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!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Such bright, sunny days lend themselves to thoughts of fresh, homegrown vegetables. Though not much of a gardener, I was inspired last spring by Martha Stewart to build a salad table. I saw it on one of her shows and was eager to give it a try. She made it look so easy (of course). The table is constructed to be four inches deep with a fine screen on the bottom so that the water can drain out but the soil cannot. I showed Tom the plans and he built the table for me. We laughed because the materials cost more than any crop I could hope to harvest but I thought it would be fun.

Because salad greens like the cooler weather, I planted my crop of basil, spinach and leaf lettuce in mid-May when all chance of frost was past. I nurtured the seeds by routinely watering, feeding and thinning them. If I thought the night would be too cold, I covered them. Soon I had little seedlings. I thought I was doing pretty well until a friend told me that he had been eating his own spinach for weeks. How disappointing. Even though my crop was late, I held on until all hope passed sometime in July. No fresh salads for me! You can see the ill-fated salad table above.

I bought some basil plants for about $4 and enjoyed eating from them all summer long. I enjoyed the basil so much that this year I decided to get an early start and grow some basil plants inside. I planted the seeds and placed the planter under a grow light. Again, the seeds began to sprout. Today I transplanted four little seedlings into a larger pot. Their stems are a little weak so I propped them up with little sticks. The directions say to let a fan blow on them for two hours every day to simulate outside conditions. I’ll have to give that a try even though it seems like I’m racking up quite an electric bill for the pleasure of a few leaves of basil.

But how can you measure the pleasure something gives against its cost in dollars? It’s not really the basil itself that matters to me; obviously I can buy basil anywhere. It’s the satisfaction of having succeeded in producing it myself. What’s the expression? "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.” Here’s to a lifetime of fresh basil pesto!

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I have always been a fan of volunteering. Moving around as we have, it was always a good way to get involved in the community and to meet interesting people. The trick to a successful volunteer experience is to find an organization/project that interests you and just go with it.

I began my volunteer career in Shaftsbury, Vermont at the Peter Matteson Tavern. I wore an 1800’s costume and learned to spin and weave as well as to make lace. I was called upon to conduct a few tours but I wasn’t very good at it and felt badly that people had actually paid for one of my tours. You know what I mean – some tour guides are just so good and some are just not. I was not.

My next volunteer experience was as a literacy volunteer. I was living in New Jersey where there was a very diverse population of non-English speaking residents. I worked with a young woman from Puerto Rico. She spoke English very well but needed help interpreting insurance documents, etc. Now really, can anyone figure these things out? This experience gave me a new respect for anyone who could speak a second language and function in another country.

Next stop, the Girl Scouts. I spent many years as a troop leader as my girls grew up. I met a lot of really nice people and I was able to use my planning skills to the extreme. No meeting went without a themed craft project and “lesson”. Okay, maybe I got a little impatient every once in a while and showed my “crazy mom eyes”. But I didn’t lose many girls along the way, or wait; maybe it was the free babysitting service.

I think my old classmates will get a chuckle out of learning that I was also a softball coach for a few years. In school, I was always the kid who ran to the outfield because I could not throw a ball to save my life and there was rarely any action that far out. I still feel bad for the Phys Ed teacher. She was so tolerant of my “girly” behavior. Anyway, a softball coach was needed and I stepped up. It was very stressful being a coach. I remember getting calls from parents admonishing me for taking their daughters out of the game. I thought I was being kind by not letting the girls humiliate themselves. Different perspective I guess.

After my daughters were both out of school, I decided that I needed a break. I felt drained and burnt out. Volunteering does take a lot of time and energy even if you do enjoy it. I took a few years off before starting to feel guilty for not “giving back” to the community.

This brings me to my latest experience. As part of my year of challenges and goals, I volunteered to work for a charity auction in the small city where I work. The auction is held every year to help raise money for the Christmas decorations that go up in the downtown area. I have to admit, I wasn’t much into soliciting donations for something as frivolous as Christmas lights when other organizations were trying to raise money for food and clothes for the disadvantaged. At best, it was a half-hearted effort on my part.

Imagine my horror when I was presented with an Volunteer Award for Outstanding Service. What an ingenious idea! Make your volunteers feel really bad about their lackluster performance so they will come back and try even harder the following year. I would recommend this technique to any organization that is dependent on volunteer labor. What choice do I have now but to sign on for another year so that I can prove myself? Would anyone like to donate to the 2010 Light Up Geneva Auction? I’ll be giving you a call.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Real Simple Solutions

I was flipping through the February issue of Real Simple magazine and came across a feature called Ideas, Insight, Inspiration: 8 New Uses for a Tennis Ball. Are you kidding me? This had Challenge written all over it! Now I happen to have a tennis-playing daughter so I have a bucket full of tennis balls in my garage. But are tennis balls something that the majority of people have just hanging around their house? Hmm, I wonder.

#1 – Bulb Remover: Use half of a ball to remove a warm light-bulb from its socket. I cut my tennis ball in half (according to package directions!) and attempted this trick. The ball did not fit over the light-bulb. It did, however, provide enough of a grip to loosen the bulb but I had to use my fingers to actually remove the bulb. Maybe I was supposed to loosen the bulb and let it fall to the ground. Score: C

#2 - Comforter Fluffer: Speed up the drying time of bedding by tossing a couple tennis balls in the load. I’ve tried this over the years with a comforter or down coat without success. The tennis balls get tangled up in whatever is drying or just bang around in the dryer. Maybe it works for someone else. Score: D

#3 – Arm Weights: Cut small slits into two balls and fill with pennies. The filled tennis balls weighed about 1 lb. each. I walked for 30 minutes on the treadmill with them. I get the point (pump your arms for an extra cardio workout) but my hands cramped a bit trying to hold onto the balls. I’m thinking that if you can buy tennis balls and fill them with pennies, you can afford to buy some inexpensive hand weights. The bonus to this tip may be that if you are out walking and get thirsty, you can stop at the store and use your pennies to buy a drink. Score: B

#4 – Spa Tool: Roll sore feet over tennis balls. I have been on my feet a lot this week and this one actually felt pretty good. The tennis ball worked the sore muscles in the bottom of my feet and relaxed them a bit. This doesn’t replace a good foot massage but then tennis balls are pretty cheap. Score: B

#5 – Jar Opener: Use the rubber lining of a cut ball to aid your grip. I suppose this one would work well if you found a jar top that was the size of your tennis ball. I tried this on tops that were smaller and larger and it didn’t work at all. Score: C

#6 – Makeshift Safe: Slice a tennis ball and place valuables inside. You’ve got to be kidding me! If I have anything valuable enough to hide, I wouldn’t hide it inside a tennis ball. This is just plain silly. Score: C

#7 – Floor Guards: Cut an X into four balls and slip the feet of an ironing board inside. The ironing board pictured above was a wedding shower gift from my grandmother. It is still is good shape except that it has lost a plastic protector on one of the legs. This may be a humiliating look for the ironing board, but it actually works for me. I’m going to keep them on and see how it works out. So far, so good. Score: A

#8 – Painkiller: Lie down. Place a tied sock containing two balls under the spot where your head and neck meet. Tuck your chin and gently nod your head up and down. I have trouble with my neck so I harbored some hope for this one: PAINFULL! Score: F

How many times do you read these kinds of tips in magazines and then just put them out of your mind? Admittedly, some of the suggested uses for a tennis ball were a little lame, but then some of them actually worked. Check out Real Simple magazine at for these and other clever ideas. Let me know if you have any valuables to hide and I'll send you a tennis ball.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Paper Making

I have been creating scrapbooks and cards for several years now. As any scrapbooker will tell you, this craft generates a lot of paper scraps. I have saved all my scraps from various projects over the years. You just never know when you will need just a little bit of something. I also like to pick up a variety of papers for use in future projects. You may be surprised to learn that paper styles and colors go out of style fairly quickly. How else could paper companies sell more paper?

As a result, I have amassed quite a selection of papers over the years. Not wanting to throw them away, I thought I would start to create my own papers. The first step was to sort the papers out by color. It turns out that I have a lot of brightly-colored card stock. Not sure how I will use them, but I’ll worry about that later. Several papers are multi-colored so I put them in piles by their predominant shades.

The paper making process requires the use of a blender. I have been through a few blenders over the years and didn’t currently own one. I paid a visit to my local Big Lots and found a Hamilton Beach blender for a good price. (I’ll have to try it out on margaritas for Cinco de Mayo as a true test.) With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, I decided to make pink and red paper. I tore up scraps of paper that included solid pink and pink-based papers. The blender was filled about halfway with paper and the rest with water. I let the paper soak for about 10 minutes and then blended it on high speed for about a minute. The resulting pulp was dumped into a plastic tote. I added two pitchers of water for each pitcher of pulp.

The result of all this mixing was a tub of light pink pulp. I assembled my deckle and screen and dipped it into the pulp, lifting it up and draining. I then sponged off all the water I could by gently squeezing and pressing. I then peeled the new sheet of paper off and placed it on a towel to dry. The pink was pretty but I wanted to add a little more pizzazz by using red. Red is such a strong color that I only used about a quarter of a pitcher of red paper with the rest of the pitcher filled with water. As expected, I didn’t need much of the red to create a vibrant color.

The end result was six pages of new paper from about four full sheets of old paper. This may not seem worth the effort but the positive is that these six pages were created out of a variety of scraps which would otherwise have had no purpose. The new pages are all a nice uniform color and ready to be used in my next project.

Making paper is a little messy but it was a nice activity for a cold winter day. I look forward to experimenting with more colors and techniques. Now I need to find something to do with my newly-created paper. I’ll keep you posted on that one!