La vie par hasard

There was something surreal about Corsica.  Maybe it was the juxtaposition of mountains and sea, and the way tiny villages cropped up out of nowhere someplace in between.  Maybe it was the simple way life existed on the island, as if completely independent of the world.  Or maybe it was the fact that we subsisted on cereal for more than half the trip and it was just our hunger that deluded us into surrealism.

I traveled to Corsica in 2009 with my brother, Daniel, and my friend3177_747203521048_5942233_n Katherine.  It was meant to be a camping trip over the Easter holidays of a semester in France, but it turned into something much more adventurous.  We arrived in Bastia, one of Corsica’s biggest cities, and planned to move on by bus to a campground on Cap Corse, a mountainous region with a long, jagged coastline that is said to be the most scenic place on the island.

Catching the bus to find un camping on Cap Corse was a shot in the dark.  It was April – still early in the season – and we knew many campgrounds wouldn’t be open yet.  We were just hoping against hope that we could find something from wherever the bus dropped us.  If not, we had to make sure to get back to Bastia for the weekend, so as not to be marooned on Cap Corse, where – we had been told – wild boars roam free.  Upon boarding the bus, our journey was suddenly complicated when we found that a road closure would cut our route short.  In semi-comprehended French, we understood the basic gist that, if we got off this bus at the terminus, we would be dead-ended somewhere on Cap Corse with no idea where to go next or how to even get there.  So, without a plan in the world, the three of us naturally stepped off at the very last stop, determined to continue our journey on foot.  Sometimes, the combination of midday sunlight and youth can be enough to make unsavory possibilities – like not finding a campground, missing a bus back to civilization, or encountering a wild boar – shrink to the back of your mind.

The very last stop was Erbalunga, a tiny haven of civilization tucked inside the sauvage mountains of Cap Corse.  By this time, we hadn’t eaten a substantial meal since catching the ferry to Corsica from France the previous afternoon, and we ran for the first restaurant we saw – a small pizza shop. Even in this country town, the French had not lost their fashion decorum, and we looked ridiculous in sweatpants and tennis shoes, with our tent, sleeping bags, 3177_747203381328_7900098_nbackpacks, and camping supplies in tow.  Pouring over guide books and sheets of information that Daniel had wisely printed, we tried to calculate how much farther we could safely venture.  Studying our dwindling food rations, which consisted of a box of cereal and a bag of Monster Munch, we realized we had to find both a camping and a supermarché in our travels if we were to survive until dinner without scrounging for edible insects and berries.  And, based on the few amenities that Erbalunga offered beyond pizza and human contact, it seemed unwise to hope that we would find much else on Cap Corse.

Suddenly, an English-speaking voice broke into our worried discussion.  Daniel, Katherine, and I turned around in unison at this welcome interruption of comprehensibility.  He sat at the table behind us, smoking a cigarette so casually that we had mistaken him for a Frenchman.  He was a tall, tan rail of a man with rakish, graying hair that was grappled into a ponytail in untamed, wavy tangles.  He did not quite have the look of one who had just sprung up out of the dirt, like old men tending fields on the uneven Irish countryside.  Rather, he appeared to have simply taken on the topography of the land in his skin through years of exposure; he had become Corsica.  He had a woodsy British accent, and when we asked how he ended up in Corsica, he said he had needed to figure some things out and, after 50 years on the island, he still hadn’t gotten around to figuring them out yet.  I was intrigued and somewhat chilled by how haphazardly his life seemed to have unfolded.  At 20, I did not realize that life often refuses to unfold in any other way.

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Hiking along the coastal road from Erbalunga to Sisco

He was a wealth of information for our beleaguered brains.  Apparently, the next town was called Sisco.  He recalled a campground being nearby but couldn’t be sure that it existed or would be open; however, there was certainly a supermarket.  We could reach this Mecca, he claimed, in just a few miles.  And then, with a quick nod of good luck, he was on his way to what we could only assume was another adventure.  So onward we tramped, with the sun sneakily burning through the afternoon behind us.

The miles between each outpost were desolate, yet friendly.  We followed a circuitous coastal road, framed on one side by green mountains, which dropped off dramatically on the other into the depths of an aqua-blue ocean. Drivers and cyclists waved as they passed.  Each bend in the road brought renewed hope of a sign or an advertisement – anything to indicate that we were not searching for a phantom town with a phantom supermarket, but we walked for more than an hour with nothing.  We knew we couldn’t continue searching indefinitely; at some point we would have to turn around to make it back to Bastia.

Another bend brought no more reassurance than the last.  We sat down and divided the rest of our cereal between us and vowed to turn around in the next unsuccessful 20 minutes.  Then, around the next curve, as if it had just sprung3177_747203461168_1615448_n up for no other reason than our requirement, a seaside town became visible.  Sisco di Marina is embedded in a green valley that opens up to the sea.  Mountains rise up on either side and, farther inland, you can see the roofs and steeples of the official Sisco.  A two-way street passes through the town and then sends you on to the next one, several kilometers away.  It takes about 10 minutes to walk through the entire village.  To our delight, there was a Cocci Market (we silently thanked the haphazard Englishman) and a billboard advertising a campground, A Casiola, which we found out was open.

We had a moment of blind celebration before we ran straight for Cocci – once again desperate for food and fearing a waning sunset.  While we were greedily unloading our wares at the checkout, we heard a familiar voice behind us.  “So, you made it to Sisco!” It was the haphazard Englishman, looking as though he had walked into Cocci expecting nothing less than to meet us there.  He gave us the smiling nod we’d seen before and walked out of the supermarket in a jaunting lope.  We stood in stunned silence upon meeting him again at random.  We’d only come about five kilometers from Erbalunga, but in our uncertain journey, we felt we might have crossed the face of the earth.  That was the last we ever saw of him.

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The petite colline behind our campground

On that first night, we took our dinner and a bottle of victory wine out to a hill that Katherine had found behind the campground.  On either side of us, two broad mountains rose up, covered in rich green.  The gray clouds in the darkening sky hovered in misty shadows over the mountaintops, and as it got darker, the little twinkling lights of the inland Sisco became like a solitary beacon of civilization.  We sat for a while, watching the scenery fade to darkness and all the greens and blues disappear in shades of black and white.

Sometimes in life, there are places we go to which we feel an instinctive and inexplicable connection, as if we’ve belonged to them for years without having even known of their existence.  Sitting on that hill, alone in the world, watching civilization meander through the tiny streets below, I suddenly realized how the Englishman had come to belong to Corsica.  In the mundane everyday, I can rarely feel my life unfolding; most often I seem to be running after it, cursing it, and trying to make my way around the roadblocks it leaves in its wake.  But in that moment, I was living.  Whether haphazard or not, I knew the future would unfold and it was worth all the hardship and pain that awaited just to see a bright day fade silently into night and to feel, for even one minute, the depth of infinite possibilities ahead.

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It’s Like I Had No Idea I Even Looked Like That

That is NOT what I look like…..is it??

Well this is just great.  Now I have to look at myself.

In the process of scrubbing the bathroom last week, I stumbled upon a great glass cleaner.  Considering that I’m (as usual) about a week behind on my Mother Nature’s Maid Service Challenge, this sounds like a wonderful godsend of a discovery, right?  Sure, if you really want to look at yourself in the mirror.  I, however, have been suffering from horrendous cold and allergy symptoms the past few days, which causes a stuffy nose, which causes me to sleep (so adorably) with my mouth wide open, which causes my throat to go raw, which causes me to get absolutely NO sleep, which causes me to wake up looking like the dead in my bathroom mirror.  Ain’t nobody wanna see that.

I don’t know who invented bathroom mirrors, but I’m not a huge fan.  It’s not that I don’t like mirrors;love mirrors.  I have this obsession with my hair and will go to great lengths to turn just about any reflective surface – from the bottom of a soda can to a doorknob – into a mirror.  The reason I have a particular aversion to bathroom mirrors is because having one basically ensures that my sleep-deprived, sandy-eyed, drooled-on face is always the first thing I see in the morning, and it’s honestly enough to give me a heart attack some days.  I don’t know who invented bathroom mirrors, but they must have been a morning person.

So now we have this sparkling clean bathroom mirror, and I have to look at myself every morning.  What a nightmare.  I preferred when our mirror was covered in dust and soap and hairspray and toothpaste, so I only ever saw a blurry outline of myself and could just assume I woke up looking like Jane Bennet, beauty of Meryton.  But, to get to my point, what’s my new Windex?  Get ready for another surprise, because one’s about to fall on you like a ton of bricks.  Vinegar.  That’s it.

I know, I know – I’ve been trashing vinegar lately, because it won’t stop following me around.  Since I started using it to clean the bathroom, I feel like I have this lingering vinegar scent wherever I go, like I’m in some sort of vinegar dust cloud.  It’s not amusing or attractive, but I do have to admit the stuff has cleansing properties.  I discovered it’s Windexing power by accident when I sprayed it on the mirror just to see what would happen.  Wouldn’t you know it cleaned the darn thing.

I use the vinegar basically the same way I would use Windex – spray, wash, wipe, buff.  And I don’t buy anything fancy for my cleaning supplies – just cheapo white vinegar.  It’s simple and effective – everything I love in any sort of homemade product.  Give it a try and see if it cleans your mirrors as well as it did mine.  The only downside is that now you’ll have to look at yourself.  Good morning!  Good morning!  Good morning!

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The agony of victory, and the thrill of defeat

Mother Nature’s Maid is very much in need of a win.  Our cable went out last week and cost nearly $50 to fix.  The AC in my Volvo seems less-than-prepared to work this summer.  Our backyard is already completely overgrown with ivy.  And I’ve been followed around for about a week by a lingering vinegar scent.

Sound like first-world problems?  Wait til you hear this: My dryer balls don’t even work!

Everything I read in my research about these homemade dryer sheet replacements said they would actually cut down on drying time.  Did I believe that?  Absolutely not!  MNM believes nothing until it has been run through a number of proven, thorough, and exhaustive testing processes before my very own eyes.  And, you can trust me – I have 20/20 vision.

So I stirred up my very own experiment to determine the effectiveness of my dryer balls.

  1. Strip your bed and wash your sheets
  2. Put a fitted sheet in the dryer, alone without dryer balls
  3. Dry the fitted sheet for 10 minutes, then remove
  4. Put a top sheet in the dryer, with dryer balls
  5. Dry the top sheet for 10 minutes, then remove
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 until one sheet comes out completely dry
  7. Record drying times

Easy enough, right?  Wrong…here are a few steps I left out:

  1. Realize that fitted sheets and top sheets are not at all the same size
  2. Ignore this information and proceed anyway
  3. Take a book down to the basement while you wait
  4. Take your dinner down to the basement while you wait
  5. Swipe Gargantua off your ankle and chase him around the basement
  6. Clothesline yourself with an actual clothesline in your basement
  7. Drown Mother Nature in defeat

I spent a total of about 45 minutes alone in my basement with no one but Gargantua and his poor dead prey for company only to find out that my homemade dryer balls do not, in fact, shorten drying time whatsoever.  Turns out the fitted sheet (dried without dryer balls) took about 20 minutes to dry, while the top sheet (dried with dryer balls) took more than 25 minutes to dry!  Explain that, hippie bloggers!

Maybe the explanation is that top sheets are actually larger than fitted sheets and naturally require more time to dry.  Maybe the explanation is that more than two wool balls are required to really cut down on drying time (sorry, but I was not about to employ the blue fart balls again).  Maybe the explanation is that my experiment was not at all proven, thorough, or exhaustive and actually had a number of scientific faults (do we call those variables?).  For example, I could only dry one sheet at a time, which means that both sheets had amounts of time to air dry independently of the dryer.  The list could go on, but I won’t bore you with my scientific facts (or lack thereof).

The basic point is that Mother Nature got herself a big, fat TKO in this experiment.  Whether it’s really my fault or hers, I guess we’ll never know, because I’m not about to spend another evening in the basement with Gargantua just to correct my ragtag experiment and prove, once and for all, that dryer balls really work.  Still, I’ll probably keep using my wool balls in place of dryer sheets, because they seem to work great for static.  But, for now, let’s just bask in Mother Nature’s defeat.  She’s such a tyrant; it’s nice to see her knocked down a few pegs.

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All-Purpose For Every Surface

Do you remember what I was wearing to clean the bathroom last week?

Neither do I.  I’ve tried very hard to remember but unsuccessfully.

The trouble is that the scent of homemade all-purpose surface spray seems to follow me around wherever I go in The Newport House these days.  And considering that my homemade all-purpose surface spray is composed solely of vinegar, thyme, and tea tree oil, you can imagine that it is not a very hospitable scent that’s tailing me.  I’d love to remember what I was wearing when I cleaned the bathroom with my homemade all-purpose surface spray so that I can give the entire outfit a second, third, or fourth good wash, but no matter what I do, I cannot seem to jog my memory on that point. I certainly hope that it’s just an outfit I’ve been unwittingly re-wearing that is causing the scent, because the only alternative is that my homemade all-purpose surface spray has left a lingering odor of vinegar throughout the entire house, and I don’t think I like that at all.

The scent is, however, quite tricky to pin down.  I’ve been through my entire t-shirt wardrobe with a fine-toothed nose, and nothing really leaps out at me as the definite culprit.  Of course, if there is an outfit that I wore last week to clean the bathroom that has been washed several times and that is still stinking of vinegar, it’s certainly no wonder.  If you could have seen the amount of homemade all-purpose surface spray I had to use in our bathroom to get a desirable level of clean, you would have thought we hadn’t scrubbed our bathroom in months.  Ok, so maybe we hadn’t.  Still, it was a lot of surface spray.  Here’s the recipe:

  • 16 oz White Vinegar
  • 1/2 C Dried Thyme
  • 15 drops Tea Tree Oil

I simply poured the dried thyme leaves into a 16-oz bottle, then added the vinegar, and topped it off with the essential oil.  You’re supposed to let the mixture sit for a few days, then strain out all the excess thyme.  Enter: Difficulty.  If you’re making this and you haven’t invested in a cheapo funnel and scrounged up an old stocking, please do so now!  Both of these things will make your life infinitely easier.  I used a makeshift tea ball strainer technique, and ended up losing part of my concoction due to faulty pouring and ruining a spray bottle by getting some leftover thyme leaves stuck in it.

So, it wasn’t as easy to pull together as I thought, but was the spray effective?  That’s debatable.  As I noticed with my scouring powder, my all-purpose spray didn’t work like conventional Pine-Sol.  The most difficult thing was the lack of foam.  It’s so hard to tell what and where you’re cleaning when you can’t see any suds, so I just kept spraying to be on the safe side. In future batches, I think I’ll mix in some of my dish soap, in order to get some foaming power.

All that said, the vinegar seemed to clean quite well. However, it did leave that lingering scent, which I hope will be eliminated by revising the recipe.  If I have more suds, I hopefully won’t have to use as much product and hopefully won’t end up drenched in Eau de Vineger & Thyme.

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Scour Power! (Or, how to get away – or not – with bathroom murder)

Carrie has finally done it.  After all I did last week cleaning the bathroom, she’s turned me over to the authorities.

I’m writing this from a maximum security prison.  They don’t usually let you have laptops, but the guards are MNM fans.  I keep asking myself how I ended up in the joint.  And then I ask myself if prisoners even call it “the joint” anymore.  And then I remind myself to toughen up, because these ladies all probably want to shiv me in the yard.  And then I ask myself, again, why I’m here when I clearly don’t even know the correct prison slang.

It started last week.  I came home one day to find the police waiting for me.  They told me I was under arrest for a Psycho-inspired shower killing.  As they dragged me away, I screamed: “But I didn’t do anything!  What is this about??”

“I know what you did!” Carrie cried.  “You murdered Janet Leigh in there!”

“Janet Leigh died in 2004!” I yelled, struggling against my handcuffs.  “And why would I murder her?”

“Why else would you clean the bathroom?” Carrie shouted back, pointing a defiant and accusatory finger toward the upstairs lavatory.  “You psycho!!”

Despite the fact that I’m now in prison, I call this a win.  Who knew that my homemade bathroom cleaners would be powerful enough to create a shine so spotless that it looks like Norman Bates took a stab at our shower curtain and then covered it up!  I have to tell you, I certainly didn’t.  Homemade scouring powder is all fine and dandy, but it definitely doesn’t pack the same punch that Comet does.  Here’s my recipe:

  • 1 cup Baking Soda
  • 1/2 cup Borax
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 pack sugar-free lemonade mix (optional)
  • 2 Dandelion flowers, crushed (optional)

Although the lemonade mix creates some fizz, this recipe doesn’t foam up like a conventional cleaner, and it took more than a little extra elbow grease to bring out the same shine in our tiles.  It also was missing some grit.  With Comet, I can rough up the bottom of my tub like I’m scrubbing it with sandpaper, but my homemade cleaner just doesn’t seem abrasive enough. I kept dumping more in to feel like I was getting a true clean, but, really, I just ended up in a sandbox of miscellaneous white powders.  I used up almost an entire batch of this stuff in my first go-round.  Clearly, some changes are in order.

First of all, I think I’ll swap the Baking Soda and Borax amounts.  Borax is grittier, and I think it would do the job better.  I also want to add a higher salt ratio to the mix and use a coarser product.  The reason I added the salt was for abrasion, but it was obviously too fine to do its duty.  If you want more scrubbing bubbles, I’ve read that a grated bar of soap mixed into the recipe can make all the difference.  I skipped this step though, because, frankly, I was just too lazy to grind another bar of soap down to the nubbins with our vegetable peeler.

All in all, I’m giving Scour Power a half-win.  It did clean the bathroom eventually…with a lot of manual labor.  I think my proposed changes will make Scour Power 2.0 a much more satisfying and easy-to-use product.  However, if you like to exercise in your bathroom, I think I just invented your next workout.  You’re welcome.

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Turn down for bathroom cleaners!

How I feel when I have to clean the bathroom

I can see where this is going: I’m going to have to clean the bathroom today.  I’m not really a fan of cleaning, but sometimes you just have to do it.

For example, you do it when your mother is coming over to visit.  Or, you do it when…well, actually, I can’t think of any other reason why you would clean your bathroom.  Maybe if you’re bored and you can’t get an appointment for a root canal?  Nah, I think I’d keep pressing for the root canal, rather than tackle the bottom of our toilet or our clogged bathtub drain.

But today we tackle them both.  Is my mother coming over?  Probably not (unless it is to drag me back to the country in case more rioting erupts in Baltimore in the next few hours).  So why go digging through the toilet bowl tonight when I could be catching up on Preacher’s Daughters?  Because Mother Nature is a slave driver, that’s why.  Apparently, it’s not enough that I have to suffer through making her products – she wants me to do work to test them out!  How is that fair?  I’m trying to do her a solid by cutting out chemicals, and all she does is make me clean the bathroom.  She’s ungrateful – full stop.  But tonight, I press on anyway, probably on all fours on the bathroom floor with a sponge in my hand.

Last week, I tackled all-purpose cleaner and scouring powder; so, basically, I tackled bathroom cleaners.  And, as I’m beginning to realize, the only way to test a bathroom cleaner is to actually put on your giant clown gloves and clean your bathroom, and, so, I prepare.  The all-purpose cleaner, which should take the place of a Lysol-type product, is made from a recipe I found on Learning Herbs.  It is basically vinegar, dried thyme, and (I added) some tea tree oil.  The mix makes a natural disinfectant, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial surprise and can, supposedly, be used on just about anything – from the windows to the walls.  Clearly, I listen to Lil’ Jon while I clean; talk abut inspirational!

The scouring powder was a bit more difficult to make – and by difficult I mean way, way easier.  I thought these herby mixtures from The Nerdy Farm Wife were just the bees knees (probably because she puts them in cute jars with ribbons on them), so I decided to mimic it in my own style, with the addition of Borax and dandelion flower.  It could be the easiest concoction I’ve ever made.  But will it clean?  We shall see.

I’d actually be really excited to try these out, if only cleaning the bathroom could be more fun.  Maybe I’ll turn out the lights and put on our psychedelic, colorful showerhead, and it’ll be all like, “turn down for what” in there.

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Get Ready for Business

IMG_20150422_211949940 (1)Dishes collect some nasty stuff.  Sitting in our dishwasher right now are multiple pieces of dinnerware, saucepans, and utensils that are covered in dried yogurt, crusted oatmeal, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce, burnt cheese, peanut butter, regular butter, dehydrated lettuce, cereal, and stuck-on jam.  Clearly, we eat a lot of breakfast foods, and we need to pre-rinse our dishes a little better.

Now, I know all that stuck-on food sounds concerning, especially if you remember that I gave up commercial dishwasher detergent this week.  Yikes – sounds like a tough cycle for our little Whirlpool, not to mention my Petrified Lemon-Soda Dishwasher Detergent Tabs.

A dishwasher detergent tab is a small amount of solidified dish cleaner that fits directly in the soap receptacle of your washer and slowly dissolves throughout the cycle.  Sounds kindof difficult to make from scratch, right?  I definitely thought so, but thanks to these wonderful recipes from the Happy Money Saver and  Pins & Procrastination, the homemade dishwasher detergent tab became a piece of cake.  Here’s the recipe I worked up for myself:

  • 1 Cup Super Washing Soda
  • 1 Cup Baking Soda
  • 3-4 packets Unsweeted Lemonade Mix
  • 1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Water
  • 1/2 Cup Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Castille Soap

IMG_20150423_204233053Basically, you just mix all the ingredients together and then knead them gently and thoroughly into an ice cube tray. I filled the tray up all the way to top, but this made the tabs too large for our dishwasher, so I’ve had to cut them in half.  The tabs are fairly easy to chop up, but if you want to avoid this whole dance, just don’t fill the ice cube trays up so far.  After you let your mix cement for about 24 hours, the tablets will slip right out of the trays in dried-up, formed cubes.  Chop them up, put them in a container, and you’re ready to put on your blazer, because it’s business time.

Wondering what business time will look like with Petrified Lemon-Soda Dishwasher Detergent Tabs?  I was, too.  I woke up early one morning before work, specifically to turn on my dishwasher.  Unfortunately, I still had to leave before the cycle was done – I can never wake up early enough!  I got to work and texted Carrie immediately, demanding information about our dishes.  The verdict?  Success!  The dishes came out clean!  Carrie said there were a few particles left behind on utensils (probably something that traditional dishwasher detergent would cure), but that was about it – she hadn’t even noticed that I’d put the cycle through with my homemade tabs!

That’s what business time looks like – clean dishes…with only tiny particles left behind.

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