A Few Hand-Adjusted Gifts

If you are like me, you know a few of your loved ones birthdays, but mostly just rely on Facebook to remember the rest for you. So when one of those special days sneaks up, you find yourself scrambling for a quick gift, that won’t immediately end up in the trash. I’ve got a couple for you, that you can start and finish, in only a night. They aren’t hand-made…more like hand-adjusted.

First, is just a simple gift basket, or one could think of it as a year-round stocking. Many little gifts, comprising one collection of goodies!

Variety is your friend, knowing your audience is so helpful, and display is key. A nice arrangement of junk can fool people into thinking that it’s treasure.

Pictured below isn’t the greatest example of this, a little heavy on the tissue paper, but it was Mother’s day. They deserve an entire pack! Also, they are mothers who just got a basket of treats; they will not care!

Second easiest on the list, is a personalized mug. Really in a pinch? This can get knocked out in an hour.

5 Step Personalized Mug
1.Grab any plain mug out of your cupboard and any color sharpie, and then draw whatever you want. (I bought matching mugs & the metallic gold permanent markers).
2. Heat at 375° for 30 minutes to an hour.
3. After removing from heat, carefully use Q-tips to clean up some edges. Take caution to not burn yourself!
4. Let cool.

To add a little something extra, put coffee beans, hot chocolate mix, or some other treat inside, and use in your gift basket arrangement!


Lastly, is another personalized piece, by hot tool. My friend The Ballerina gave me a great idea this Christmas, and I jumped on it.
As a beginner, I felt that my needs would be met by a more well-rounded, all-purpose tool. Something versatile…or in this case, Versa-Tool. This one helps give you a taste of what materials you will enjoy burning and what some of the most common points can do, without breaking your bank.  Dropping the money on all the materials for a project, only to realize you absolutely hate doing that thing always stinks. So the Versa-Tool is a safe bet for folks just starting out, like me.


I chose bamboo cutting boards, as they are anti-microbial, inexpensive, and serve as great cheeseboards. I started with a practice round, trying out the different points on a cut of lumber, and I can now tell you that your work surface matters! Again, bamboo is a great choice, as the surface is smooth, uniform, and delicate.


I’m sure that some folks are amazing and can just create masterpieces in the blink of an eye, but I fight a lack of artistry; so I must draw it out, before making it permanent.


20160109_220821                             A beginner’s attempt at personalized wood-burning.

I gave these to folks who love me, so there would be a higher chance that they would be loved.

And that’s it! Just a few quick, easy gifts you can make on the fly.


First Things First: A Mobile-Home Makeover.

When I bought the Gypsy Wagon, I knew that it was the beginning of a transformation. Both with myself, by adjusting to my new tiny living quarters, and with the trailer itself. I don’t know about you, but I think most RV-type interiors are tremendously ugly. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s start with these…

Wait, these aren’t on any of your Pinterest boards?

So that is the sow’s ear that I have sworn to turn into a purse.

I purchased this in August of 2013, and needed to move into it as soon as possible. My landlord at the time was creepin’ on me (and I mean game-cam creepy), so I was definitely feeling urgency about getting far away from there. I was lucky enough to be able to park it on a neighboring property, while I worked on it. No electric hookup was available, so the August heat was truly unbeatable, inside this little oven.

Before renovation, comes demolition. That awful burlap curtain-divider, complete with images of covered wagons was the first to go, followed by those odd built-in window valances & grungy mattress. I usually just eat in front of the TV, and I don’t have the space for too much company, so I really had no need for a dining booth that can turn into a tiny bed. That other cabinet you see had to be removed, too, as my embarrassingly large television had to go somewhere. Just because a house is small, doesn’t mean the TV has to be.


Once I had emptied out all the unwanted furniture, I was ready to paint & move in! Being tall, most counter-tops are slightly too low for me. In addition, the cutting board was just cluttering up what little counter space I have, so I threw in a custom cutting board counter-top. A little kitchen utensil organizer and a bookshelf later, I had put myself together a little nest.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Although I am very happy with how the red turned out, there are still so many projects left. The other day, I finally crossed off one of my easy To-Do’s: Hardware. As you can see in the slideshow above, all the drawer and cabinet pulls were painted brass and just screaming 80’s mobile home.

Unless you buy from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, the low cost of a multitude of drawer pulls adds up to a not-so-low cost. The cheapest ones I found tolerable at Lowes were about $4 a piece. At the 20 I needed to replace, I was looking at an $80 project, which was ludicrous considering I had perfectly decent hardware already…with the holes perfectly sized and everything! More paint was in order. $6 dollars for a can of Rustoleum metal-surface spray paint was enough to give all my handles a tiny taste of class.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Note: Sorry if this seems rushed and the pictures kind of suck. I’m catching up on three years of work.


The Gypsy Wagon.

Plenty has changed since that long-past post about stuffed chicken breast. I moved back to Texas, starting out in a small cabin along the banks of the San Marcos, and then downsizing even further when I bought this beast.

At first, I thought this would be just an inexpensive place to live until I finished college. I had no idea how freeing and frugal it would be. Nearly three years later, I’ve graduated, moved to Austin, and am still enjoying fixing up this little home…and absolutely loving the low rent.

I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy a travel trailer, and I will be honest, I still have the occasional breakdown, wishing for more space. I’ll stub my toe or freak out about how cluttered the place looks, but that toe would be bruised anywhere and, no matter where I live, my clothes are still going to take ages to get hung. I feel like it’s human nature to want more, or maybe to think that bigger and better would make life easier. On one hand, I know that having the space for a dishwasher would definitely be a great example of this ringing true, I also know the horror stories of property taxes or mold in the basement of your new house. In this, if my neighbors are insane (definitely seen it…one of the entertaining sides of RV parks); I can haul far far away from them. (I didn’t, but this encounter ended in fires & law enforcement). When your landlord oversteps his bounds (a story for another time), guess what, I have a house on wheels! See you fools later!

And I can’t even tell you how great the financial savings are. Austin has incredulous rental rates. Take a quick look at this chart, issued just this month on Numbeo.
I’ll see you again below it…

Rent Per Month [ Edit ] Avg.
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 1,488.07 $ 1,100.001,885.00
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 978.98 $ 850.001,200.00
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre 2,726.09 $ 2,000.003,500.00
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre 1,676.79 $ 1,300.002,400.00
Salaries And Financing [ Edit ] Avg.
Average Monthly Disposable Salary (After Tax) 3,000.64 $ 2,400.004,000.00
Mortgage Interest Rate in Percentages (%), Yearly 3.95 3.404.60

Prices in Austin, Texas, United States

These data are based on 1551 entries in the past 18 months from 227 different contributors.
Last update: February, 2016

HEY! Good to see ya again! I’m surprised you’re still here.
So you can see how silly pricey it is to live here. Looks like, on average, if you get paid bi-weekly, one entire paycheck goes to rent. And I don’t think that covers utilites. We Austinites pay a premium for how great the place is. Some apartments I’ve seen have roughly the same amount of space as my trailer, but are on the third floor and come with so many more rules from the property manager. I open my front door, and there’s my car and a pecan tree. The trailer may not be the most glamorous, but altogether my rent, utilities, high speed internet, and a small storage unit on the property has not yet reached over $700 in a month.

I miss having my own yard, and my chickens, but I enjoy living in the heart of Austin, & 10 minutes from work. (I made sure of that, you know, since I’m on wheels). So concessions are made. Someday, I can roll this house over to a farm, or use it for a guesthouse or rental property, or just outright sell it, or, at the very worst, scrap it!

Living in one of these also gives you a true perception on how much waste you produce…and I’m talking about every single type of waste. A smaller hot water tank means shorter showers and the use of extremely low-flow toilets, both lessen water usage. Smaller space means less energy waste for your HVAC equipment.

There are many other benefits, but I also have a few suggestions for any others thinking about going down the same road:

I do not recommend buying a monster truck or anything similar to haul one of these. Unless you’re pulling a trailer near weekly, don’t waste the money. I hired an insured fella to move mine from San Marcos to Austin for under $100. I can’t even get a truck’s title in my hand for that.

Try your very best to buy your trailer outright. The feeling of freedom really only comes with having something paid off. You do NOT want to be upside down in a trailer loan, as these only depreciate in value. Just buy a house if need to borrow a large sum of money. If I were to buy one, signing a note for $300 a month, well now I’m getting on up to $1000 a month, after lot rent is accounted for. That’s a mortgage payment, so again, buy a house that will appreciate in value. So be sure to do the math and figure out what is going to make financial sense.

I also opted for a 5th wheel with slide-outs, over a bumper pull or a tinyhouse. While bumper-pulls, can be easily connected to and pulled by far more vehicles, they lose the advantage of height. Now, I think tiny homes are awesome and so cute, but they’re pricey and I’m not convinced they withstand travel all that well. But worse than that, they lack slide-outs, so they all feel incredibly narrow and confining.

But you know, whatever you want. Fit your needs, but do so while trying to live within your means.


Another Resurrection

Many moons ago, I kept this blog. Some days it was prideful with accomplishment, others down with a mood. The posts displayed some of my projects and meals, some just told stories of various adventures. I lived a little in Indianapolis, a little in Houston; there was a quiet stay in Virginia, and probably a somewhat bigoted stint in China. That’s right…I think if I were to turn that bit into a book, it would be called “The Xenophobe Abroad”. Maybe Karl Pilkington already laid claim to that one.

No matter. The deal is, is that I stopped. Life’s events seemed to have flooded in, and swept off the inspiration…no, the execution needed for these blog posts. And honestly, a part of me felt like maybe these posts are just self-centered and braggy.

After over three years without an entry, I’ve decided that the simple act of creating and recording feels GREAT! And with that, I think I’ll start back up. ❤

Let’s Play Chicken: Fool-Proof Stuffed Chicken

No, I don’t mean stand on the train tracks until the last minute. I mean the delectable poultry. As far as meats go, many consider poultry to be the healthier choice over red meat. In addition to this perk, almost everyone loves the taste of bird. So, after picking up some over-priced organic chicken breasts (I can’t wait until we get our hens and bird processing unit in place), I headed home to whip up our meal: Olive & Feta Stuffed Chicken.

Start with the filling. The great thing about stuffing chicken is that you can pick and choose your favorite combination of ingredients. You can go wrong, but it would be pretty difficult.

As you can see, I had Rosemary from the garden, along with jalapeños, Feta cheese, capers, BACON (of course), fresh garlic, salt & pepper. I don’t do measurements, unless I am baking, so just throw your ingredients in the food processor and get it somewhere between choppy and mushy. If you end up with too much at the end, just save it for salad topping later!Image
Next, it was time to beat the tar out of some chicken. 
Well, that’s odd. Seems one is missing…
Hmm…well, I never said my kitchen was certified as sanitary. 

After retrieving and thoroughly washing the stolen piece of chicken, go ahead and get back to the task at hand. If you don’t have a mallet, like me, you can improvise. I chose to pound away with the rolling pin. Place the meat in between sheets of wax paper for ease of movement and less cleanup later. You don’t want salmonella on your counter tops. Image
Once the chicken is much wider & flatter, go ahead and spread your filling on the inner (the uglier, less smooth) side of the chicken breast. I added butter for for moisture and taste.

On a side note: I love butter. I burnt my hand on the wood stove last night. after an hour of  pain, I put some butter on it and had instant relief! Oh, butter. Let’s be friends forever. 

Roll the narrow end of the chicken up first, followed by the wider, top end. Then pin with a toothpick.
Once rolled and pinned, place into a casserole dish & top with bread crumbs & what’s that? Yeah, more butter. Image

 Again, when cooking, I just don’t like to use recipes. Here, most cooks will tell you cook at 350 °F for 35-45 minutes; however, every oven is different, temperatures vary, and when cooking meat, it isn’t a matter of time. It is a matter of internal temperature. I set my timer for about 35 minutes, at which time I stick the handy-dandy meat thermometer into the thickest sections of the breasts and make sure that they all reach 165 °F. (Many cooks say 160, while others say 170, so I stick to right in the middle.)
Serve over pasta, couscous, quinoa, a bed of spinach, or whatever else you prefer.Image
Enjoy! But, really, I shouldn’t have to tell you; eating this will be too easy…almost as easy as making it. 

Ferny and Hutch: A Remake

There are some universally hated moments in this world, such as the moments right before a breakup, the moments spent feeling cramped but unable to pass gas, and the moments between the doctor visit and being able to actually pick up your prescription at the pharmacy. This was a hatred that I was feeling on Wednesday. I had been awake since three with an aching stomach and incessant need to pee from a UTI, but now couldn’t go home and fight my fever. No no…I needed to wait until almost noon for the bottle to be filled. So I did what any broke and bored girl would do: I went to Goodwill.

I bought a bunch of junk to re-purpose. Starting with this.

Go to any craft show or home decor shop and this would be $20 minimum. Try $2! I already had this paint from a failed artist phase in 2006.

Then came the big mama-jama. Marked down from $70 to $50 to $20 came this beast.

The first thing to do when redoing an old piece of furniture is to give it a good bath. I use just a rag dipped in dish soap and water. In this case, I had a few pieces of tape that were ages old and simply weren’t coming off. Afraid that Goo-Gone would damage the varnish, I used regular old mayonnaise and a razor blade.

Once it was all cleaned, I was ready to paint.

I prefer to use these paint pads. They are far quicker and leave less streaks than paintbrushes. Twenty-four hours later:

Any cutesy shop would have charged me at least $100 for this. I may have to start an Etsy account.


Call Me Georgia O’Cheap

When trying to spruce up a house on an extremely low budget, one has to think outside of the box….big-box store that is. Most decent-sized towns have a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where folks can donate everything from bed frames to front doors. The one in Austin is the size of a Wal-Mart, with even better prices and it benefits the worthy. At the one in Danville, I got three gallons of Ralph Lauren paint and a pedestal sink for $22. I will repeat: TWENTY-TWO DOLLARS! I went to the Lowe’s website and found that we saved about $50 on the pedestal sink.

One of the first things new homeowners do is repaint. I am no different. I began with the blue shutters. Baby blue and brick red was not my favorite combination, but I love the color black.
Then I moved on to the hallway. This dark, wood-paneled hall was a light succubus. I mean it. No matter how many lights were on, the entire house seemed dark just because this hallway existed…and it is in the center of the house, so it is visible no matter where you are. Even if shut inside of a bedroom, that room seemed darker just because you knew, if you opened the door, you would be inside the belly of a whale.

First came the tarping and the taping (and blurry photography).

Then came the priming, which only took a lifetime. Wood-paneling with all its cracks and crevices, is awful; but it looks great when painted.

Are you pleased Kitten?

Kitten is pleased.