Friday, September 30, 2016

I Am So Busy: Happy Heart

A while back I ran across this article, The Disease of Being Busy. Just how busy are we? Are we so busy that our hearts are not happy? 

A few years ago, I was busy, being busy! Today? Not so much, but I do keep busy. The difference? Over two years ago I was in the survival mode. Worked a full-time job, Monday through Friday, and on weekends I worked as a part-time winery attendant. Let's add to that time frame I also went back to school for a couple of years with a 13-credit hour load, and then upon that I found myself working on my writing to keep up with an accidental following of wine lovers. (No one was suppose to be reading me. I was just doing some casual wine journaling... )

Today I still keep busy - - but always find time to "smell the roses," so to speak... I am working on my happy heart. If I wanted to, I could still be as busy working many hours as years past, but I have opted not to. Was I any happier with more money to spend? No. Sure, I am now on a budget and have cut a few things out of my life, but frankly I don't miss what I don't have. Do I regret being that busy in my past to where I forgot to look around once in awhile? No. I have no regrets, because I always learn lessons. 

Some of the few I am reading, and that doesn't count what is on my Kindle.
The lesson I learned is to stay busy doing things that make my heart happy, such as reading a couple of books at a time - at least one silly or juicy novel, and another that is perhaps a trade or inspirational book. I am trying to spend less time on social media, and spend more time on my writing. I keep busy picking up a needle, making a stitch, adding a few beads - - and plugging in the hot glue gun. I keep busy treasure hunting for "junque." I keep busy watching old classic movies, and discovering old sitcoms that are new to me.  

Catching up on old cross-stitch kits
It's very old fashioned, but terribly addictive
Recently, my newest way to keep busy is to research some recipes that are perfect for freezing. Since I no longer cook for a family for "sit-around-the-table-dinners," I have developed some bad habits. When I was "busy" I would forget to eat. I wouldn't plan for my meals, so there were a lot of instant or convenient foods from the freezer aisle, and take-out. That habit stuck, so I am working on taking the time to eat "slow" food that I have prepared using fresh ingredients, served on a nice plate, sitting down to eat, and most of all to relax. I feel so wealthy every time I look into my freezer and see all of the casseroles and soups I have prepared for the winter. 

In the past, socializing seemed constant and was more about work. Today, when I do socialize it is about gathering casually with friends, or planning a fun project. My dog's hearts are certainly happier, too. It use to be I would rush in and rush out to feed and potty them. Now, for at least a half-hour they have my focus in the mornings herding them around the yard, chatting over a cup of coffee, and we often have time for an afternoon nap together. Today I keep busy by sitting down when the mood strikes, and tapping out something on the keyboard for you to read. 

From being busy to now keeping busy is an adjustment  - - and it is not perfect, yet. However, my heart is learning to be happier. So how is your heart today?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fall Forward into Potpourri

No doubt a few of you have read some of my posts from this blog, while thinking, "Man, she is really old school." Yes, I plead guilty. However, even in my 20's and 30's, I always thought "old school," so the truth of the matter is I do not know any difference. I must have been born with an old school soul.

Sure you could buy some of those new waxy dots and put them in the cutesy warmer to smell up your house, but give me a large jar candle, potpourri, or incense - - yes, you read that right - incense. It is a hard habit to break from my days as a youngster of "peace, love, and hippie beads." I have not detoxed from keeping a box of Nag Champa around. It could be worse, I suppose. I could still covet a box of Patchouli.

Now potpourri is a concept I can get behind. It is natural in many ways,  - - and also interesting. A bowl of potpourri in the middle of a coffee table, not only smells good, but can be engaging. I advocate that you make your own, and especially potpourri with an expression of autumn is easy to do. So, how do you make your own Fall potpourri? Certainly there are "recipes," but they may keep your imagination restricted. I prefer not to use a recipe. How to start? Go take a walk.

That's right. Grab a bag and go for a walk in the park, on a tree lined street, in the country, or even in your own garden. What to look for on your walk in the park or country? Pods, twigs, acorns, bark, dried moss, lichen, teasel weed, and of course pine cones. In your garden collect pretty, but durable dried tree leaves, herbs, and rose hips. Go through your spice cupboard and add to your mixture cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, pepper corns, bay leaves, whole star anise, and even pecans or filberts still in the shell. You can keep a theme using items from the forest, or a fruit and baking theme, a rose and herb garden, or just keep it "potpourri!" One may also "cheat" and buy the dried items at your friendly neighborhood craft store, but why do you want to do that when you can enjoy the lovely fall weather? 

Check out your fruit basket and when you peel that orange, save a few of the peels to dry. Dried cranberries add a pop of color. (Don't use "craisins," too sticky. Dry your own.) Dry orange peels or thin slices or oranges naturally or in the oven, or you may speed up the process in the microwave. Place peels on a few sheets of paper towels and cover with three to four more paper towels. Microwave at 50% for around five minutes (rotate if you do not have a carousel). Remove peels.

Apples are also easy to dry. Slice paper thin, and slice using the whole apple with the seeds showing. Dip sliced apples in lemon juice and place slices in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes in a 150 degree oven.

Other ideas to add to your mix: a few fragrant wood shavings from your friendly woodcrafter. Bake up a few small cookie cutter shaped or primitive hand cut "cookies" from non-edible salt dough or non-edible cinnamon applesauce craft dough, and tuck a few here and there in the potpourri mixture. 

Now comes the fragrance - the oils and extracts. When choosing an oil or extract, look at your mixture and how it would relate. The scent of pine for a potpourri that is dominant of cones, and dried twigs of spruce and arborvitae. Vanilla, cinnamon, and almond oils and extracts for the scent of baking and fruits.  There are no rules to how many drops of the oils or extracts to use. The only rule is to "let your nose rule," so start with a few drops. Store the potpourri in a dry area in an open container or use immediately. As the fragrance softens through time, you can always add more oils or extracts.

Now place your potpourri in your desired bowl, whether it is a patinaed copper, tin, or silver bowl, woven basket, wooden box, or a crystal bowl. If you'd like place on top of the mixture a few "un-natural" items - just a few - a few small glass ornament balls, a charm from an old earring that lost it's partner, a few large beads, a jingle bell, or even a pretty shiny rock or crystal. Enjoy! 

*Photos from Pinterest

Thursday, September 22, 2016


The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 
By T.S. Eliot
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons...

Did you think I would be talking about snuggling - - you know, that kind of "spooning?" At least I got your attention. 

Have you ever thought about collecting something, but thought you didn't have the room? There are always "smalls" - miniature items to collect and enjoy. What is it about collecting anyway? It's about the hunt - hunting for the treasure. There is satisfaction in looking at your collection or collections. Perhaps each item you collect holds a memory, a story. Also, collecting doesn't have to be expensive, either. 

Frankly I never thought that I actually collected spoons (no, not the state souvenir spoons) until I was window shopping in an import store in Seattle awhile back. The shop had a wonderful selection of "smalls" for the kitchen, and I got so focused on all of these little wooden spoons - - of course I had to buy a couple of them. I never set out to have a collection. After I got home from my visit, I realized I had several little spoons that I had became fascinated with through the years. 

Why do we even collect things? For me, collecting antiques was a hobby and something I must have "caught" from my parents. My parents had their collections. My father collected antique shot guns, and semi-precious stones in their true form, to which he would later cut and shape the stones with his "collection" of lapidary saws and tools. My mother had her various collections of glassware, Japanese porcelain, and for awhile she was into ceramic owls. Later years, she started collecting antique beaded purses. 

The National Psychologist website says there are many motivations to collect: an investment, to expand our socials lives by attending swap meats and exchanging information with other like-minded beings, to preserve the past, the quest; and of course, for pure enjoyment. These are all good and healthy reasons, which should not be confused for the unhealthy reasons such as "hoarding," but that is another story. 

For me, collecting is one of those simple "trimmings" for an elegant life - Passementaries™

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cooking is Cheaper Than Therapy: Chocolate Buttermilk Pie

Did I mention I don't like to bake? Well, I think I don't, anyway. Maybe it's the precision of the ingredients. Baking is not at all like cooking where you can toss in this and that, and measure it by the eye. Baking has to be precise, although my grandmother may have disagreed with that as she was a scratch baker (or else she had her recipes memorized) as every pie crust she made was flaky and melted in your mouth, every cake she made was moist and light, and every cookie she baked, especially her lemon sugar cookies, were full of flavor. 

When I was raising a family and hosting lots of family holiday parties, I always baked, and my pie crusts were by hand, and my cakes were not from a box mix. The only thing I do use a mix for, and admitted my guilt in this blog, is brownies. I always use the "Infallible Brownie Mix," but add my own touches - - and speaking of brownies... 

This pie recipe reminds me of brownies. The top of the baked pie even cracks like brownies often do, and the inside is rich and fudgy. The recipe is not only easy, but my sister (a professional pastry chef) told me it doubles with no problem at all - if you want to double the recipe to make two pies. In fact, my sis recently doubled it "several" times to make 18 pies and was happy with the "doubled" results.  

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups sugar 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
6 eggs (beaten)
1 cup buttermilk 
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
One 9" unbaked pie crust (your favorite recipe or pre-made)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Place pie crust into pie pan, and form some pretty, but uniform edges around the crust. Put chocolate chips in a microwavable bowl, and melt in microwave for about a minute or more. I micro in 25-second increments and stir, then microwave again, stir and repeat, if necessary until chocolate is smooth and thoroughly melted. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt until well combined. In a large mixing bowl, combine the beaten eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the sugar/flour mixture slowly into the egg mixture, and mix with an electric hand-mixer or whisk by hand - - vigorously. Once the batter is mixed thoroughly, stir in the melted chocolate. Stir well. Pour completed batter into the piecrust. Place pie in oven on middle rack, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or at least until the top is firm. Insert a knife in the center (or in any of the cracks) and the knife comes out almost clean (a bit of chocolate is allowed on the knife). Remove pie from oven and let cool.  Let stand at least 1 hour before serving, and later refrigerate pie. Serve immediately warm or later chilled. 

To garnish, on top of the pie sift powdered sugar, or serve individual slices with a dallop of whip cream. Say yes to that chocolate craving! 

Don't usually keep buttermilk around, so you may end up with some leftover - - what to do? What to do? I make my own "Ranch" dressing. Blend a cup of buttermilk to a half-cup of mayonnaise. Pour it in a jar with a good screw top. Go through your spice drawer and toss into the jar a teaspoon here and there of: garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, dried dill if you have it, and a sprinkling of paprika. This is where you do not have to measure. If you have some dried onion flakes, add to it. Sprinkle in some salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper to taste. Have some bites of lovely bleu cheese hanging around in the cheese drawer? Add to the mixture. Shake well. Refrigerate for an hour before serving. Shake again before serving. Use within a week. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Vintage Posies: How to Dry Flowers

Fall is in the air and soon our flower gardens will be put to slumber. Yet, it's not too late to keep enjoying the garden's posies through the rest of the winter. 

Thank goodness I have never become a member of the "PSF" - Plastic and Silk Flower Fan Club (Okay, I made that up). Ugh - and do not get me started on those outdoor pots filled with plastic posies. You ain't fooling anyone (done with rant). So what is the alternative when you can't have fresh flowers in every pot and you don't want to be shunned by me? Dried flowers. 

Dried flowers are the real thing, and look quite charming in unique and non-traditional vessels, such as tucked in an antique bird cage, the opening of a large candlestick holder, canning jars, crocks, old trophy cups, doily-lined wooden boxes and baskets, silver condiment bowls; and even twined together and placed on the fireplace mantle or staircase railing. Perhaps just hanging upside down in a bundle from a rafter or even an old clothes drying rack. The muted shades of dried flowers, and especially the former white and light pink flowers, look so "vintage" in their muted sepia tones.

Silk and plastic flowers can be washed (Ugh - silk and plastic flowers. Okay, done with rant), but the dried flower is just as easy to maintain. If the dried flower arrangement gets too dusty, toss them after a few seasons and start over; or use a feather duster, hair dryer (low heat) or a can of compressed air to remove the dust. Always best to do this outdoors or in the garage so the dust doesn't land somewhere else in the house. 

It's easy to dry flowers: by hanging the longer stem flowers upside down in bunches, or let them dry naturally in a vase with a bit of water until the water evaporates and the flowers are dried, or use a special drying treatment of silica gel (purchased at most hobby-craft shops) and similar treatments. I have heard that some people use silica kitty litter, but I don't want to confuse my kitty-boy, Nash. What I have used to dry flowers? A box of powdered Borax (see video), and as per the video you can also add cornmeal to the mix. 

For hanging flowers, bundles of lavender, statice, babies breath, long stem roses, hydrangea, and peonies (buds and half-blooms) work best. Secure the bundled stems with a rubber band or twine. Hang upside down in a well ventilated area and out of the sun. 

To be honest, I have never used the silica gel, and have heard of ways to dry flowers using silica gel with an oven or microwave to get quick results (if you have, please chime in). It's just that I have never been in a hurry to dry flowers, and just enjoyed the process. My experience has been drying delicate flowers in plain Borax (no cornmeal added), or either simply placed them on a paper towel and let them dry in a well ventilated area. 

It's easy to use the Borax. Obtain a sturdy gift box (shirt size works perfect) and line the bottom of the box with wax paper or parchment. Pour in the Borax, and bury the chosen flowers very carefully, and let dry in a dark area for about 10 days or more. Don't discard that box top as it will come in handy for later storage. You can use the Borax over and over... In fact, the dried flowers I have not used for projects are just kept on top of the layer of Borax. Once each flower has dried, I use a small craft paint brush to dab any of the remaining Borax dust from the petals. I have dried miniature rosebuds, primroses, violets, pansies, violas, and daisies with great success.

Any dried petals that have separated or fallen from the flower? Don't toss. Make potpourri! Combine with other dried flowers and use a variety of seasonal items such as: pine cones, twigs, pods, acorns, bay leaves, whole cloves, and dried orange peels or apple slices. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oils for the fragrance. Place in a unique container and it makes for a pretty coffee table centerpiece. 

Don't have a garden to glean from, then stop by the market and pick up a bouquet of posies, especially soft shades of roses are perfect to dry. Keep them in the vase you originally chose to show off their beauty. Once they start wilting, pour most of the water out, leaving about an inch, and just let the water evaporate as the roses dry. A bundle of statice makes a quaint country-style arrangement in an old canning jar, and I am reminded of it with every visit to Seattle's Pike Place Market where the same woman has been there for the last 30-some years selling dried bundles of colorful statice. In fact, I am due for a new bundle. 

Okay - okay, while I am not a fan of silk flowers, I will admit a few of the softer shades of silk tucked around several dried roses and peonies would make for a beautiful arrangement. Some of the pretty crepe-paper roses are perfect and blend well with the dried, as well. 

Now, get to dryin'! 

*Photos from Pinterest. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tabletop: Little Things

As I wrote in Treat Yourself: Use Your Pretties, it's time to open the china cabinet cupboards and drawers, and bring out your pretties and enjoy them. Why save them for your estate sale for strangers to buy, enjoy, and maybe even break? 

Decorating a home, and especially a table top does not have to be expensive. Sometimes it's the "little things" that can make all of the difference - - and when I say, "little things," I mean little - -  things. Little things such as old silver baby spoons for the marmalade or mustard jars, little dishes for individual salt cellars, and multiple little vases for a variety of garden flowers. Just a variety of "little things!"  

I do not care about polishing the silver. I like a bit of the old patina.
If you don't have a variety of little things tucked away; flea markets, thrift shops, and yard sales are a perfect place to find them and why? Because the previous owners never used these items, didn't take the time to use the items, let alone knew how to use the items. Think "small" when shopping. 

How to use these items are endless, whether it is on a table top or around the house, and they bring so much character and individual personality to a home. That sad and lonely pretty china saucer that is now missing it's cup, can hold a votive candle.  A little chocolate truffle or two on tiny little mismatched plates or silver coasters can personalize each table setting. And no - - we don't want everything to match on our table top, and who said that we cannot blend silver with gold? Show me the rule book. Whimsy can also be elegant.
 3-4" plates are perfect votive candle holders or candy plates
Ponder beyond the table top, and little crystal bowls make nice holders for paper clips in the office, and look much more attractive than that plastic paper clip holder from the office-mart-warehouse. Use little crystal or silver condiment bowls to hold small soaps for the guest bath. And most of all, just a tiny little shot glass to hold that one last little rose who forgot that winter is coming. 
Little posies need little vases. Shot glasses are perfect. 

Bring out the "littles!" 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Cooking is Cheaper than Therapy: Korean-Style Beef Bowl

The truth of the matter is I have no idea the origin of this recipe. It began as a Pinterest recipe, and I checked a few leads,  but each site was giving credit to each other, and some not at all. When I thought I finally found the site, it gave credit back to Pinterest. At this point all I know is that I have used this recipe so many times I have lost count - - and by now have added my own touches, hints, and options. 

Have I mentioned I love Pinterest? Well, I do. I have collected a lot of recipes from Pinterest, and I actually give them a try. If the recipe does not live up to their expectations, as per ease and taste, they get deleted. Those I love are the "keepers" I refer back to my Pinterest recipe boards. 

Perhaps I over think things, but I changed the name of the recipe - - a bit. It was named Korean Beef, but as I thought about it, what exactly makes it - - "Korean?" Well, many of the flavors do remind me of beef bulgogi, but making it authentic would Koreans actually use ground beef in this recipe?  And speaking of hamburger, I always use organic grass-fed beef. The obvious for many reasons, but also the meat is leaner.

Below are the basic ingredients, but I think one could "springboard" it up and instead of hamburger use flank steak; or keep it vegetarian and use steamed broccoli, or fresh asparagus in season. I also like to add some grated raw carrot to the cooked beef before I add the sauce ingredients. It adds texture, and the carrot especially adds color. 

Use the same sauce recipe and add it onto cooked ground turkey or chicken and place on a lettuce leaf for a lettuce wrap like that Asian-influenced chain restaurant does. Double the sauce recipe and save some for dipping. 

And don't forget to have a pot of steamed rice on stand-by. I think you will be happy at how fast this recipe pulls together. 

Korean-Style Beef Bowl Basic Ingredients:

1 lb lean ground beef
1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like your sauces)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger 
1/2 – 1 teaspoon crushed dried red chili peppers (depending on how spicy you like it)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch green onions, diced (Don't skip this. Slice them on an angle for a more "authentic" restaurant look).  

Optional ingredients: 
1/4 cup or more of grated raw carrot
Sprinkle of sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Brown the hamburger in a skillet, and sprinkle lightly with salt and add some freshly ground black pepper. Sure, there's quite a bit of sodium already in the mixture once the soy sauce has been added, but it works to lightly layer in some flavor. Also add the minced garlic and continue to cook until the meat is brown. Once cooked, be sure and drain well if there is any fat residual. (Here is where I will add the grated carrot - an optional ingredient.)

I like to create a little "well" in the center of the same pan, and add to the center the brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, dried red chili peppers, sesame seed oil, and if needed more salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, and then into the meat. Toss in about half of the green onions and simmer low for a few minutes to blend the flavors. Serve over the steamed rice, and top with the remaining sliced green onions. An option is to also sprinkle on top sesame seeds, if you have them. Also, a bit of chopped cilantro can be added for you cilantro lovers. 

Shortcuts and hints: 

If you do not have any fresh garlic on hand, then use a generous teaspoon of garlic powder and sprinkle over the meat.

Did you run out of brown sugar? I did a while back and didn't notice until I was in the middle of the recipe. What to do? I added 1/4 cup of white granulated sugar, instead. I recommend to make sure the granules cooks out, and eventually they will once they are in the soy sauce. 

Don't have a root of ginger hanging around your house? Use a 1/8 tsp of ground dry ginger, instead of the suggested 1/2 tsp of fresh grated ginger. 

Sesame oil is expensive and you get just a little container - - because all you really need is a little container for home use. I recommend to keep the oil in your refrigerator instead of in a cabinet, as it can go rancid - - and go rancid rather quickly. 

Now, get to cookin'! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Soap Opera: As the Bar Soap Turns

This week the washing habits of the millennials has been in the news. Apparently, the majority of Americans between the ages of 18-24 are choosing liquid soap over bar soap because they believe that bar soap is covered in germs. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), they are debunking this germy claim. It's about the length of time we use when hand washing (20 seconds) regardless of the soap type. The hands-free liquid soap dispenser may be preferable for those working in the healthcare industry, but the CDC says that liquid, bar, or powered forms of plain soap are acceptable.  The Mayo Clinic also recommends either option of liquid or bar, as well. 

Also, something more important to consider is the carbon footprint of the liquid soap. In a typical visit to the sink, we use almost seven times more liquid soap (2.3 grams) than bar soap (0.35). The extra soap means more chemicals, more processing, therefore more energy and carbon emissions.  Look how much liquid soap goes down the shower drain that you haven't used, but carelessly spilled. Not to mention all of the plastic containers in our landfills vs. the simple cardboard box or paper wrapper from a bar of soap.  

More bacteria grows on your tooth brush than it does on a bar of soap. So, let me introduce you to my bars of soaps. You see I am a proponent of the lovely bar of soap. For me, a bar of rich fragrant soap is one of those "simple trimmings for an elegant life..." 

When I found myself a single being, and it was then I set my life into motion for change and small indulges. When friends and family asked me what I wanted for Christmas I would answer, "If I cannot read it, eat it, drink it, burn it, or bathe in it, I do not want it." In other words: give me a book or a magazine subscription, food, drink, candles, or pretty soaps. All it took was a few special bars of lovely soap (soap of the month club), and I never looked back. 
Yardley's English Lavender - The Aristocrat of Soaps
Bars of soap comes in all shapes and sizes, from imports to local artisan, from fine cosmetic houses to the affordable Yardley London (no animal testing) - - and yes, I am a big fan of Yardley London English Lavender bar soap. It is a luxury, yet an affordable luxury for me. 

Ever since I was a teen, I was a fan of Yardley London English Lavender soap. It is affordable, and can be found in most drug stores. Yardley London was established in 1770, as an international English-based company specializing in cosmetics, fragrances, and other toiletries. In the 1960's it started a new following when the British model, Twiggy became the face of Yardley. It's certainly when I started noticing their products, as many of us young teens wanted to look and be like Twiggy (Twiggy, you ask? Google it, youngster). Today, this quintessentially English company is enjoying a revival - with lavender at its heart.

There is something wonderful about walking into my bathroom and smelling the lingering fragrance of lavender soap in my shower - a fragrance that was popular with royalty over three-hundred years ago. In my home, English lavender soap is a staple, and for every two boxes of Yardley London bar soap I open, I open up a bar of a more expensive soap. You see, I am the person who goes into the little boutiques and buys those pretty bars of soap, especially the French imports and also the local artisan soaps. (Support your local soapmaker!) Oh, and that luxury bar of soap from the expensive cosmetic house? The soap is basically all I can afford to buy from them. Over all, I don't want any slimy liquid soap, I want to bathe or shower with a lovely bar of soap. 

On my bathroom counter there is an old Depression glass dish-tray, and I keep it filled with a variety of some of my favorite soaps - along with the Yardley, there is also some Chanel and Roger & Gallet (another old European soap company started in 1862 in France) - - and that in the photo isn't even all of my soap collection. 

In fact, soap doesn't get stale, so take it out of the box and let it "cure," meaning let it air-dry for about six to eight weeks before using and it will last longer. Also, when in use let the soap dry from underneath in an appropriate soap dish. 

Don't forget to read Treat Yourself: Use Your Pretties and you may just have a lonely china or Depression glass platter that needs your attention and wouldn't mind holding your pretty soaps. And stop getting all lathered up over germs - relax and turn on your favorite soap - bar soap, that is. 
The keeper of the soaps

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