Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Few Lessons Learned

This was a rough year for us as far as homesteading due to the drought and prolonged heatwave in our neck of the woods, but we still managed to maintain in most areas and even slightly improve in others.  Experience is such a great teacher and we definitely learned a couple of things this past year.    

Expiration Dates  They're not set in stone, but there is sometimes a trade-off.  When we initially stocked up in December 2010, we were just guesstimating how much of any one item we would need for a year.  We had a pretty good start on the food storage but our goal was to beef it up to the point we had at least a 12 month supply of everything.  Well, we tended to over buy on a couple of things but so far it hasn't resulted in any waste.  The best example this year was store-bought ketchup.  I'm the only one that eats it, and I only eat it on certain things ...meat loaf and stuffed bell peppers are all I can think of right now.  But Yeoldfurt knows I don't like to eat those things without it, so he set the goal high to ensure I would have it when I wanted it.  Well, we apparently way overestimated because a year later, I have three bottles left that are a couple of months out of date.  They still smell fine and taste fine but it's no longer that bright 'ketchup red' color ...it's more the color of bottled bbq sauce, kind of reddish brown.  It won't go to waste as long as it seems edible, I don't really care what color it is.   But I've also noticed the plastic squeeze bottle it is packaged in has started to degrade.  It is apparently composed of two layers of plastic and they've sort of started to separate.  When you squeeze it and then let go, the outer layer returns to it's originally intended shape but the inner layer is much slower to go back into shape.  With three bottles still on the shelf and one in the fridge, I'm thinking I don't need to buy ketchup until possibly 2013!

Repurpose Value of Wood Ash   I knew you could make lye from wood ash and I knew it generally wouldn't hurt vegetation so could be spread on a lawn or garden.  But I had no idea it was actually very beneficial to compost pile.  Apparently, high acidity can be a problem in composting, slowing the decomposition process.  Wood ash helps to neutralize the acid, thereby facilitating faster decomposition.  I dumped a bucketful on our compost pile a week ago and turned everything over with a pitch fork this evening ...I can already see an improvement and it's only been a few days.  

Tweaking the Pantry Inventory List  We still use the spreadsheet that Yeoldfurt put together, but added some intermediate steps that make it easier to maintain and (hopefully) more consistently accurate.  I used to print it when I went shopping.  But being several pages long, that was cumbersome and a waste of paper.  Then I started just reviewing it before I went shopping and adding to the shopping list what items I thought we could afford to stock up on.  I still do that but now I also keep a small notepad, a pencil, and a Sharpie marker on the shelf in the pantry.  When I go down there to get one thing, I invariably come back with one or two other things ...spur of the moment.  So now I list what items I'm taking on the notepad as I gather them together so I can take a complete list back to the house with me.  Also, for each item I bring back, I do a quick count of how many are still remaining in storage, then write that number in parentheses next to the item on the list.  That way when I give the list to Yeoldfurt to update the spreadsheet, he can spot check the 'amount on hand' to make sure it's still accurate.  It's not a perfect system, but it's evolving into a pretty good one.

Making Pennies Squeal   I've always been frugal and budget-minded but circumstances the past few years have made me even more so.  If you asked me a year ago whether we were getting all the mileage we possibly could out of every dollar, I would have said yes with very little hesitation.  But we've found a couple of new ways to significantly stretch those pennies recently that make me wonder if there aren't more ways we just haven't discovered yet.  The biggest savings comes from Yeoldfurt and I being able to adjust our schedules so that we can carpool to our jobs 40 miles away.   With each of us driving separate vehicles 80 miles/day five days/week to and from our jobs, our fuel bill was equal to our mortgage payment ...it was outrageous!  But when the transmission went out in one of the vehicles, we adjusted our schedules for a week while the truck was in the shop and were able to get permission from both our bosses to keep our schedules that way.  By doing so, we cut our monthly fuel cost in half.  Over a year's time, we'll also save significantly on replacement tires and oil changes for the vehicle that sits in the driveway most days.  Conservatively, I estimate of our savings the first year to be approximately $5000.  We also started keeping a Walmart gift card with $100 balance on it and using that to buy gasoline.  Walmart's price is always the same or lower than any other stations in our area ...sometimes a dime or more lower.  By using the Walmart card to pay, we get an additional 10 cent per gallon discount.  I paid $2.80/gallon for regular last Friday.  I don't know about prices in your area, but around here, that's pretty darn good.  Since we use about 1400 gallons per year just driving back and forth to work, 10 cents per gallon is significant.  Of course, since we have three geriatric vehicles, all that money saved will probably go into mechanical repairs over the course of that same year ...but at least we'll have the money in savings to take care of those expenses when they come up.  

I'm sure there were other little bits of knowledge accumulated this year, but these were the ones that stood out to me when I was contemplating writing this post.  It seems to me that the intangible things we gain every year ...the knowledge, the skills, the little tricks that make every day tasks easier ...are the real bounty in homesteading. 

I hope the coming year is better all the way around.  I hope we have normal temperatures and rainfall so we can have a garden, fewer mechanical crises so we can get a break from diverting so much to vehicle repairs, and a decent man in the White House so we can as least slow the decimation of our economy, our country and our values ...maybe even begin to rebuild some of what the past four years has destroyed.  I don't know what the future holds, but I never want to become so discouraged that I no longer believe a bright future is possible.  So at the close of this year and hopefully the beginning of a better year, I leave you with this poem that says better than I can what I feel and hope for tomorrow.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Credit Where Credit is Due

I posted this picture a couple of weeks ago as a lead-in and illustration of the 'cowboy up' attitude I think we could all use a little more of nowadays.  If you missed it, click here.

As I said in the post, I got the picture in email from Yeoldfurt and he had received it email but couldn't remember who sent it.  Come to find out, CoolChange of Tranquility Lost posted it on his blog the day before my post.  So at least in a round about way, it came from him and I want to give credit where credit is due.

If you have not checked out CoolChange's blog, I encourage you to do so.  I knew as soon as I saw the badge on his sidebar that reads, 'Invest in precious metal, buy lead ...support the 2nd Amendment' that he shares at least one of our fundamental values.  I'm following his blog now and have added him to my blog roll.

They say we all only separated by six degrees ...simply stated, we all know someone who knows someone who knows someone else who knows someone else who knows us.  The connectivity of the worldwide web is making that more and more apparent.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Wishes and a New Recipe

This will be an especially joyous Christmas for us because we will have all three of our grandchildren here at the same time, for the first time ever.  With one more on the way, next Christmas promises to be even more special.

I'm sharing below a poem written in 1976 by Norman Wesley Brooks.  A friend posted it on Facebook.  Thirty-five years after it was written, it's still a good message. 

Let Every Day Be Christmas
Christmas is forever, not for just one day, 
for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away 
like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf. 
The good you do for others is good you do yourself. 

Let us always remember the reason for the season, 
and let us each do our best to let every day be Christmas. 

Photo credit to Dan at 
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=587
~~~ 

I seldom make desserts except at the holidays or on special occasions, so it's fun to try something new once in a while.  Yeoldfurt came home with a recipe for Caramel Apple Cheesecake the other day.  He got it from a co-worker who just raved about it.  Since we will have a full house for Christmas this year, I decided this would be a good time to give it a try.  It's in the oven now and smells wonderful.

Graham Cracker Crust
1-1/2 cups graham crackers, finely crushed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

The recipe called for regular graham crackers but I used cinnamon grahams.  Combine crushed graham cracker crumbs and sugar, add melted butter and blend well.  Press evenly into a 9-inch pie pan, using the back of a spoon to press the crumbs up the sides of the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Set aside to cool. 

Cheesecake Filling & Caramel Topping
1 21-ounce can apple pie filling
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened 
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 eggs
1/4 cup caramel topping

Reserve and set aside 3/4 cup of the apple pie filling.  Spoon the remaining filling evenly into the cooled pie crust.  Combine the softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl and beat until creamy and smooth.  Add eggs one at a time and continue beating until well blended.  Pour cream cheese mixture into the pie crust and spread evenly over the apple pie filling.  Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees or until center is set.  Cool to room temperature. 

Mix the reserved apple pie filling with the caramel topping.  Next time I make it, I will dice the apple slices to make it easier to spread them evenly over the top.  If the mixture is too thick to spread evenly, heat in a saucepan or microwaveable dish for approximately one minute.  When smooth and spreadable consistency, pour evenly over the top of the cooled cheesecake. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

The above is the original recipe, which fills a 9-inch pie pan and supposedly serves eight.  Whoever wrote the recipe obviously doesn't know how much my husband and son-in-law like cheesecake.  I doubled the ingredients and made it in a 9x13 pan. It still looks yummy, don't you think?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What It Means to Cowboy Up

Yeoldfurt sent this picture to me in email, I'm not sure where he got it.  I had to crop the caption off the bottom of the picture because it was too small to read, but it said, 'Keep smiling big boy ...I got 8 seconds to kill and I'm all jacked up on Mountain Dew!'
That kind of encapsulates the meaning of the phrase 'cowboy up' that you hear these days.  No matter what trials you're facing, no matter what seemingly insurmountable obstacles are in your path, you stand up, square your shoulders and forge ahead.  Anything less and you're just guaranteeing your own demise.  

There's a lot of doom and gloom in the news and in the blogs lately.  Lord knows there's plenty of things to be worried about, but there are plenty of things to be grateful for as well.  I think it's wise to keep an eye on the horizon and know what you're next challenge is going to be.  I think it's important to prepare yourself and your family to ride out the hard times with as little discomfort as possible.  But lets not forget that every day is a gift.  When the going gets tough, the tough cowboy up!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Politics as Usual ?

On Friday, November 4, 1949, a newspaper in Manhattan, New York, The Daily Times, published the following article.   Over sixty-two years have passed since it was published.  But other than a few intricacies of grammar and punctuation, it doesn't look to me like much has changed in all that time.  I don't know whether to be fascinated or frustrated by that realization.  Read it yourself and see if you don't agree.

ODE TO THE WELFARE STATE
Mr. Truman's St. Paul, Minn., pie-for-everybody speech last night reminded us that,at the tail-end of the recent session of Congress, Representative Clarence J. Brown (R-Ohio) jammed into the congressional record the following poem, describing its author only as "a prominent Democrat of the State of Georgia."

DEMOCRATIC DIALOG
Father, must I go to work?
No, my lucky son.
We're living now on Easy Street
On dough from Washington.

We've left it up to Uncle Sam
So don't get exercised.
Nobody has to give a damn-
We've all been subsidized.

But if Sam treats us all so well
And feeds us milk and honey,
Please, daddy, tell me what the hell
He's going to use for money.

Don't worry, bub, there's not a hitch
In this here noble plan-
He simply soaks the filthy rich
And helps the common man.

But, father, won't there come a time
When they run out of cash
And we have left them not a dime
When things will go all to smash?

My faith in you is shrinking, son,
You nosy little brat;
You do too much damn thinking, son,
 To be a Democrat.


Hat tip to my friend at Wildriver Blog for 
sending this newspaper article to me in email. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Always Something

November was a vehicular nightmare for us as far as maintenance and upkeep goes.  I already mentioned this is a geriatric fleet we drive.  The 'youngest' one of the bunch is a 2001 F250 and the other two are 1998 and 1996 models.  Last month we put two new tires and a rebuilt transmission in the 1998 and cv boots (both sides) on the 1996 ...it was a $2000 month.  We are only 3 days into 'this month' and we're looking at another mechanical problem. 

I had a list of town errands this morning and decided to take the F250 to give it a little exercise.  I guess it was jealous of all the attention the other vehicles have been receiving lately ...it stalled on me just going down the road.  Fortunately, I was on a little residential side road.  It started right back up when I turned the key, but then stalled out again within seconds.  It's a big truck, extended cab, and when the engine quits, so do the power brakes and power steering.  That's not a problem I wanted to deal with on the highway so I called Yeoldfurt.  I was already in town so we decided to have it towed to the shop just a mile or two up the road.  

I have the phone number for the wrecker driver saved in my phone.  The wrecker driver, Trey, is a local guy and we're on a first name basis.  That's one of the perks to driving old vehicles ...you get to be on a first name basis with the wrecker driver ...and the mechanic.  I told him where I was and which vehicle it was this time and he said could be there in 20 minutes.  I called Yeoldfurt back to let him know and he said he was on his way too. 

Trey turned onto the side street where I was stranded and I flashed my lights to let him know where I was.  As he was positioning his truck, I tried to start my truck again ...it started right up.  I left it running and told Trey what it had been doing.  He said if I wanted to try to drive it to the shop, he would follow me. I said, 'Okay, but I'll pay you anyway.'  He laughed and said, 'Not if you roll in on your own, you won't ...let's see if it will make it.'  Did I mention he's a good guy? 

Half a block on this side street, I had to make a left turn at a traffic light onto the state highway.  It's only 40mph on that stretch of highway and no more turns except into the shop parking lot, so it was worth a try.  I had to wait for the green light before turning onto the highway and only made it about 100 yards before the truck stalled.  I had a little momentum and was on a section of the highway with literally NO SHOULDER ...so instead of hitting the brakes, I dropped it in neutral, gave it some gas and turned the key.  It fired up right away and I goosed it up the hill.  We only made it another 100 yards or so and it stall again.  This time, I was right next to a big gravel parking lot on my right and faced with crossing a major highway intersection up ahead.  I didn't want to push my luck any further and cranked it into the gravel parking lot.  We tried but Trey ended up having to tow me the couple of blocks.  He only charged me $30 and said it sounds to him like a clogged fuel filter which is a relatively cheap fix ...I sure hope he's right. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ladies, It's Time to Winterize

I'm not talking about your house, or your wardrobe either ...it's time to winterize your vehicles.  This post is being written mostly for ladies, from a lady's perspective since that's the only perspective I have.  Some of us are blessed with men who take care of all these things for us and some are on their own in this department.  Even if your partner takes care of vehicle maintenance, I think you should be knowledgeable enough to do for yourself too.  I'm of the opinion that if you drive it, you need to take care of it ...or at least see that it's taken care of. 

Yeoldfurt and I have a geriatric fleet decorating our driveway.  The odometers on our three vehicles are all well past the 100,000 mile mark and one of them is well over 200,000.  Maintenance is important with any vehicle but with older vehicles, it's critical.  Two drivers with three vehicles might seem like overkill to some but there's a method to this madness.  The big truck, a 2001 F250, is the only one of the three that can pull the stock trailer.  When you have livestock, that kind of truck is a necessity.  But that diesel engine gets lousy mileage even on the highway, and diesel is $3.75/gallon these days.  So other than a short trip to town once a week to keep the juices flowing, we only drive the big truck when we need to pull the trailer.

Diesel powered vehicles are cold sensitive and require a little extra attention when winter rolls around.  A fuel additive such as "Amsoil" helps, but it takes a little discipline to keep the ratio right.  An optimal 8 ounces of additive for every 25 gallons of fuel is hard to regulate unless you run the tank down before you refuel each time.  If you are in the habit of topping off your tank every time it gets down to about half, the ratio gets out of whack pretty fast, potentially causing other problems.  So even if that's your normal routine in summer months so you never get caught with an empty tank, it would be better in winter to run the tank down to at least the last quarter before using more additive.

Diesels have two big batteries under the hood and painful as it is, it's probably best to replace them at the same time.  One may crap out before the other, but batteries almost never crap out overnight.  They weaken over time and as the one battery has been getting weaker and weaker, more strain has been put on the other battery so it's far from equal to the new one you just put next to it.  I'm sure I'm on the minority side of that opinion but I'd rather be safe than sorry.  A lot depends on how far you drive, how remote your route is and what your options are going to be if you get stranded away from home because the batteries are too weak to start the truck.

One thing you can do to take care of the batteries you have is to use your plug in.  Every diesel I've ever owned or known of  has had an electrical plug tucked down inside the front grill.  The cord runs to a heater on the block of the engine.  The block heater provides just enough warmth to keep the fuel from gelling which makes starting so much easier in the morning.  You can start it while it's plugged in, but as a safety measure, I always unplug before I start the engine ...cuts down on the risk of driving off while still attached to the garage by the electrical cord.  I've seen it happen, though not to me or my truck ...thank goodness.  But I decided then and there I was going to take measures to ensure it didn't happen to me. 

Check the tire pressure when the temperatures drop too.  Tires that looked okay yesterday afternoon when it was in the 70's might look a little on the under-inflated side today when the high was only in the 50's.  A vehicle with over or under-inflated tires is far from safe on slick winter roads, so check your pressures when the seasons change and adjust them according to the PSI embossed on the sidewall of the tire.  We keep a cheap manual tire gauge in every glove box of every vehicle we own.  You're not always going to be at gas station when you think you have a tire pressure problem and I've never trusted the gauges at the 25-cents-for-air stations anyway.

Check your fluids, ladies.  It's not rocket science.  The reservoirs are marked with a minimum fill line.  If they're low or the fluid looks dirty, change it or take it to someone to have it changed.  Even your windshield wiper fluid should be topped off before winter.  If it's already raining outside, you might need to wash your windows to be able to see the road.  Ever had a big 18 wheeler blow by in the lane next to you and spatter mud and sludge all over your windshield?   Your wipers won't make much difference without a little boost from washer fluid.   

We had our first real norther blow through last Sunday.  I guess that's what got me on this subject.  The skies were clear and blue but there were gusts of icy wind that felt they went right through your clothes.  The horses were all frisky and the chickens only wanted to venture from the coop for a few minutes at a time.  While I was out taking care of the animals, I decided to do a little winterizing on the two vehicles that were still in the driveway.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

So Much to Do, So Little Time

First, let me say thank you all for the nice sentiments left in the comments on YOF's post about my birthday.  And thank you, Mayberry, for the birthday wishes you left on the last post on my blog.  Yes, as KX59 pointed out on YOF's blog, 'a birthday post on HB’s blog (was) noticeably absent.'    I don't think one should announce one's own birthday.  It seems inappropriate somehow.  Maybe that's just me.  But I had a very nice birthday, even if I am 'Captain Kangaroo' old now.  It started out with YOF letting me sleep in and ended with him taking me out for a burger and back home for a movie on Netflix.  In between rolling out of bed two hours late and getting taken out for the evening meal, I had a few cards in the mail, several phone calls and a great many comments and well wishes on Facebook and the blogs.  I've always been a little uncomfortable with being the focus of attention so tend to enjoy everyone else's birthdays much more than my own.  But this birthday was just nice.  It was very quiet which was very nice, so thank you all. 

Now, today ...life goes back to normal.  Along with the usual laundry and housework that I do on Sundays, I need to devote some serious effort to organizing my office because it will be the center of our little Christmas celebration this year.  We found out yesterday that our grandsons that just moved back to Houston will get to spend a few days with us this Christmas.  My daughter and her family are driving over Christmas Day also and it will be the first time the grandsons get to meet their cousin, Isabelle.  I will have a house full of grandkids at Christmas and I can't think of a better way to spend the holiday.  It's been a long time since we had overnight guests and we've never had quite this many at one time.  So much to do, so little time.  But having all my grands here for the holidays will make it the best Christmas ever for me.  

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are looking forward to a joyous Christmas with your family and loved ones. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Technical Difficulties ...ugh!

They say trouble comes in threes.   Two weeks ago, the little truck had to have two new tires.  The old ones were literally down to the wire.  Last week, the transmission went bad in the same truck.  Well, technically just two of the five gears went bad ...but it still means a complete rebuild.   Since the second problem was astronomically more expensive than the first one, I was dreading the third thing.  That proverbial other shoe felt like it was hanging right over my head. 

Well, I didn't have to fret about it for long.  As soon as I walked in the door from my two days of visiting the granddaughter, I heard this loud annoying hum emanating from my computer.  Looks like one of the fans in the CPU is about to crap out on me.   It seems to be the one that cools the tower itself and not the CPU fan.  But if I ignore it long enough, I'll only end up with a bigger problem.  In light of the tire and transmission expenses we've already incurred this month, hauling the computer down to the shop for someone else to fix is out of the question.  I'll just have to dust off my 'geek hat' and do it myself. 

The inside of a computer is not terribly complicated these days.  Plug-n-play is more than just a catchy phrase.  Most of the internal components 'plug in' on the inside of your box just like a printer or other external peripheral would plug in on the outside of your box.  Usually the hardest part of the operation is figuring out how to open the case.  Since my tower has been with me about 10 years, I'm already familiar with how to  open it up. 

The fans themselves are not expensive so after I get the model number for both fans, I'll probably pick up two of the one that's currently on it's last legs and one of the CPU fans.  For all I know they're the same model, but that would be ultra convenient so I'm not counting on it.  Whatever the case is, I'll have to replace the bad fan and want to end up with a spare for both of them.  About $30 ought to do it if I pick them up in town somewhere and don't have to add shipping to the equation. 

Normally, my computer is up and running 24/7 because I'm lazy and impatient.  I don't want to have to turn it on and wait the two or three minutes for it to boot up and load everything.  Lazy and impatient, I know.  But in deference to the loud complaints from the bad fan, I'm going to modify my behavior at least until I get it fixed.  The computer will be shut down as soon as I finish this post and will remain shut down for most of the week.  Actually changing out the fan is about a 30 minute job and that includes opening the case and chasing out the dust bunnies that are sure to be there.  But I'm pretty sure it will be at least Friday before I can pick up the parts and probably next Saturday before I have time to install it.  

I'm just grateful that this time it's something I can fix myself and for not too much money. I'll have to limit my email and surfing to the allotted break times at my office.  I never take my 15 minute morning and afternoon breaks but I betcha I do this week ...just to get my 'web fix' ...ha!   But I only get those two 15 minute breaks and one half-hour lunch break at work, so I probably won't have time to post any comments.  I'm a confirmed net-ahlolic so being 'unplugged' at home won't be fun.  But who knows what productive things I might accomplish around the house without the Internet to distract me every evening!  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Our Boys are Back!

Our grandsons have moved back to Texas from Arizona ...yeah!!  

I think just the boys are here right now, 
their momma will be here by next week.  
Though they will still be a couple of hours away by car, 
we're so thrilled to have them back in Texas.  
A couple of hours away is a whole lot better 
than a couple of STATES away! 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Yesteryear's

In between cycles of messing up and cleaning up my kitchen on Saturday during the canning project gone awry, I loaded the trunk of my car with merchandise for the booth space I rented at the antique shop.  I was supposed to meet the owner there at noon Sunday to set up my space.  The plan was to have all of the non-edibles loaded in the car the day before so that all I had to do Sunday was pack the jars and go.    The shop is open from 1:00 to 6:00 on Sundays so arriving at noon would give me about an hour to set up my space. 

The reason I only loaded the non-edibles on Saturday was because the recipe ingredients for the Cookies-in-a-Jar were not yet in the jars.  Instead, they were all over the work table in my office.  Ingredients for a dozen different recipes in unopened packages were all over my work table.  Wide-mouth canning jars, still in the shrink wrap cardboard flats they came in, were setting on the floor underneath the table ...ugh!   So I was up early again Sunday morning, determined to take care of all my normal weekend chores and still make my goal of meeting the shop owner at noon. 

This whole idea of renting a space to sell things sounded so simple in the beginning.  But jumping through all the hoops to get it off the ground has been a little wearing.  The first step was a trip to the tax office for a permit.  That was a little bit of a hassle as most permitting things tend to be ...but I got it done.  Then came what I thought would be the fun part of finding recipes.  Most any recipe can be adapted to this form of packaging but the more varied the colors and textures of the dry ingredients are, the better it will look in the jar.  Sugar cookies, for instance, would be visually boring ...just flour, sugar, baking soda, salt.  Boring. 

Finding recipes has been fun but it's been time consuming too.  When I found a recipe I wanted to use, I added it to my 'inventory list' and then added the ingredients to my shopping list.  I have a document set up in Publisher to create the instruction cards that are attached to each jar.  I created a new page for each recipe and set up a theme-appropriate border or a graphic for each different recipe.  Four 'instruction cards' fit on a page, then I cut them apart using these fancy little craft scissors designed for the Scrapbooking crowd.  It's all fun and appeals to my crafty/creative side ...but right now, it's time consuming. 

So far, I have collected a dozen or so cookie recipes with dry ingredients that include oatmeal, M&Ms, chocolate, white or butterscotch chips, raisins, and dried cranberries.  I found a couple of fancy brownie recipes too and some flavored hot chocolate recipes.  At the suggestion of the owner, I will stock two jars of three different varieties for now.  Today I put two jars each of Cowboy Cookies, Cowgirl Cookies and Mississippi Mud Pie Brownies on the shelves.  The six jars I put out are all I have made up so far.  But the plan is to make them ahead so that restocking will be quick and easy.  I'll generally stock the same varieties for one month.  When the weather cools down, I'll use pint jars to stock flavored hot chocolate mixes.   These are the three varieties I put on the shelves today. 


Mississippi Mud Pie Brownies

Cowboy Cookies

Cowgirl Cookies

The only differences between the CowGIRL Cookies and the CowBOY Cookies are the color of the M&M's,  whether I put Chocolate Chips or White Chocolate Chips in the jar, and what color bandana I cut up to put over the top.  The lids are vacuum sealed onto the jars to keep the ingredients fresh. 

I've seen similar jars with cookie ingredients in specialty shops being sold for $15 and up,  but I don't have any real overhead.  I've kept careful track of my costs and only have $2-$3 in each jar so I intended to price them at $8 each.  The owner talked me into putting $15 on them though.  She said she has been in business in the same location for over 9 years.  She knows what sells and has a feel for pricing things.  According to her, there's already a lot of interest even from the other vendors in the store and she doesn't want me to be afraid of making a profit. 

O.K.A.Y.  Feels like a lot of profit to me but I guess if they sell at that price, that's the market.  I might splurge and fancy up the fabric tops a little if I'm going to be making $12 per jar!  Other vendors at the shop that purchase from me get a 10 percent discount.  I get a ten percent discount on their merchandise as well.  So worst case, I will net $12 per quart.  Wow.  That still boggles my mind.   

This is what my space looked like when I left the shop today. 


It's just a bookcase, not a whole booth space but it's a good start.  I am in a good location in the shop and now that the preliminary legwork is done, I think it will be fun.  Especially if she's right about how much those jars will sell for ...wouldn't that be a nice little bonus! 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

One of Those Days...

The day started out good.  We were both up early.  Yeoldfurt had some things he wanted to do in the shop and he was down there at first light.  I wanted to do some pressure canning today.  I made a spicy chicken soup for our supper last night and purposely made extra so I could process a couple of quarts for the pantry.  Not wanting to process just two jars in my big seven quart pressure canner, I went down to the food storage this morning and brought up three of the vacuum sealed jars of red beans and rice.  Last July, I had the bright idea to vacuum seal my dried beans and rice in quart and pint jars.  I didn't think it would take long so decided to make canning the first project this morning.

Thinking I had it all figured out,  'I only filled each jar half full of whatever I was putting in it because when I cook them this fall and winter, the amount that's in the jar now will still fit in the jar after it's cooked.'  Oh how naive I was ...never underestimate the swelling potential of beans or rice!

So I bring up three of my vacuum sealed quarts and dump them in my big soup pot.  They are about three inches deep in the bottom of the pot and the pot is 11 inches deep, so I thought I was fine.  I add water until it's two inches deeper than the beans/rice, bring it to a rolling boil for ten minutes and then take it off the burner to let it soak for an hour.  Of course I had a lid on it while it was soaking so I had no idea what was going on in the pot.  When the hour had passed and I went to drain and rinse, I was amazed to see the contents had swollen to a height just two or three inches below the top of the pot.  There was no way I was going to able to add enough water to boil them for another hour, so I had to find a bigger pot.

The only pot bigger than the one the beans/rice were already in was my seven quart water bath canner ... a bit of overkill for the job, but it was my only available option.  So I transfer the swollen beans/rice to the water bath canner and start adding water.  It took eight quarts of water to bring the level up to the prescribed two inches above the beans/rise.  Sigh.  I start running the math in my head and quickly realize I'm going to end up with a minimum of eight quarts of beans/rice to process.  My pressure canner only holds seven quarts so that means at least two batches.  Sigh.  Ninety minutes processing time plus the heat up and cool down on both ends makes for a long day in the kitchen.  That's fine if that's the original plan.  But tomorrow is the big 'move in' at the antique shop and I still have some loose ends to tie up.  THOSE were on the agenda for this afternoon.  Canning in the morning, loose ends in the afternoon.  That was the plan but that's not how it went. 

Well, as sunset approaches, the first batch is cooling on the counter and the second batch is about halfway done processing on the stove.  My second batch ended up being one quart of the beans/rice and two quarts of the soup.  I prefer not to run the canner at half capacity.  It just seems wasteful to me but sometimes it can't be helped.  Today was one of those days.  Everything I tried to do ended up two or three times harder or taking two or three times longer or making two or three times as much mess.  I'm tired, a lot more tired than I expected to be this evening.  But I guess putting ten meals on the shelf is a decent accomplishment for the day. It was a long day in the kitchen.  I'm glad I at least have something to show for it.   

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fall Vegetable Garden Class

The free class on Fall Vegetable Gardening I attended last Saturday was outstanding.  I loosely adhere to the old adage 'you get what you pay for' so I was not expecting all that much from a 'free' class, especially one offered by a retail business.  At most, I expected to get a few pointers and maybe hear about the latest gardening tool or product for this area.  Even though Producers is an ag co-op, they are still a retailer ...in the business of selling their wares to the public.  I half expected coupons to be handed out for discounts on those tools or products which, of course, would be available for purchase from the store hosting the 'free' class.  The skeptic in me always looks for a catch when something is offered for free.  I was pleasantly surprised on all fronts.  

I have been to Producers dozens of times in the five plus years we've lived in this area but this is the first time I was there on a Saturday when the free classes are offered.  I was surprised to find out I was only one of about a hundred people attending yesterday's class.  I had no idea attendance would be that high and I was amazed to see the lengths the store went to accommodate the attendees.  Large display racks were temporarily moved off to one side to make room for the rows of folding chairs.  Two tables were set up where you entered the area ...one with registration sign in sheets and a nine-page handout of the material that would be covered in the class and the other with several carafes of coffee and trays of cookies.  The store apparently goes to a lot of effort and expense to host these classes every week and I really didn't come away with the impression I had been to a sales pitch. 

One of the things I learned that we will be implementing this coming year is that it's far more beneficial to rest and improve your soil during July and August than to push for production during the two hottest months.  This part of Texas has relatively mild winters and it's entirely feasible most of the time to keep a garden going for nine to ten months out of the year.  But just because we can doesn't mean we should.  Gardens need time to rest, organic matter needs to be worked in to replenish depleted minerals and restore balance to the soil.  The speaker recommended cleaning out the garden at the end of June.  Remove the old crop, clear weeds and grasses and add approximately three inches of well-composted material.  Work the compost in by hand or with a tiller, then saturate the garden with water to a depth of at least four inches.  Let the water soak in, then saturate the ground again the next day and the day after that.  By the third day, you should be able to dig down 8 or 9 inches and still have very damp soil.   If the soil is not damp to that depth by the third day, you are not watering enough.  When it is damp to that depth, flood it one more time to the point you have standing water, then cover it with clear plastic and leave it covered until the first week in August.  The hot summer sun on the clear plastic will sterilize the saturated soil, killing any seeds, fungi or bugs that may be in it.  Even in a normal summer, the temperatures under the plastic will reach at least 160 degrees during the day.  That heat will help speed up the decomposition of the compost you just added.

The first week September, remove the plastic and 'fluff' the soil by hand or with a tiller.  Additional store-bought compost may be added at this time if necessary.  This is not the ideal time to add material from your home compost because you need to transplant seedlings to your fall garden by the middle of September and two weeks is just not enough time for typical home composted material to break down in the soil.   It is also not good to work horse or cow manure into the soil because it adds too much phosphorous and will stress your seedlings.

Mid- to late-September is the ideal time to transplant seedlings into the garden.  Most of us keep our thermostats set so that temperatures in our homes fluctuate very little between daytime and nighttime during the summer.  So if you started your seedlings yourself in an air-conditioned setting, it's best to move them to a shaded area in the yard for a few days before you transplant them into the garden so they can become acclimated to the more extreme outdoor temperature fluctuations between daytime and nighttime.

If you purchase seedlings for your vegetable garden, look for boxy, full-leaved specimens, rather than the tallest or the one that already shows flowers.  Height that is disproportionate to fullness is a plant's response to tight quarters and having to compete for sunlight.  Early flowering is not a sign a vigor, it's a sign of stress ...literally according to Dr Masabni, the plant is saying, 'OMG, I'm going to die soon ...I must reproduce!'  That generated some chuckles, as you can imagine, but he's right.  The base instinct of all life is to survive and reproduce.  Plants are no exception.  

If these kinds of classes are offered through your local ag co-op or the county extension office, I urge you to take advantage of them.  All of the classes won't be relevant to your situation, but take advantage of the ones that are.  Knowledge is something we need to stock up on occasionally too.  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Continuing Ed Tomorrow

Producers is the name of the big feed co-op store in Bryan.  Their advertising slogan is 'Everything Ag' and that's a pretty fitting description of what you can find there.  In addition to all the normal things you'd expect at a feed store, they offer free one hour seminars on Saturdays, covering a variety of subjects that would interest  most any farmer, rancher or homesteader.  The seminars are held at 11:00 on Saturday mornings in a small section of the store that's set up like a casual den ...complete with fireplace and big comfy chairs.  The subject this weekend is Fall Vegetable Gardening and the speaker is Professor Joe Masahni, an Extension Vegetable Specialist from Texas A&M. 

I don't know if I'll learn anything new in the class, but I'm pretty sure it won't be a waste of my time.  I happen to think that adding to your own store of knowledge is an essential part of being prepared.  The timing for this class is great and the price is perfect.  We were just talking last week about whether to plant a fall garden this year and what we should grow and since the class is free ...well, you just can't beat free! 
 
There is always a list of errands that need to be done on Saturdays and this weekend is no different.  The oil needs changing in the little truck, a trash run has to be made to the local collection station and now I have this class I want to attend in Bryan.  Yeoldfurt will be tied up at the the Appleseed shoot in Millican all day tomorrow and again on Sunday,  so I'll take care of whatever needs to be done this weekend. He'll load up tonight and leave bright and early for the shoot in the morning.  I'll be leaving an hour or so behind him so I can be first in line at the Kwik Kar in Caldwell when they open.   I should be back home by 9:00, giving me plenty of time to make the trash run and start the weekend laundry before I need to leave for the class in Bryan.

After the class, I'll gas up at the HEB in Bryan because it's always 10-15 cents cheaper than the stations in Caldwell.  Then I have a short list of items to pick up while I'm at HEB and I should be back home by 2:00.  Yeoldfurt will call me when he's heading home after the shoot, but I don't expect to hear from him until at least 5:00.  That gives me three or four hours to finish the laundry and have a nice dinner for him when he gets home.  I've told him he's off the roster as far as feeding the critters or any other chores this weekend.  He's managed to finagle a day off work on Sunday so that he can attend both days of the shoot and I just want him to enjoy himself.  There are plenty of weekends that he has shouldered all the responsibilities for me so I could go visit the granddaughter in San Antonio.  This is my opportunity to return the favor. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Ventures

Purging was pretty high on the list of goals for this year and I think I may have found a fun way to go about it.  Some friends of mine own a little antique store called Yesteryears located just off the town square.  It's one of my favorite stops when we have errands to run ...kind of like H&H Guns is Yeoldfurt's favorite stop.  We are usually together when we go either place, but I can be entertained at Yesteryears a lot longer than he can ...just as he can be entertained at H&H a lot longer than I can.  Possibly, the Venus/Mars phenomenon again.

A couple of years ago, Yeoldfurt and I discussed the possibility of consigning some of the things we want to sell to Yesteryears.  But we found out the owner doesn't do consignment, just rents booths to vendors with part of the 'rent' being a few hours a week of minding the store.  That was not an option for us because of our 40-week jobs so we didn't pursue it.  But recently I found out that the owner is now renting shelf space by the unit. One unit is a bookcase, approximately 3' x 6' with up to six adjustable shelves. The rent is $35/month, no requirement to put in hours at the store ...just a simple lease outlining acceptable items for sale and the terms of payment for sales made.  Very little is required of the seller other than to keep the shelves reasonably well-stocked.  Most of the things we want to purge around here are suitable to being displaying on a shelf so I think it's a win-win.    

After I got home with the vendor agreement, I started wondering how hard it was going to be to keep the shelves stocked.  I only have an hour or so of 'free time' in the evenings and Saturdays are already pretty full with odd chores and projects around here.  I wanted to come up with something I could make ahead and keep in quantity to fill space in between things I was purging.  I will be making some Cookie-in-a-Jar type recipes to give as gifts this Christmas and wondered if the owner of Yesteryears would consider letting me sell them on my shelf.  I sent her an email with a picture to show her what would be on the shelf and she loved the idea.  Oh, boy!  Cheap, easy, and fun to make ...I can get creative with the recipes and decorating the jars according to the season.  

I'm on vacation (I know ...again ...right?) on Friday this week so that Yeoldfurt can give me a ride to the paint shop to pick up my car.  He's on vacation until Sunday and I think he plans to head back home after he drops me off at the shop.  But while I'm out and about and have time on my hands, I think I'll go to the hobby store and maybe the fabric store for ideas and supplies.  I really think this is going to be fun.  If it turns out to be profitable too, all the better!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sobering Moments

I dropped my car off at the paint shop this afternoon and needed to kill two hours until Yeoldfurt got off work to come get me.  I walked across the street to a little antique shop and was thoroughly enjoying myself, just browsing the merchandise when my cell phone rang.  The caller ID said it was my friend, Anne, from Colorado.  She and I were neighbors when I lived in Colorado in the late 80's and early 90's.  She was a few years younger than me but it was one of those friendships that just happens in an instant.  Colorado is an hour behind Texas, timewise, so I was surprised to hear from her when it should have only be 4pm, her time.  But I'm always happy to hear from her, so I answered cheerfully and said, 'What are YOU up to ..playing hookie?' 

The voice on the other end wasn't my friend, Anne.  It was her husband, Craig.  I knew something was wrong.  He said, 'It's not who you think it is, I knew you would think it was Anne.'  He asked me where I was and if I was sitting down.  I sat in a big chair the store had for sale and held my breath.  He asked me if I was alone and I told him there were people around but I was at an antique store.  Then he told me that Anne was gone.  She passed away the night before. 

You hear people talk about having a brush with death and in that moment when they feel they are truly in mortal danger, they see 'their life pass before their eyes.'   When Craig told me she was gone, moments from our twenty year friendship passed through my mind.  We were in PTA together, we served on a community advisory council together, we took classes at Mesa State College together.  We took care of each other's kids, we cooked for each other's families when one of us had to be out of town for a few days.  Anne was energetic, goal-oriented and adventurous.  She was incredibly organized and knew how to motivate people. She was an amazing person and now she's gone.  She and Craig just celebrated their 30 year anniversary and now he's a widow.  They have three grown children, two that live close by and one that works for the State Department and is currently on assignment overseas.  I'm sure he'll be home to support his dad 

I'm not making much sense, even to post about something like this.  But it's what's on my mind so there it is.  I wonder if this incredibly wonderful person that was my friend knew how much she meant to me.  I wonder if I was as good a friend to her as she has been to me. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

For Me, It's Saddle Time

Most people have one thing that makes them relax and rejuvenates them from the daily stresses of life.  For some, it's a place.  For some it's an activity.  For me, it's saddle time. 

Horses are a lot of work to take care of every day, whether you ride or not.  With the demands of a full time job and the chores that come with our homesteader lifestyle, finding time to just have fun can be a challenge.  Most of the big chores have to be done on the weekend and somehow the To Do List always ends with more things than can be accomplished in one weekend.  So you learn to prioritize.  You learn to pick ONE THING that has to happen on any given weekend.  When it's done, you do as many of the other things on the list as time allows.  Having things still left on the list at the end of the weekend just means next weekend's list is already started. 

Yeoldfurt works on Sundays, so that's generally my day for housework.  Domestic drudgery like laundry and scrubbing floors.  Those things that are hardly ever noticed ...unless they're not done.  But I try to accomplish at least one non-housework project every Sunday too.  Today it was riding.  I had not been on my horse since the grandsons were here in July.  It was too hot most of July and August and I have been out of town for two weekends in September already.  But the mornings lately have been downright pleasant and the evenings are starting to get bearable.  So I was up before the sun this morning and was saddled up as soon as it was light outside. 

I was only in the saddle for an hour, only rode in the round pen and the front paddock, but it sure felt good.  When we were done, I let my mare 'mow' the grass in the chicken yard for an hour before I turned her out with the others.  There are four fruit trees that we keep watered in the chicken yard so it's the place we have any grass right now.  My mare enjoyed it. 

That hour I spent in the saddle must have done me good because I've accomplished everything I normally accomplish on Sundays and then some.  The sheets are changed on the bed, the laundry is washed, dried, folded and put away, the bathrooms have been scrubbed and the rugs are washed and hanging outside to dry.  I also made a batch of liquid laundry soap (four months worth) and raked the leaves in one of the four flower beds.  The horse blankets we cleaned up last week are folded and bagged up to be stored until cold weather comes.  Yeoldfurt's dinner is in the oven (slow roasted pork ribs) and I have five pints of homemade split pea soup processing on the stove.  Yeoldfurt won't eat it, but I was cleaning out cupboards and found a pound of dried split peas I needed to use up.  In pint jars, it's just enough for me for supper on a cold winter day with enough left over to take to work for lunch the next day.

So even though I took an hour to just play with my horse this morning, I got a lot accomplished today.  Yup, for me, it's saddle time!

Friday, September 23, 2011

How Are We Doing?

On December 31st last year, I posted a list of goals for myself for the coming year ...a few things I wanted to accumulate or accomplish, and a few new skills I wanted to acquire.  Now with a little over three months left in the year, I look back at that list and think I had better pick up my pace if I want to be able to check everything off at the end of this year.

First on my list were the Challenge Goals ...those things that I hoped to accomplish, believed I could accomplish, but knew I would have to dog myself to get them done.  I would say I'm at about 50 percent on that list.  That's kind of disappointing when you consider there were only three items on that list ...purging some of the stuff that is just laying around and not being useful to anybody, organizing our food storage, and minimizing ME ...as in dropping some weight.

Purging might be one of those things like housework that never really gets DONE.  You have to do a certain amount of it on a regular basis and do a whole lot of it once in a while, but you never really get done. I've made serious progress though.  In general, there's a lot less 'stuff' laying around and, in the process of sorting and purging, I now have a much better idea of what's actually here. That's the big bonus! 

On getting organized in the food storage, I have to say we have exceeded the expectations I had when we set the goal.  Yeoldfurt built me some shelving, I bought some new storage containers, we've improved the methods of labeling we use and streamlined our process for maintaining the inventory spreadsheet.  I'm now much more confident in the amount we have stored, how long it would last us and the accuracy of our record-keeping.  We've made a lot of improvement in organization this year.

As for the goal of minimizing ME, I didn't set a specific goal weight but I'm halfway to where I'd like to be.  I wish I could say I am all the way there now ...but halfway is encouraging.  It's enough of a difference that people who haven't seen me in a while notice, and enough that I can feel the difference in the clothes I wear.  Best of all, my ankle bothers me much less these days ...less often and less severely when it does.

The second part of my list was the Standard Goals ...those things that pretty much stay on the list year after year in one form or another because we are preppers.   It's more than a philosophy, it's a lifestyle.  There were five items on the list of Standard Goals ...Reconfiguring the raised bed, Improving the chicken coop, Debt elimination, Increasing our supply of non-food items, and learning New Skills

I am pleased to say we can check that first item off the list.  Yeoldfurt single-handedly reconfigured our 16x16 raised bed garden into several smaller beds.  He accomplished that goal on a couple of Tuesdays when he was off and I was at work and he did a great job.  He even built me a deluxe compost bin conveniently located just a few feet from the raised beds.  He is making plans and scavenging lumber to add additional beds and I'm making plans for some cold frames to set over the smaller beds and hopefully lengthen our growing season.  One thing always leads to another!

He has also made some real improvements to the chicken coop, building new nest boxes and further snake-proofing the structure.  I still want to build an off the ground brood box in the smaller room but there is no rush since we only buy new chicks every other year and the next time we will need a brood box will be 2013. 

Debt elimination is another one of those almost never done goals.  We still have no debt other than our mortgage and make additional payments on the principle every month, but we're a long way from paying off the mortgage.  We did speak to a locally owned bank about refinancing a few months ago, but the interest rate they offered was only one-quarter percent lower than we have now and they would only consider a fifteen year note ...our monthly obligation would have increased by nearly 40 percent.  The amount of the payment on their terms would have been equal to what we normally pay, so certainly feasible.  But the amount we pay now includes our additional payment toward the principle and if we have a tight month, we always have the option of paying only the amount due.  We didn't think refinancing made sense on those terms.  But we have made significant progress in eliminating our mortgage so I consider that goal met as well.  

Yeoldfurt has had fun with the next goal on that list which was increasing our nonfood supplies.  He has acquired some additional ammunition as well as some of the tools he needs to do a lot more reloading of his own again.  He used to do quite a bit of reloading and I think he's enjoying picking it up again ....kind of like me and sewing.  We also accumulated a lot more in the way of canning supplies and a second (backup) Foodsaver.

Finally, there are the new skills and knowledge we hoped to acquire.  Specifically, I said that I wanted to learn to make shampoo, conditioner and body wash.  I can't claim to have even investigated any of those processes, so I need to get busy in that regard.  I know Humblewife makes all those things and many more useful things from scratch so that's probably where I will start my research.  She is an amazing source of information and inspiration, but true to her blog name, she is also one of the most truly humble people I have the privilege of knowing.  If you have not ever visited her blog, I hope you will do so.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I hope to learn to make dishwasher soap this year as well.  As long as I am working a full time job and commuting two hours a day, I will be using a dishwasher so I will be using dishwasher soap.  I might as well learn to make it.   And finally, felling trees is the other 'new skill' I had hoped to acquire this year.  We have about ten dead pines along the driveway and in the sideyard that need to come down but need to land a certain way in order to miss the fenceline or keep from blocking the driveway.  I'm waiting for cooler weather to tackle that one though. 

So I set thirteen goals for myself, am somewhat lacking on two of them, and totally lacking on the last one.  Not a horrible score, but nothing to brag about either.  Guess I better pick up the pace!

Monday, September 19, 2011

You Can't Control the Weather

When I logged off the computer last Friday night, the weather forecast predicted a 20 to 40 percent chance of rain for four days, Sunday through Wednesday.  I woke up to thunder and lightning and a soft steady rain on Sunday morning.  The front paddock which is a high spot on our property had an inch or two of standing water on it.  What a beautiful sight it was, a great way to start the day.  Unfortunately, it didn't last long.

By 9:00am, the rain had stopped, the sun was shining and temperatures were creeping up.  I think the high on Sunday was only 90 degrees.  It was hot, but not nearly as hot as we had become accustomed to these past few months.  We only got half an inch according to the rain gauge.  We are grateful but it's not nearly enough.

I ran across an interesting article on weather.com about what it would take for us to catch up on rainfall for this year. The first map below divides the state into four regions according to how severe the drought has been in that region.  The legend indicates how many inches of rainfall each region would need to receive in just one month in order to recover from the drought.  Where we live straddles the line between the yellow and light green regions on this map. So for us, it would take 12-18 inches of rainfall in a one month period to break even for the year.  Like that's going to happen.  


What has made this situation even worse is that on top of the severe drought, we've had incredibly long stretches of 100+ temperatures.  We lost a dozen trees since last year.  These weren't young, barely established trees that were unaccustomed to or unsuited for this area either.  They were mature oaks, pines and cedars.  It's a sad thing to watch.  But besides the devastation to local vegetation, wildfires like the ones we saw in Bastrop, Walker, Grimes, Waller and Robertson counties earlier this month are a constant threat.  That's a list of just five major wildfires that were within 50 miles of our place.  There were other wildfires all over the state at the same time.  Resources are stretched very thin.

According to this next map, we will need approximately 24 to 28 inches of rainfall in the next six months to end this drought.  That's an average of over 4-1/2 inches per month.  I don't think the odds are in our favor. 


No rain means no hay.  No hay means ranchers cull their herds or sell out.  Smaller herds mean less meat supply and eventually higher prices.  If you can't grow hay, you can't grow any other crops either.  Minimal crops mean less supply and higher prices on those things too.

No, you can't control the weather.  No one can.  But pray for rain, people.  Even if your livelihood is not somehow tied to the land, even if the only livestock you own are a cat and a dog, a drought this widespread and this severe impacts the entire economy.   Pray for rain.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Holy Guacamole!

I've had flower and vegetable gardens most of my adult life, so I'm not exactly a newbie when it comes to growing things.  But I have never grown an avocado tree.  There is a first time for everything though and thank goodness for the Internet where practically anything you want to research is right there at your fingertips! 

When I was on vacation last week, my friend, Teresa, gave me a tiny avocado seedling.  She said it came from an avocado plucked from a tree on her brother's dairy farm in California.  It was well started in rich potting soil when she gave it to me and seemed to be thriving.  Teresa promised she would come up for a visit one day soon so I'm just hoping I can keep this little seedling happy and thriving at least until she gets up here! 

Yeoldfurt loves guacamole so it would be  nice to be able to grow our own.  But everything I've read so far says that trees started from seed produce rarely fruit.  It seems the best fruit-producing avocado trees are grafted as seedlings.  That's a very tedious process with only about a 50 percent success rate even for professional growers.  So this little seedling, if it matures into a tree, will most likely just have to be appreciated for it's beauty and not so much it's fruit.  If I am successful in growing it though, I might look into buying a grafted seedling so Yeoldfurt could have his home grown avocados. 

Any advice from those of you who have grown avocados from seed would be most welcome!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Worth Every Stitch

Keebler was a big hit with the granddaughter
so I guess maybe my first sewing project in 30 years came out okay! 

As you can see, they are already best of buds!

I was gone for four days and three nights and Yeoldfurt did an outstanding job of taking care of himself and the homestead.   He did a fine job today of spoiling me rotten too.  This was his regular day off and my last day of vacation and we took full advantage of the opportunity to spend time together. 

We went into the Big City to pick up a few things he needed for his shop and he treated me to both lunch and dinner.  Lunch was a sit down meal, but dinner tonight is a box of spicy fried chicken and dirty rice from Pop-eyes.  If you have never had Pop-eyes chicken, you will just have to trust me ...it's good!   

While we were in town, we got an estimate on painting my little car and were pleasantly surprised at the quote.  Looks like it's only going to cost a little over half what I thought it would, so my overtime money
will take care of painting the car and buy us that deep freeze we've been wanting. 
Ahh, life is good!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Keebler, the Lion

I did not know when I started this project quite how challenging this pattern would be or quite how rusty my sewing skills have become.  It has been thirty-something years since I really did anything more complex than a hem.  But perseverance won out in the end and I finished the project.  This is Keebler who I hope will end up being one of my little granddaughter's favorite cuddle buddies.

My granddaughter may come up with her own name for him and whatever she wants to call him is fine with me.  But he will always be KEEBLER to me.  I will explain why later. 

The nose gave me fits from the beginning and I'm not sure I understand what I did to make it work well enough to explain.  But I was finally able to fashion a nose out of the odd shaped bit of fabric and get it sewn in place so that it actually looks like a lion's nose.   It even looks like the nose on the on the front of the pattern envelope.  I would have settled for it just being recognizable as a nose.  To have it end up looking like the one on the picture is unexpected bonus.  I did have to deviate from the instructions quite a bit as they said to baste the nose in place on one side of the center of the muzzle and then stitch the two sides of the muzzle together with the nose sandwiched between them.  I have a fairly nice sewing machine but it's not industrial strength.  I was pretty sure it wouldn't be able to handle two layers of fleece (the two sides of the muzzle) plus four more layers of fleece made up by the folds in the nose.  So I used the machine to make the seam up to the nose, then finished it by hand.  I used heavy coat thread for the hand work, so hopefully it will hold up to the rigors of a toddler.  Handwork is my comfort zone, so it was fun to include some of that. 

The day I finally conquered the nose, I also lost my head ...for a while anyway.  I got the nose firmly attached to the muzzle and started looking for the pattern piece labeled 'head' ...but it was nowhere to be found.  I always pin all the pattern pieces before I cut to make sure I will have enough fabric.  Then I always cut all the pattern pieces at once and leave them pinned to their piece of the pattern until I'm ready for them.  But I searched through all my cut pieces three times and NO HEAD.  Each pattern piece has a number and the head was number four.  I even took all the unused pattern pieces out of the envelope and made sure I had not just failed to cut that piece.  But there was no number four in the envelope.  Ugh! 

I knew the pattern company had not shorted me.  Pattern pieces come all printed on one or two big sheets of tissue paper.  You have to cut them apart to make individual pieces so you can arrange them on the fabric.  I knew the missing pattern piece for the head had to be around here somewhere but I was running out of time to get this project done. I have my sewing machine setting on my grandmother's old writing desk which is tucked into a shallow alcove in my office.  I thought the missing piece might have slipped off the desk while I was wrestling with the nose so I got out the flashlight and looked behind, under and on both sides of the desk. I didn't find it.  I did find my cloth measuring tape though ...so the effort wasn't totally wasted.  

Frustrated and baffled, I went back to the instructions to see if I could improvise.  This pattern has four variations ...a lion, a monkey, a dog, and a cat.  The lion is the only one that calls for the number four pattern piece for the head. The other three variations have a similarly shaped head, with only a minor difference on one end.  I figured that, in a pinch, I could substitute the pattern piece for the head that the other variations called for and just 'eyeball' the minor difference to make it work.  My only concern was that though the two 'head' pieces might be shaped very similar, I would have no way of knowing until I tried to attach it to the muzzle if the scale was the same.  But I was running out of options so I got set up to cut a 'head' from the other pattern piece. 

I have a 75 watt halogen bulb in a floor lamp beside the cutting table and wanted to turn it on so I could see better while I was cutting.  I had to walk around to the back of the table to reach the switch on the floor lamp and as I stepped behind the table, I heard the familiar rustle of tissue paper.  My missing pattern piece ...the number 4 head piece!   It had apparently slipped off the table when I was laying the pieces out on the fabric.  I didn't notice it was missing when I was cutting out the other pieces because there are 13 different pieces to this variation of the pattern and they are not consecutively numbered.  The carpet in my office is circa 1985 which was smack dab in the middle of the 'earth tones' era in home decor.  Typical of the 1980's, the carpet is a deep sculpture in a sandy tan, almost taupe color ...very similar in color to the pale tissue paper pattern piece.  So I was able to cut the head from the correct piece of pattern after all. 

In retrospect, the only parts of this lion that I made by following the instructions exactly were the legs.  I modified the tail to make the fuzzy end more 3-D and fashioned furrowed 'eyebrows' from remnant fabric rather than just embroidering them as the pattern suggested.  I did embroider the eyes and used the same brown embroidery floss to fashion the toes on the end of his floppy legs.  Thinking back on the process, he's about 50 percent 'by the book' and fifty percent me figuring a way to make it work or a way to make it work (look) better.  And that brings us to the story of how he got his name. 

A friend of mine left a comment on my first post about this project, suggesting that if I ran into problems with the pattern, I should just 'Fudge, fudge a lot, you're a big girl now, you can fudge the pattern, the girl will never know!!

Well, fudge I did.  First with the nose, then the tail, and almost had to fudge the entire head.  I fudged on the assembly process, stitching by hand almost as much as on the machine.  I even fudged to create a 'suspended' stiff interfacing in the mane so that I could stuff on both sides of the interfacing and it would feel soft all the way around, but would have an inner support that would keep it from being floppy.   Yes, this lion is the product of a whole lot of fudging.  Get it?  Keebler Fudge?  I know, I know ...I have a warped sense of humor. 

I am pleased at how he turned out and even more pleased that I got him finished with a whole day to spare before I leave for my weekend with my granddaughter.  I work all day tomorrow but then I'm on vacation until next Wednesday.  It will take me most of the morning Thursday to clean up my sewing room and turn it back into my office ... and the rest of the day to pack and put some meals in the freezer for Yeoldfurt to have while I'm gone.  Assuming the threat of fires has lessened by Friday, I will leave early that morning and be back Monday before Yeoldfurt gets home from work.   I will miss him but I'll make sure he has plenty of clean laundry and plenty of meals in the freezer until I get back.  I'll have a nice supper ready for him when he gets home Monday evening and we'll be able to spend Tuesday together since that's his regular day off and I'll still be on vacation.  By Tuesday, we will have been apart just long enough to miss each other's company and we can spend the day spoiling each other rotten.  Life is good. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cute Little Devils, Aren't They?

At least two of the four new hens are beginning to lay eggs now. When a hen first starts to lay, her eggs are smaller than they eventually will be ...possibly nature's way of easing her into called purpose in life. As she matures, her eggs will gradually get larger until they are full-sized.

This is only our second batch of hens. We bought our first hens as day old chicks in 2009 and when they first started laying eggs, we had nothing except store-bought eggs to compare them to. So the size difference didn't seem that noticeable. One of those three hens lays HUGE eggs that will only comfortably fit into a Jumbo size egg carton. They will fit into a Large or Extra Large carton, but forget being able to close the lid. At least two of those three original hens are still laying, including Dora who lays the HUGE eggs. But production is way down, partly due to their age and partly due to this oppressive heat, I'm sure.

This spring, we bought some new chicks. Hens don't lay eggs forever and we figured we needed to start phasing in replacements for the older birds. We started out with five Barred Rock chicks, but lost three to chicken snakes. It was the Last Supper for all but one of those chicken snakes. The third one was sporting a couple of 22 caliber holes when it slithered away ...hopefully it didn't survive the trauma. A few weeks later, we found a guy down the road that was selling some two month old Production Reds and we brought two of those home as well. Now we have seven chickens in the coop. That's really more than we need for eggs for just the two of us. It's also possibly more than we want unless we pick up a couple more egg customers. We're not really (and don't want to be) officially in the egg business. But for now, the seven hens are producing three to four eggs per day.

Since the new hens are so young and have only been laying for a week or two, their eggs are still really small. I used a carton marked 'Grade A Large' because it was the biggest I happened to have on hand today.  The HUGE eggs that Dora lays barely fit into a carton marked Jumbo.  If I put what I refer to as our 'normal' eggs from our other two mature hens in a carton marked Extra Large, I can close the lid but it's tight.  They will fit into a carton marked Large, but forget closing the lid.  All this is for reference so you know what you're looking at here.  I put six of the little bitty eggs in one side and six of the normal eggs on the other side. I laid two of the HUGE eggs and two more of the little bitty eggs on the open lid as a visual reference for size. Aren't the little bitty eggs cute?!



Sweet red bell peppers were on sale for 50 cents each at the grocery store last week so I bought six. We love bell peppers. Sometimes I stuff them and sometimes I slice them up to steam with kielbasa or grilled chicken tenders. I bought six peppers and made stuffed peppers that night. I make the filling with one pound of ground beef, one egg for binder, about 1/3 cup fine seasoned bread crumbs, some spices and a bit of tomato sauce. The one pound of ground beef is enough to generously stuff six halved bell peppers. I slice them the long way and Yeoldfurt eats two halves for his supper and takes two halves for his lunch the next day. I eat half a pepper for supper and take the other half for my lunch the next day. Normally when I make these, I use one of the normal sized eggs. That time, I used two of the little bitty eggs. I was curious to see the quality of the egg itself since it was so tiny. But they were excellent quality.  The yolks were dark yellow and, if anything, disproportionately larger than the whites. The two little eggs were perfect to replace the one normal sized egg I usually used to make this recipe.
Tonight we're having a chef salad for dinner and I decided to make some deviled eggs to go with it. I usually use two of the HUGE eggs when I make deviled eggs but decided today to use the little bitty eggs.

Now who would have thought you could fit a dozen deviled eggs on one 6-inch dessert plate?  Tell me these aren't the cutest 'little devils' you've ever seen!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sewing is Not Like Riding a Bike

About the time all my overtime started at work, I had the bright idea I would start sewing again and make something for my granddaughter's first birthday in September.  It seemed like a good idea at the time and her birthday was still three months off so it didn't feel like pressure.  Now her birthday is just two weeks away and I'm a long way from finished with her birthday gift.  What was I thinking?!

The pattern is Simplicity 5310.  Don't let the company name fool you ...there is nothing 'simple' about this project!  I've got about 10 years of experience crafts and sewing.  Mostly I've done handwork ...crewel work, embroidery, crocheting, even tried tatting for a while.  I learned how to make clothing from patterns when I was in high school.  Our mother was an excellent seamstress and she taught all three of us girls how to sew from a pattern.  I made my own pinch-pleat lined draperies when I was a newlywed in my 20's.  I know how to use a sewing machine.  I didn't think it mattered that all of my experience was 25 or 30 years ago.  I figured, 'it's like riding a bike, right?'  Umm ...maybe not.

This is the pattern.  Cute, huh?  Looks simple enough, right?  By step 3 on the pattern, I knew I was in trouble.   

It's the nose that's giving me fits.  The pattern piece is only about 3 inches wide and 2 inches tall.   How could such a small swatch of fabric be so uncooperative!  I struggled with it twice, two separate days for about an hour.  The confidence and enthusiasm I'd been feeling for the project was eroding at an alarming rate.  But this morning I decided to see if I could find some reviews for the pattern ...maybe some pointers from other people who had made this pattern.  I found this website, http://sewing.patternreview.com, and joined with a free membership.  There were eight reviews posted for this pattern.  A free membership only entitles me to read reviews less than six months old, so I could only read five of them.  Three of them were exactly as I would have posted if I were to review this pattern ...'NOT simple!'  'Diagrams do not match up with the pattern pieces!'  'Terrible instructions!'   'Worst pattern I've ever worked with!'  The ladies that left these reviews claimed to have 20-30 years of experience.  One lady said she was a professional seamstress with 35 years of experience and she still had to start over with this pattern two or three times.  Whew ...that made me feel better.   Maybe it wasn't just me.  Misery loves company and looming defeat craves it!   

Two of the reviews were very positive and said they would definitely make this pattern again.  But even those writers admitted to making 'minor adjustments' to the pattern and the assembly process.  Granted, there were three reviews that I couldn't access with my free membership.  But judging from the five reviews I could access, I'm definitely not in the minority in having difficulty with this pattern. 

Now I figure I can look at this two ways.  My granddaughter's birthday is just two weeks from tomorrow.  I have this weekend and next weekend to pass or fail in my attempt to make this for her.  Based on those negative reviews, I could convince myself I would be justified in scrapping the whole idea of making her something and just go out and buy her a gift.  But instead I've decided that I'm going to take heart from the fact that at least two people claim they were successful in making this project.  I will have to dig up a little more determination but I'm going to give it a whirl.  I guarantee there will be adjustments to the process and possibly to the end product.    If I'm happy with the result, I'll do a follow-up post and show you how it turned out.  If I'm not happy with the result, there may be a follow-up post, but no pictures.  At that point, I will be out of time and will have to go buy my granddaughter a gift.  But at least I will know I gave it my best shot.  

Yeoldfurt is off on a mission of his own today.  He left for the gun range about thirty minutes ago to test out his latest batch of reloads.  I'm sure he'll be doing a post to report the results.  He looked five or ten years younger when he waved as he drove off this morning.  He had the same kind of 'happy' you'd see on a kid's face if you announced, 'we're going to Disneyworld!' Yup, doing something you love definitely has a rejuvenating effect. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Maultaschen, a Family Tradition

On my mother's side, our roots are English, German and Russian.  On my dad's side, we were mostly Irish. On both sides, we were all about family traditions.  My mother loved to cook and she loved most of all to make the traditional dishes that had already been handed down from generation to generation in her family before her.  My grandmother learned to make a couple of traditional dishes from her mother-in-law who immigrated to this country with her parents when she was still a small child.  One of these dishes is what we grew up calling 'Maldasha' and it was a springtime favorite.  It is a simple dish but works best if made in an assembly line with a couple of helpers.

It is basically large strawberry dumplings, swimming in warm cream and garnished with cubed bread that has been sauteed and toasted in butter.  Don't let the description fool you.  This is a meal, not a dessert.  It is a traditional dish in parts of Russia and Germany.  Even my dad who was almost pure Irish and strictly a meat-n-potatoes kinda guy loved it.  Since it is only made with fresh strawberries, it was a springtime tradition and occasionally again in the summer if we could talk Mom into it. 

I recently learned that our name for the dish is a horrible mispronunciation of the word 'maultaschen' which is Volga German.  Loosely translated, it means pocket ...which, loosely interpreted, would be a dumpling.  In other parts of Germany, it was known as Eben Gl├Ące or Eben Kloese, which means strawberry dumplings.  Volga is a part of Russia that was settled by Germans and that's where my great grandmother's parents were when she was a small child.  So she grew up calling it Maultaschen.  By the time my sisters and I were born and the recipe had been passed down through several generations, the name had been Americanized to Maldasha. If you love strawberries and have an adventurous pallet, please try this.  You'll love it!

You will need the following:
Deep kettle to boil water (a water bath canner is perfect)
A large cast iron skillet
A long-handled slotted spoon
Two large serving bowls

4 cups of flour
2 eggs  plus 6 egg yolks 
1/2 to 2/3 cup hot water.
4 tsp salt (*if using self-rising flour, omit salt)
6-8 cups of strawberries,  stemmed and sliced
1/4 cup of sugar
1 cube butter (not margarine or butter substitute)
2 cups of stale bread, cut into cubes
2 pints whole cream

Wash, stem and slice the fresh strawberries.  If they are very large, cut them into quarters. Mom used to add a teaspoon of sugar to each dumpling as she made them, but I sweeten the berries before I assemble the dumplings.  Just sprinkle about a quarter cup of sugar on top of the strawberries after they're cleaned and toss lightly.

When the berries have been prepared and before you start making the noodle dough, begin heating the water in the kettle.  You will need a deep kettle such as your water bath canner.  The water should be at least 6-8 inches deep so the dumplings have room to cook and float up, but no closer than 3 inches from the top so the water doesn't spill over as you add and remove dumplings.  While the water is heating up, make your noodle dough.  My mother doubled the Noodle Dough in her Betty Crocker Cookbook.  The ingredients (already doubled) and directions are below. 

4 cups of flour
2 eggs  plus 6 egg yolks
1/2 to 2/3 cup hot water.
4 tsp salt (*if using self-rising flour, omit salt)

Sift the flour into a large bowl and use the back of a large serving spoon to form a shallow well in the top.  Combine the eggs, egg yolks and salt and whip with a fork until just blended.  Add the egg/salt mixture to the flour and mix well.  Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all flour is incorporated.  Dough should be stiff but easy to roll.  It will look very yellow because of all the yolks. Cover with a dishtowel and let it rest for 10 minutes.

After the dough has rested, divide it into four equal parts.  Flour your hands, rolling pin and surface generously and roll each of the four parts into a rectangle. You want each rolled out piece to be slightly thicker than a pie crust.  If it is too thin, the dumplings will break open during boiling.  Too thick and it throws the ratio off ...too much dough, not enough strawberry.  The four rolled out rectangles can be laid on a floured surface and covered with a dishtowel to keep from drying out.  Take one of the rolled out pieces and cut it into four inch squares.    Use a spoon to put strawberries in the middle of square.  Try not to handle the strawberries with your fingers ...if your fingers are damp, you won't be able to pinch the dough together to form a dumpling.  Each dumpling should hold two or three tablespoons of strawberries. 


Check on your water.  It needs to be at a full rolling boil when you put the dumplings in, so adjust the heat up or down as necessary.  Put the cube of butter in your cast iron skillet on another burner.  Don't turn on the burner yet, you're just getting everything ready before you start cooking the dumplings.   Set the stale bread that has been cut into cubes next to the skillet.

By the time you have all the dumplings made from one section of the noodle dough, the water should be ready.  Use a slotted spoon to lower five or six of the filled dumpling into the boiling water, one at a time.  The dumplings will sink when you put them in the water and float to the top when they are done, usually 5 or 6 minutes.  Sometimes, a dumpling will float immediately but I leave it in the water for at least 3 or 4 minutes.  As the dumplings come out of the kettle, they are placed in one of the large serving bowls.

When half of the dumplings are done, begin melting a cube of butter in a large cast iron skillet over low heat.  While the butter is melting, cut the last two pieces of dough into four inch squares and continue making dumplings.

After the butter is completely melted, put the cubed bread into the skillet and toss to coat each piece.  Turn the heat up slightly and toast the bread cubes in the butter.  Stir them frequently so they will brown evenly.  After the bread cubes are done, put them back in the bowl they came from and set them aside.  Turn the heat back down to low on the burner and pour the two pints of whole cream into the hot skillet.  Stir frequently to prevent scorching.  If the cream is warm and steaming before the last of the dumplings are done, remove the skillet from the burner and put a lid on it to keep the cream warm.

When all of the dumplings are ready, pour the warm cream over the top and garnish with the toasted bread cubes. 

Making this dish was a family affair when I was growing up.  Mom would set us three girls up in a sort of assembly line to help her in the process.  She would make the noodle dough and cut it into squares, then have one of us in charge of adding the sweetened strawberries.  Another of us would be pulling the dough over the berries and pinching the edges together to form the dumpling.  Mom would lower the dumplings into the boiling water, but one of us girls got the cool job of standing on the wooden three step stool waiting for dumplings to float to the top.   Once we had a little momentum going, Mom would melt the butter, brown the stale bread cubes and start warming the cream.  The whole process took about an hour but it was so worth the wait.  

Our mom passed away in 1989 and, as far as I know, I am the only one in our family who has made this dish since she's been gone.  My sisters love it too and have helped me make it once or twice when they were visiting.  But I don't think either of them has tried it on their own.  All of our children and grandchildren love it too, so I hope one of them will learn to make it and carry on the tradition.