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, March 28, 2010

Watercolor Painting

I have long been a fan of the art of watercolor. Watercolor paintings have such a soft, dreamy look. The colors bleed into each other creating less defined edges that allow your imagination to see what is inside the painting and not just what is imprinted on the paper. Not a student of the fine arts, I wanted to learn how to work with colors and blending techniques without having to concentrate on fine details. Not to say that watercolor paintings do not have detail, but I was thinking of painting in a more abstract way.

Although an admirer, I had never tried my hand at this type of painting and when a series of art classes became available at the Phelps Arts Center I decided it was time to give it a try. “The Phelps Arts Center is housed in an 1850’s Gothic structure and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a significant example of early English Parish Architecture.” More recently, the building was occupied by the Phelps Community Memorial Library. Now, I ask you, how can you not be inspired to create in a building with that history?

There were three of us in the class which was held in the rear of the building. As visitors would come to view the exhibit in the Arts Center, they would wander back to the classroom and watch us paint as if we were part of the admission price. Now I know how animals at the zoo must feel! Of course one of the students was very good. He had been painting for years and really just stopped by for some tips. Visitors watched him in awe and amazement while they seemed to look at me with pity. You know a quick glance and look away as if they hadn’t looked at all!

The instructor taught me how to wash a paper with color, forming the base of the picture. It was so much fun mixing the colors and watching them blend together on the paper. Apparently most people are a little intimidated by this technique but I jumped right in. No reason to pretend I knew what I was doing or that I should be intimated by my lack of knowledge. My impatience proved to be a problem as I did not let the paper dry before I moved on to the next step. As a result, my landscapes got a little muddy. Lesson learned. I will need to be more patient and cautious as I move forward. It will be fun to paint these pictures again to see how I can make improvements to them.

While I haven’t painted anything “suitable for framing”, I have enjoyed my classes. I am proud of myself for achieving my goal of attending art classes and stretching myself to become more aware of the colors that surround me and how they all work together. So maybe I haven’t painted a masterpiece (yet), but you have to walk before you can run, right?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring Cleaning

I don’t know about your house, but when the sun starts to shine through my windows all I can see is dust and dirty windows. While more sunshine and warmer days bring thoughts of working in my gardens, it also brings thoughts of spring cleaning. Time to shake out the old stale air and let the sun shine in!

While I’m no cleaning guru, I have come across a few tips and products that actually get the job done and save time.

1. Magic Eraser. If you haven’t tried this one, you really should. The Magic Eraser goes from removing soap scum on the shower walls to cleaning those water spots on the window above the kitchen sink. Admit it, you have both! It’s also great for cleaning a solid surface countertop and sink. Just wipe, dry and polish.

2. Dishwasher Detergent. Do you have trouble keeping the textured bottom of your bathtub clean? Tip number two is a 2-for-1 deal. Soak your mini-blinds in a tub of warm water with powdered dishwasher detergent. You get a super clean tub and bright shiny blinds. As a bonus, the strings on the blinds come out nice and white because of the bleach in the detergent. WARNING: Tub may be slippery!

3. White vinegar. Have you ever noticed a white build-up on your bathroom and kitchen fixtures? It’s hard as a rock and extremely difficult to remove. Soak a cloth or paper towel with the vinegar and wrap it around the white build-up. You might need to use a rubber band to keep the cloth in place. Let it soak for about 30 minutes and it wipes right off! Vinegar is also great for cleaning windows. I used to have an awful time trying to wash my windows and leave them streak-free. If you’re going to have streaks, there really isn’t any point in washing them at all. (I’ve used this excuse before!). I mix a little regular dish detergent with white vinegar and warm water to use as a window cleaner.

4. Newspaper. Use newspaper to dry off your clean windows. I don’t know what it is, but the newspaper absorbs the water and leaves a perfectly shiny, streak-free window. The only problem with using newspaper is that your hands get really dirty. Be prepared to wash your hands often so the black ink doesn’t rub off and create a whole new cleaning job for you.

5. Swiffer duster. This little gadget is just the greatest! Dust practically jumps right onto it. Have you ever seen the commercial where the woman is dancing around dusting with her Swiffer? Silly, I know, but I felt like putting on music and dancing along! I must have done a good job because when the sun came shining in this afternoon, I didn’t see any dust.

6. Housekeeper. If all else fails check out Craig’s List for housekeeping services. Sometimes the expense is just so worth it.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Okay, we all know we need to exercise. According to Web MD the benefits of exercise include strengthening muscles, keeping bones strong and improving our skin. Regular exercise also increases relaxation, helps us sleep better and improves our immune function. Wow, that’s quite a list! Unfortunately for me, knowing this information and doing something about it are two different subjects entirely.

I have always found one reason (excuse!) or another not to exercise. The work-outs were too hard, the class times were inconvenient, I was too tired, etc. I could go on and on. Maybe you’ve made some of the same excuses. A few years ago I decided to start exploring some exercise options that would fit my lifestyle and help to eliminate the validity of all my excuses.

I joined Curves because they promised a 30 minute routine and had convenient hours. As an added bonus, visiting Curves on a week-day morning with the over-70 crowd makes me feel young and vibrant. Having become an audio book addict, I treat myself to a “fun” book while walking on the treadmill. If I want to listen to my book, I have to walk. Walking along the lakefront during lunchtime also offers an opportunity to increase my activity level.

You guessed it, I’m still making excuses! Some days I have to work late and can’t get to Curves. Other days, the weather is not conducive to an outdoor walk; too hot, too cold or rainy. And the treadmill is in the basement which is not my favorite place in the house.

A lost cause you say? 10 minute workouts on Exercise on Demand to the rescue! I have found a new way to meet my goal of 30 minutes of activity a day 10 minutes at a time. I started with a simple dance routine. While I might not be the best dancer, I thought I was doing pretty well until my performance was compared to Carla’s in the “Other Sister”. I just have to make sure no one is around when I “dance” next time. This morning I tried a kick boxing routine. What fun! Maybe this routine will double as assertiveness training. Two for one all in 10 minutes!

Forever the optimist, each Monday presents itself as another chance to do the right thing. I’m off to Curves this morning to get my inspiration from the over-70 crowd. Hey, if they can do it, so can I.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Leftover: something that remains unused or unconsumed; especially: leftover food served at a later meal.

I think I’m pretty good at gauging how much food to cook for each meal and as a result I don’t generate a lot of leftovers. But on occasion I do have bits of meat from various roasts left at the end of a meal. Not really enough for a complete meal but too much to drop down the garbage disposal. I like to save these bits and pieces and add them all together to simmer with a barbeque sauce or gravy. Smothered in sauce, you can’t really tell one meat from another.

The problem is that it can take several months for me to save up enough “bits and pieces” to make a meal. I have been storing the meat in Tupperware containers in the freezer. As the contents of the containers crystallize over time, it becomes difficult to know what food is actually in the container or how long it has been there. And have you ever had a frozen container fall out of the freezer onto the floor? I have, and it isn’t pretty. Either you end up with a broken container or worse yet, a broken toe if you aren’t quick enough to jump to safety from the avalanche of frozen food containers.

FoodSaver to the rescue! I have been looking at the vacuum sealing systems available on the market. These systems seal food in plastic without air which prevents ice crystals from forming on your food. The downside is that they are a little pricey and take up a bit of cabinet space. Enter the FoodSaver system. This is a handy little system that uses plastic bags with little air holes through which the handheld device sucks all the air. There is an area that you can easily record what is in the bag and when you placed it in the freezer. Not only do my leftovers come out in a timely and frost-free manner, but as an added bonus the virtually flat bags stack very neatly in the freezer. I would definitely recommend this product to anyone who uses their freezer to preserve food.

Did you know that we throw away 8.3 million tons of food and drink each year? I won’t be contributing to this number now that I have a FoodSaver!