Category Archives: The Dog

On Installing a New Kitchen Faucet

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Check out this beautiful new faucet Alex installed at our kitchen sink! The faucet we replaced was a very, very basic builder-grade, chrome-finished number to which we had installed a little flow-control doo-hickey (like this)so that we could get a little sprinkler action going. You can kind of see it in the panorama picture). Thanks to the half hour or so that Alex spent on his back under the sink atop some creatively arranged pillows, I can now remove the end of the spigot, thus extending the telescoping hose, to spray down the sink or bulky items with ease. It’s brushed nickel, to match the hardware on our cabinets, and it totally upgrades the space. I may or may not be stoked to wash the dishes. I’m sure that feeling’ll wear off in time.

I don’t have a lot of kitchen sink stories.

Actually, maybe there’s one.

Once, I froze my finger, and I learned how to react in an emergency.

After I quit gymnastics (I was 10, and had competed for 3 years before a knee injury set me back), my parents encouraged me to choose another sport. I picked swimming and volleyball. I stuck with the swimming, but I proved a bit vertically challenged for the latter. Nevertheless, I played recreationally with some of my classmates for about 3 years in middle school. One day at practice I jammed my pinky finger on the ball.

For some reason, when I was younger and had a minor injury (such as a pulled muscle), I was afraid to tell my parents. I would sneak ice packs from the freezer up to my room and apply them to the affected area, preferrably under the covers of my bed while reading a book, to disguise the fact that I might be injured, and thereby preventing a barrage of questions and parental concern, however warranted it may have been.

So, true to form, as soon as we got home from volleyball practice that day, I snuck a re-useable ice pack from the freezer. This thing was way larger than I needed for just my lone pinky finger, mind you, but I was determined to ice that sucker for 20 minutes so no one would ever know I had been hurt at practice. Luckily, my dad was outside working on the front porch railing, so I was uninterrupted for what I perceived to be the necessary time to make this hurt magically disappear.

After twenty minutes of being entombed in the ice pack, my finger was frozen. I knew this because when I tapped my finger on the wooden kitchen table, it made the same sound that ice would make, if I were to tap ice on the wooden kitchen table. I nervously drummed my other fingers just to make sure there was indeed a difference. There was. Indeed. And so I went wailing out to my dad, trying to explain that actually I had withheld some information when he asked me how practice went. I had jammed my finger during volleyball practice, I iced it like I was supposed to, and now look!

Tap tap tap. On the wooden porch railing. Is this what a skeleton feels like?

While I cried at my foolish fears, Dad ushered me back inside and turned on the kitchen faucet. He ran the water lukewarm and stuck my finger under the running current. After a couple minutes, I could sense the feeling returning to my finger, and was so grateful that I wouldn’t have to have my finger amputated (I had an active imagination, you see).

Once it was back to normal, I’m sure my dad said something like “See? You’ll be fine,” and went back to work like nothing had happened.  And I was fine! More than my finger that was wiggling once again, it was his mannerism, void of judgment or criticism or fear, but full of kindness in a neutral sort of way, that set me at ease. While I don’t remember his exact words, I suppose his actions are how I learned how to react in an emergency (whether it’s an actual emergency or just a perceived one): Remain calm. Assess the situation. Do what you can. But above all, remain calm.

Recently, at one of his favorite dog parks, Nero and another dog crashed into a tree. Nero was happily chasing a pal around the park, weaving in and out of the trees–this is central Virginia, after all, it was a forested area. A third dog wanted to join in the fun, and intercepted them from the side, instead of falling in line behind. Her timing was such that this new dog crashed into a tree and blindsided Nero into doing the same.

I didn’t see the actual crash, but I heard it, and my head whipped around in time to see all the dogs wondering what just happened. It was like when a kid falls on the playground, and every other kid knows the one who took a tumble is about to cry but is trying hard to fight back the tears, and so they linger around, unsure whether to run away or try to help.

Nero stumbled a few steps, limped slightly on one of his front legs, and had one of his eyes half-shut. Alex reached Nero first and the other humans present checked on the other crash bandicoot pup. In retrospect, if this had been a cartoon, I realize that Nero would have had a bunch of yellow stars spinning above his head while he regained his wherewithall. Perhaps he did actually see stars, wondering what evil force had interrupted his delightful afternoon run. We’ll never know.

We quickly checked his vision, gently rubbed his head and his leg (which produced no signs of wincing), and did everything we could do to make sure he was okay. Fortunately, less than 45 seconds later, Nero was prancing around again, fetching his frisbee from the water, and greeting other dogs that entered the park. We nervous puppy parents breathed a sigh of relief. Dogs are admirably resilient creatures.

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Nero’s at home resting now, following Rogue around and making sure all is well in our backyard, and he shows no sign of unusual behavior, thank goodness.

Now I know why my parents were so concerned if I ever complained of any hurt – physical or emotional. Heaven help us when Alex and I have kids of our own.

Tonight as I stand at my new kitchen sink washing the dinner dishes, I will say a word of thanks, for the lesson from the kitchen sink of my youth that clearly helped me deal with what could have been a disastrous afternoon. Reacting calmly is pure instinct now; it’s after-the-fact that I let my imagination get the best of me, and I shiver at what could have been. And as I flip between the stream and the shower setting on the faucet, I will also say I’m sorry, for ever having taken our dogs’ presence and health for granted. They are truly the sunshineiest gifts in our lives right now. If you have furry creatures in your life, be sure to give them a big hug and rub their bellies for an extra long time tonight.

Nero’s out back soaking in the last of the evening sun. I can see him from my kitchen sink.

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DIY Dog Puzzle Toy

Need something new (and cheap) with which to surprise your furry friend?

How about this DIY puzzle toy. Take an empty toilet paper roll. Make a 1-inch cut at 90-degree spots at each end (or at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock if that’s easier). You should now have four tabs at each end. Fold them down such that each tab is underneath one neighbor and overlapping the other. This closes the “box” without needing tape or glue.

Dog puzzle toy from a toilet paper tube

Before you close the other end, fill with pieces of food or treats. Watch as your pup devises an interesting strategy to get at the goodies inside.

Nero's strategy

Nero prefers to just take the tube head on, chowing down through the cardboard to crush the treats within. He knows that eventually, they’ll fall out, and, if he’s fast enough, he can enjoy them before Rogue scoops them up.

Rogue's strategy

Rogue is a bit daintier, inspecting the tube for any visible weaknesses, and periodically smelling it just to make sure the treats are still there.

Rogue's strategy, part 2

Occasionally she steps back to see if it will play with her before trying to torture a confession out of it.

Winter has decided it’s not finished with us just yet, forcing us inside today. My dogs love this game, and it’s the perfect thing to keep us entertained while the winter precipitation once again turns our backyard into a swamp. Nero and Rogue have both gotten faster at figuring out how to dismantle the puzzle, but it’s an engaging mental challenge nonetheless. Plus I make them practice lots of tricks before they get this big treat for a reward.

*Please, make sure to watch your dogs while they enjoy this treat. And don’t leave the chewed cardboard bits lying around.

What kinds of mental stimulation do your dogs enjoy? What other DIY puzzle toys can you think of? Do tell.

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Give Us This Day Our Daily Chores

I’m back with some more simple homekeeping tips. As we’ve already discussed, the start of a new year is a good time for whipping your home into shape so that it is more enjoyable, more relaxed, and more welcoming.

There are two things you need to know before you read this post. First, there are dozens of weekly or daily cleaning tasks lists out there. That is to say, everybody cleans house differently.  So even though wasting half a day on pinterest studying how other folks get things done can be interesting, and implementing plans from these people who not only have time to tell you every detail of their housework, they also make a scrapbook-worthy printable to help you acknowledge that you need to join a messy house support group get organized does work in my house (for about a week), it often brings me no closer to the holy grail of home cleanliness happiness. Suffice it to say, I have found that you can’t pore over someone’s cleaning plan (even this one) and then *poof* your house is clean. You have to adapt. Which brings me to the second thing you should know: this list right’chea is just one way to do it. Even though it is a borderline-obsessive methodically planned system, just because it’s what works for me, doesn’t mean it’s what will work for you. BUT, maybe it will inspire you to divide your day or your week in a different way with the tasks that are of priority to you, no matter where you call home.

Note: This is simply house chores. I do not include cooking or gardening things in this list (though they have their own routines that I will not burden you with here).

Master bath

MORNING CHORES – Clean the Bathroom (Rotation 1 or Rotation 2) OR 1 load of laundry

I devised morning chores because they are simple and were easy to fit into my morning routine when I had to be at the office by 8:30am. Further, keeping the bathroom clean was of high importance to me. Alex and I share a small bathroom, and because it’s the only bathroom on the main level, it is often frequented by guests too. I wanted to keep it clean so that I don’t go into guests-are-coming panic mode in those precious few moments before they arrive; now, I don’t have to worry about the bathroom and can instead direct my attention to things like…vacuuming the dog hair off the couches…another time, perhaps. As for laundry, it’s not my favorite thing to do, but I do it this often out of necessity. Alex goes to the gym a lot, so clothes pile up fast. Morning chores occur every other day so that on any given day of the week, I either clean the bathroom OR do a load of laundry. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Sample morning chore schedule

And here’s how I do it:

Clean the Bathroom (Rotation 1): Remove hand towel to laundry basket. Clear counter. Spray the mirror, counter, and sink with 50/50 spray (half white vinegar, half water). Wipe clean with old, clean washcloth. Squirt white vinegar into toilet bowl and scrub inside edges of bowl with toilet brush. Replace hand towel with a new, clean one. Return stuff to counter.

Laundry: I don’t think this needs much explanation. I put a load in the washer before taking the dogs for a walk. When we come back from our walk, I put the clothes in the dryer. When I get home or get a chance, I fold the clean clothes. Loads occur in 4 main categories chez nous: darks, whites, synthetics, towels. (Sheets, as you learned here, are washed on a less frequent basis). For the synthetics, I do use some conventional, eco-friendly liquid laundry soap. For darks and towels, I use a homemade soap comprised of this mixture: 1 cup washing soda, 1 cup borax, 1 bar shredded Dr. Bronner’s castille soap. I only need about 2 Tablespoons per load. For whites, I use the same homemade soap plus 1-2 tablespoons of oxygenated bleach. Finally, to make things easy, we pre-sort our laundry into one of 4 baskets (again, darks, whites, synthetics, towels).

Clean the Bathroom (Rotation 2): Remove hand towel and bath towels to laundry basket. Clear counter. Spray the mirror, counter, and sink with 50/50 spray. Wipe clean with old, clean washcloth. Spray the toilet seat and lid with 50/50 spray. Wipe clean with old, clean washcloth. Replace hand and bath towels with new, clean ones. Return stuff to counter.

Have dog? Must vacuum

PM CHORES – Vacuuming, Sweeping, Mopping, Dusting, Trash, and other Tidying

The afternoon/evening chores vary by day. You know, to keep us on our toes! And we also share these chores. That is, I have some (which I usually tackle after lunch), and Alex has some (which he accomplishes when he gets home and is waiting for dinner or for his brother to log on to play video games).

Monday
J – Clean off all the puppy nose and paw art from the back door windows (50/50 spray and paper towel)
A – Vacuum up all the puppy hair from the bedroom.

Tuesday
J – Sweep puppy hair from hardwood floor using microfiber mop.
A – Trash night duties: Take all trash and recycling out to curb for morning pick up. Nero loves to help with this one.

Wednesday
J – Dust surfaces in bedroom (dresser, picture frames, lampshades, shelves, nightstands, window seat) (using a clean, damp cloth and a wool duster)
A – Dust surfaces in dining and living rooms (china cabinet, chest freezer, piano, media shelf, fireplace mantle).

Thursday
J – Clean guest bathroom (same procedure as our bathroom except toilet gets both wiped and scrubbed; even though it’s the guest bathroom, we do use it when we’re upstairs working, and the sink more often than not has plant seedlings in it so it gets dirt-y. Ha. See what I did there?)
A – Vacuum up all the puppy hair from the bedroom and entry mats.

Friday
J – Mop up puppy paw prints from hardwood floors using gentle hardwood cleaner and microfiber mop
A – Sweep puppy hair from hardwood floor using microfiber mop.

Do you notice a theme?

Rogue and Nero (Jan. 2013)

In case you were beginning to think Rogue and Nero aren’t earning their keep, they play clean-up crew for the floors in the kitchen and dining area. Nero protects Alex and the trash can when they go out to the curb on Tuesday nights. Rogue and Nero both scare off deer and cats from our backyard and keep a keen eye out for other things to play with  eat chase away. Amazingly, our dogs also re-landscape the backyard! What? Don’t you want the bottom half of your forsythia bushes pruned by wrestling puppies? And a swampy mud path around your azalea bush? They try…

On the weekends, I still take care of morning chores, but Alex and I use the time to tackle bigger projects.

If you’d like another way to view the entire week:

Weekly chores for a clean house

And that’s it! That’s how we don’t lose our minds. Even if we didn’t have two dogs, I would probably still use a schedule similar to if not exactly the same as what I explained above. I know it might look like a lot on paper the interwebs, but the biggest secret is that each of these tasks only takes about 10 minutes total! Even with a morning and an evening chore, that’s only 20 minutes a day. We don’t have (human) kids (yet). And I’m sure when we do I’ll want to make adjustments to this schedule. I also acknowledge that our home is on the smaller, humbler side. So while mopping the hardwood in our open floorplan living area might take me 10 minutes. To do the same in your home might take 5 minutes, it might take 20 minutes. (See two points at the beginning of post).

If you’re feeling inspired to make your own cleaning routine, here are a couple tips.

1. Prioritize. What is important to you? What areas of the house need daily attention, and which areas can be addressed less frequently? How much cleaning is just enough to not drive you crazy? Can you divide responsibilities amongst your spouse/children/roommate? Do you want to only use homemade, non-toxic cleaning products? Have you already made those or do you need to check pinterest do some research first? Once you figure out what’s important to you, you can tackle those things and will avoid feeling like you’re cleaning for the sake of cleaning.

2. Split it up. Try a “morning” and “evening” set of tasks. Dividing the day like this helps you not to feel like you’ve been cleaning all day long.

3. Organize. Take a little time to get organized, even if that means purchasing something to get you started. Example: Yes, I winced when I bought 2 new laundry hampers, but the headache it saves me in having pre-sorted laundry is well-appreciated. Whether it’s buying a new spray bottle or a new laundry hamper, figure out what will make your chores not only more efficient, but more enjoyable.

4. Put things back where they belong. Never leave or enter a room empty-handed. Do you have clutter in your house? I assume you do, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it this far in reading this post. Every time you exit a room, take something with you that doesn’t belong in that room, and put it where it goes. Getting up from the couch for some ice cream during a commercial break? How about bringing your lunchbox to the kitchen to empty it of its dirty dishes. Tired of watching TV and ready to read in bed for a while? Take some shoes or jackets from the foyer and put them away in your closet on the way there. Gotta check email before dinner? Take the stack of bills upstairs with you.

5. Multitask. Clean the shower while you’re in it. This, people, is a lifesaver. Cleaning the tub has always been my least favorite chore. If it is for you as well, go get one of those dishwashing sponges with the hollow handles. Fill it with 1/3 to 1/2 Dawn dish soap, and the rest with white vinegar. Scrub the walls and floor of the tub every time you take a shower (I have the main wall and the floor, Alex does the back, front, and small side) and you’ll never have to worry about it again.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re either desperately seeking ways to keep your house cleaner, or you’re charmed by the way I write so passionately and humorously about chores –  nudgenudge – and would subsequently rather vicariously clean my home than your own. Either way, I applaud you, and I hope you found something useful. What do your daily chores look like? What do you want to spend 10 minutes doing each day to keep things clean and tidy? Any other tips you have? Do tell.

And remember to check out other posts in my 2013 homekeeping mini-series:

How to Deep-Clean your House in 25 minutes or less, once a month
– January Cure re-cap (Week 1, Week 2)
– Breakfast and Dessert routines

Holiday Photo Outtakes with Commentary

Well it’s that time of year again. Some would even say the most wonderful time of the year.

I say photographing two dogs and yourselves by yourself is harder than it looks. We had enough trouble with our 2011 photo, and that only had 1 dog (look how little Nero looks!):

Christmas 2011

So this year I thought I would get a head start. Warning: lots of adorable, anthropomorphic dog photos to follow…

I got Nero all dressed up in his festive bowtie collar and, like a good boy, he obligingly helped me capture this:

DSCF1073-1

Which Rogue then photobombed, unplugging one strand of lights with her awkward adolescent paws, while likely saying this: “Mom! I can’t believe you’re making me wear this silly skirt! This better not be posted in public!”

Rogue wonders why there is a tree skirt draped over her rear

So we tried a different tactic, this time one dog at a time, and with the help of some props (it’ll make more sense in a second, I promise). Once again, Nero waited patiently while I tried to capture the perfect shot.

NerO

And then Rogue photobombed us again. Here she is being dramatic while Nero looks annoyed:

Rogue, about to do her fainting couch impersonation

But when it was Rogue’s turn with her own prop (and yes, the Christmas skirt again), she initially seemed more interested in doggie Granny’s hand, hoping a treat would magically appear if she nuzzled those fingers enough:

Rogue attempts to be photographed

And of course Alex and I couldn’t get a photo of ourselves without a Rogue photobomb (her record is impeccable, I tell ya):

In which Rogue and Nero actually WANT to be in the holiday photo

Even when I was just setting up the camera and taking a couple practice shots (while testing Alex’s patience), she snuck in there with her dramatic sighs:

I spy a doggie being dramatic

But finally, finally, we got a winner:

Christmas card 2012

I love how it captures Rogue’s silliness and her love for getting her belly rubbed. It also captures Nero’s charm and inquisitiveness. And the photo of us isn’t too shabby either!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays! May your homes and families be filled with joy! Love, Rogue, Nero, Jessalyn, and Alex.

P.S. Have any tips for photographing dogs? Do tell.

P.P.S. Stay tuned tomorrow for a special collaborative post and holiday craft with my dear friend, Carrie!

6 pints of applesauce and 1 quart of strawberry applesauce are cooling on my kitchen counter, and 4 cups of fresh-pressed cider are chilling in the freezer.

I looked up from the sink overflowing with dirty dishes to find the dogs cozied up next to each other (click on photo above to make it a bit larger), chewing on a shared stick, at one of Nero’s favorite spots in the yard. They’re at the top of the hill, just before our yard plummets downhill, a place where Nero loves to sit and sniff all the smells the breeze blows his way. When I catch him sitting here, I often wonder what he is thinking about.

Looks like he and his sister are enjoying each other’s company. Endearing scenes like this are sometimes hard to come by, and would surely have been interrupted had I attempted to take a better photo from the other side of the kitchen window. Maybe some things are meant to bring peace and be enjoyed simply in the moment.

All in a Morning’s Work

Maybe I was a Koala in a Former Life

Can I just obsess for a minute over the scent of eucalyptus essential oil? I love it. I was first introduced to it in full force this summer. In a steam room. At a resort. Believe it or not, it was for a work event?

Anyway. I loved this steam room. Before visiting the spa, I googled “what to do at a spa,” and “what to do in a steam room,” respectively, just to make sure I looked like I knew what I was doing. Yes, it was my first time at a spa, or in any facility with a women’s locker room that contained a hot tub or sauna and wasn’t a YMCA. But as soon as I entered that steam room, the little pool of eucalyptus oil that was affixed to the wall wafted, nay, charged into my nostrils, opened up my sinuses, and assertively signaled “peace” to me. I could have stayed there forever.

That’s a lie. It got hot in there! Plus the sound of the steam jetting out every few minutes scared the crap out of me.

Since then, I had been trying to identify what that scent was (I did not know it was eucalyptus at the time), and I only discovered it was eucalyptus upon buying eucalyptus essential oil for a little mosquito-repelling candle I made in August. Happy happy joy joy!

Folks, I’m recovering from a monster of a sinus infection this week. I can at least partially attribute my recovery to the fact that I have been soaking in epsom salts studded with eucalyptus essential oil and dreaming of a claw-footed tub.

Well, maybe dreaming of a claw-footed tub did not contribute so greatly to my physical recovery…evidence is not conclusive and more likely points to regular intake of over-the-counter sinus medication…

I’m not a big scent person. I don’t really like smell-y things. With the exception of my 6th-grade obsession with Bath & Body Works (Country Apple? Pearberry? Sun-Ripened Raspberry? Cucumber Melon? Juniper Breeze? yeah, that’s a blast from my past). I am generally particular about the bars of soap I buy (or make). I found a perfume that I like; I wear it only rarely, but when I run out, I only buy the same thing. (It’s Amazing Grace by Philosophy, if you must know). I don’t let Alex use scented dryer sheets because I gag when I fold clothes and gag again when I wear a dryer-sheeted shirt. (We don’t use dryer sheets anyway; we use dryer balls – teehee!) I hate when I choose the bathroom stall at work that has the little “door pod” air freshener thing that shoots out a burst of lemony toxic mist every few minutes.

But give me a choice of essential oils, and I will choose eucalyptus, hands-down, every time. It’s become a scent memory for me now.

If only the doggies wouldn’t spoil the peaceful, aromatherapeutic mood with an especially active evening of crop-dusting…Nothing says “love you mom!” like a gaseous, offending stink followed by the pitter patter of puppy claws in the opposite direction.

Do they look guilty to you?

Are you a smelly person? Er, I mean, do you like to surround yourself with good-smelling stuff? Or maybe you create an inviting space by simmering some orange slices and cinnamon sticks on the stove? Got any good essential oil tricks with which I (and fellow readers) might revel in our essential oil obsessions around the home? Do tell.

Va-va-Vintage Cake Revival

Yesterday, in an unusual moment of quiet, while the pups napped on the couch, I pored through my newest cookbook: Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson.

Would you like to know what my dad would say of that book title? He’d say, “Vintage? Does that mean they’re really stale cakes?” And then I’d chuckle heartily in appreciation of corny humor.

A couple weeks ago, I stumbled across some excerpted recipes from the book online and decided to make one, just out of curiosity. It was the best cake I’ve had in a really long time.

I mean down-home delicious. So many of the cake recipes I make these days are tasty, sure, but at some point, a homemade layer cake with whatever trying-to-be-exciting combination of flavors I whip up for buttercream frosting becomes overdone–dare I say on par with cake mixes overdone (gasp!). This vintage berry cake, however, wasn’t trying to be overly cake-y. I couldn’t believe it. After consuming half of the cake in less than 12 hours time all by my lonesome, I was hooked; I just had to own the book in its entirety! I needed some new (er…old?) ideas!

So, move over cupcakes, pies, and cake pops. Vintage cakes (with fun names like Goober!) are so in culinary vogue.

And after drooling over page after page of exciting cakes, never have I wanted to cook my way through a cookbook more (Julie and Julia style), than with this collection of tantalizing recipes!

Don’t get me wrong. I had tried to collect “vintage” recipes of my own. Whenever I go into old bookstores, I am immediately drawn to the cookbooks section, and I entertain myself by trying to find the oldest cookbook I can find and looking up unusual desserts. If I end up purchasing said ancient cookbook (I have about 3, currently), I stash it away, convinced that I’ll remember the colonial molasses cake I want to make for a conversation-piece dessert next time we have company. I’m sure you can guess how many times that has actually come to fruition. Not surprisingly, I am thankful for Julie’s clever and inspiring compilation that presents the best of the best complete with descriptive notes, tips and techniques, and charming photos.

So yesterday, from the section on “quick cakes,” I made “Wacky Cake,” an adaptation on something that is apparently variously called “puddle cake,” AKA a vegan chocolate cake. (And by “vegan” here, I mean that it contains no eggs or dairy).

I didn’t even need to pull out the mixer. It took me all of 10 minutes to throw together while keeping an eye on the dogs. And 35 minutes to bake. It is the perfect in-a-hurry chocolate cake. And you can eat it warm or at room temperature. And it is oh so moist and delicious.

We ate ours with powdered sugar and a scoop of ice cream.

It’ll make you do silly things.

Like this:

(No, I didn’t feed the dogs chocolate. But this is what she was doing while I was baking).

I can’t wait to try out each and every recipe in the book. Do you have a favorite cake recipe of all time? Do you have a treasured recipe or recipe collection that has been carefully passed down for generations? Do tell.