chal-lenge: noun a calling to account or into question

Follow along as I challenge the tricks, tips, clever craft and decorating ideas and "simple" recipes that we clip, bookmark, and "pin" for trial at a later date.

Are they really worth the effort? Time (and I) will tell!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Canoeing: Plant a Seed and Hope it Grows

Let me preface my post by saying that I just love being near, on, or in the water. I don’t know if that love comes from my mother taking the family to the beach all summer long or something to do with a past life. In any case, I don’t discriminate between bodies of water. Creeks, lakes, rivers, oceans: I love them all equally. There is just something so peaceful and renewing about being around water.

I have been lucky enough to live fairly close to bodies of water my entire life. Lake Champlain and the Saranac River were very accessible during my “growing” years. Life in New Jersey brought the Atlantic Ocean and our house near Buffalo was about 10 minutes from the shores of Lake Erie. Our move to the Finger Lakes region brought a new wealth of lakes, ponds and the Erie Canal to explore and enjoy.

My life in the Finger Lakes and the enjoyment in the views of the lakes started me thinking about owning a canoe of my very own. The thought of paddling in the waters of the Finger Lakes region just sounded so relaxing and soothing. Just think of the near-silent dipping of a paddle in a calm body of water propelling you forward into the sunset enjoying the scenery and wildlife all around you on a beautiful summer evening.

And so the challenge begins. I planted the seed of owning a canoe with my husband 15 years ago when we moved to the Finger Lakes. I explained how nice it would be to get out onto the water and enjoy the natural resources around us. I thought he was listening until he went out and bought a very nice 17’ Bayliner motor boat. It was a beautiful boat, but it was loud and smelly. Certainly not the calm and peaceful experience I thought of with a canoe. We sped around several of the Finger Lakes and even brought it up to the Adirondacks a few times. Our youngest daughter learned to water ski; something impossible to do with a canoe. But the boat just got to be too much trouble. It was always a production to get it into the water and after a few years it was for sale.

In the meantime, we have had a few positive canoe experiences. A paddling trip on the Delaware River Water Gap was very enjoyable but it still didn’t convince Tom that we needed a canoe of our own. Not until we borrowed a canoe this past summer and used it on Loon Lake in the Adirondacks did he start to seriously think of buying one. His addiction to Craig’s List came into play and by the end of the summer we were the proud owners of a canoe. My request was that before taking it to the Adirondacks we take it for a paddle on the Erie Canal.

Lo and behold, my dream of owning a canoe and paddling on the Erie Canal was finally realized this past week-end. For about 45 minutes on Sunday morning we paddled along the canal. The water was as smooth as glass and the fish were jumping all around us. It was a wonderful experience.

Was preparing myself physically for paddling a canoe on the Erie Canal the challenge? No, the real challenge was convincing my husband over a span of 15 years to give it a try! So plant your own seed and have patience. You just never know.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hanging Tomato Plant

All danger of frost has passed in the Finger Lakes! How we wait to reach that landmark time of year Now it's time to plant a garden. Last year I decided to convert my never-very-successful deck landscaping into a vegetable garden. The garden was a moderate success producing a few meals of beans (yellow, green and purple), plenty of zucchini, a few green peppers and some cherry tomatoes. Not really much of a crop to claim, but I loved the idea of a garden nonetheless. For at least a little while I could pretend that organic really meant something to me!

Last year, I started my seeds inside. I planted much more than I needed and transplanted much more than I needed, as well. I think one of the reasons for my small crop was that I overplanted the garden. I just couldn’t bear to “destroy” my little seedlings. By the end of the season I realized that I hadn’t done myself any favors because the plants were too crowded to produce. This year I decided to let someone else do the seedling nurturing thing. Maybe if I don’t become so attached, I won’t have any trouble thinning plants out when needed.

It was the perfect week-end for planting so I headed up to my favorite farm market. It was an absolute feast for the eyes. I tried to keep myself focused on vegetables but got a little distracted with the hanging baskets. Oh well, I did need those, too! I brought home zucchini, a roma tomato, a grape tomato, yellow and red peppers and cubanelle peppers. On second thought, I returned to the store the next day and bought some eggplant and a variety of herbs.

My experiment this year is to plant tomatoes and peppers upside down. You may have seen the topsy turvy tomato planter. This planter claims that water and nutrients move directly from the root to the fruit increasing production. I don’t know anyone who actually had any success with this planter, but a friend of mine claimed great success with planting in five-gallon buckets. His claim is that the larger sized bucket and the heavier planter protect the plant roots resulting in a no-fail crop.

Up for the challenge, I decided to give it a try. I planted my two tomato and three pepper plants in their own buckets. Tom acted as my technical director and the process went very smoothly. It's been about six hours and the plants have not fallen out of the holes. I have high hopes for success. Planting in the buckets did free up a little bit of space in my small garden and I am looking forward to a full “30 pounds of fruit” (according to topsy turvy) from my planters. I’m also hoping that my pesky woodchuck foe will not be able to reach my new plants. I’m not sure how much wood a woodchuck can chuck but I do know how many zucchini he can eat!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Sales

I have been a voracious reader since I was very young. I’m sure this trait is inherited from my mother who always found time at the end of her busy day to lose herself in a little good fiction or thumb through a magazine. We were not lucky enough to have a library in our small community so we made good use of the school library when school was in session. In the summer, mom made sure we got to the Bookmobile whenever it was in town. I think the Bookmobile is the coolest thing ever and took my kids to one once just so they could experience a library on wheels.

As I relocated from one community to another, finding the library was always a top priority. I read so many books (2-3 per week) that it just didn’t make sense for me to buy them. Besides, a box filled with books makes a pretty heavy load as we averaged a move every two years or so. Checking books out of library was like shopping with no money.

I have continued to use the library through the years, although recently I have noticed that I do not get through my books quite as quickly and I am more often than not late in returning them to the library. I am constantly paying fines for keeping my books past the due date. I always think that if I had just one more day I could finish. I never leave a book unfinished even if I don’t particularly care for the story. If someone took the time and energy to write the book, I don’t want to insult them by leaving it unfinished. It’s like leaving a performance early which is very rude, not to mention disrespectful.

As a result of my continued tardiness in returning my books, I stopped going to the library and relied on friends and family to pass their books on to me. Unfortunately, my reading supply was sporadic and my taste was not always compatible with theirs. Then, one summer, I stumbled across a book sale as part of a festival. Not knowing what to expect, I walked into a room filled wall-to-wall with books. The price of the books ranged from $.50 to $1.00. A book lover’s paradise! I was hooked.

Recently, I caught the tail end of a book sale. This is the point when they just want to get rid of what’s left and charge $2.00 for a bagful of books. I fit nine books into my bag. When I added up the prices listed on the book covers it came to just under $200. I checked the titles on and they totaled just under $125. Wow, makes me glad I paid $4.00 for my bag instead of just $2.00! The titles left at the end of a sale may not be best sellers or even very recent, but every book is worth a read as far as I’m concerned.

If you like to read and are flexible with your reading material, do yourself a favor and check out your local book sale. You’ll be doing everyone a favor, especially yourself.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Coffee Body Scrub

I love body scrubs. They do a great job of exfoliating dry skin and exposing wonderfully soft skin as well as coming in a variety of delicious scents. I always thought of them as a frivolous luxury because a good scrub can be a little pricey and don’t buy them often for that reason. Therefore, when I came across a recipe for a homemade body scrub in my recent issue of Body and Soul Magazine I decided to give it a try.

The recipe called for common ingredients including ½ cup of used coffee grounds, ½ cup of honey and 1 tablespoon of orange zest. It seemed like a simple recipe and I had no problem coming up with the ingredients. I grabbed the used coffee grounds from work. As you can imagine, there was quite a fight about who would take them home, but fortunately I won out for the sake of science. I bought a store brand honey for $2.29 and had an orange in the fridge. An inexpensive recipe is always appealing to me.

I was curious about the reason these ingredients were chosen for the recipe so I did a little research. I was amazed what I found out about the effects of coffee on the skin. Apparently, when coffee is applied directly to the skin it redistributes fat cells and therefore decreases the formulation of cellulite. The caffeine in the coffee scrub also acts as a vascular restrictor, shrinking blood vessels and helping to reduce varicose veins. More importantly, recent studies on laboratory mice indicate that when caffeine is applied directly to the skin it can prevent the occurrence of skin cancer caused by UV radiation. I love to drink coffee but had no idea of what else it had to offer.

As for the honey, apparently it is an antibacterial that acts as a moisturizer as well. Honey hydrates and softens the skin. It is also is good for acne prone skin as it inhibits the bacterial growth and therefore reduces the chance of breakouts. Of course honey is made with only natural ingredients and is rich in nutrients like vitamins B and C. The antioxidants found in honey benefit the skin and prevent it from the effects of premature aging. I had no idea.

I mixed the ingredients together very easily. The scent of the coffee with the orange zest was simply amazing. I filled up the bathtub with warm water and was ready to give this scrub a test run. I was a little concerned that the honey would make the scrub sticky but this was not the case. I applied the mixture in a vigorous circular motion. I was a little over zealous and it was pretty abrasive but it felt good. Note to self: go a little easier next time. I left the scrub on for a little bit to get the full effects of the caffeine. As soon as I rinsed the it all off, my skin felt amazing. The coffee scent did not stay on my skin and I moisturized as usual with no clashing of scents.

I cannot say enough about this homemade coffee body scrub. Given the exfoliation qualities of this recipe as well as the benefits of the ingredients and the price, I will definitely continue to use this body scrub and would recommend that you give it a try as well. As an additional tip, I would suggest that you use a coffee filter over your bathtub drain when you are through because all those coffee grounds cannot be good for anyone’s septic system. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Public Transportation

Growing up in the country, there really weren’t many opportunities for me to take advantage of a public transportation system. With the exception of the school bus, I was able to get wherever I needed to be by car. When I went away to school I began to use the Greyhound bus service to get back and forth from Plattsburgh to Albany. It certainly was a culture shock to be dropped at the bus terminal in downtown Albany in 1977!

During my time in Albany, I started taking a bus to do my grocery shopping. As anyone who has grown up in a rural environment knows, you buy food for at least a two-week period. It didn’t occur to me until it was too late that I would have to carry all those bags onto the bus and then walk from the bus stop to my apartment. I still remember the ache in my arms by the time I got home. I didn’t make that mistake again. I had another opportunity to take advantage of a bus service in Philadelphia a few years ago when Erin and I were visiting. We had a short distance to travel and were told the bus was the best way to get there. Wow. First the bus was late getting to our stop and then it left us off in the middle of nowhere. I think I’ll leave bus travel to others from now on.

In recent years, I have been taking advantage of travel by train. The train is such an easy, comfortable way to travel. It takes a bit longer than driving but the seats are comfortable and the stations are easy to get around, not mention beautiful examples of architecture steeped in history. I remember my parents taking the family on a train from Plattsburgh to Ticonderoga so we could experience travel by rail before it became obsolete. Now the state of New York is vying for federal funds to create a high-speed train service. Apparently trains aren’t going anywhere soon.

I recently took a quick trip to New York City. I drove the first leg of the trip to Erin’s apartment which is near New Paltz. Our plan was to take the commuter train into the city. We knew that the parking lot for the commuter train would be very crowded on a weekday so we took advantage of a shuttle bus which took us straight to the train stop. This was great because we didn’t have to worry about parking and walking across a large parking lot in the rain. After about an hour and a half we reached Grand Central Station. Within minutes we were on the streets of NYC ready for our day none the worse for wear.

While I wouldn’t want to make that commute every day, it’s a great way to travel for an occasional visit. Travel by train is a definite improvement over taking the bus and I highly recommend it. Give it a try and good luck with your travels!