Mantle with no Fireplace

I’ve dreamed of owning a house in which I could build a fire practically my whole life. Sure, I could do this unsafely without a fireplace and chimney, but I can’t even convince my husband that a fire pit in the backyard would be safe. He’s no fun.

So, while our current 90-year-old house isn’t the house for my stupid smokey dream, we found a way to enjoy a small version of a mantle without the help of a contractor…or any construction beyond the use of a drill, for that matter.

Dr. Oz, if you’re wondering.

This is the wall that we stare at most. It’s above our slightly-turned TV (classic, no? No sexy flat screens for us), so the twig-and-faux-berry wreath that was hanging there simply filled the space. Didn’t do anything other than add a bit of crimson and texture to the wall, really.

But, with the help of this Christmas Tree Shoppe wall shelf (I believe less than $20), I had envisioned a way to add some architectural detail (whose shape, incidentally, mimics the tops of the doorways throughout the house) and place some art. I can even consider creating some “mantlescapes” to change seasonally.

It took lots of measuring, and 2, count ’em 2 extra holes (hidden behind the ledge, thank goodness), and I’m still not quite sure it’s level (even if I had had a level at hand, it wouldn’t have mattered; we’ve got that crooked house from the nursery rhyme), but it’s an improvement.

While we’re at it, I thought I’d share a couple of cheap art projects that I’ve already started shuffling around the “mantle”.

The first is actually pretty darn near free, and you can see it above. I’ve been piling up some frames that have outgrown their pictures for some time, and this is one of those cases. Funky, weird textured frame (looking almost tropical…how did this thing end up in our house?) + muslin fabric I’ve had lying around + fabric glue from another project + the perfect antique key that I thiiiink I found some place = free art! For now, it doesn’t have a wall hanger on its back, but it’ll do.

The other piece cost $3…plus tax. I had seen pieces like it on the interwebs, so once I dug up the tiny bags of Bingo buttons at an antique store this past weekend (in Concord, Mass. – more on that later!), I knew immediately what to try with them.
The Concord antiques shop that hooked us up, big-time. Anyone get why it’s got the punny name?
Using a double-matted frame with no paper background (the texture and color of the frame’s backing always interested me), I glued the numbered wooden buttons directly on, finally putting the glass back and letting it dry for at least an hour before setting it on the “mantle”.
Can’t do any project without a cat nearby. Glad to have the Winston stamp of approval.
What I love most about these pieces, besides the cost, is the modern vibe that you can find, even from old objects. An old key. Old Bingo buttons – seriously? I love antiquing, whether I’m “good” at it or even consistent (I do it when it’s an option, I’ve got time, and the mood strikes me), and especially love getting pieces while out of town. Hey! Come to think of it, every time I look at my sideboard, I think of how we found and purchased it during our honeymoon. And now I’ll think of our mini-vacation to Boston when I look at the Bingo art that I now looooove.

Anyone here into antiques? Or are you a strictly “new stuff” sort of person? Eclectic, like moi? Do tell!

Grandma’s Hands

Last night, I cut myself while cooking. Actually, I kind of carved myself. If I hadn’t had a split second “oh crap!” moment, I probably would’ve lost half an inch of my thumb and fingernail, and embarrassingly requested that my husband drive me to the hospital. As it was, I stood there holding my paper towel-wrapped thumb high in the air, calmly saying to him, “Don’t freak out, but…” It worked! He didn’t freak out (although we both know he wanted to) and I forced myself to clean and bandage the wound up without throwing up or passing out. I now know what mommyhood will look like. I still feel like passing out thinking of the blood, the pain, and the reality of what the awkward, sliced fingernail looks like. Blah. Ick.

But, while I saw the blood instantly fill the layers of paper towel, I couldn’t help but feel proud. I’ve been cooking for quite awhile and have had plenty of mishaps – mostly involving collecting burn scars – but this was the first “does that need stitches?” sort of injury. My thoughts instantly went to my grandmother.

“Grandma Heidi” was called by this confusing nickname because, for whatever reason, our sets of grandparents were named for their dogs: Grandma and Grandpa Heidi, Grandma and Grandpa Ginger. As I came along, it got even more blurry since the dogs had long since passed. Regardless, the nicknames stuck. The only way I could remember the names was when Grandpa Heidi showed me an old “Heidi” movie and I started to associate the book (along with the grandfather in it) with him.

Anyhoo, we spent a lot of time with the Heidi grandparents. I would guess that we actually spent an abnormal amount of time at their house compared to most families, between living in the same village, their VERY close proximity to our elementary school, and their silent, ever-present willingness to help Mom in the tough raising of four children alone. We were incredibly lucky.

Grandpa, as far as my relationship with him goes, has always been my hero. If I start to elaborate, I WILL cry. Needless to say, he was one of the several men who raised me, and he was full of patience and kindness for me, with just the right levels of discipline and intimidation. I will surely be struck down when he passes, one day.

Grandma Heidi, on the other hand, was a pip. She was the undisputed matriarch of the family. While she and Grandpa were both Marines, serving during WWII, she was the one who seemed to embody that strictness. Simultaneously, she seemed to have a vein of mischief that you knew she used to unleash with her lady Marine buddies back when she was living that life.

There are countless stories to prove her conflicting sides. For example, my sister and I had to make the bed when we stayed over…but our way wouldn’t do. She taught us how to make the bed as she was taught in the Marines (although I don’t recall whether she actually did bounce a quarter), and always checked before we could go about our day.

At the same time, her naughtiness came through when she gave the Sign of Peace in church. You knew it was coming, yet it was disrespectful NOT to shake hands. CRUSH. Grandma would squeeze so hard she’d flatten the bones in your hand and leave you on your knees howling…to which, Mom would turn and snap at you. Not Grandma. You. And I can’t count how many times, while teaching me how to play Gin (or several other card games) she blew smoke in my face when I started to learn how to win. It was also her cue to suddenly change the rules.

But, ultimately, her love was palpable, even if not stated or even shown regularly. That’s just how the family was.

So, how is this all relevant to my Band-Aid finger? I watched her cook from the time I could peer over the countertop. I was sometimes lucky enough to get picked up and sit ON the counter to help mix cookies. (I remember Mary getting frustrated and jealous over that, but they had a much deeper connection, so no hard feelings harbored.) While she might not have been the best cook on Earth, the sights and smells are deeply-rooted memories. Her spice cabinet was unrivaled as far as smells. The taste of grape jelly in the middle of a spaghetti dinner – yes, a palette cleanser, don’t judge. The anticipation of watching molasses coloring her famous molasses cookies.

As much as everything else, I was mesmerized by her hands. The arthritis bulged her joints slightly, the skin rolling like uneven hillsides covering ancient cities, and lines showing as much age as experience. Accompanying and interrupting those lines, you could see the nicks and splices that had built up over her many decades of cooking. Those years cooking for her large family when her mother died. Those years that she cooked, as a newlywed, for her new husband along with his siblings. Those years that she made meals of indelible memories for her five children – who cared so much about their Sunday food routines and famous recipes that I was asked to compile a plethora of stories and memories into a homemade cookbook for them to share. Those hands meant a lot to a small, exclusive club of Cunningham (and subsequent) family.

I recall intensely staring at her fingers. I do remember her having the occasional Band-Aid, or making that clinched-teeth-sucking-in-air sound while chopping, then rushing to run water over it. While I didn’t look forward to being in pain, I looked forward to being Grandma. And, incidentally, Mom – they have the same hands, although Mom’s are less soft but definitely hard-working and gentle.

I didn’t feel like either of them until last night. After making my initial “chchhchceeee” clenched noise, I smiled and laughed. I had gotten my badge. And I’d avoided getting blood in the onions.

I Should be Showering

I had a lazy day. Lately, I’ve been having lots of those. I’ve been doing summer school in the mornings, but my afternoons seem to go nowhere, fast. How is it that the leisure time doesn’t go as slowly as the work time? There MUST be some scientific proof out there. Eventually, though, I am overcome with guilt (sometimes by, say, 2pm…other times by, say, 6pm), whether from the thought that my husband has worked his arse off all day and will shortly be home to sweetly ask what I did with the day, or from the ever-present voice of my mother echoing in my brain listing off all the things that she does before I even wake up. For whatever reason, I’m grateful to the guilt for making me slightly less of a couch potato and slightly better of a person.

Today, the duty that I chose to undertake killed two birds with one stone. Er. I don’t like that saying, especially with a new bird feeder on our front lawn. Iiiiiiiiiit waaaaaas two for the price of one. Yeah, that works. Anyhoo, I chose to mow the lawn. I WAS going to do it tomorrow since I believed that the weather was going to be right for it, but I figured I’d have enough time before any raindrops appeared to get the job done.

So, this chore may seem mundane and average, but I promise you, it isn’t. Generally, it’s Dave’s job. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve mowed the lawn, and still have fingers left over. It’s one of those things that I wasn’t really allowed to do as a kid (although I knew that women could do everything), and that Dave’s just taken upon himself to do. Sure, there are things I’d do differently about it (kind of like our shovel debate – tomato, tom-ah-to), but as long as the neighbors don’t complain, we’re all happy.
No. Not Winston. It’s his Papa (or Mama?) affectionately referred to by our neighbor as “Smokey”. Best fed stray in the whole neighborhood.

Other than, obviously, getting the actual job of mowing done (which was going to be put off a week longer than it usually gets done, due to weather and busy-ness), I’d also be getting some exercise and (possibly the best part) surprising Dave with an additional job that he wouldn’t have to do. Oh, and while I see you smirking over there that there’s little exercise to be had in mowing, let-me-tell-YOU, friend…it’s WORK. We use the old-fashioned push kind (ie no gasoline, eco-friendly), and when the grass is generally cut to a higher length (it’s supposed to kill weeds naturally…riiiight) AND a week and a half since last being mowed AND there was plenty of rain in the forecast…it’s cardiovascular action, baby. Lots o’ sweat. Lots o’ convulsing motions to get the danged thing going. Lots o’ undoubtedly giggling elderly neighbors watching from their kitchen windows.

Scary.

As I prepared to go out, the cats caught wind of something strange. My guess is, they were disturbed that I was dispensing with my perma-throne in the living room for an activity that involved motion. Maybe I learn that sedentary behavior from them. Hmm. ANYhoo, Winston ended up watching me from atop his perch in our front sun room while I heaved the archaic machine across the mounds of weeds-with-a-smattering-of-grass, then from atop his tall kitchen stool (I’m telling myself, and believing, that he wasn’t on the table…let’s all just pretend he didn’t do that, shall we?) while I laughed quite loudly in the backyard when the rumble of thunder belched at me. Yes, I’m quite sure the neighbors did get quite a laugh over their casual dinner.

BUT, although the sprinkling was turning to an actual “turn on the windshield wipers” drizzle, I won the mowing game. The rain put up an admirable fight, but I was simply too determined (and clearly deranged – LAUGHING up at the SKY, woman?!) to lose. I wanted to, in a strange way, make my husband proud of me. I wanted to take some burden off of his shoulders. I wanted to get a workout in, dang it! And I did. And, NOW, I shall shower, for the cats are giving me stinky face.

But first, some superfluous shots of my tomaters, which I snapped before mowing. We planted them in planters this year as not to overtake our garden (which, itself, is quite overgrown. Those purple stalks in the right background up in that grass picture? Lettuce. Nope, that’s not supposed to happen. I allowed it. I’m naughty. (But we did get good use out of them!))

The Importance of Cloth

Dave and I had a bit of a shopping spree last weekend. From making a huge Hannaford haul to stocking up at the Christmas Tree Shoppe, we dropped some pretty serious change (for us). The best purchase of the day? We had plenty to contend, but the one that got us the most excited was (drumroll, please) …napkins!!!

You can wake up now. We’ve been using disposable napkins as long as we’ve, well, been alive. For the past oh-who-knows-how-long we’ve purchased Seventh Generation’s brand because at least we knew that some trees had been saved in their making, being mostly (or 100%?) recycled materials. But it still seemed wasteful. The same went for paper towels (which, incidentally, are also SG brand in our household).

So, when we recently ran out of both, we were a) too busy and b) too lazy to purchase anymore for several days. It really made me notice how reliant I had become upon just grabbing a couple of paper towels to wipe up cat spills (water – they use it as a control weapon, spilling each other’s as a big ol’ neener-neener) and TWO, count ’em, TWO napkins just for dinner (that’s just for me, not including Dave’s). Granted, I used to reuse napkins when they didn’t get used much, but it added up. It was enlightening to notice that it had simply become a habit, hopefully slightly easier to break than the cable habit (and here‘s an update).

When I mentioned the idea of switching to cloth napkins for everyday use (we’ve still got a small package of disposables in the cabinet for guests – namely our families who will probably find us to be nuts for our quirkiness), I was pleasantly surprised at how willing and happy Dave was to comply. Sweet! So, while in the Syracuse area, we searched a couple of stores before Target finally had what we wanted – a dozen soft, plain white napkins for $9.99. Not on sale, not as cheap as I’d have liked, but just THINK of not only how much we’ll save in paper napkin costs, but the cost to the environment. I’m truly a believer in “every little bit helps”, although it’s sometimes easy to get dismayed.

Needless to say, I won’t be washing napkins (and towels/dish rags, which are taking the paper towels’ place – again, a couple rolls on hand for those messy cat emergencies) everyday. That would defeat the environmentally-friendly aspect of the switch, especially with no energy efficient washer/dryer living in our basement quite yet. We will be re-using for a few days. I’m excited to see how it goes.

The end of this thought brings me to the idea of cloth, in general. It’s been around for so many thousands of years, and it’s the modern society in which we live is finally reminding folks that it can help them to live a simple, uncomplicated lifestyle without the harmful impact of the easy, wasteful technologies of the last 100 years. Clearly it’s always been important (hello? We’re not nudists. Well, most of us aren’t), but when I see the commercials for the new disposable “hand towels” with their own dispenser, I start to get physically ill. I’m all for sanitation, but there’s an easier way. Ask the Quakers.

With this in mind, I’ll make public the plan that Dave and I have discussed to cloth diaper any future Dellecese bambinos (or baibins/wee ones, for the Irish side). I’m not sure about Dave, but I know that my three siblings and I were all cloth diapered – Pampers were su-spensive back then! I think that the idea of convenience has somehow married itself to need, becoming the new American entitlement – no matter what someone can afford, they deserve to have whatever they want. Sure, Pampers (sorry, Mom only calls them Pampers, like Kleenex or Xerox) would have been a hell of a lot easier on my mother, especially with a sick husband and three other kids of varying ages to care for, but a) she was used to cloth diapering and b) they only used what they could afford. For not being that long ago, I’m shocked that Americans have so quickly forgotten such ideals.

Luckily, these days, cloth diapers have come a long way. There are several variations on them, from the traditional get-the-pins-out ones that we were raised with to all-in-one diapers that resemble disposables, there’s a lot of research to be done – and I’m doing it. Currently, we’re thinking of using the all-in-ones, which give the ease of disposables with the eco-friendliness and longevity/durability of cloth. I’ve also heard that diaper rashes are greatly diminished (if not non-existent altogether) using them.

However, these are generally-speaking NOT your mother’s diapers, cost-wise. While they pay for themselves in the first 6-12 months (and even moreso in the years to come, if other babies are in the cards – mind you, we’re not even close to pregnant right now), the initial cost is damn near staggering. Aaaaand this is why we lurve eBay. 🙂 Is it wrong to bid on items before one’s even “with child?” 😉 Honestly, I figure we’ll start bidding WHEN that day comes, but it’s nice to see that there are used (and sometimes never-even-used, especially when a mommy gets them for a shower) options out there at reduced costs. *whew* ‘Cuz my superstitious Irish side knows that the second I ordered anything, my ovaries would shrivel up for good. Graphic, but true. It’s a powerful thing.

On THAT weird, TMI moment, I’ll bid adieu, but will be sure to give an update on something you actually may WANT to know about; the napkin use.

Attempts at Cooking

Howdy, readers. I’m enjoying a free late afternoon after a bummer vet appointment for Jasper (I guess you could call it a “dis-appointment”…ha!). He’s got a touch of asthma on top of his upper-respiratory infection, just like Brother Beardslee, but luckily it seems to be reactionary based on what’s happening in his lungs, and most likely won’t affect him long-term. Yay! Unlike his smoker-cough bro.

While at the appointment, it was embarrassingly noted that the little guy has gained weight. Yep, quarter of a pound in TWO weeks. Ugh. At least he’s still got his appetite.

So, I have officially switched our measuring cup for the kitty food. We used to use an old 1/3 cup one, giving them each a scoop of Science Diet Natural and Science Diet For Lard Butt Cats – er, the diet kind. In other words, I’d grab a scoop of the Natural and divide it amongst their dishes, then grab a scoop of the Diet and divide it amongst their dishes. Multiply that by morning and night and that equals…well, I suck at math, so let’s just say 2/3 of a 1/3 cup, twice. Ha!

They’ll be getting 1/4 cup measurements and I doubt they’ll even notice it…although, they ARE incredibly hungry boys. Well, Beardslee and Jasper are. Winston could care less. He’d rather work on his diabolical plan to rule the world and harass his brothers, not necessarily in that order.

So, while thinking about my poor lil’ dieting kitties (who don’t even know they are dieting yet, mwahaha), I decided to make MY afternoon snack something more nutritious – edamame. While it ain’t a cheeseburger, it’s tasty!

We don’t really do “diets” in this household. As I’m sure you’ve read, we try to eat “important” organic items, when fiscally plausible, and all natural, rather than setting strict guidelines. Not that I’m opposed to trying a diet re-set from time to time, especially if I can take something new away from it. (For example, that whole 4-5 small meals a day thing REALLY seems to work with my blood sugar.) But, it doesn’t mean that we’re lean.

For one thing, we’ve got genetics working on us – none of our parents are models (although my father was quite tall and thin – but I’m not sure how he would’ve evolved in old age). And the diet habits of our parents are hard to break – ie meat and potatoes, Italian, etc. Not that it’s ANYthing against our parents. It just gives me a challenge to try and divert from the recipes and ways of cooking more from time to time. If I can land upon some different recipes (from, perhaps, different cultures), I can at least mix them in with our more traditional fare.

Currently, I work on at least making sure that we’re eating whole foods. That is to say, rather than using Bisquick for pancakes, I make the batter from scratch with whole wheat flour. (And locally-picked blueberries my mom brought by. Yay!)

There’s my favorite “Food to Live By” cookbook. *sigh* It’s been one of the best things for my young marriage! Ah, in the second picture, you may notice another “whole food” in the background. It’s locally-raised, non-smoked bacon. Just add salt and pepper and it’s INCREDIBLE…but not the healthiest thing, in traditional terms. Yes, I know exactly where it came from and that I’m eating nothing artificial…but I realize that it’s got lots of fat going on. Same goes for the real butter that we use. C’mon, how could you NOT want to try this stuff??
But those aren’t things I’m willing to give up. What I know that I DO have to do for my family is create those vegetable-based recipes that actually taste good and use less naughty fats to incorporate them with our all-natural foods.


I’m working on perfecting a homemade pizza recipe (in this case, grilled). While it LOOKS good, I wasn’t impressed by the dough recipe I found. I wanted it to be completely whole wheat (rather than partly white flour and partly whole wheat), so I’ll be trying to use this recipe but cut back on the amount of honey I used with it. Note to self – you may like sweet stuff, and it does “help” recipes sometimes, but not THIS time. 😉

If anyone has some “whole foods” suggestions or recipes that they swear by, I’d love for you to comment or email me! The cool thing about blogs is that they’re here for interaction. Sure, I love and appreciate the creepy lurkers who read (you know who you are! Shout-out!), but we’re living Web 2.0 right now. Share whatchya know! 😀 But be respectful and not bossy know-it-alls. Hate those.

Thanks, guys! Side note: I’m trying to use foods up the next couple of days in hopes of doing a bit of farmers’ market shopping, supplementing Hannaford for the rest of it.

Sentence Fragments

I’ve wanted to update folks even when a full post isn’t developed. Or I’m tired. Or busy. Or whatever.

So, here goes. Sentence fragments! (Usually one of my least favorite things.)

Ex-hau-sted Monday. Volunteered for Irishfest (gaif.us) over the weekend. Pretty good time, made better by the Elders. Check ’em out!

Heritage-wise, one of my absolute favorite.

Let’s just say – I have a “Moore Street Girl” t-shirt. I’m not a whore, though. This is a short clip, but at the 2008 Irishfest that I went to…

While listening to song clips, sleepy Beardslee put his arm over his face. Shows what he knows. 😛

Boring summer school day. Only 7 school days and 2 Regents days left. Hasn’t been as bad as last year.

Prepping for “The Philadelphia Story” auditions. Forms. Director analysis sheets. Good times! Starting to get excited and appropriately anxious about it.

Still stumped about this year’s mini-vacation. Beach or history? Culture or relaxation? Aw, hell.

Laundry!!! (Wow, this is boring. Go find some more Elders to listen to.)

Call from sis. Busted for helping her co-workers pick presents for a surprise shower. Hee hee. Excited that she got the final stuff she needs.  Coming down to the wire (!!!)

Red Cross vs. Telemarketers – who wins? RC, hands down. Stop calling! Will sign up to donate when I can! Borderline harassment.

And, now, something else I tend to hate – math! Here’s today’s equation:

Living room clocks ALL off + Rushing + Jasper vomiting in cat carrying case while driving + Wrong vet appointment day = massive disappointment