Stuff I Like

‘Tis the Season

Every year around this time, Anchor Brewing puts out their Christmas Ale. It’s a little different every year, but always delicious. The perfect treat for a winter day.


When I took this photo, I realized that I usually think Instagram’s ‘Sierra’ filter looks best. I wonder if I’m influenced by living in the Sierras, or if the filter was designed to work well in the Sierras. Maybe my brain is just trying to find patterns where none exist.

We cut our Christmas tree at a local farm. It has the usual recursive tree topper, which I never seem to get tired of.


DIY Rope Umbrella Stand

Ever since we’ve had our patio table, we’ve been using this DIY umbrella stand to hold our patio umbrella. I thought I would share how we made it so you could DIY it too!

Kidding! That’s the original DIY umbrella stand that John made with a leftover plant container and a sack of post concrete. He put the bottom of our umbrella pole into a 3-mil contractor’s trash bag, wrapped the excess with tape, stuck it in the center of the plant container, and filled it with cement. Once it cured, the umbrella pole and bag came out easily. This thing was cheap and very sturdy, but I wanted something nicer for our deck seating area. After considering different paint options, I finally decided to try covering the umbrella stand in rope, like an old buoy. Here’s the finished product:

I wouldn’t say that this process was exactly “quick and easy” (it took several hours over a few days and was a little fiddly), but it only cost about $35 total and I am super happy with the way it turned out! I bought 100 feet of manilla rope (two 50-foot packages), a big tube of Liquid Nails, and a can of spray paint that matched the rope. I also ended up using some cork, wood glue, and spar urethane that we already had on hand. The estimated cost of $35 is for all the materials, including the concrete and the stuff we had on hand.

I cut off the plant container with a utility knife and spray-painted the concrete to match the rope. I figured that was a good precaution to make it less noticeable if my rope-wrapping wasn’t perfect. Then I started gluing the rope in place. I decided to start at the narrowest end (the bottom of the plant container), which would become the top of the finished umbrella stand. I wiped off as much of the excess glue as I could after snapping this photo.

After gluing the top down, I weighted it with a 4×4 and let it dry so it wouldn’t uncoil (even though Liquid Nails is pretty sticky, I still had to sort of hold the rope in place while I glued it to the top). Once the glue holding the top coil of rope down was dry, I continued wrapping and gluing the rope down the stand. Once I got near the end of the first 50-foot length of rope, I taped everything in place with masking tape and let it dry. I left about the last 8 inches unglued so I could move it around when I glued the next section of rope in place.

Once the glue was dry on the first rope section, I flipped the umbrella stand over so the bottom was facing up, then I continued gluing and wrapping the rope around the rest of the stand, taped it again, and let it dry fully. I should probably mention that I did the second half of this on John’s pottery wheel, which made it waaaaaay easier, since I could rotate it while I glued, instead of having to walk around in circles!

I glued some cork to the bottom of the stand so it wouldn’t scratch our deck, then let that dry.

Once everything was dry, I flipped it over and checked my work. It looked pretty good!

Unfortunately, after I finished high-fiving John, I took a closer look and saw that some of the Liquid Nails had oozed out between the ropes and left unsightly white marks.

I tried touching it up with spray paint. I just sprayed the paint into a puddle on a scrap of cardboard, then used a foam brush to carefully dab paint over the dried Liquid Nails. Since the paint was a good match for the manilla rope, it worked great! I seriously can hardly tell where I did the touch-up painting!

After the paint was dry, John and I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to give the finished umbrella stand a good coat of spar urethane to protect it from the elements. I applied the spar urethane liberally with a brush. I didn’t photograph this step because it made absolutely no difference in how the stand looked. In fact, the only way I could tell where I had applied it was to tap with my fingers to see which areas were tacky (from the spar urethane)! Once I let the stand dry a final time, we put our new DIY rope umbrella stand in place under our patio table.

Big upgrade! I love how the natural color and texture of the manilla rope blends in with the wooden deck table and chairs, and with our Trex deck. I totally recommend this as a DIY project that is affordable, pretty easily accomplished, and looks way fancier and more expensive than it is. Now I want to make more improvements to our deck seating area! I’m thinking that a nice candle and some colorful pillows would look good. I’m also trying to decide what to do with the laminate table top, which looks okay in photos but isn’t great in real life (although John thinks it’s fine). Please let me know if you have any suggestions or other good DIY ideas!

Tent Trailer Packing List

John and I both grew up camping, and it’s still one of our favorite things to do. Some of the best, most relaxing times we’ve had together have been when we’ve gone out camping for a week or two. Until recently, we tent-camped. We would gather all of our camping gear, shoe-horn it into the back of John’s truck, head out, unpack everything, and then pack it all back up when we were ready to move to the next spot. It took hours and was a huge production. When we decided to buy our tent trailer a year and a half ago, the main reason was that it would make it easier to get out and go camping, because we could keep the trailer stocked with all of our camping gear. I admit that a comfier bed was a real bonus for me, too!

Having the trailer really has made it easier to head out on our camping adventures. We have pretty much everything we need in the trailer, and just have to pack food, clothes, drinks, and campfire stuff. Following the lead of John’s Mom, who uses an extensive array of lists to pack for her frequent trips, I made a packing list of everything we stock in the trailer. Here’s the basic layout of our tent trailer (click to enlarge):

Trailer Packing List
I’m including a few Amazon links so you know what I’m talking about, but they aren’t affiliate links.*

Entry Cabinet
Small Level (To level the trailer when we set up.)
Spare Batteries
Baby Wipes
Shop Towels
Whisk Broom
Trailer Hitch and Lock
Shims (Also to level the trailer, if needed.)

Cookware Box
We love to cook good food when we camp. We almost never cook camping classics like burgers and hot dogs, though.
Pasta Pot and Lid
Skillet and Lid
Set of 3 Nested Pots/Lids (My old backpacking set, this brand.)
Small Mixing Bowl
Silicone Measuring Cup
6 Plates
6 Bowls
6 Glasses
1 Mug (For me. John doesn’t drink hot beverages.)
2 Wooden Spoons
Pasta Scoop
2 Skewers
Chef’s Knife
Cutting Board
Paper Plates and Bowls
Extension Cord (We keep this by the cookware box for the rare cases when we have hookups.)

Dish Pan and Drain
These go on the floor, and we keep stuff in them.
Place Mats
Dish Towel
Straw Trivet
Dr. Bronner’s Soap
Spray Cleaner
SPF 15 Lotion (Multipurpose!)

Bedding #1
For our bed.
Towels and Washcloths
Comforter and Cover
Spare Blanket
Indian Bedspread (This is my all-time favorite hot weather bedding. It’s very loosely-woven cotton. So light and cool.)

Trash Can

Can Opener
Bottle/Wine Opener
Pot Gripper (For backpacking pots/pans.)
A Variety of Knives
Clothespins (To hang clothes/towels on the awning, and to close the curtains fully.)
Lantern Mantels (We don’t take our lantern very often, but we stock these in case we do.)

Trash Bags
Rubber Gloves
Playing Cards

First Aid Kit
Bug Repellent
Duct Tape
Shout Wipes (I think I’m going to take these out, though, so I can take them to work, where I actually care if I spill.)
Tick Removal Kit

Sink Cabinet
Fresh and Waste Water Hoses (For the rare cases when we have hookups.)
A Couple of Small Propane Cans
Coleman Adapter Hose (So we can hook our camp stove to a 20# propane tank. Much more practical.)

Small American Flag (I’m not “rah-rah” patriotic, but camping makes me happy to have the freedoms I so often take for granted. John’s not sold on this, even though his Mom gave it to us, haha!)

Bedding #2
Our Pillows.
2nd Set of Sheets/Towels/Washcloths (Guests bring their own pillows and blankets/covers.)

Floor Storage #1
Right in front of the door, so we can access it when the trailer is down.
Crank (To raise the tent trailer.)

Floor Storage #2
Food Bin (Someday, I’ll write another post on our favorite camping foods. We’re particular!)
Coleman Camp Stove (We don’t take the stove that came with our trailer because it’s too small.)

That’s it! We definitely don’t pack light…after all, we’re on vacation and we’re car-camping in a trailer. We are all about the comfort! Any other campers out there? Do you backpack, tent camp, trailer, RV, or any and all? Inquiring minds want to know! And please share any good camping areas that are drivable from Northern California!

*Although California residents are no longer eligible to be Amazon Associates, I’ve never been one. I don’t run ads, and I don’t have any desire to “monetize” this blog. Just me and whatever I feel like writing about.

Lazy: Icebox Iced Tea

I pretty much stopped drinking coffee earlier this year (doesn’t agree with my tum), so I’ve turned to tea to meet my hot/cold caffeinated morning beverage needs. But – brutal honesty – I am lazy when it comes to making my own. I’m always in a rush out of the house, and it is just so easy to pop in and grab a cup of whatever to go. I can manage hot tea, but not in this weather. Now that it’s summer, I’ve fallen in love with iced tea. It’s not hard to make, and I’ve tried a few methods: hot brewed and cooled, hot over ice, and sun tea. Instant iced tea is deeply unsatisfying and not an option. Hot over ice is a total failure, but the other two work just fine if I plan in advance, which I never do (because I’m lazy). And I don’t really like putting hot liquids in the fridge – I always have to juggle stuff around so the hot stuff isn’t near milk or meat or anything like that, and it’s a pain (and a waste of electricity cooling it off).

I’ve finally hit on a method to make iced tea that I’m not too lazy for – Icebox Iced Tea.

It’s dead simple: a quart of cold tap water, two tea bags, stick it in the fridge, and let it brew overnight. I use a wide-mouth quart-sized canning jar, but any covered container would work. Apparently I’m able to overcome my laziness for the 30 seconds it takes to prepare it in advance – after all, that’s way less time than it takes to get takeout! It comes out pretty strong, which I like because I have it over ice with a generous amount of milk. Since 100 tea bags cost me less than $2, I get my fix for less than a nickel. Being lazy is always satisfying, but saving money at the same time is even more so!

Stuff I Like (March 2011)

Ah, stuff. I like some stuff. Other stuff, not so much. Here are a few things I’m especially into right now:

1. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap in Rose

I’ve been using Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap for about 10 years. I love it! It’s all-natural, makes a super-rich lather with a tiny amount, and it seems to last forever. It’s also Fair Trade Certified, which is cool. The rose scent is by far my favorite, although I also like the almond. I always take a small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s with me when I travel, because it works great for washing my face and body, shaving, and doing laundry in the sink. Because it’s all-natural and biodegradable, I also use Dr. Bronner’s to wash up when I’m camping (although I still wash dishes with Campsuds, just out of habit).

2. Chai Tea

I am really into Chai at the moment, and Good Earth Organic Seven Spice is my favorite. It’s nice and spicy, without any weird artificial ingredients or vanilla flavor. I brew it up with half water and half almond milk, and let it steep a good long while. I have to admit that my all-time favorite Chai is from a recipe in Cooking With the Dead: Recipes and Stories from Fans on the Road (yes, seriously). I had this book in college but foolishly gave away. I just reordered it!

3. Indian Food

This is kind of a corollary to the Chai thing, but I’m super into Indian food at the moment, too! Especially aloo gobi (my all-time fave), saag, and (of course) naan.

4. Stadium Arcadium

I’ve liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers since the mid-’90s, and I really appreciate the way their sound has mellowed and matured over time. Although “I Could Have Lied,” from Blood Sugar Sex Magik is still probably my favorite RHCP song, Stadium Arcadium has been getting a lot of play lately. My current favorite songs on the album are “She Looks to Me” and “Make You Feel Better.” (I’m also a big Rick Rubin fan.) Rug Fail

Well, I was brimming over with optimism about my kitchen rug order from In hindsight, it was doomed to failure. I have difficulty making aesthetically or tactilely-important purchases without seeing/touching them first. Things like books, electronics, and music I have no problem with. But the rugs were a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless, I was excited. The rugs shipped promptly and arrived undamaged. I opened the Heritage Bakhtiari rug first because, I’ll admit, it was already my favorite. I unrolled it onto its spot on the kitchen floor and stepped back to give it an admiring look. It looked good. But wait. There was a spot of…something….

Dude! There were totally obvious manufacturing defects! It was missing pile in several spots like the one above! I couldn’t believe it! I was truly astonished at the apparent total lack of quality control by the rug manufacturer and/or Overstock. When I took a closer look I noticed that, aside from the damage, the rug colors were really uneven and the fibers were coarse and fraying. You can sort of see what I mean in the photo above – look at the blue color and you can see white-ish patches in it. The rug that will not be named was undamaged – but similarly poor quality – and just didn’t look right in the kitchen.

Anyway, through my profanity-laced rant tears of disappointment, I managed to undertake the very easy return process. I got a full refund, including shipping (allegedly – it hasn’t posted to my account yet). Packaging the rugs back up was the biggest hassle, and John was nice enough to do that. I was disappointed in the whole experience. My naive optimism was crushed. There are only a few things that can cheer me up under these circumstances. Watching/listening to Mark Knopfler is one. Check out around 4:38, and keep in mind that he doesn’t use a pick.

Seriously, our stupid Comcast Crapfinity internet went out multiple times when I was writing this post, so naturally I was trying to watch this video, which kept stopping and reloading. I’m seriously going to change cable internet providers. Oh, wait…I don’t have any other cable internet providers to choose from. Thanks, deregulation.

I Came Home to This…

John surprised me by setting the table for dinner. He got me a red rose at the Thai restaurant where he ate lunch (they were giving them to customers), and even lit a candle. You can tell by the presentation of the wine that he really made an effort. 🙂 This is my favorite part:

He tied pieces of Shop Towels around the bottles to stop drips. It’s a little bit sophisticated, but a little more redneck. Just like my husband, and I love him for it!

Hope you all had a sweet Valentine’s Day!

Recent Thrifted Finds

I wanted to share a few of my recent thrifted finds. REOlistic and I have a standing weekly thrift-shopping date, which has really brought back my thrifty mojo!

Desktop Organizer

Flower Pin and Earrings

Western Print (I love the colors in this)

Paint by numbers? Love these!

I also found a vintage espresso maker, but I’m in the midst of troubleshooting a few problems with it. We’ll see how it goes! I also love to thrift sewing notions and vintage patterns. And I’m always on the lookout for old sewing books, cool paintings, lamps, and well-designed furniture. Anything else I should add to the list?

Stuff I Like – Daisy Light Sour Cream

Note: I have no affiliation with this company and haven’t been compensated in any way. I just really like my favorite sour cream, and want to share the love!

I am an habitual label-reader. I’m always looking for healthy food without funky additives. And, like many people, I have a family history of heart disease (which as I’m sure you know is the #1 killer of both men and women in the US). So I’m also always trying to find ways to reduce my intake of saturated fat, without resorting to “lite” “foods”, which often have all sorts of strange ingredients not found in the regular versions.

That’s why I am a big fan of Daisy Light Sour Cream.

It tastes good! Probably because it doesn’t have funky additives. It does have one additive: Vitamin A Palmitate. But compare the ingredients in the Daisy Light Sour Cream (Cream, Milk, Vitamin A Palmitate) to the typical ingredients in light sour cream:

Cultured Pasteurized Milk and Cream, Whey, Modified Corn Starch, Sodium Phosphate, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Calcium Sulfate, Carob Bean Gum, Maltodextrin, Potassium Sorbate (as preservative) Vitamin A Palmitate.

Even organic brands can include some strange stuff:

Cultured organic Grade A pasteurized nonfat milk and organic Grade A pasteurized cream, organic tapioca starch, organic guar gum, carrageenan, organic locust bean gum, vitamin A palmitate, and live and active cultures: L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium infantis.

I’ll stick with the Daisy. Bonus: It’s almost always the cheapest choice at my local grocery stores. Here are the nutritional facts for the regular and light versions:

What’s your favorite light (but not funky) dairy product/brand? I’m especially interested in stuff that’s inexpensive and readily available. I’d love to try your recommendations!