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It’s a new year, which means a new reality check for all of us here at the Homestead. The excesses of the holiday season did a number on my waistline, and so I am working this month to shed the extra cookies off my middle. The gym is not an option (after a long battle to quit my most recent gym, I have a pathological avoidance to giving any gym my credit card number), so we are building up a gym of sorts at home. I scavenged a 20 year old Nordic Track skier from my parents, which is providing some great cardio, and we upgraded the Wii Fit (which had been gathering dust in the living room) to Wii Fit Plus.

Now, I’m not one who normally enjoys video games, preferring real games to the digital kind, but the Wii in general has won me over with it’s sports simulation games. Mashing buttons is not fun (for me), but standing up and getting physically involved in the game is a blast. Last year we got the Wii Fit as a Chirstmas gift, and for weeks we played it silly until we grew bored of the limited games the disc provided.

This year Nintendo has upgraded the Wii Fit to Wii Fit Plus, so I sprung the $20 for the disc (since we already have the balance board, I did not need to purchase the whole bundle). I am impressed by the many upgrades to the game, and it’s got me playing it almost daily. The disc has a bunch of new training games, including my new favorites: cycling, skateboarding (who could have predicted I would love that?), rhythm kung fu, and snow ball fights. All the yoga and strength activities have been “unlocked,” so I am no longer made to think I have to earn the right to do a certain pose. The kids were able to make Mii’s for the pets, which they enjoyed. In all, the game is now a good deal more fun.

There are other improvements, too, which make the game more functional as a workout tool. For one thing, it now gives you an estimate of calories burned for your session based on your weight (did I mention is weighs you?) and duration of each activity. There’s also a feature that lets you build and save specific workout routines to select from a number of prepared routines. As with the previous version, you can record physical activity done outside of the game, but now you can also record your waist measurements.

There are some other things that weren’t changed, which I wish were. If you gain the slightest bit of weight, the silly thing admonishes you and makes you explain the increase using one of a very few offered excuses, all of which involve you admitting to overeating. This is a bit humiliating, especially if the weight gain is temporary water retention, normal weight variation, or, as happened to me, the result of trying a new sleeve on the balance board that removed 12 pounds for my weight when on (which the game celebrated as though a 12 pound loss in one day was somehow healthy) and added 12 pounds back on when removed (resulting in me getting a lecture about my eating habits). This kind of negative humiliation is not something that motivates me to return the next day, but on the flip side, learning to ignore it when it was obviously uncalled for is perhaps a good mental skill to practice.

Despite the unhappy reality check of watching my Mii get chubby after each day’s weigh in as the machine gleefully declares “That’s Overweight!” I do think the Wii Fit Plus is a lot of fun and, if used regularly, can be a useful part of an overall fitness routine. It may not be a substitute for playing real sports out in the real world with other real people, but in the cold of winter, it certainly is more fun than a treadmill!

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The walls look so nice with the new color. The old not-quite-pink shade of white brought nothing to the party.

The walls look so nice with the new color. The old not-quite-pink shade of white brought nothing to the party.

This past weekend at the Homestead, we tackled a Big Project. The living room/dining room has finally been painted! It took us 5 years to find the right color to use, and the room finally looks right.

To paint this intimidating space, we choose to use Bungaloo color liquid in Corinne (which is a mild, warm yellowish hue). Bungaloo color liquid is no voc, which is an important criteria for me, and it is sold in the sort of plastic bottles that laundry detergent comes in. I’m generally pretty good with words, but even I can’t fully explain how awesome buying paint in plastic bottles is. You don’t have to fight them open, and you can twist the cap back on to seal them. They pour into the paint tray with no drips. It’s clean, fast, and oh-so-tidy:

See the small bottle on the left? That's the bottle of paint.

See the small bottle on the left? That's the bottle of paint-the drips happened in transit when UPS treated my package without respect.

The color liquid goes on like a dream. I covered the entire room completely in one coat, in one day. It dried well in a pretty short time, and with the paint in bottles, clean up was a breeze.

If you've ever wondered how Crazy paints, she tackles the biggest room in the house using only a 2" brush and an edger.

If you've ever wondered how Crazy paints, she tackles the biggest room in the house using only a 2" brush and an edger.

Bungaloo is a local-to-me company, located in norther NJ. They do things a lot better than most paint companies I’ve tried. I was able to order small samples of a few colors at $3.95 each to test on the walls (which saved us from painting the whole room in the too orange Brooke, rather than the just right Corinne). Ordering was a breeze, and the paints arrive the next day. The paint kit included a detailed analysis of the paint ingredients, which is something I’ve never seen a company provide. My only issue was that the estimating tool guided me to order more paint then I used, so I have 2 full bottles leftover to gift a friend or paint the basement.

As for the color liquid itself, I think it’s the most perfect paint I have ever used, and I have used a lot! I majored in theater in college and spend most of my time painting sets. I know paint, and this color liquid is good stuff. I’ll be placing another order today for color liquid for the kitchen.

I held my breath as they tucked it in place. Another 1/4 inch wider and it wouldn't have fit.

I held my breath as they tucked it in place. Another 1/4 inch wider and it wouldn't have fit.

There’s a tall, cool stranger in my kitchen this morning.

A few weeks ago, the bracket holding up the crisper drawers in our fridge cracked, which caused the shelf to sag onto the drawers, making them hard to open. The part to repair it was available for about $100, but we started thinking that maybe this was the time to finally replace the fridge. The old one was a 10 year old Frigidaire that had been left by the previous owner. It was not Energy Star rated, and it used about 825 kwh of electricity a year, which is high for a modern fridge. It had no water in the door, which meant it was opened 1.3 million times a day by family members raiding the tub of filtered water within. And the door opened the wrong way, opening out towards a walkway rather than being open towards the nearby counter top, which always bugged me. I hate inefficiently designed household systems because they make my lazy self do more work than is really needed.

We decided to upgrade rather than repair, which is costlier in the short term, but more in line with our values in the long run. We have been contemplating the virtues of replacing it for the last two years, and the need for repair moved us to finally take action. The new fridge uses 580 kwh a year, which is a 30% energy savings. It offers filtered ice and water right in the door, which will also be an energy savings, since the fridge no longer needs to be opened just because the kids are thirsty.

My favorite feature is the Tilt-out Fruit Bin inside the fridge door. This three-compartment bin allows me to store fresh, ready-to-eat fruit and veggie snacks right at eye level for the kids. We’ve already stocked it with baby carrots, grapes, and tiny pink lady apples, and it’s been a big hit with the kids and hubby:

Eye-level bin of Mommy-approved snacks.

Eye-level bin of Mommy-approved snacks.

The freezer side is surprisingly empty. Our old fridge was a freezer-on-top model, and the freezer always felt crammed. The side-by-side offers much better organization in the freezer, and it now feels like there’s nothing in there. Hopefully I’ll find some good bargains at the farmer’s market this week, since I now have the room to freeze large quantities of goodies for use later in the year.

This lettuce was much bushier yesterday.

This lettuce was much bushier yesterday.

Day 3 into my challenge to spend 30 minutes in the garden, and I didn’t want to do it. It’s hot and humid, and I’m sooooo tired. If I had not posted my challenge here, I probably would have skipped it, but I did not want to admit defeat publically so soon.

I did spend my 30 minutes doing really easy work, though. I decided to fertilize and water the peach tree and veggie patch, which is something I do very infrequently, usually because I forget, thought the rich soil I have built means that additinal fertilization is a luxury, not a necessity, for the plants.

When I do fertilize, I use TerraCycle worm poop products. This company is one of the few that really is building a sustainable business. They recover materials from the waste stream for their packaging, fill them with organic fertilizers derived mainly from worm poop, and sell them back into the community. I have been using there stuff for a two seasons now, and the results have been impressive.

I first heard of TerraCycle back in 2007, when I read about how Scotts Miracle-Gro had filed a 173 page frivilous (in my opinion) lawsuit against a small New Jersey company to prevent this tiny company from competing with the massive corporate giant. Thanks to that poorly-conceived lawsuit, TerraCycle’s brand got a lot of free press. Heck, I would not have even known about this wonderful little company if it wasn’t for Scotts litigous behavior, so I guess I owe them a big Thank You for introducing me to my favorite poop supplier.

After hosing down my precious plants with water and poo, I noticed that one of my best lettuce patches is a foot shorter than it was yesterday. That darn groundhog was back last night and he took my best lettuce! I found a new burrow beneath the shed. I gave him a housewarming gift (a shovelful of dog poo), and arrangements have been made to borrow a trap for the weekend. I admire his tenacity, returning to the yard despite the presence of an eager 75 pound carnivore roaming the Homestead, but I can’t let him stay if he’s going to eat my precious veggies.

wholegrainbreadsYesterday we had a near catastrophe. It was Thing 1’s birthday and Father’s Day and the Summer Solstice. We had my parents and Hubby’s father and new bride coming for a big celebratory dinner. I let Thing 1 plan the dinner, and she picked her favorite lemon pasta with a spinach salad and bread. It’s and easy and flavorful meal that would please everyone dining at the Homestead.

We awoke to rain and decided to skip the Farmer’s Market, where we would have bought some great crusty Italian bread. I figured it didn’t really make sense to drive all the way up to the market anyway, as we’re leaving Wednesday for vacation and don’t really need much in the way of produce for such a short week. I decided to grab bread at our local Italian deli instead, because they also have awesome crusty Italian bread baked just for them.

We got there about at about noon, and I heard to owner tell the family in front of me terrible news. They had sold out of bread already. I panicked a little, then ran home and pulled out my trusty crusty copy of Whole Grain Bread by Machine or Hand by Beatrice Ojakangas and found the recipe for Tomato Basil Semolina Baguettes and made them sans tomato, so they were Garlic and Herb Semolina Baguettes. This cookbook helped save the day, and not for the first time!

If you are looking to get into baking bread or looking to expand the variety of breads in your repertoire, this is a book you should consider owning. It offers 200 recipes for all sorts of breads, some of which are frequently made in this house, mainly as sandwich breads. Our favorites are:

  • Milk and Honey Wheat Bread pg. 26
  • Tuscan Bread pg. 32
  • Beer and Mustard Rye Bread pg. 44 (Hubby calls this Tavern Rye)
  • Cornmeal Molasses Bread pg. 54 (a.k.a. anadama bread)
  • Finnish Rye Bread pg. 66
  • Maple Oatmeal Bread pg. 72

I have a very limited amount of shelf space in my kitchen that I use for cookbooks, and this is one of the few books honored with a spot on that shelf. Whether you bake in a bread machine, use a heavy duty mixer, or like to knead those loaves by hand, this cookbook has much to offer.

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About me

I am on a personal and professional quest to find a happier, healthier, greener and more cost effective way to live life in the suburbs.