their life online so much simpler. So today's Idea Factory is about all the social media tools I use on a daily or weekly basis. This list will likely change in 6 months, so it will likely require a followup. I know 6 months ago I wasn't using half these tools yet... technology is already light-years ahead of us!

I also knew this would be a good post today when I counted my sites up and realized I regularly post to, gasp, over 30 different profiles. No wonder I need automation technology to keep myself from going crazy, AND to be able to do some work in a day!

Daily I post to: (# of profiles)
Facebook (3), Twitter (3), LinkedIn (1), Flickr (1)

Weekly I post to:
Blogger (4), You Tube (1), Ning (6), The Wheel Life (1), Aweber (1), Examiner (1), Twitpic (2)

Occasionally I post to:
Dopplr, MySpace, Travelwriters, Digg, Ph.Art, RedBubble, CafePress, FotoLibra, TripIt,, Meetup, BlogTalkRadio... and probably a few more I'm forgetting!

The tools I use to keep me going:
When I post to any of my blogs (Access Anything, AA Reviews, Idea Factory, In The Deep) or Examiner, they post automatically to my Twitter via TwitterFeed, and to my Facebook via the Twitter Application. You will have to get familiar with FeedBurner to do so... but it's easy enough.

Sometimes I post to Twitter directly and it goes to Facebook with Twitter App, and sometimes I use OutTwit (now called TwInBox) to tweet. I don't use TweetDeck but I know a lot who do, I just don't prefer it.

I also use SocialOomph to post a week or month's worth of tweets, or just to pretweet something that is time specific, that I don't want to forget about, OR to tweet something multiple times. This is my favorite tool.

I use Retaggr to keep all my profiles organized in one place for networking friends, and use it as a signature on my email (below).

YouTube also autoposts to Facebook, which is nice. So it looks like I spend a LOT more time on Facebook than I really do. :)

Twitter just hooked up with LinkedIn, so add that application if you have a profile there.

Why we use Social Networking:
Since using these tools, our mailing list sign up has increased and I've made tons of new and wonderful contacts all over the world, collaborated with new businesses, sold photographs, booked freelance jobs, and much more.

Some people still ask how you find the time for all this, and how you keep it organized. I've learned that frequency is key, so if I'm particularly unmotivated to reach out to the legions, I rely on SocialOomph a little more.

And yes, sometimes it's entirely overwhelming... just in writing this post and going to Ning (create your OWN social network!) I realized I'd forgotten about three networks I hadn't been to in months. Oops! But when it seems overwhelming, and even infringing, I step back and take a week to myself, let SocialOomph make it look like I'm out there, and forget about the World Wide Web for a few days. That usually gets me to come back with enthusiasm and new ideas.

What to Say:
I've listened to and read much on the subject of social networking to make sure I'm doing the right things for our business. I'd never be this omnipresent if it wasn't for our business; but since we are, I want to do it right. Here are the basics on what to and what not to "Tweet" if you're doing this for yours or someone else's business and marketing.
  • Be personal, let them into your life with pictures, videos, etc., but only give what you're comfortable with
  • Set all security settings to high on Facebook, only let friends or "friends of friends" view your photos and personal information.
  • Don't tweet about every meal unless you're a food critic. Keep it interesting- post your favorite song with one day, repost someone else's link to your new favorite book or movie, share tips, and keep it short.
  • Connect with people who can help grow your business through collaboration, but don't turn people away based on that either- you never know how you can work together in the future.
  • Don't get distracted by the games on Facebook or other sites; set rules for yourself based on how much time you want to spend doing this. It's not exactly quantifiable in terms of income, but it IS free marketing; so decide for yourself- 10 minutes a day to start, up to 30 maximum is recommended.

My Challenge: I challenge you to find (all of) me on all these sites!

My Companies/Profiles:
Access Anything, Andrea Jehn Kennedy Photography, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Comparing Gluten Free Bread Mixes

For those of you who know me well, I don't usually like to make anything that comes out of a box, tube, or packet... but I've been gluten free only since June and am experimenting with recipes so often, that I've found it nice to try the bread mixes from a box.

I've tried three so far, and am happy to report my findings... so far all of these are available at Whole Foods and in multi-packs on Amazon. YUM!

1) Gluten Free Pantry's favorite sandwich bread was just that- so far the best slicing and firm- texture (ie. best hold for a sandwhich). The flavor was the staple white-bread flavor- something I ironically haven't had in my house in years. We switched to nutty wheat breads ages ago for the health factor, and I'm actually quite glad to go back to white bread for PB&J's. Yum. My first notice on this one was that the top sunk about 1/4". Perhaps high altitude, perhaps I just need to try again- either way, it still worked great for sammies, egg-in-the-middle, and everyday tea and toast. It was a bit plain, but overall a good substitute.

You'll need two eggs, butter, and water for this one.


White Rice Flour, Brown Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Skim Milk, Whey, Corn Starch, Brown Sugar, Guar Gum, Salt and A Packet of Yeast.

2) Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Bread Mix came out super light and fluffy, and I'm partial to Bob because of his rice, tapioca, and other flour substitutes that I buy that work great up here at high altitude. It's a lighter, fluffier bread that GFPantry's dense alternate, so the slices must be cut thicker, but it's definitely a better bread for snack or meal, just not for sandwiches. Has a richer flavor too.
Of all of them, this one stuck to the sides of the breadmaker the most, which usually means that some of the loaf is inconsistent (floury, separated), and did so in this case. If you're careful to scrape the sides down during the mixing phase, it's ok, which I always check because it happens frequently. What made me happy was that #3 below didn't do that at all- nothing to scrape is very rare.

You'll need milk, eggs, butter, and cider vinegar for this one.

Garbanzo Bean Flour, Potato Starch, Corn Starch, White Sorghum Flour, Tapioca Flour, Evaporated Cane Juice, Fava Bean Flour, Xanthan Gum, Active Dry Yeast, Potato Flour, Sea Salt, Guar Gum, Soy Lecithin.

3) 365 (Whole Foods Generic) Gluten Free Sandwhich Bread
As stated above, this one started out the smoothest, but didn't rise as high as the second one (first actually deflated, deflated loaves make me sad). This one didn't smell as good when it came out either, not a bad smell, but almost none at all. A delicious slice when warm, and it kept its shape when sliced. It had a slightly more box-taste to it (I'm very sensitive to fresh ingredients, which is why I don't buy ready-made or instant foods), so either my box was older, or it's just that generic brand taste. Either way, I'd say this falls into the #2 spot in rating, I believe Bob's brand was the best of all three, although looking at the ingredients, #1 and #3 are basically the same, they tasted the same, held together the same, and this one rose about 1/4" higher.

You'll need water, butter, and two eggs for this one.

White rice flour, brown rice flour, potato starch, skim milk powder, whey, cornstarch, brown sugar, guar gum, salt, packet of yeast.

Bob's also has a GF wheat bread with buckweat and molasses, and I'm itching to try the Ener-G, Delicious, and Chebe brands, so this is just the beginning!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Using Twitter with your phone - The Official Twitter Commands

This direct from Twitter's help desk, some of these mobile commands are new to me... tip of the week from the Idea Factory- you've heard it before-
"Sometimes it just pays to read the instructions!"

Did you know: you can perform certain actions, like following or marking a friend's update as a favorite, by using the designated Twitter commands? Use the commands listed below from your phone, the web update box, or your favorite third party application.

Turning Twitter off and on: device notifications
  • ON: turns ALL phone notifications on.
  • OFF, STOP, QUIT, End, Cancel, Arret or Unsubscribe: turns ALL phone notifications off.
  • ON username: turns on notifications for a specific person on your phone. For example, ON alissa.
  • OFF username: turns off notifications for a specific person on your phone. For example, OFF blaine.
  • FOLLOW username: this command allows you to start following a specific user, as well as receive SMS notifications. Example: follow jermy
  • LEAVE username: this command allows you to stop following a specific user, as well as stop receiving SMS notifications. Example: leave benfu

Fun Stuff: friends, favorites, and stats!

There's more to Twitter than OFF and ON! Use the commands below to send private messages, mark updates as favorites, or even remind someone to update their Twitter page if you're wondering what they're doing!
  • @username + message
  • directs a twitter at another person, and causes your twitter to save in their "replies" tab.
    Example: @meangrape I love that song too!
  • D username + message
  • sends a person a private message that goes to their device, and saves in their web archive.
    Example: d krissy want to pick a Jamba Juice for me while you're there?
  • FAV username
marks a person's last twitter as a favorite and causes the message to show up in your "Favorites" tab.

  • SET LOCATION placename
updates the location field in your profile
Example: set location san francisco

  • WHOIS username
  • retrieves the profile information for any public user on Twitter.
    Example: whois jack
  • GET username
  • retrieves the latest Twitter update posted by the person.
    Example: get goldman
  • NUDGE username
  • reminds a friend to update by asking what they're doing on your behalf.
    Example: nudge biz
  • FAV username
  • marks a person's last twitter as a favorite. (hint: reply to any update with FAV to mark it as a favorite if you're receiving it in real time)
    Example: fav al3x
  • this command returns your number of followers, how many people you're following, and your bio information.
  • INVITE phone number
  • will send an SMS invite to a friend's mobile phone.
    Example: Invite 415 555 1212

Noteworthy Facts

  • using on/off username from your phone only stops notifications to the place the command comes from; you'll still collect a person's updates on the web.
  • using follow/leave username from your phone is the same as using on/off username
  • following someone from a phone for the first time will also cause you to follow them on the web
  • there is no way to stop following a person on the web without visiting their profile and removing them. The off, leave, stop, and quit commands will only disable updates for the device(s) from which they were sent.
  • you don't have to use ON/OFF username from the phone, you can also set individual notifcations from a person's profile page, or check your following page and manage all phone notification settings there.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Point and Shoot 101: Contrast and Lighting

This weekend in Nashville I gave my mother a 101 lesson on her point-and-shoot, and decided much of this information could be useful to others... as I've said in my other two P&S101 posts (1) (2), most people don't have time to read their entire camera manual, especially when the device works just fine with Power, Autoflash, and the Automatic setting. But the auto setting isn't going to let you learn, in fact sometimes it will just frustrate you into thinking your camera isn't as good as your friend's camera because her pictures come out way better. Perhaps, or perhaps you just aren't using your camera to its fullest capacity.

Here are the points we went over this weekend together, and what mom learned...

1)The basic settings: Use the dial and alternate settings (under "menu" or "function") as your primary tools:
a) the face is for portraits (usually focusing on just the image in front of you, blurring out the background)
b) the mountain is for landscapes (focusing on everything, whether it's landscapes or not!)
c) the flower (which might not be on your dial but a button somewhere else on the back or side of the camera) is for shooting macro- SUPER up close pictures NEED this setting or they will be blurry
d) the running man or kids/pets setting is for quick action (look for a layered square as well, which will allow you to shoot many images while holding the shutter, so far I haven't found this to be an automatic for the running or action settings, but it should be!)
e) night image (a function on my dial, but in "SCN" or scene on some cameras) will bring out the colors and balance the flash in a night setting
f) indoor (also under SCN on many PnS's, sometimes called "party") is a huge helper for balancing the lighting inside- sometimes called Tungsten, this is the orangy light we get from light bulbs, which the indoor setting automatically switches to
g) other SCN settings are beach/snow- balances out the white of the snow and sand, fireworks- which operates way better for fireworks than that night setting will, and foliage- which will make the colors of trees and other foliage much brighter by strengthening the "contrast."
h) timer and speed shutter - these are on the same button for mine, and are for most Canons. New PnS's have custom timers, where you can set it to 2 or 10 or 20 seconds while you're running out to the rocks above the waterfall to get the "self". The speed shutter is also a huge helper for sports, it's the layered-box icon I mentioned above, and will allow you to hold the shutter and snap 5-to-infinity pictures (depending on your model) while the runner or skier or child is zooming past you.

2. Advanced Settings
Under P, TV, AV, M, and C settings on your dial, you can adjust...
a) the aperature- this fraction number is for how long the shutter stays open and signifies a fraction of a second. The smaller the fraction, the faster the shutter speed, meaning i) the less light you let in and ii) the less blurry the photo
b) the f-stop- this is the number with the f before it, signifying the size of the hole that the shutter opens to. Adversely, the smaller the number, the larger the hole, and the smaller the number, the larger the hole. Small holes make everything in focus- Landscape is shot in f12-20 or so. Large holes make only the focal point of your image in focus- Portraits are shot in f4-f10.
c) the white balance- choose from sun, shade, clouds, tungsten, white fluorescent, flash, or auto to shoot under these circumstances. If you don't, your picture will likely be off when it comes to light.
d) the color/contrast- choose from monochrome (black and white), sepia (old western brown), neutral, vivid, portrait/skin tone, or a variety of others for these circumstances to enhance the photos even more.
e) the ISO- this is the film speed, a setting carried over from the 35mm days, and quite useful in shooting indoors or under low lighting. Use 100 for full sun, 200 for clouds, 400 for bright action, 800 for low light or low light action, and 1600 only if you absolutely need it, as the higher the number, the more pixelated your image will be.
f) the focal point- choose evaluative, partial, center, or spot to have the camera help decide what should be in focus. In a PnS, if your camera seems to be taking control of your image or flipping back and forth too much between subjects of different distances, change this setting to spot or center so that when you push the shutter down half way to focus on the humans or subject matter, the camera won't fluctuate when you snap the shot.
g) the lighting/AV balance- on some cameras this is a +/- icon, and if you hold that down while turning a control dial, you will make the image lighter or darker. I use this setting inside, in shady situations, and on black animals.

Hope this helps you make the most of your camera without reading the manual! I know mom's pictures already look better because she's no longer afraid to screw around with the buttons!

Good luck, and happy shooting!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Purple Gluten Free Gnocchi - YUM!

I'm a proud Italian, so one of the things I've missed the most since going gluten free is pasta. I know there is "rice pasta" out there, but I've yet to try it; my regular store doesn't carry it, and I just haven't gone out of my way yet to find it. I will; but I also own my own pasta maker so I plan to try that, and in the meantime I have always loved making- and eating!- gnocchi the best.

Having a potato base and not many other ingredients, gnocchi is a pretty easy recipe to alter for gluten-free. So today I ventured into the kitchen to try out a recipe I found on the Celiac home site (from Paula Santos), but as usual, I've decided to alter it, and am happy with the results.

This recipe also doesn't call for milk, with margarine instead. My bible Italiana - the Silver Spoon - has eight gnocchi recipes in it, and the Gnocchi Alla Bava is without milk, also using butter. So I gave this recipe the ok- the rest call for a LOT of milk, and I've used soy in the past for those. It does call for a little parmesan, which doesn't bother me as much as milk, but it is also optional. Your choice.


2 lb cooked mashed PURPLE potatoes (right)
1 cup white rice flour
¾ cup potato starch
¼ cup corn starch
1 tablespoon margarine
1 tablespoon grated parmesan (optional)
2 eggs

Preppin' the Taters
First, I learned, on the TV show House of all things, that baking the potatoes dries them out better than boiling or steaming, for obvious drier reasons, and thus making the gnocchi hold together better. Don't bother to peel the potatoes first, just poke a few holes and bake them for 60-90 minutes. The recipe calls for 2 lbs, but I made all the rest of the purple potatoes we had from our CSA (fun!), and plan on freezing some pasta for the future. Always the best plan! When they're soft to poke with a fork, half them, and let them cool. Then scoop out the center and put in a bowl.

Mix all ingredients with hands. Knead lightly. Shape small portions of the dough into long snakes. On a floured surface, cut snakes into small pieces. Place a few gnocchi in salted boiling water. As the gnocchi rise to the top of the pot, remove them with a slotted spoon. Repeat until all are cooked. Cover with hot tomato sauce and serve.

Added bonus tonight!
A dear friend dropped off two packs of ground elk meat yesterday, so I'm using my homemade marinara with some elk meat on the top. The Silver Spoon has some great marinara sauces, as did my great-grandmother- my mother made her sauce by the gallons and froze them, so we always had fresh sauce for pasta. I suggest you do the same; Ragu just doesn't taste the same! But if that's all you've got, spruce it up with some red wine and fresh herbs!

I also plan on trying a lactose free white sauce so you can see the purple gnocchi better, so stay tuned for that!

Fun last question:
How does YOUR family say Gnocchi? My great grandmother, who handed her own Italian recipes down to my mother, always said it "yNawwki" and I love all the different ways to say it. :)

(And for those who've been following along and are curious, I will likely stay fairly gluten free forever- my psoriasis is nearly gone, I figure a few more months and the last of the patches will slowly disappear!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Addicted, and yet so removed

Ashamedly, I haven't written a post in over a month. Now, I write three other blogs as well as for Examiner on a regular (or sometimes no-so regular) basis, but that doesn't mean my Ideas have diminished, so where have I been?

Especially when I have recently learned that I am, indeed addicted to the internet, sad but true. Read that article, and tell me if you are too... but this point dawned on me when we were just recently in NYC for a few days and our (gasp!) phones went out. Both of them. With no way to Tweet my awesome experiences, I felt detached from the world, my friends, and my online family. Yet I've only been a member of Twitter for about a year- so what did we do before these online social networks? My only answer is, Who cares?

I was actually turned on to the above Addicted article through reading an article on America-the No Vacation Nation, where I realized a sad but very real point, that we are working our country to death. I already think we watch too much tv- so much so that our newest generation is riddled with ADHD, and yet I have a 42" plasma that uses way too much electricity in my living room. Worse, it is the focal point of our living room. Every chair in it points to the glowing God.

I can point the finger in so many directions; we eat so much sugar our kids not only have ADHD they have obesity and diabetes, we are so lazy we drive to the neighbor's house two blocks away, we are overworked that we rarely take vacations and feel guilty for leaving the office at 4pm on Friday, we are so under schooled that our spelling and reading levels are declining at a rapid rate... You get my point, I'm not jaded, we're just a nutty country that has taken a few wrong turns.

But I live in paradise up in the woods, rarely read the paper or watch the news, don't have kids of my own, try to meditate and practice yoga daily, and spend a lot of time outside in all seasons. I feel so removed from many of the problems of our country that when I DO read articles like No Vacation, I am shocked, disappointed, saddened, and helpless.

So, at a loss for ideas apparently (since having not written one down since September 2nd!), I give to you a challenge instead (Pick one):

  • Take more vacation, even if it's just to Grandmother's house because that's all that fits into your budget.
  • Spend more time outside, even if it's cold and windy and you hate iceskating.
  • Follow the Life Is Good Motto: Do what you like, and like what you do. If you have always dreamed of being a photographer or a nurse or an expert scrapbooker, teach a class, take a class, and follow your dreams.
  • Read more. It expands your vocabulary. Join a book club for new ideas and new friends.
  • Spend less time on the internet. I'm going to leave my desk RIGHT now for at least two hours, and I don't feel guilt about it one bit.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Photographing Interiors

I recently began photographing interiors and stumbled across this excellent explanation (blog below) of light, marketing, portfolios, and more for those who want to branch out in their photography. 

I learned many things while working my first gig with KBCabinets in Denver:
1. Always bring a tripod, and extra lighting if you have it, but tripod is essential if you don't.
2. Set the ISO to 800, interiors grain out at 1600 but interior light requires faster "film" speed than 400.
3. Take several shots of each setup, using the light meter to brighten the exposure, and using both trungsten and cloudy white balance settings to see what shots are better for that particular room- for me it seemed to change based on cabinet colors.
4. Get a polarized filter to reduce glare.
5. And take your time....

But for more... keep reading!

Photography: Barbara White

Photographers understandably put a huge amount of time and effort into their portfolios. They might not always do it right – a small, carefully-picked selection is usually more helpful than a bumper buffet, and the bio and personal work can tell an editor as much about the photographer as a tear sheet – but the sentiment is spot on.

Your portfolio tells potential clients what you can do, how you do it and, most importantly, how much they can rely on you to get the job done.

And this is where photographers have a real advantage. You might need professional help creating the website that will show off the portfolio but the images themselves you get to create. You don’t need to rely on anyone else to demonstrate your work.

That isn’t the case for other creative professions. Sculptors need the skills of photographers to light their work in the best way possible if they want to demonstrate their achievements while actors, famously, need headshots to send to casting agents, a regular line of business for photographers.

Five Years to Learn Lighting

Thespians though rarely present too much of a challenge. Their portraits are fairly simple. Much harder is shooting for interior designers.

It took Barbara White, a professional photographer who specializes in shooting architectural interiors, about five years to “get it.” Learning what good lighting is supposed to look like was the biggest challenge — and getting it right without ending up with overlighting or flat lighting took a while too.

“Never put a light near your camera,” she advises. “Have your shadows coming toward you, rather than away from you. Show dimension. Have highlights and shadows, but not freaky shadows.”

Barbara’s clients include architects and recently, a property developer for whom she shoots apartments, but most of her work comes from interior designers. They put the images she creates on their websites but they also use them in competitions, for advertising and as editorial images in magazines.Initially, Barbara found her clients through cold calling but she later moved on to direct mail and now relies on referrals to bring in new designers. A bit of luck with her website has helped too.

“It somehow disappeared off of Google for about five years, and now is back on page one. I haven’t changed  much of anything since it was on page one (for about five years) before… go figure.”

Getting into the profession was, perhaps, a little more straightforward. Barbara began photographing interiors while at college. A friend was a designer and allowed her to photograph her house, shoots that Barbara enjoyed more than the usual tabletop work. These days though, Barbara recommends that photographers looking to break into interior photography spend time assisting an experienced pro and attend classes and workshops such as those held in Santa Fe and Maine.

The benefits of this specialization are clear. Barbara charges $2,400 – $2,600 for between six and eight views, prices that are more than fair when you consider the amount of time involved in the shoot and the post-production as well as the value of the images to a designer. Even Barbara’s practice shots of her friend’s house turned out to be valuable. After the home was destroyed in a brush fire, Barbara’s images helped to persuade the insurance company to pay an additional $100 per square foot.

Money is not a Motivation

Shooting stage design though is a little tougher. The lighting challenges can be even more extreme and like sports photography, it’s important to know what you’re looking at when photographing during a rehearsal to get exactly the right moment. And like film photography, shooting a set while artists are performing in front of it, can involve all sorts of difficult restrictions. Dress rehearsals might be the best time to shoot without disturbing an audience but costumes aren’t always complete and some scenic elements may be missing.

Worse, while the photos still need to have perfect composition and tell a story, because the aim of the images is to describe the show rather than to help a designer win a job, money is rarely a motivation.

Richard Finkelstein, for example, a set designer and photographer, says that financial considerations are the last thing he thinks about when shooting a set. As a theatrical worker, in addition to creating shots for publicity and marketing, he also wants to record the process that went into creating a theatrical performance, especially as the set itself disappears once the curtain has fallen for the last time.

“In the visual arts, once an artist becomes great, we usually have a ton of sketches and other materials from which we can discern the process that led to their greatness,” Richard explains. “Here in the theatre world [that] has been lacking. It’s all about the final product with an audience. But to me the process that got the artists to that point is just as important, and perhaps more so.”

It’s a job that often falls to the set designer. Most of the commercial photos for Cats came from John Napier, the show’s scene and costume designer.

“This is usually not an accident,” says Richard. ” I designed a new off-Broadway musical a few years ago and they needed shots for press publication. I already had them!  It makes finding this work easy.”

All of Richard’s clients reach him through word of mouth and he has worked as a designer with 90 percent of them. Volunteering, he says, is a good way to get your foot in the door, although being a participant is even better.

Pay may not be a motivation for shooting the work of set designers, but it does have one valuable advantage: it puts a photographer in close contact with actors – and they do pay for photography.

View Original Article

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Harvesting the Bounty: Our CSA Recipes Part 2, Joy of Cooking's Gazpacho with Colorado Yellow Tomatoes

Last week I shared last year's salsa recipe, but we're still getting tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers and you can't just make salsa! Last year was our first year in the CSA, and every time we got a new bounty, I went online and searched recipes by ingredients. But we had extra single ingredients too... and made pickles out of the extra long italian cukes, parboiled and froze okra, green beans, and diced potatoes, and made pesto out of all that arugula.

But next to salsa, our second favorite recipe that uses everything is the Gazpacho. It brings me back to summers in Chicago growing up. I can't take claim for the recipe (although as always, a little altered!), but the fresh CSA vegetables, uncooked and melded in flavor, speak for themselves! So much so that a local chef tasted our first batch with yellow tomatoes and said it was the best he'd ever had. Palisaide Colorado, Grown With Love, baby! Thanks Cameron Place!

Joy of Cooking's Gazpacho with Colorado Yellow Tomatoes
Gazpacho is better served the day it's made but if preparing it for the following day, use half the jalepeno as the heat increases in time.

Finely chop but do not puree, in a food processor or blender:
1 med. cucumber, peeled
1 med. green bell pepper
Remove to large bowl, then chop:
1 small onion
1/3 cup packed fresh parsley leaves
Remove to the bowl. Add and chop:
2 1/2 lbs. ripe yellow tomatoes, peeled, seeded
Remove to the bowl. Add to bowl:
1 cp tomato juice
1/4 cp red wine vinegar
3 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 fresh jalepeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh taragon, minced
1 tsp fresh basil, minced
Stir well, refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serve in chilled bowls. Makes about 4 cups.

Garnish with chopped yellow tomatoes, red pepper and basil.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Harvesting the Bounty: Our CSA Recipes Part 1, Chinacat Salsa

It's that time of year.... The CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) club we're in has peaked! Last week we brought home a truckload of tomatoes and peppers peppers peppers! and so it's SALSA time again!

Last year was my first canning/jarring experience. It was grand. Despite learning a valuable lesson about shielding my eyes, nose, and nails from those spicy peppers, and burning myself once or twice on that steam from the boiling jars, I had a very successful yield of about twenty jars of salsa that became our family Christmas presents! I sampled several recipes in order to use all our vegetables, and chopped my heart out.... this is what we came up with:

Chinacat Salsa**
12 cups* cored, chopped tomatoes [i use some yellow tomatoes to sweeten it up]
*(or about 14-15 medium toms)
2 12 ounce cans organic tomato paste
3 cups (or 4medium) chopped onions
2 cups lemon juice (or 8medium lemons squeezed)
8-10 jalepenos, seeded, finely chopped
4-6 long green or red chiles, seeded, chopped
1 Tbs salt
1Tbs sugar
1 Tbs cumin
2 Tbs red pepper flakes (or leave the seeds of 2 peppers)
3 Tbs oregano
4-5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp black pepper

Combine all** in large saucepan, bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot into jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Apply lids and boil in water canner or double boiler for 15min at 0-1000 ft alt., 20 min at 1001-6000 ft, and 25 minutes above 6,000. Yields about 8 pint jars.

**I split this recipe in two and make one milder and one hotter, and have even burnt the bottom and scraped it in for a mesquite flavor. So mix it up!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

DIY After-Sun lotion

One thing I love about summer is the after-sun lotion we make ourselves. It's very refreshing, super easy to make, and it works like a charm. If I do burn (but since I've been using Avalon Organics sunblock I haven't) and I use our after-sun lotion, the redness is gone by midnight.

The key ingredient is Lavender. So splurge. Buy a big bottle from a distributor if you can afford it, because you'll use most of the standard 5-8 ml bottle on this recipe alone, and it's so good for so many other things! But first and foremost Lavender is a proven cure-all for burns; 1st through 3rd degree burns improve and clear up within hours, cutting overall healing time in fractions.

Second on importance is a clean base. I use Desert Organics Lavender lotion because it's free of parabens, sulfates, and other fragrances, but you can use a plain lotion too so long as it's clean and all-natural.

Third, aloe. My father always used aloe when we were in Florida during my childhood, I remember him peeling vividly and getting rid of the peel with aloe. After that I always bought aloe for burns, but by itself aloe won't lift the burn, just heal your skin.

Last we add other essential oils that help with burns, cooling, and soothing sore skin: peppermint for cooling, rosemary for tightening, chamomile for dryness, and lemongrass for toning and antiseptic as well as that fresh summer scent!

The official recipe: 8 oz bottle
3 oz lavender lotion
3 oz aloe gel
.5 oz vitamin E oil (can substitute avocado oil)
10-15 drops lavender (plus 5-10 more if using plain lotion)
5 drops of chamomile and lemongrass each
3 drops of peppermint and rosemary each

My favorite store-bought version for those of you with little or no time to DIY, visit Little Moon Essential Oils and look for "Lift Off Lotion," keeping in mind that DIY is always way cheaper.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Point-and-Shoot 101: Focus

Many weeks ago I posted a blog on Point-and-Shoot cameras describing some simple uses and settings that often go un-utilized. Today I'd like to take that a step further and show you some additional tips on focusing and depth-of-field.

I've always been a fan of a blurred-out-background (or foreground) when shooting in macro, this setting is usually a flower symbol on your camera, but knowing how this actually happens within your camera will help you remember how to make it happen in the photo while using the camera's innate tools.
A camera is like the pupil on your eye; to let in more light, it grows; to let in less light on a bright day, it shrinks. There are two tools on the camera that make this happen: the F-Stop and the Aperture. The F-stop is the hole size of that "pupil", or shutter opening, however it seems backwards: the larger the number, the smaller the hole... eg: f5.6 will let in a TON of light and raise your aperture (the time length of shutter opening) to 500 or higher, making the shutter open 1/500th of a second. FAST. The higher that number, the faster the shutter opens and shuts, making the picture super sharp for action shots. To capture humans, the lowest that aperture number can be is about 1/60. Opposingly, if you set the f-stop to a high f18 or 26, the hole will be tiny, letting in a small amount of light, and thus lowering your aperture timing to a slower snap such as "30" or really 1/30th of a second.

That's a mouthful, I know, but here's what it boils down to: the smaller the f-stop, the wider the refraction, and thus, the wider range of focus. Remember, the smaller f-stop is the higher number.

Most point and shoot cameras have a manual or partially manual setting allowing you to change one or the other or both of those settings. But if you don't want to mess around with numbers, watch what the numbers do when you put it on the macro (flower symbol) setting versus the landscape (mountain symbol) setting. Macro will be f5.6 and 1/500 (or so), getting only what's 5 or so feet in front of you in focus, while landscape will get everything in focus (elluding to the mountain ranges hundreds of miles away) from here to eternity, and the settings will look more like f18 and 1/60 (or so).

In addition to Macro, there is also usually a "portrait" (head symbol) setting that will do similar to the Macro setting, what's in the distance will blur out, leaving you with a nice focused face that the background doesn't distract from.

Now get out there and fool around with those numbers- what I were taught in college was to take a small notebook with me and make notes of the photo number and the setting I chose. While the digital age gives us the tools to look immediately, the viewfinders don't always show you the smaller detail, so I'd suggest doing this as well the first few times you play with these settings so you get the feel of the results. Writing things down often sinks them in for me.

Shoot often to shoot well!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gluten Free for Psoriasis

Recently I've been putting my researching brain cells to work on studying the Gluten Free way of life. Since the age of 14 I have had psoriasis, and recently it's been showing signs of progression to psoriatic arthritis, a progression that occurs in about 20-40% of the cases (studies are still incomplete, although the reverse is 80% of PA patients have had psoriasis, so the two are definitely linked). I've been tested for allergies in the 1980s (none), and I'm a pretty natural consumer as well, so I don't use body products with harmful ingredients like parabens or sulfates. Herbal and homeopathic remedies and dead sea salts have all helped reduce my inflammations, but have never eliminated the disorder completely. I was vegetarian for 7 years in the 1990s, and that never cleared up my psoriasis either.

Because of its progression I've started researching the diet and how it relates to the disorder, and stumbled upon several articles and studies that now link it to Celiac Disease, or gluten intolerance. I also found success stories through diets made of raw food, gluten free, sugar free, lactose free, and rich in omega oils like flax and cod liver.

The list of associated conditions from eating gluten is extensive. In my research I've found that gluten affects psoriasis and eczema, gout, autism, addictions, dermatitis, anemia, auto-immune disorders, IBS, epilepsy, depression and anxiety. Our sensitivity to gluten increases as we age, and untreated, it can lead to cancer.

Since we belong to a community-supported-agriculture club and get a lot of fresh vegetables weekly, and the summer months usually make me crave lighter foods, I embarked on a Gluten Free Diet about two weeks ago. Before doing any research, I'd always figured gluten was a very hard thing to avoid. And in reality, it is in everything from bread to ketchup, so for those who rely on restaurants, it is indeed quite hard to avoid unless you stick to salads (without croutons!). But upon reading more about my options, I actually became excited about trying this for a few months because we typically do eat a lot of the same things over and over.

The results however are undeniable; the psoriasis on my elbows is fading. Granted, I've gone off EVERYTHING except natural sugars, eggs and white meats, so I fully intend on reincorporating foods back into my diet once the spots are completely gone to see what flares up, and will comment back on this post with updates.

But in just a couple weeks, the cooking has been fun. So far I've made tapioca (with soy milk), which I never knew was so easy, double chocolate cookies (gluten and lactose-free but not vegan), which I never knew tasted so good, blueberry cornbread muffins (best when fresh apparently), and french bread, as well as dozens of meals and party-goods that were already in my recipe banks that were gluten free like hummus (with veg instead of tortillas) and sweet potato casserole (gluten free version below).

It takes a full list of alternatives to supplement the starchy behavior of gluten, which is used for thickening and flavor; so the initial impact was on my budget. You can get 5 lbs of white flour for only a couple dollars, and I spent about $30 on rice and tapioca flour, xanthum gum, and potato starch. The xanthum gum being the most expensive at $13 for 2 cups, but it looks like it'll last me a year. The other thing worth mention is that while you use several cups of flour for cookies, my double-chocolate cookies used a lot less flour (1/3 cup) and the nuts, raw sugar and chocolate were enough to make the cookies solid.

Breads are a little different, but are still much less dense than gluten breads, so the flours will go further. In addition, what I like is that the foods all taste lighter, not as filling, although just as rich.

Here's a start at the links I've found and recipes I've made so far.

Also, my cooking bible, The Joy of Cooking, also has some gluten free suggestions, and an online center as well, and ironically, the first recipe that pops up right now is gluten free!

I welcome any suggestions for websites and recipes that you all have as well!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

DIY Tomatoes, Topsy Turvy, Part 1

This summer we're trying that "as seen on TV" Topsy Turvy Tomato grower because our growing season is ridiculously short and we needed to be able to bring them back inside in September easily. Right now ours isn't very heavy, and we only put in 1/3 of the dirt to keep it light as well. We'll see how heavy it gets in late August!

But it brought me to wonder, can't you build one of these on your own? It's essentially a plastic container with a hole. The topsy turvy is a round cylinder, hole at the bottom, wires at the top holding it up. It drains a lot of water so it needs to be over a towel or outside.

In thinking of what plastic containers have holes and handles, you could easily build one of your own with a milk jug (best for its handle maybe), 2-liter bottle, or a wide cardboard tube lined with a garbage bag. The TT came with a styrofoam bumper for the hole so water and dirt wouldn't drain out- so cutting one of those is a good idea too, although FYI, we didn't use ours.

But once you find a casing that works, you slide the tomato starters (ours were about 6" tall, smaller is better) into the hole and then fill in from the top with dirt. Painless!

So for the cost of 2 small plants, dirt and fruiting fertilizer (a must for continually fruiting plants, we believe), you can skip the $29.99-as-seen-on-TV Topsy Turvy and make your own.

I'll check back in with this topic later on and let you all know how it does in Colorado... and if it does great you can bet we'll be making our own next year!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

5 Tips for Outdoor Events

Summer is always filled with outdoor fun, whether it be music festivals, chili cookoffs, Shakespeare in the park, or the kids' soccer tournament, if you're outside all day, you need to prepare.

This month we'll be at the Mile High Music Fest, Red Rocks Amphitheater, and Saratoga Performing Arts Center in addition to some of our local outdoor fun. Here are some of our priorities for outdoor events.

1. Ice water. For events that allow you to bring in water, icing it down overnight in the freezer is key. It melts all day and provides a great cooling drink for a hot day outside. Most of you who live in the south do this anyway for yourself, but make sure to hop online and check the rules at your chosen festival, all of them are different. Most allow you to bring in unopened bottles, and you can insist they crack the seal to prove it if the labels are falling off from moisture.

2. Bug spray. I'm not a big fan of DEET. It's poisonous, in an aerosol can, and it smells awful. Three strikes for me, especially if you have kids or sensitivities. Downright TERRIBLE for kids with autism or epilepsy! But I get MAULED by bugs. It took me forever to find something natural that works on me, and I've tried and tested these products from Colorado's mosquitoes to Costa Rica's sand flees. It works!

Aroma Pharmica formulates several body wash and lotion blends, but the one titled "Breathe" with eucalyptus, lemongrass and cedarwood does the trick. I wash and lotion with this, and then use her "Shoo Bug" spray as a last defense.

3. Umbrella. Sometimes the simplest defenses are the best. This one plays double duty for me at an outdoor venue to block the sun and precipitation if there is any. I like a medium sized umbrella that's pretty light but with a long arm so it can strap into backpacks or onto lawn chairs.

4. Yep, lawn chairs. Essential. Although sometimes blanket will be enough, and easier to carry for sure, so depending on coolers and what else you're toting in, definitely consider a chair for yourself. One with a beer holder is even better!

5. Spray bottle with lemon or peppermint. As if the ice water wasn't enough, last year we got so scortched the first day of the Mile High Music Fest that we brought a spray bottle (empty, but if you can fill it with ice, do - we couldn't) with a couple drops of peppermint essential oil in it and sprayed everyone down every chance we got. Essential oils have great lasting power, so even though we filled it up 4-5 times throughout the day, the refreshing aroma lasted.

Last, make sure you have everything you need if you can't re-enter the park; pack full of snacks, phone, camera, 45 sunblock, visor or hat, comfortable waterproof shoes, chair or blanket, umbrella, water, inhaler, and even an energy boost like Emergen-C, energy bar, or just a banana. And if you're planning on drinking alcohol, drink twice that in water to stay hydrated.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Five Great Kitchen Ideas

It's summer, you're cooking up all the home-grown goodies, and your kitchen isn't functioning to it's highest organizational capacity? Take the time to clean things out, get organized, and set little projects for yourself while you have the energy, daylight, and motivation!!

Here are just a few of our ideas around the kitchen that have made our life a little easier and our budget a lot smaller.

1. Spice drawer. Spices take up room, it's as simple as that. And we didn't' have a lot of drawer space, but we had a low shelf and packed all the spices in a large, short-walled box when we moved into this house. I hate to say it, but they're still in that box. Ideally, I'll build a drawer for that cabinet, but for now, the box slides in and out nicely and all our spices fit in neatly, standing up. However, standing up, I couldn't' see what spices we had, nor did we have a system of where they were. In some cases I thought we'd been out of, say, Cumin, and I'd bought another! An organizer's nightmare!

So one day we slid the box out onto the table and spent 20 short minutes labeling the lids of them all (1 of 2 and 2 of 2 if applicable), and put them back in according to usage. Baking spices, left side. Meat spices, front and center. While a drawer with dividing shelves on a lazy susan or roller would make this idea even better, right now simply labeling them in this box works great for us!

2. Meat day. That sounds funny just writing it, but one thing that really cuts down our budget is shopping on the right day. Wednesday is THE day at Safeway for meat; it's discounted 20-40%, and it moves quick. So we get there early, buy up about $50 worth of meat, break it down into 2-serving portions, wrap it up, and freeze. We do this about once a month, and it works great for us. When the freezer starts looking slim, we go. I know many of you frugal Fannies do stuff like this, and while many of you know you should, you still don't... we've even got Craig's dad's help- he's famous for calling Craig to say, "OMG, Brisket's 60% off, get down here!")

3. Frozen goodness. Another thing we put in our freezer is old fruit for smoothies. Brown bananas, mushy berries, or bruised and mushy apples- I cut up the apples and bag them with the berries, bananas go in whole in their skin. Pull them out when you're looking for a quick snack, put in some ice, (soy)milk or ice cream, honey, and maybe some flax or protein powder, and yum, breaky on the go.

4. Design accents. Last post I discussed renovation ideas and the backsplash accent tiles and cabinet handles we're adding to our kitchen to freshen it up. If you can't afford to replace the cabinets or counter, you can do something small to create a little change. Our two rows of red tile on the wall against the counter cost only $100 or so, and add some excellent color to your kitchen. Along with the fauxwood floors we're putting in, the new cabinet handles and new "sandstone" paint, our kitchen looks like we spent $5000 on it when in reality it was close to $500, Pergo and all.

5. Veg organizer. I don't know about you but when I pull out that veg drawer and there are 6 plastic bags, loose onions and garlic, and all their skin floating around, my hand recoils with an "ew." I don't know why I never thought of this before last year, but we joined a veggie co-op and were getting veg by the boxload every week, so my veg drawer got out of control. Instead of putting everything in it's own bag that I couldn't find quickly if my life depended on it, I put in a couple of old bowls for the onion and garlic for starters. Their skin drives me insane, it reminds me of an old man's exfoliation or scabs. Sorry, but it does. So putting them in a bowl at least kept the old man containted. Then I took everything out of the bags and separated them, the root veggies that could go in our veg storage box did, the fruit-like items went in the bottom drawer, and the top drawer was suddenly organized!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Summer Solstice Ideas

Summer Solstice (6/21, Sunday) is the longest day of the year, when the Earth's axis is most inclined towards the Sun, and marks the first day of the Summer season, and the day the Sun goes into the sign of Cancer. Solstice celebrations date back to ancient times, from the Druid's Alban Heruin's crop-ripening rituals to Native American's celebrations of the sun.

Start your day by getting up before the sun rise and watch the colors ripen, visualizing your world to do the same as you manifest abundance, success, and security from this day forw

This Solstice day is also a new moon... a good day for new beginnings, planting new seeds, and starting new projects. Transplant your starters if you haven't already, and give your garden some general love by wedding, tilling, mulching, or spreading compost out for your plants on this day.

For those of you with long hair, the new moon is also a great day to cut your hair because when the moon ebbs, roots turn inward, as does the energy of the stalk. Same goes with transplanting on this day... both activities encourage strong growth from the roots.

General rituals on this day are good for success, happiness, strength, identity, wealth, fertility, adolescents and young adults, career and travel. Get up with the sun, pick some herbs, light candles, burn orange or other sunny essential oils or incense, and bring bright flowers into the home to help boost your energy, motivation, and longevity for the coming months.

Sunday I'm taking a set of girls into the woods for a ladies' hike, and we'll be doing a mediation on planting the seed of manifestation and intention. I hope you join in by doing something special for yourself too! Make this day a special day for yourself by rejuvenating your powerful goddess (or god) energy under this intense sun; she won't be this strong for another 365 days, use it!

Sunrise, Steamboat, December 21 Winter Solstice, 7:24 am
The sun will rise on Sunday at 4:46 am

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Home Renovation Ideas

Our recent home renovations have reminded me of some wonderful ideas we've had around the house, not only for our every day living, but a couple even made the renovations go easier!

We're doing quite the interior job-floors, paint, doors, molding, and blinds- but don't have an exterior space like a garage or storage shed to get furniture and belongings out of the way while we work. So we're working several rooms at a time, and using one main one for storage. When we finished the living room hardwood and started bringing out the chairs, table, and TV stand, we immediately put "sliders" on the bottom and WOW, what a difference... for BOTH of us.

1. Sliders: Sliders are little felt tabs with sticky backs that you adhere to the feet of your furniture so they don't scratch the hardwood. But what we found was not only were they protecting our floors, they were a form of accessibility! Now sliding the furniture around (even the 150 lb tv stand) were a breeze for Craig, who used to ram up against things in his wheelchair to move them. Not good for the furniture, that's for sure!

Speaking of the TV stand, the task of breaking it down and setting it back up loomed over me for days, and we hoped to just slide the stand out of the way to lay the floor, and then slide it back. Our builder said no, it's got to be out of the room for him, so I sat down with a roll of masking tape and a pen and went to work. Although I'm pretty savvy around the AV system, I figured labeling it all would just make it go that much quicker for me, and I was right. We have 6 components in addition to the TV and 5 speakers to plug in, so I was looking at at least 40 ends of cords and speaker wire to contend with.

2. Labeling. Labeling is a no brain-er when it comes to moving; i.e. you label the boxes by room so they get to the right place immediately. When I labeled the av cords and it took about 5 extra minutes when I pulled them out (include component and plug name: stereo-cd1 or tv-satellite line out) made set up a total of 15 minutes as opposed to 30 (or 45 if I screwed something up)!

We had a limited budget for our renovation as you always do, and had to think about how we were going to tie in color to the new rooms without buying new accessories. We made some inexpensive decisions that will really help the room.

3. Tieing in colors. Paint and stain are easy, you've already got them, made the choice for that color in the room, and likely have plenty of it leftover. You can repaint old tables and chairs, or just their legs; you can use stain to accent plain clay flower pots with stripes or solids; and if you're really dedicated, use the curtain material for accent pillows. We've sanded and refinished a 3-shelf metal and wood-plank plant stand in the deck stain for instance, as well as switched our existing art work around so the bluer pieces are in Craig's blue office, as well as getting some new artwork cheaply framed at the "unframer," which is about 1/5th the cost of typical mat & glass framing. We've also picked out small red 2" accent tiles that we'll build a backsplash of in the kitchen to tie in our reds from the kitchen towels, plates, and accessories. And we aren't replacing the cabinets, but new handles will make it look like we did!

Stay tuned this month for more kitchen ideas and a DIY gift that will tame the mane!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Travel ideas and more...

Today we're on our way to Miami for the No Barriers Festival and it reminded me to share the many travel ideas we've gathered along the way! Our travels take us far and wide, and some of these ideas make us feel like we're not that far from home.

1. Lists. If you're an organizer, think about making "packing lists" based on the type of trip (we have business, vacation, and camping lists). We were forever scribbling on Post-Its before our trips and forgetting something every time, when I finally realized I could write a master list that we could add to any time and save sheet after sheet of yellow sticky paper. To take it one green step further, print out the lists and laminate them, then cross off what you've packed with a grease pencil and clean it off when you're done! Make one for every family member so they're in charge of their own belongings and forgotten items!

2. Drier Sheets. My favorite trick for the suitcase and keeping clothes fresh, I usually bring 6 or more fresh dryer sheets so that if I do laundry along the way, the clean clothes will stay fresh too and I have a dryer sheet to use as well! When I pack, I layer the sheets between 2-3 articles of clothing, either folded or in the garment bag, to combat that musky suitcase smell. I also put a sachet of lavender in the bag for those nights I might not be able to sleep and it doubles as a scenter for the clothes, too.

3. Shower Caps for dirty shoes. This one's great for muddy trips, camping, places where shoes aren't allowed or other instances that will require protection of some item (either dirty, wet, or scratchable) either for or from your other packed goods.

4. Empty Duffel Bag. This is an old standby you may have forgotten about... When we're going somewhere far where we know we'll bring home presents (great idea for fall trips and Christmas preparation!), we stuff a duffel bag in the suitcase pocket so we're not scrambling to fit everything within weight limit for our existing bags, or pay extra for shipping.

5. The Gifts. Along these lines of buying ahead for xmas, think of gifts that are unique and pretty inexpensive to the area such as a local specialty like pecans, marmite, or Spanish olives; the local sports team for your sports fans; or indigenous stones set in local styled jewelry for the ladies in your life.

6. Printed mailing labels. This one might sound funny in this day and age of technology, but everyone still loves postcards- our friend sends one from Hawaii every time he goes, although we're pretty sure he's just rubbing it in... However, when I don't have room in my bag for the address book and I'm leaving my US-only smartphone in the car at the airport (with relief!) then this idea RULES for me. Depending on how long you're gone or how many cities or sites you are visiting, print 1-3 labels for mom, grandma, sister, and BFF so when you see the perfect postcard for them, you just peel and go!

7. Copies of Passport & ID. This is a must; make sure you keep them in a different place than your actual copies or give them to the hotel or local contact to keep in case of emergency.