Sunday, December 21, 2014

Quick & Dirty: Make gift-giving easier with color-coded wrapping paper

The rule in our house has always been, "Those who don't believe in Santa don't receive gifts for Christmas." So it stands that at 30 & 33, my brother and I have never uttered words that might indicate Mr. Claus might possibly be imaginary, and certainly not in front of our mother. Magic, bringing gifts for parents to wrap (those overworked elves, you know), possibly non-corporeal, maybe even formerly-a-person but currently just an idea. But not real? NEVER.

Sometime when I was in middle school and my brother was in high school, my mom had a kind of genius idea. Instead of taking the time to write tags on gifts for us from Santa, she grabbed (what I'm assuming is like 12 rolls) some wrapping paper that clearly related to each of our interests. In our case, it was the Tazmanian Devil & Winnie the Pooh. We each got a couple gifts from our parents and some years even each other, but all Santa gifts to a person were in their own wrapping paper with no tags. I would be remiss if I didn't point out: I never saw a single roll of these special wrapping papers in our house, even though I was the main gift wrapper for nigh on a decade, I helped move the Christmas supplies when we moved house and was usually the one digging out ornaments for the tree. So, perhaps Santa does indeed wrap his own gifts and I'm giving my mother too much credit.

I'm pretty sure I had graduated college (so, ah, easily 15 years later) the year we looked under the tree to find two piles of presents wrapped in somewhat less childish but no less matching papers, with one CD each of Tasmanian Devil & Winnie the Pooh propped careful atop them to mark our piles. In one of those rare moments of unspoken communication, we each carefully set aside those two precious gifts to save for last. Later Mom tearfully informed us that indeed, those would be the last two in those papers, as Santa informed her he'd finally run out of the stash of them. It kinda felt like the end of our childhoods!

As it happens, since this is my first year staying home for Christmas instead of visiting family, this is my first year not using my mom's extensive gift wrap stash for gifts and I actually had to purchase my own. I doubt I'll ever go so far as to buy a dozen rolls of one particular paper for each of us, but the idea of using one paper per person for Christmas morning definitely is an idea I intend to keep in mind when I get the chance to use it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cost/Benefit Analysis: Un-Paper Towels

Sometimes I look at things people post online and I marvel at how many people seem to have more money than sense.

Multi-layered, snap-together to make a roll, "unpaper towels" are the impetus for this particular rant. They seem to be an expansion of the cloth menstrual pads stores, more than anything, and presumably therefore made to appeal to the same demographic. But, there are better ways to accomplish a lot of goals sometimes, and this is one of those times. I love that people want to reduce their paper usage and their contribution to landfills. That's great!

The ones I'm seeing about typically use a single-sided terrycloth on one side, and quilting cotton on the other. I've seen a few with interfacing or batting in the middle to increase absorbency. They have snaps on each corner so that you can snap them together in a row and roll them up to be stored on the paper towel holder. Presumably, this is to help the household adjust to the new method, because they reach for the paper towels where the paper towels were before, and find this instead.

  1. Who in the world has time to be snapping all these together?! I mean I guess if you're bored, but if that's the case I have some alternative ideas for you to do with your time. 
  2. Are you so attached to the paper towel holder that you just can't get rid of it? I used mine for plastic wrap and foil for a while until I needed the counter space.
  3. Do you think that when people reach for the paper towels and don't find any, they're going to be like Sims characters who get stuck trying to walk when there's a banana peel on the floor and be suddenly unable to function because their little task list says "grab paper towel" and they get stuck until they have one? Do you think if you communicate "hey we don't have any more paper towels, use this instead" they will be too incompetent to remember that when they habitually reach for the paper towels and not find them there? 
  4. If they're that incompetent, doesn't that mean you can't trust them not to just throw out the item they're using like they were doing with paper towels? 
  5. Don't these strike anyone else as too precious to be using for wiping up spilled tomato sauce and smears of peanut butter? 
  6. With all those layers (and especially the ones with batting), doesn't it seem like they'd harbor a lot of bacteria in between washings and take a while to dry? Or like the fabrics would shrink differently in the wash? Or like you can't wash them on hot because they're too precious? 
Solution: Basket, pack of bar towels. You can get bar towels at Costco and similar warehouse stores, or any restaurant/bar supply store. I've bought 20 packs for as little as $5. 

I fold the bar towels in quarters. This perfectly covers my hand while giving me maximum control over the entire usable surface. When one surface gets soiled, I fold the big fold opposite. Then flip a corner around to a new fresh surface. Typically, since I'm going to use them quarter-folded anyway, I just do that to store them in the basket when laundry is getting folded anyway. However, you could toss them in the basket unfolded if that suits you. I've even just stuffed them in those plastic shopping bag sleeves, with great results. 

If it REALLY means that much to you, you can roll them up to use on your paper towel holder. I'd get a piece of PVC pipe that goes around the stick for the paper towel and is as long as the towels are wide, and for that matter get two so you can have a backup roll at all times. Lay the towels out by putting the first one down, then the second one with the edge 3/4 of the way down the first towel so they only overlap by 1/4 of the towel. Place the PVC pipe on the first (bottom) towel's first edge. Roll until you reach the opposite seam, hiding underneath the second towel. Place the third towel the same as you did the second, overlapping 1/4 of the second. Continue layering & rolling thusly until you have a roll that fits on your dispenser. No need for snaps! 

Bar towels are super cost-effective. You don't cry if you stain them. When they get greasy, you soak them in some dish soap and oxyclean, wash them in the machine with baking soda and rinse with vinegar. When they get worn, you repurpose them as all sorts of things (mostly here they get relegated to floor rags, camping supplies, car washing), and since they're usually made of cotton you can just compost them or rip them apart for fire starters once they're really unusable. I'm on my second set in 5 years, and the first set was only downgraded because I wanted fresh ones for self-catering my wedding after I accidentally dyed the old ones lavender (and had used them that way for 2 years).  

Yes, I love supporting local businesses (but so many restaurant supply chains are regional and locally-owned anyway). I love supporting single-owner businesses and especially women-owned ones. The supplies used by the people making these are very, very rarely of better conscience than the bar towels. And, I get that they're pretty. I just feel that there are better ways to spend one's money and time than on this particular product. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Moving Again

I can't say I'm ENJOYING moving as often as we have been, but I will say that it's been informative. This time thankfully we have officially 6 weeks to move. We get our keys to the new place Dec 20, sadly have to pay double rent for January (and let me tell you how stressful THAT is), but by all rights have access to our current apartment through January 31st.

We still intend to finish moving in a timely manner and cleaning up our "old" place so that wall repairs & carpet cleaning can happen to rent it out as soon as February 1st. But at least we can wait until the Christmas Crush is through at Mr. Moon's work to worry about packing & moving in earnest. It also has the benefit of giving us time to snag boxes from food & liquor deliveries at his work and local businesses. No paying for boxes this time! And since we're not paying for boxes, a) I feel less inclined to keep them sitting around awaiting our next move; and b) I got to splurge a bit on other packing supplies. It cost $100 in total, but I got some good tape on good dispensers, and stocked up on 300 feet of bubble wrap (perforated every 12 inches) instead of trying to rely on newspaper which hasn't served me well in the dishes department. I'm not even convinced 300 feet is enough, but with the extra time to move we can unpack & reuse pacing materials as necessary.

I think today we are going to deal with the sad little herb garden I've got going on outside, so it's ready to move when we are. We've been packing what we can with the boxes we had stashed, and strategizing our packing & moving process for maximum cost efficiency. Since we have an abundance of TIME to get this handled and plenty of friends with bigger vehicles than my hatchback, it doesn't make sense to try to rent a truck & get a moving party together all at once. Instead we're packing boxes, moving them over in my car as we've got free time, and planning a discussion with each Friend With Vehicle to get furniture moved on their own timetables.

The big question now becomes: Do we use the master suite as guest room/office/craft room & the small bedroom our sleeping-quarters with vanity? Or do we make it sleeping/craft room with vanity & the small bedroom a guest bed/office? Life's full of touch choices!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Menu: Dec 15-21

We spent more on groceries last week than I think I have ever spent at once. Our refrigerator is full to bursting and I've no excuses for myself. We weren't even shopping while hungry! On the up side, quite a bit of it was just dry staples that happened to run out at the same time as we had money and good deals, so most of it wasn't perishable. However, it was and is important that we properly store it all so that we CAN use it, DO use it, and DON'T go out shopping for oh, the rest of the month except for milk & coffee cream & maybe some fresh veggies such as they are.

I'm quite proud of us though: We managed to make a menu for this week that doesn't require a single purchase, utilizes some prepped leftovers, gets us out of a rut, brings back some old favorites, tests a new recipe, AND utilizes our new rice cooker to make it more than s ingle-use item. To top it off, as I write this, we've already prepped what we can for the week, and it's a lot of "just toss these together" kind of dinners.

What's on the menu?

Breakfasts: Bagel sandwiches: Eggs & bacon, lox & cream cheese (with tomato & capers of course!); english muffins & peanut butter; polenta cakes & eggs.

Lunches: Roast beef sandwiches/wraps, grilled cheese & tomato soup, quesadillas & black bean soup.

Snacks: cheese & crackers, microwave burritos, chips & salsa.

Monday: Buffalo Chicken Pasta [pasta; chicken; spicy; casserole]
This is a new recipe I've been dying to try. Yay for getting out the rut! (Recipe from here, found on Pinterest)

Tuesday: Chicken Caprese Polenta [chicken; polenta; Italian]
Not one we've necessarily done before, but "stuff on polenta cakes" isn't exactly a new theme. I wish we had fresh basil for it, but not enough to buy any. We make the polenta ahead and refrigerate in a loaf pan so we can just cut off slices of it to fry into polenta cakes. That's is what we get to use our new rice cooker for, and having already done it (spoilers!) it was amazing!

Wednesday: French Dip [leftovers; beef; sandwich; easy]
Using leftover french onion soup; I strain out the onions, fry them up with roast beef, throw that on some hoagies with swiss cheese, and use the broth from the soup for the jus.

Thursday: Tuna Mac [fish; easy; staple]
This is the most processed food item we eat, and it's total poor-food but we freaking love it. The benefit to it is, since we always have peas in the freezer, this is an item that requires no prep, very little time to cook, and if we decide to bump anything for the week it can get dropped from the menu quickly & easily. Mr. Moon is on call this evening, so if he gets to work we stick to the plan; if not, we might decide to be a bit more creative without anything going to waste. Win-Win!

Friday: Split Pea Soup [soup; pork; crockpot]
This is our "use up the dry goods" recipe for the week, but the polenta & pasta qualifies too. Go team. The key to this soup I think is using way more pepper--and hot sauce--than you think it should take. We're used to making it still-fairly-bland for the parental units and then drenching it in sriracha.

Saturday: Soup of Wonton Destruction [soup; fast; easy; East Asian; freezer]
This soup always uses a lot of freezer & leftover items; wonton dumplings we typically have on hand, but the rest is up in the air. I think this time it will be broccoli, green beans, and onions.

Sunday: Pickle Plate [light; vegetarian]
We have football plans for a 5:30 game, and even though we don't typically eat dinner until 11pm or midnight, we expect we'll be looking forward to a lighter dinner than usual. I've got a round of brie that I want to put some chutney on, and some pickles, but we'll see how hungry we are before we add any more cheese, potted meats (which are of course optional, hence the veggie label), or pickled veggie options to the menu. I love this dinner because it's easily expandable to how hungry you are or aren't.

The prep list for this week is pretty light, since a bunch of it is using up leftovers. So the onions, polenta, bacon & cheese all took about 45 minutes, chicken would take about an hour if you had to roast & shred it but since 35-45 of that is roasting time, you can do the rest while it cooks for a total of one hour of prep.
  • Chicken: Was already roasted & shredded late last week, so it's just using it up.
  • Onions: Dice 2 (polenta, split pea); Julienne 2 (breakfasts over polenta, wonton soup, general use)
  • Polenta: brown 1 diced onion; dump in rice cooker with 1c corn meal & 3.5c stock of choice (we used chicken), pepper, and seasonings to taste (we used rosemary & garlic). Turn to white rice setting. Store at 15 minutes, store at 30 minutes, cook longer only if necessary. Spread into greased loaf pan, cool on counter, then cover with plastic wrap pressed onto top to avoid a weird skin & refrigerate overnight. Slice into 1/2-inch thick slices & fry in HOT cast iron any time you need polenta cakes. 
  • Bacon: Can be cut into bit-size pieces by scissors to order, or chop up enough ahead of time for polenta-skillet breakfasts & split pea soup. 
  • Cheddar cheese: Grate extra when making some for the casserole so there's enough prepped for lunches, snacks, etc.  
What's on your menu this week? Need planning ideas? I'll be linking up at, if you need other ideas!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Home Remedies: DIY Pain lotion

A lot of my life is spent with sore muscles. Pain relievers only help so much, and depending on the pill & the person they can rip your digestive tract to shreds.

It was Jillee's Pain Cream recipe that started this. I decided to go ahead and make my own version, to see how it works. Of course, I did a little research myself, and I wanted this cream to do a few different things. One thing I saw was about having some essential oils that cover the smell of the eucalyptus, so it's not so overpowering. Well, I'm here to tell you, that's hogwash--covering the scent also decreases the efficacy a bit. However, if the ones you add to it have purpose, it might be worth a little dilution.

Without further ado, my pain lotion recipe.


  • 1 three-ounce travel bottle of your preferred lotion. I use a coconut-oil-based lotion. 
  • 10 drops peppermint EO
  • 10 drops eucalyptus EO
  • 10 drops lavender EO
  • 5 drops clary sage EO
  • 3-5 drops cinnamon EO
  • 5 drops rosemary EO
Okay but before we go any further, let me explain some of these:
  • Peppermint & Eucalyptus: These are supposed to help relax muscles, and create a kind of icy-hot sensation. 
  • Lavender: For calming, in general, because I often have tense muscles due to panic attacks.
  • Clary Sage: It says it's especially good for uterine muscle relaxing, which contributes to many of my lower back spasms. 
  • Cinnamon EO: For warming. I've only made 1 batch with 5 drops of cinnamon in it, and it made my back VERY red but comfortably warm. I would start with 3 and work your way up, especially if your skin is at all sensitive. 
  • Rosemary: Is supposed to boost the efficacy of other Eos, besides being a bit cooling-yet-warm by itself. 


  1. In a small bowl, put ~2.5 oz lotion (I did 20 pumps, it was perfect).
  2. Add your essential oils to the lotion.
  3. Whisk or stir until well-combined.
  4. Pour the lotion into the bottle. You probably need a funnel and a spatula to get the stuff that sticks to the bowl. 
  5. If there's extra, rub it on. If the bottle isn't full, fill it up and mix it around. 
Voila! Rub it on wherever it hurts. Very helpful. With the cinnamon, I'd be a little concerned about covering the area until the warmth dies down. I had a bad experience with capsaicin cream + neck brace once. It was awful and I cried on the floor of my shower with a squirt bottle full of milk after running away from a dinner party. Don't be me. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Menu: Dec 8-14

What's on the menu?

Breakfasts: Bagels & cream cheese, bagel sandwiches, english muffins w/ peanut butter & honey.

Lunches: Leftover chinese food, turkey sandwiches, grilled cheese & tomato soup.

Snacks: .

Monday: Spaghetti & Meatballs Marinara [simple, beef, pasta, Italian; leftovers]
Using the leftover meatballs from my party on Friday!

Tuesday: Buffalo Chicken Wings & Garlic Broccoli [chicken, freezer]

Wednesday: Mushroom Stroganof [pasta, vegetarian]
Using the leftover mushroom gravy from my party, and adding sour cream.

Thursday: French Onion Soup [soup, vegetarian, ]

Friday: Pickle Plate [simple, snack]
We have plans with friends at a brewery an hour away, helping with wedding planning; the likelihood of us wanting a full dinner when we get home are pretty slim. But at least we have a snack plan in case we want it!

Saturday: Thai Curry Chicken & Rice Soup [chicken, rice, crockpot, soup, spicy]
I'm craving a version of this I can't get anymore, so I'm going to do my best to recreate it at home. Kind of looking forward to the challenge!

Sunday: Slumgullion [beef, pasta, family recipe, comfort food]

Next week I want to start working on getting through some of the lentils, split peas, and dried beans I've got sitting around awaiting my tender loving care.
What's on your menu this week? Need planning ideas? I'll be linking up at, if you need other ideas!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Managing expectations: Living with adult ADD, disability, and limited space

Mr. Moon is the first to admit that he's scatterbrained and unfocused. And he'll be the first to tell you that if he doesn't have a list, it doesn't get done. However, making lists isn't exactly his strong suit. Thankfully, he married a woman who lives by her love of lists & structure. The hard part is struggling with falling into stuffy old gender roles. Ultimately though, we have to do what's best for each of us and our partnership, utilizing our strengths and working around our weaknesses, even if they're the ones we learned through a society that taught them to us based on our perceived genders. Recognizing where they came from doesn't negate their existence and the reality is that I'm both a lot more organized than him, and have a lot more time to BE organized.

With the wedding out of the way and staring down the moving target of daily parenthood, we had a long discussion about priorities and what we want the rest of our lives to look like. It's not a new discussion, and frankly I'm not sure there was even anything revelatory in it, but the point was more about identifying our next steps anyway. One of those is getting our house in order, in general, but doing so by tweaking and following our routine. Having a routine of chores that get done daily, a daily slot for chores that get done weekly, setting timers for those chores and actually sticking to it so that not only does Mr. Moon hone his skills but also increases his speed.

ADD makes getting distracted easy--and that means not having a task that is intended to take an hour. His top timeframe seems to be about 20 minutes before there is a critical lack of focus--a task that should take 15 minutes takes either 20 or an hour. Recognizing that was a critical part of tweaking that routine plan, to set him up for success. With a checklist and a timer, he's racing the clock to get everything done so it's kind of like a game. And if it's a really bad focus day, well, 20 minutes is still enough time to get something accomplished even if it's not all of the list.

I know I've talked about our lists before, and it's nothing new. But we've gone so far now as to hang picture frames on the wall of each room with that room's checklist, as well as the daily checklists we already had in the hallway. And I think that was the tweak we needed. The checklists were available before, but usually stashed in a drawer between uses, and he'd completely forget about or ignore them. But with the checklist requiring no action on his part to be able to look at it, he actually uses them more.

I think I was worried about shaming him in front of our family and friends. It's no secret that he does a vast majority of the housework. But in the end, the people we invite to our home and our lives are friends for a reason--and that's in part because they're not the kind of people to make fun of our systems that work for us.

We're finishing up two weeks now of managing to stick to our system pretty consistently. Eventually something will happen that we'll fall off the wagon and need to get back on, but at least when we do that it takes no effort. Work the checklists. Eventually, we get to a point where it doesn't take 10 minutes three times a week to deal with the paper pile because we're caught up and keeping up on it. Where it doesn't take an hour to firebomb the kitchen because it's staying clean enough to do things like wipe the stovetop, sweep the floor, and get the fingerprints off the microwave on a whim. After a two weeks of wedding damage control and two weeks of simply working the systems, we're finally getting caught up enough to start with some decluttering and organizing projects. And the first one I want to do: the office & craft supplies. So I'm looking forward to that next week!

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