Fast Tip Friday: the Shampoo Hack

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In a perfect world, all shampoo and toiletry bottles would have wide, flat tops, like this one. And then when you are trying to get at the last drops you can simply invert the bottle and gravity does the rest of the work.

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But in the real world there are a bunch with round tops, or tops too narrow to support the weight when the bottle is turned upside down.

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So they fall over. And you can’t get to that last drop of shampoo-y goodness. And it’s very frustrating. I do have an elegant invention in my brain-meats involving silicone rings but today the solution is much more accessible for the moment.

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Grab yourself one of those mesh plastic bags you’ve saved from buying fruits or vegetables. I keep these suckers for all sorts of reasons. Cut off any bits that seal it closed so you have an open tube.

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And grab yourself some string. Or rope. Or chain. Or shoelace. You’ll need two pieces, and you’ll need one that you can tie up.

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Weave the piece you will be tying up through the holes in the mesh. If you want to avoid the rough edges, fold the mesh over before you start weaving.

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Slide your shampoo bottle into the mesh bag with the top of the bottle pushing through the hole. Tie the string so the mesh is tight against the bottle.

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Bunch the open end of the mesh bag grab your other piece of string or whatever and thread it through the mesh to hold it closed.

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Hang that from a hook in your shower, from the tap, or a suction cup you picked up from the dollar store.  It ain’t pretty, but it works. And you can fancy it up anyway you want. Now you have access to that very last drop!

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A Magic Christmas Eve

Happy Christmas Eve everyone! I wish you all the best and the happiest of the holiday season.

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Everybody knows one. There’s at least one in every family. Sometimes there are several.

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I’m talking about Harry Potter fans. Yes, those people.

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I found this amazing tutorial on DeviantArt to make Harry Potter-inspired wands a couple years ago and I’ve been saving it for that special someone in my family.

Items you will most def need: chopsticks. I have six of the normal kind you get in fast food restaurants, and then a set of cooking chopsticks, because some wands are longer than others, after all.

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You will also need a hot glue gun and appropriate hot glue sticks. Kind of key. You’re going to use a lot of glue for these so be prepared!

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Optional are beads. Plastic, wooden, whatever. Doesn’t matter what colour. I also added some string. Because I like string.

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Then I sat myself down with one of her favourite television shows to inspire me and I got to work (I probably should have watched Harry Potter but I’m on season two on Netflix and things are really starting to get good!).

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From here what you do is pretty much up to you. I glued on some of the larger beads at the butt end of the wand as kind of a backstop.

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And one on the tip as sort of an extender.

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Then I added some texture and filler with glue.

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Twirly whirly.

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On this one I went with some string and some small beads.

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Here I let the glue and gravity do their thing. If you use the high setting on your glue gun the glue will stay liquid for longer.

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You can roll almost-cold glue between your hands to shape it but I tend to burn myself so I didn’t do that. I just let the glue cool unadulterated.

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Now you can paint! I used craft paint, in a few different shades of brown. I painted the tips of the wands a darker brown, almost black, because I figure if they’re shooting sparks all the time they might get a little singed, right? I also added bits of silver here and there.

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After the paint dried I coated each with a liberal layer of gloss Mod Podge and let that dry overnight. Any other form of sealant would work well – but you should definitely seal them with something because craft paint will just scratch right off hot glue.

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Pretty fancy, no?

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I’m not sure what she’s going to do with EIGHT MAGIC WANDS but that’s really not the point of this whole exercise, is it?

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Pollo in Chianti

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My mother and I used to make this for fancy dinner parties all the time when I was a kid.  I DO have the recipe written down somewhere, but that somewhere is likely in the bottom of a sealed box in my storage unit.  Fortunately for me, this recipe is pretty easy to remember, as it only has five ingredients (including the string).

As recipes go, it is a little time-consuming to make, but it’s totally worth it.  Think of it as sort of a fancy chicken tournedo — in reverse.

Start with some boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  As many as you want — I used 24 thighs for this.

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You’ll need a corresponding amount of prosciutto, which is a thinly sliced ham-like substance.  I usually use half a slice for each piece of chicken, though it’s so thinly sliced it tends to fall to pieces when I pull it apart so it’s hard to say how much I really use.

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Gren thinks he needs prosciutto.  Gren is wrong.

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And you’ll need a big bunch of fresh thyme.

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Then you’re going to need some butcher’s twine or kitchen string.  It’s helpful if you’ve already got it pre-cut into the number of pieces you need.  You’ll need about 8″-10″ pieces to wrap around each piece of chicken.

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First you’re going to need to strip all the wee leaves off your thyme.  This is annoying and takes a while.

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Then you’ll need to cut off all the excess fat on your chicken thighs.

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Open up the thigh so the cut side is up (this is where the bone used to be).  Line this side with a piece or two of prosciutto.

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Sprinkle on some of your thyme (yes, I know that I didn’t succeed in getting it all off the stem).  I like to also garnish it with some pepper.  These pink peppercorns make a nice contrast.

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Then roll the thigh back up and hold it closed.  Get your string ready.  The reason you want your string to be pre-cut is you don’t want to have chicken fingers all over your ball of twine.  That is gross.

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Wrap the string around the thigh two or three times and tie the ends into a simple but loose knot.

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I showed you the steps for one thigh but usually I approach this with a Fordist mentality and do it all in an assembly line.  Doing all of each step at once helps me to budget my use of thyme — otherwise I end up running out at the end.

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I actually prepped these the day before I cooked them and kept them in a sealed container in the fridge.  It saved me precious time during the day of the dinner party.

Your final ingredient will be a nice bottle of Chianti, an Italian red wine.  Any red wine will do, but Chianti is in the name of the recipe so it makes sense to use it.  I picked up the cheapest bottle I could find at the LCBO and I think it was about $13.  You’re going to be cooking with it, so it doesn’t have to be excellent or anything.  For 24 thighs I used the whole bottle, so you’ll probably only use half that if you’re making less.

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I also purchased especially for this day a new electric skillet.  We’d always used an electric skillet before to make this dish, simply because it was large and we could put it elsewhere and save room on the stovetop.  I got a good deal on this Hamilton Beach one from Home Outfitters.  You can easily make this in one or two skillets on your stove top.  Don’t feel you need to buy a new appliance if you’re not going to use it often. I am going to use this a bunch, which is why I bought it, and I made sure to read many reviews before I did!

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Anyway, heat your skillet to medium-high and plop in your chicken.  This skillet fits EXACTLY 24 rolled chicken thighs, which is an added bonus.

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Let those cook, rotating occasionally with a pair of tongs, until they are nicely browned on all sides, about 8-10 minutes.

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Lower the heat to medium and pour in the Chianti.

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The liquid level should come to about 1/2 to 2/3 the height of the chicken.

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Cover and let that simmer for about 20 minutes, until the wine is reduced somewhat.  Rotate the thighs halfway through so that the colouring will be even (the wine will dye the chicken purple).

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I used an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the thighs, which will be done when they read at 165°F.

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Use a pair of scissors to cut the string on all the thighs and serve them on rice or noodles.  So decadently simple!

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Wingin’ It Wednesday: Leak Management

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On Sunday morning we woke up to a blindingly brilliant sunny day, a definite rarity here in St. John’s, especially in the winter.  It was zero degrees, warmer in the sun, and everything was melting.  Drip, drip, drip.

But some of that dripping was coming from INSIDE the house.  The dining room to be precise.

Leak Management 1

One of the quirks of living in an older wooden house in St. John’s is that you get some weird leaks.  The strange freeze-thaw of precipitation mixed with the peculiarities of wind speed and direction means that weird things happen in your house.  We have a leak in our kitchen ceiling, for instance, that only ever leaks during the massive hurricanes in the fall.  This one in the dining room window frame, however, is a new one to us.  And after today, because we will never again get this exact confluence of weather and snow accumulation, we will probably never see it again.

So because there’s not much we can do about this particular leak, we mostly just had to figure out how to manage the drips until they stopped coming.  We laid a towel at the bottom of the sill initially to mop up the spill.

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But because the drops were falling from such a height the splash was getting all over our furniture.

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The Pie had an epiphany, and came up with this way to slow down the drops so we could contain them in little cups with minimal splash.  He affixed a piece of cotton twine to a thumb tack, which he then wedged in the gap where the fastest drips were coming out.

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After a bit of conditioning of the string with water, the drips began to flow down the string directly into the cups, saving us splashes.

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The Pie then dramatically declared, “THIS is why I would survive in a zombie apocalypse, because I’m so damned resourceful!”

Then he waltzed out of the room; in doing so, however, he managed to step on Gren’s loudest squeaky toy (and this isn’t the first time), thus alerting any zombie in the nearest county to our location.

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Oddities in String Art: Arr, Sweet Arr, and the Howling Wolf

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Okay so I’m definitely behind the trend on this one, but it looks like so much fun that I had to try it out.  When I asked Stef what he and the Stone would like me to make for them for Christmas, he suggested some form of decoration for their home.  And as Stef is my favourite pirate, I made him a skull and crossbones. For a little bit of contrast I used gray crochet thread on the crossbones part, so you could differentiate it from the rest of the skull.  Then I thought it would be cute to add a cross-stitched platitude to the bottom in a nice bright red.  Instead of Home Sweet Home, I thought that “Arr, Sweet Arr” would be more apropos.

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These beautiful copper carpet tacks belonged to my great-grandfather (who never threw anything away) and they look fantastic against the wood.  You can use any kind of nail you like, provided it has a decent-sized head.

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For the People Downstairs, whose last name is lupine-related, I made a slightly cheesy wolf howling at the moon.  To get the template, I simply drew a large circle and then freehanded the wolf silhouette.  It took a couple tries, because I am not the artist my mother is, but it ain’t bad. It only kind of looks like a corgi.  But that’s cool too.  I used a more delicate white thread to pick up the slightly more elaborate pattern.

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Because of my latent inability to cut anything in a straight line, the Pie was kind enough to do the sawing for me, as I had to cut this piece of craft board (which I bought from Kent) into smaller pieces.  The wolf piece is 12″ x 12″, and the pirate piece is 12″ x 16″.

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Spray paint the boards the colour of your choice.  Black is a good go-to background.

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You can see how there’s a mottled texture to my paint — I ran out of one can of spray paint partway through, and like a good little soldier I sat there and drained all the air out of the can so it could be properly disposed of.  Because it was occasionally spitting paint at me while doing this, I figured I’d do it while pointing it at my painted surface.  And thus the weird texture.  But I’m going to roll with it. It adds character.

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While that is drying, work on your design.  On a piece of paper, sketch out the outline of the shape you want.  Mine are obviously pretty simplistic, due to my lack of artistic skill (I’m the only one in the family who can’t draw, go figure), but you don’t want to get too complicated when it comes to string. Basic and slightly embellished shapes are probably your best bet.

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Temporarily tape the design to your board, and carefully hammer in nails along the lines you’ve drawn, spacing them out evenly.  My board is only 1/4″ thick so I had to be careful not to hammer them in too far.

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I found a pair of pliers kept me from hitting my fingers.

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Once you’ve got all the nails in you can rip off and recycle the paper.

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Now, with your thread or wool or string or whatever you’re using, tie a knot around one of the nails and start weaving the thread around the nails, back and forth across the space you want to fill.  Don’t worry too much about a pattern (unless that’s what you’re going for).  Stop when you’ve filled it as much as you want to.  It’s a pretty fluid thing.

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And there you have it.  I screwed hanging hardware into the back and that is that.

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Private Screening

As you may have seen from previous posts (like when our toilet exploded), life here at Elizabeth is more often than not fraught with peril.  And now, with two small boys and a wee dog running around, the grown-ups here have to be extra vigilant.

And of course, being boys, they like to get themselves into trouble.  One of their favourite things to do is attempt to climb under the back porch, which is full of rubble and sharp bits of re-bar and all sorts of nasty things.   Once they’re under there, it’s a job getting them back out.

As a solution, I am going to staple a plastic screen around the whole thing.  Subtle and yet effective.  I found a roll of plastic chicken wire at Canadian Tire for $11.

If I have any left, I’m going to go around the railings as well.  Both Gren and IP have a disturbing tendency to hang off the edge.  I hope the screen will act as a deterrent.  And I found some extra in the shed the other day.  BONUS.

So here I go.  I only used two tools here: a staple gun (with staples, of course), and a sharp knife for cutting through the screen.  You could even use scissors on this stuff.

Our staple gun isn’t particularly powerful, and my hands are quite small, so I had to grip the gun near the top and therefore didn’t get as much stapling *oomph* as I wanted.  There are certain drawbacks to being a woman with tiny hands.

Basically I just tried to get the screen as tight as possible and then stapled the crap out of it, leaving no space for small fingers (or noses) to get in.

Even under the steps, where I folded the screen in half to fit.

Now, this is only plastic chicken wire, which isn’t very strong.  It’s more of a mental deterrent than a real physical barrier. In an attempt to make it stronger than it was, I kept it all as one long piece for as much as I could, and, of course, stapled the crap out of it.

I did the top as well, hiding the raw edges on the outside where il Principe couldn’t see them.  Of course the first thing he did when he came out was stick his fingers through the holes and try to push his brother’s stroller through one of the panels.  The screen works better in deterring Gren from wreaking havoc.

I did run out, and there is a hole about two feet wide next to the steps, but we can just put a large potted plant there.

We might end up ripping it out (the top stuff at least) and using real metal chicken wire, just because when il Principe is determined about something, he’s really determined.

Newfie Screen Door

This post comes from a conversation I had with a lighthouse keeper on my second trip to Bell Island.  Yes, a real lighthouse keeper.  How cool is that?

A “Newfie Screen Door” (his words, not mine) is a natural insect repellent that keeps pesky pests out of your house when it’s a nice day in St. John’s and you want to leave your door open.  It mimics a wasps’ nest, so other wasps, bees, and flies will steer clear.  The lighthouse keeper said it worked about 80% of the time, which is pretty good, I think.  Of course, there aren’t that many bugs around in St. John’s, it being a rather windy city on a geographically isolated island in the North Atlantic Ocean, but this is how they do it here and it seems to work.

I already have a screen door.

But it’s an experiment worth trying, especially considering the wasps’s nest in the eaves outside my bathroom window.

Take yourself a brown paper bag, like the ones you buy to put lunch in (unless you’re smart and you use re-usable lunch bags).  I keep them on hand so I can roast red peppers in them.  Mmm-mmm …

Squinch the top.  For today, I have decreed that “squinch” is a word.And blow it up like a balloon.

If you have no sense of fun, you can fill it with crumpled paper.  Obviously, I have a sense of fun.

For the record, I’m not in the habit of standing in front of mirrors, watching myself do things.  There just happens to be a mirror in my kitchen (there are three, actually, all built into the walls), and I was standing at the window doing this and looked over.  So there I am.  Pretend for me that my hair looks good.

Tie the top with string.  Maybe work in a pretty bow.

Hang it over your threshold.  TADA.  No more bugs inside.  Or at least, 80% less bugs.I even put one up at my parents’ house too.