Sunday, July 29, 2012

Time is fleeting

The last several weeks have been an emotional roller coaster. I received a call that my biological father is stage 4 lung cancer. It is a grim prognosis. He has been given 3 to 6 months to live. As my stepmother told me this admist the tears and breaking voice, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. I was immediately overwhelmed with a plethora of emotions. Shock, anger, disbelief, and sadness. My heart is so burdened.

You see-- my parents divorced when I was 5. My dad  remarried and had 3 boys. Due to geography (they lived in Florida for a short time) and life,  I really didn't get much time with my dad, step-mom and brothers. Everything was always so busy. Life was moving at an accelerated pace and their never seemed to be time to foster a relationship. To reconnect. To talk. To laugh. To share stories. To make memories.

Me- the Christmas  (1971) before parents divorced 
I always believed we would have time to do all these things. And that phone call changed everything. And if losing my dad isn't hard enough, my mom is also very poor health. It is a difficult realization to know this is the year that I could lose both parents. It doesn't matter that I am 45--I still want  my mommy and daddy!
My mom preggers with me (1966). This also explains my love of dogs, haha

Me and my dad (1984)
Life is fragile and time is fleeting. Someday all you are left with is faded memories and tattered photos. Whatever hurts you are hanging on to, let them go. Someday arrives sooner than expected and you may  never get another chance to make amends, to make memories, and to learn your history.  A life filled with regrets is not a life.

And regrets? Yeah, I have them. I am sorry that I didn't make a better effort to know my dad. I'm sorry that I was angry at BOTH my mom and dad for things I obviously had no control over and not understanding the intrinsicies of their failed relationship. I am sorry I didn't get to know my brothers. I am sorry I didn't ask the questions for which I long to have answers. I am sorry I don't know my history.  I am sorry I felt like I didn't belong or fit in. 

So what have I learned from this painful wallop life has given me? My foolish pride, my anger, and my insecurities robbed me of something I can't replace....time. That I can't change my past but I can change my future. Let go of the hurt. Reach out. Apologize. Forgive. Accept. 

Today I took those tentative steps.  I met up with my dad, my step-mom and my 3 brothers for the first time in nearly 12 years.  It was a bittersweet reunion. I took some pictures (which I am not ready to share). I listened to the stories. I hung onto every every word, committing it to memory, along with the raspy gravelly sound of my dad's voice. 

I made myself hold it in and not least until I began the hour drive home. I am sure there are more tears to come. I just hope somewhere during this journey I find the answers that I seek. That I find the way back to my parents. That I find myself. And that I find the clarity to sharpen the hazy memories in my mind and next to those are new memories. Good memories. Filled with laughter. And always love.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Monsoon Muck

I am sure it wasn't really a monsoon but we had a helluva storm blow through again today. Straight line winds at 65 miles per hour, rain so hard it was a water wall and blowing sideways. Not to mention there is debris EVERYWHERE! Garbage cans are rolling in the streets, tree limbs are down, our swing toppled over, water was overflowing from my pool, and my decorative windmill was tossed 5 feet from where it normally sits in the front flower bed (the stakes were ripped up  as well).

And my garden...ugh!  Everything is toppled over. The tomato cages bent and twisted like bad sculpture. Lots of tomatoes are off the the vine. So I shoved my fat calves into some muck-lucks, braved the mud pit of a garden to attempt to salvage what I could and get an up close and personal look at the damage.

I didn't take my camera back with me in fear I would fall and drop it. Then it (and possibly me) would get sucked under like the Le Brea tar pits. No thanks!

I may lose a couple tomato plants and possibly 1 pepper plant,but hopefully everything else will survive and upright itself. Otherwise we can combine harvesting with a crazy game of twister, haha.

Gardening is never easy (at least for me) but is sure is worth all the trials and tribulations.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Funky and Frugal Finds #12

Funky and Frugal Finds Monday #12

Welcome to Funky and Frugal Finds Monday! My daughter and I perused Goodwill on Sunday. The best part it was 50% off everything!  it was some slim pickin's  I didn't buy much but I am pleased with what I found! 

The awesome metal plant stand (?) came in at $4.00. I am gonna clean it up, paint it and I promised it to my daughter. Darn it!! She has the perfect location for this-- under the  entryway coat rack to corral some of her shoes- mostly her kazillion pairs Chuck Taylor's!

I loved this sweet little handmade picket fence box! This will find a home on my  vanity table. Rather charming for $1.50

This is my all time favorite!! A vintage step-"stool". It looks a tad worn but nothing a bit of elbow grease and some paint can't spiffy up! Not to mention I am a Shorty McShort-Short and can definitely make good use of it! Not bad for $5, eh?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Veggie pickles with a chance of Strawberry drizzle

My day began with me having some great ideals and  trying to do to much (as usual). I had 4 lbs total of strawberries I needed to prepare for a small jam batch. I am going about my business of jam making AND  multi-tasking because I am also in the process of making a HUGE batch of  Spicy Sweet Garden vegetable pickles.It turns out the batch is so large I don't have enough containers OR room in my fridge so I am brining all the veggies in one of the coolers (DOH!). The Ziploc bags of frozen ice seem doing a pretty good job of submersing the veggies.

I brined  the vegetables over night in  the cooler--which worked great!  And my cooler has a little drain plug so it was easy to drain the brine.  I had to divide the veggies into 2 batches because I don't have a stockpot big enough to do them all at once.

I used the recipe from the 2012 Ball Blue Book (page 50)--with a few modifications
1 1/4 lbs cucumbers (1 inch slices)
2 cups carrots (1 1/2 inch slices)
2 cups celery (1 1/2 inch slices)
2 cups pearl onions I used 2 vidalias (1 inch chunks)
2 sweet red peppers I used orange peppers (1/2 inch strips)
3 cups cauliflower
2 hot red peppers, seeded (1/2 inch sliced rings)

Add brine  to vegetables  (4quarts of  water + 1 cup canning salt, dissolved) . Brine 12 hours

Drain and rinse well.

Make the syrup
6 1/2 cups vinegar (I used cider vinegar)
2 cups sugar (I used 1 c white + 1 c brown)
1/4 cup Mustard seed
2 tablespoons celery seed
I added 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and 1 teaspoon cayenne powder.

Add to non-reactive pot (no aluminum, Teflon or cast iron) Use stainless steel or enamel coated cookware. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Add vegetables and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.

Look a the color developing...mmmm
Hot pack into jars (1/2 inch head space)
add 1/8 teaspoon Ball pickle crisp to each pint jar
Remove air bubbles

Wipe rims, add seal/ ring and water bath process for 15 minutes in water bath canner.
I ran out of counter space and had to improvise by using the cooler top as additional work space

Proofing the jars in the oven

 Looks good!

The recipe said it would make 6 pints. I ended up with 8 from the first batch. I water bathed 7 and stuck the partial in the fridge without processing. It is my "taste" jar, haha

Now for the strawberry drizzle. It was actually supposed to be pectin free jam. But I apparently didn't meet the gelling point. So it  then became known as Strawberry Drizzle (Thicker than a syrup but not jam consistency). I could have reprocessed and added pectin but I chose to accept it as is.

 The lesson being not everything  is perfect. And just because something is imperfect doesn't mean it  should be discarded. The drizzle will be great for pancakes, shortcakes and ice cream.  Maybe it can be used to make a strawberry vinaigrette dressing

Or used in a Strawberry Cassatta
Cassata Cake

Whatever  it is still delicious! And it better be because I have 8 half pints of it. That's a lot of ice cream, haha

Monday, July 16, 2012

My frugal weekend shopping spree

Can a shopping spree be frugal? I spent some time with my thrifty friend (who also happens to be the mad genius behind The Money Badger Blog--you should check it out !!) Mrs. $ Badger talks the talk and walks the walk on  budgeting, frugal shopping and a prepared pantry. She also has mad craft skills! We went to the Farmers Market in Hamilton

Where I  bought some beautiful and delicious blackberries. Unfortunately this all that is left because I could NOT stop eating them, haha And it is a really good thing this picture took because I ate them while I was typing this.

Up next on our frugaltastic shopping spree was Main Street Market (formerly Marsh's grocery) for the Berry Fest sale. 3 lb package of strawberries for $3.98--that is a  small batch of jam! They also had boneless/ skinless chicken breasts for $1.97/ lb. and bone-in chicken breast for a $1.19/ lb. Let me tell you the suckers were huge! I got a package of each (they both weighed in at 6.5 lbs). Since it is just me and the hubbs, I portioned the chicken into 2 piece packages. I was able to get  a total 6 portion packages. That is equivalent to $3.42 per pkg on average. Gotta love that savings!

We rounded out our trip at Rural King. ALl I can say Rural King is like a Tractor Supply--but on steroids. They had Ball canning (pint) jars on sale for $6.99 per case (which is the cheapest I have seen around here). And I had a coupon for $3 off the purchase of 2 cases. So I was able to purchase the jars (which includes rings and lids) for $5.49 each before taxes---that is a helluva deal. I dare say Mrs. Badger would say it is..."Badgeriffic"   Maybe not...haha

However my best purchase while at Rural King was this...

The original price was $74.95. It was clearanced at $44.95
Holla! I now get to make homemade jerky and fruit leathers. I am such a foodie nerd!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Planning a remodel is never easy

Remember how I talked about my kitchen remodel  HERE? Go ahead you can click on back to read it.  I will wait.

Um, so yeah,  about that...I am scared. As in petrified. I have talked to planner. I have 3 options. I haven't finalized it yet.  FYI --these are NOT my 3 plans--although a couple are similar.  What I didn't mention is, this isn't just a kitchen remodel. It is a kitchen/ bathroom/ laundry room remodel. BIG BUCKS!  This will encompass 1/3 of my first floor.

WHY won't I commit to this? I hate, Hate, HATE my kitchen. I think the issue is-- I love, Love, LOVE my savings account more. I am sooo afraid to spend the money. I know it is a worthwhile investment. I know I will be happier. ECSTATIC to have it underway.. I also know it is A LOT of money. Ok--it is A LOT of  money for US. I'm (still) not working after being downsized in January. I am going back to school in August. My mind is filled with all these what if scenario's. Part of me wants to blow the whole wad of cash and get 'er done RIGHT NOW!  The logical (fraidy cat) part of me says NO! 
Obviously the hubbs doesn't want to do it because it means more work for him. But my kitchen is in dire straits. The cabinets (the 2 or 3 that I have) really aren't going to last much longer.

I THINK  I might have a way to appease my  get 'er done and  fraidy cat personalities. I need to approach this as any other project.  Instead of jumping in, I am going to start assembling my materials and not begin the job until I have everything. It is going to slow my project considerably but I hope to avoid depleting the savings account. I will take a extra money every payday, from the hubbs OT and bonus money to purchase the materials. ( I will need to dip into savings to purchase the cabinets).  Maybe I will be able to score some awesome deals as an incentive for "the slower than molasses going uphill on a winter day" time frame.

I think I can divide the renovation into several  manageable phases.

Phase 1
2.  Price all components
3. Allocate monthly expenditure
4. Begin the hunt for bargains
5.  Assemble renovation materials
6. Pack up all non essential appliances, dishes and decorative items.
7. Pack up all food items from pantry into labelled totes 

Phase 2
The 1st floor bathroom/ laundry room will be demolished prior to the kitchen in order to implement the kitchen renovation plan. Yikes!

Phase 2A
1. Gut the bathroom/ laundry room.
2. Assess and repair major issues.
3. Move  and cap plumbing 
4. Install electrical switches/ plugs
5. Install exhaust vent
6. Framing
7. Insulate 
8. Drywall/ mud/ tape/ prime/ paint
9. Install utility sink in the now empty bathroom/laundry room.

Phase 2B
1. Set up temporary kitchen  (use the room from phase 2A  to house temp kitchen)--ONLY essentials 
Small appliances on plywood/ sawhorses (griddle, microwave, electric skillet, crock pot and toaster oven) 
2. We can also use our grill (which has a burner-yay!)
3. Use disposable plates and cutlery to minimize dish usage.
4. The utility sink will be my "interim dishwasher"

Phase 3
1. Gut the kitchen
2. Assess and repair  any major issues
3. Move plumbing
4. Install the gas line.
5. Install/ move electrical switches/ plugs
6. Install vent for stove exhaust hood
7. Remove window and relocate door
8. Frame, insulate and seal old door opening
9. Level floor
10. Install  new sub-floor
10. Insulate both exterior walls
12. Drywall/ mud/ tape/ prime/ paint
13. If budget allows--install floor radiant heating
14. Installs flooring
15. Install cabinets
16. Install counter tops
17. Install back splash tile/ grout/ seal
18. Install trim work
19.  Lighting
20. Cabinet hardware
21. Place appliances
22. Move all my stuff in/ decorate
23. Enjoy!

Phase 4
Complete the bathroom and laundry rooms
1. Flooring
2. Trim work
3. Fixtures

I realize there will be multiple steps occurring simultaneously and not every step/ detail is listed. The estimated cost for the remodel is staggering. I have read researched the crap out of this (because I am neurotic, haha) and the average cost of an expected  kitchen remodel is 10-25% of your home's value.  Ummm, no can do. Maybe the 10% but that is pushing it.  In the words of Pink Floyd "Keep your hands of my stack"

I mean I don't know about y'all but we worked hard for that money 
(haha the Donna Summer song just played in my head) 
and the thought of spending it makes me down right queasy.

What do you think? Am I  over-reacting? What would you do in my  given circumstances? Would you be hesitant? Would you go for it? What money savings/ bargain remodel ideals have you had/ used?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Killer Zucchini's

That could be the name of a band but sadly that will be the headline in the newspaper when they find me crushed by the mountain of zucchini.

I think the story will read as follows...

Yes that is a 5 gallon bucket of Zucchini from 1 day of harvest from my garden!

Just promise y'all will have nice memorial for me!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sown and Harvest #10

Carrot Harvest 2012 -Due to the hellish temperatures of late,  the foliage was turning brown and crispy. It was time to harvest the rest of the carrots

Hmmmm doesn't look like much

Look how vibrant once they are cleaned up. YUM!

These are the "rejects" for my Guinea Pigs

I read on a permaculture forum you can re-root the immature carrots by trimming the stems to 2 inches, put the root in water until the fine hair roots form and you can replant.. I don't know if this will work but if nothing else I will end up with about 2 dozen foliage carrot house plants, haha

All told I would say the carrots were a wash. 
Initial cost of seeds=$2.47  I have harvested 5 lbs of carrots at an average cost per pound $1.99. If I had bought 5 lbs I would have spent $9.95  Due to the unexpected heatwave from hell,  we had to water-- A LOT. I am scared to see my next water bill. Although we had to drain a couple hundred gallons of water from the pool and we used that to water some of the beds--any little bit counts, right?

There are things I could have done differently. Like buy heirloom carrots to save seeds, done successive plantings, thinned appropriately and most importantly I need to install water harvest barrels. This is the first year I was able to harvest this many carrots because the critters usually ate them. Kudo's to my raised bed!  I am happy to have all the fresh sweet carrots (and so are my Guinea Pigs). Hopefully next year will be better

Friday, July 6, 2012

Underground Dwellers

Ohhhmygawwwddd. It is so hot. As in HAWT! I live in Ohio-- we aren't supposed to have 105°F (110°F with the heat index weather). That is Texas and Arizona style weather.

 If it keeps up like this we will all have to resort to being underground dwellers. I don't want to live underground. Have you heard of CHUD's (Canibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers)? I don't want them as my neighbors!   

Although I suppose I could deal with some slimy CHUDS if it meant having a cool (both design and temperature) houses like this...

underground home designs swiss mountain house 1 Incredible Underground Residence in Switzerland 
Eden Valley, Cumbria
The Malator House in Pembrokeshire, Wales

Underground House
Michigan Upper Peninsula
As long as I could still have a surface (roof) garden I could deal with living underground.  All I know is I am tired of being hot. 

Garden Math

You would think as a former Chemist I would know a thing or two about math. Which for some forms of math I do. I am pretty handy in the kitchen with conversions. Cooking is Chemistry simplified.Unless it is fancy cooking. I am REALLY good with sales and coupons. Percentages and subtraction no problem. And I am really good with Geometry, especially after thrifting and trying to figure out how to pack my car with all my stuff!  However, I feel the educational system has failed to adequately teach Garden Math.

What is Garden Math?  Well it's kinda  complicated . 
It involves the basic math principles like-
Addition (because there is always room for 1 more plant), Subtraction (for those you don't want/ like or doesn't perform well), Multiplication (Mint!!  'nuff said), and Division (the countless hours dividing bulbs and plants).

But then there are the higher level math principles
Apparently the mathematic principles I need to be schooled in are exponents,  probability theory and inverse statistics. I don't think that is a real math but it should be!.

I should  know the probability of  getting a bumper crop of Zucchini is a constant factor.I should know that the probability of being over run with weeds and bugs increases exponentially as the temperature increases.  And statistically speaking any crop I expect will be a low yield  will be inversely proportional to the pain in the arse it causes me.  

A Close Encounter

I wasn't able to share this pic sooner due to the power outage (on Friday)  but I found this guy (I guess it's a he) on my patio last Thursday evening.
I hope he makes it back to my garden and has a bug smorgasbord! As long as he doesn't eat my ladybugs

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda


Yep that is  exactly how I was feeling this weekend. There was a bad storm that rolled through the Midwest on Friday. We had straight line winds that blew through, toppling trees, tearing off shingles, shredding siding and knocking out power for approximately 40,000 people locally.

We were affected by losing our electric for 22 hours. While we had no damage to our house, there was debris everywhere. The worst part was no power in 104°F heat. We lost ALL of our refrigerated and frozen items. By the time we cleaned out both refrigerators and freezers it was the equivalent to a 72 gallon trash can full. All the breads I had baked, vegetables I had put up from my garden and all the meat...gone. It made me so sad to see all that food in the trash-- KNOWING people go hungry everyday. Because I didn't take the necessary preparedness precautions it was all a waste.

That chest freezer I could have bought. That generator I should have bought. BUT DIDN'T! Woulda, coulda, shoulda

I am EXTREMELY grateful that no one was injured. That our home wasn't damaged. And to have the return of my creature comforts.

As uncomfortable as the entire experience has been it has taught us some invaluable lessons, that as much as we thought we would be okay during an emergency--we  are woefully unprepared. We ARE getting generator. And next will be the chest freezer. I am also organizing our emergency supplies. I am re-visiting my original post on emergency preparedness  and following my own advice.

Friday night was exceptionally quiet. All the usual hum, buzz and clatter of a modern life surrounding us was eliminated. What remained was clear sky full of stars visible because there were no distracting lights to obscure the view. I was able to hear nature's orchestra-- cicadas, crickets and frogs occasionally punctuated by the rustle of the wind through the trees. The air was  cool after a 30°F temperature drop and perfumed with the smell of rain. I was able to sit on my porch and think about how lucky we were are despite what amounts to nothing more than an inconvenience.

Saturday morning dawned hot, humid and hazy punctuated by the sounds of chainsaws and generators.

The scenes that follow were common place all over town
All images courtesy of The Western Star

The good that comes from this type of event  is seeing a community come together and work towards a common goal.  I was out and about on Saturday to buy ice for coolers, checking what  business's were open and unsuccessfully trying to buy or rent a generator. (And to blissfully revel in my air conditioned car!) 

What I noticed during my scouting expedition,  instead of everyone avoiding eye contact and scurrying through their day, people were communicating. Talking, sharing stories and offering advice. We are so self absorbed (most if us anyway)  that we don't take time to enjoy the sights, sounds and people who surround us. I actually had the opportunity to talk with my neighbors. Real conversations. Instead  of the waving as you back out of the driveway. I was able to witness random acts of kindness as people helped neighbors move debris, load supplies and offer directions to complete strangers on where to find equipment. It reminded me of  days gone by when the world was much simpler and dare I say more kind?  Despite it all, this experience was actually a welcome opportunity for a little self reflection--even if I didn't recognize it in the moment as a gift.