Friday, December 18, 2009

It's Christmas!

Oh Christmas Tree... Oh Christmas Tree! This is our very first plastic tree. Every year we trek around to tree lots for the perfect Noble Fir, but this year is different. Money is scarce, but our ornaments are plentiful. We sat down as a family and agreed that a 4 foot fake tree was better than nothing (although my teenager is still dissenting).

It's hard to make out individual ornaments in this picture, but some highlights include the rocking horse my friend Janet made me in 1977; the seashell snowman made by Jack's friend Kanji about five years ago; the little butterfly and pig ornaments colored on one side by my mother and one side by my 3-year-old hands; and the jewel and shell encrusted ornaments my grandmother labored over and sold in order to make ends meet for her growing family.

There is no way we could eliminate a tree at our house. The tree skirt given to us by a friend...the funky folk art Santa sitting on the moon as our topper... the shiny Santas in various vehicles (well, we do have boys). You can see the hot air balloon on the right just under the white paper plate angel made by Steve when he was in preschool. That's a favorite of ours!

Best of all, it only took two strings of light to fully illuminate the tree and I could spin it around while I decorated! Lovely.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ho Ho Ho!!!

The Christmas spirit is alive and well at our house! Even reduced circumstances can't take away from the joy we have in Christ's birth. One of the ways we celebrate is with presents (it's a birthday party, right?), so I've definitely done some shopping. A really neat thing this year is my 12-year-old son who has completely embraced the consumer spirit of Christmas and is doing all is own shopping, even hopping on his bike and hitting Wal-Mart on his own.

This is a big deal to me because we live in a very urban area dominated by SUV's driven by idiots on cell phones. We've gone through all the road safety rules a million times, but ultimately I have to send my child out and pray for him while he's gone. What keeps me going is the knowledge that God had to send out His own son to cope with the idiots on earth. My child isn't divine, but some day he'll live eternally with Jesus, and that is the best Christmas gift of all.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree!

Well, not quite. This year we haven't got one spare dime for "extras" at Christmas, so we broke down and bought an artificial tree on ebay. None of us are thrilled, but the kind of tree we'd want fresh would cost well in excess of $65. We got the fake one for about $20. It's not great, but we'll be able to hang our ornaments.

Getting any tree at all is a sacrifice this season, but our ornaments are an integral part of our family's Christmas. Our history is on that tree -- no fancy ribbons and themed colors for us, our tree contains hand-made ornaments from various family members and friends. I have the clay rocking horse my friend Janet made me in 1977; Jack has the shell snowman made by his scout buddy, Kanji; we have the exquisite shell-encrusted balls made decades ago by my paternal grandmother... these people are no longer in our daily lives, but they were important to us. Their presence and memories are reinforced when we place their treasures on our tree. My favorites are the pig and butterfly ornaments colored on one side by my mother, and scribbled on the other by me at age three.

In addition we have shiny happy ornaments that we've picked up on various vacations. I also buy the boys a new ornament every year that represents something that they love in their lives. One day they'll get married, and I'll box up their ornaments and make a very precious wedding gift to my sons and their wives. They'll start their own traditions with some that they already love.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Trying to get regular...

And no, I'm not taking more fiber! Life has been somewhat chaotic here this semester with Jack taking two out-of-the-house classes in two different cities. Both classes/teachers are excellent, but I'm doing a TON of driving and our homeschooling has a very different look this year.

I keep thinking back to the pioneers and how they'd walk or ride five or six miles (or more) to visit a neighbor. It keeps me from complaining about the 40 mile round-trip commute twice a week, that's for sure. Of course, their fuel was growing alongside the road while I'm utilizing carbon-based fossil fuels that pollute the environment.

Along that note, it was time to get the old covered wagon overhauled. The "check engine" and "brake" lights have been flashing, so the car was trying to tell me something. I knew my rear brakes needed attention, and had been told by my tire dealer that the rear shocks were worn and needed to be replaced, so I figured it was easy to kill two birds with one stone and do everything at once.

Much to my very happy surprise, my mechanic said the shocks were fine for several thousand more miles, the engine light flashed on at a routine mileage point (he checked all that out), and yes, the brakes needed replacing. Total cost: $250 instead of the close to $600 I thought it was going to be! I LOVE MY MECHANIC. Note to self: don't let the tire dealer anywhere near my car for repairs, just tires.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Autumn is Here!

Hooooraaaaaaaay! I am DELIGHTED to see the arrival of autumn. It is my favorite time of year. I love the colors, and have adopted the fall palate for the interior of my home year 'round, too. Usually I grow pumpkins during the summer so I'll have some fresh gourds on the vine for the back yard, but this summer was too busy with a new business and a new family pet. Instead I bought a couple and incorporated them into my small space decor.

I used what I had: some little mums that I've been cutting back, and dried pampas. I bought the succulents because I just loved the color and the texture of the leaves. Everything here is bunny-safe, as it's sitting on my potting bench in a little arrangement. I forgot that boys can pick up bunnies and put them anywhere... There's Babbitt, playing hide-and-seek amongst the flowers! He's a little grubby, but cleaned up well.

In a small space a little goes a long way. Just two pumpkins + four succulents and the mums I already had made a nice tableau on the potting bench. Elsewhere I have some isolated spots of color along with a ton of green. For some reason everything else in the garden has just taken off lately; I guess it's the cooler weather.

Another fun thing is that the tomato plants seeded themselves and now there are five or six little plants trying to establish themselves. I replanted a couple so they'd have more room and sun, and made a note to NEVER let Babbitt run around the back yard on his own. Instead we bought a pen that we put out front on the grass so he can run around, stretch, and nibble. He is quite the neighborhood attraction!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Back to School!

I can't believe it's been so long since I posted. However, taking a break before the madness of the new school year was necessary and happy! Now I'm back to normal; ready to rock and roll.

The garden is in a different place now. I had to rip out the tomatoes and oleander to accommodate the bunny (whose name has evolved to "Babbit"). We've been learning which things are poisonous to him and getting surprised. For instance, the little peach tree I planted last year with such high hopes has bark that is toxic to bunnies. I may have to pull it out, which depresses me. It underperformed last year, but I've been hoping it would root well and do better this coming year. Not sure what I'm going to do about that.

In the meantime, Babbit does well on his leash (yes, a harness and leash for the bunny), and hops around out front on the grass, where he also snacks.

The pioneer spirit is alive and well as I move into the holiday gift-giving season with my hairclips. I've been working swap meets and crafts shows, peddling, peddling, peddling. It seems to be working and I'm making some money! For a great Christmas gift for your long-haired loved ones, go to

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Our Family Has Grown... a hare! We have welcomed our new rabbit, Roger, who will forever be known as "Bunny" because he's so cute and sweet. Bunny was my son's 12th birthday present -- and one of the best gifts he's ever received. This is one happy kid!

Our previous bunny, Tony Hawk, was a small spitfire. He was a busy, busy bunny who lived to chew up my back yard, scratch and bite us, and elude his cage as much as possible. Bunny is just the opposite. He's a cuddler, and LOVES his harness/leash which enables him to go out front on the greenbelt and just enjoy a nice patch of shady grass.

The kids in the neighborhood love Bunny. He's getting so much petting that he'll probably develop bald spots! Fortunately he's good-natured and doesn't mind being handled.

Best part... my son has barely sat down in front of the computer since Bunny joined the family. Maybe I should get a rabbit for my other son!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cheapo Birthday Party

We are lucky that we live at the beach. A giant expanse of sand and water makes for a fun day no matter how old you are. For my son (who turned 12 today), digging holes in the sand, throwing sand bombs at his friends, and boogie boarding all day long are the keys to a great time. Therefore, planning the venue and activities for a great day are easy: take the above ingredients, add a bunch of boys and snacks, then mix well.

Now... how to make it thrifty? First of all, everyone brings his own sack lunch. That way every kid gets what he likes. I decided to provide snacks and beverages for the tribe. Big Lots had cases of 24 water bottles for around $4/each, so I bought two. Stater Brothers had powdered drink mix on sale, so I bought two. Hubby bought one Kool-Aid, which was slightly more expensive, but it did taste better. I made "tropical punch", grape and lemonade flavored water, then froze them. Now there are frosty beverages available to the boys all day. I did keep about half a case of water plain, for the purists. I'll just keep them in the cooler all day and let them melt naturally. We can mark the caps with a Sharpie for boys who want to sip/suck on their icy bottle and save it for later.

Snacks... boys will eat just about anything (at least the ones I know will), so Big Lots came through for us again. We bought individually wrapped Cheetohs, Moon Pies and Froot-by-the-Foot, all at discount prices. Those will be available for eating all day.

Every good birthday party has a main activity and/or goodie bag. These boys are all getting a little old for traditional goodie bags (at a recent toddler party we attended the mother gave my boys "older boy" goodie bags with good intentions; they donated all the items to charity). Instead, we hit Lowe's and Wal-Mart for heavy-duty outdoor shovels which the boys can use to dig a good-sized trench (or two) at the beach, then use them later in their back yards to do some heavy duty earth-turning. We love our industrial shovels and they're not that expensive. A long-handled metal shovel at Wal-Mart was less than $5, making it very affordable for a give-away.

Every boy will bring his own towel and boogie board, so we're covered there, as well. We're looking forward to a great day at the beach celebrating Steve's birthday!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pioneering Through the Summer

Living in Southern California just a few miles from the beach, it's rarely hot enough for us to need air conditioning. I know a few folks who live near us who couldn't live without their A/C, which is a surprise to me. For us, keeping the front windows and back slider open is a great way to catch a breeze. Our townhome is ideally situated to catch the breezes and shelter us from too much weather. A good oscillating fan spreads the joy.

We have gas for cooking, heating water, and using our dryer. We do run four computers most of the day, which is an energy-eater, but try to keep lights off when we need to. We run the dishwasher once a day or less.

So I was surprised when I received a notice from our local electric company with ideas to save money. "Things You Can Do To Lower Your Bill" the brochure states on the front, encouraging me to forage inside. I'm thinking, "Wow, we're on the low end already; they must have some radical ideas for me!" Here are some of their ideas:

Recycle your second refrigerator. We could probably do without the fridge in the garage, but where would we store our bulk-buy milk and beverages? Also, watermelon and ice cream live in this unit, which are on our family's meal plan. We could possibly give up the fridge, but not the separate outdoor freezer, which is where I store all my bulk-buy meat and freeze-ahead items to pull out for meals at a later date. The amount of homemade chicken broth in there alone would feed the neighborhood for at least a... lunch. Anyway, the fridge is only a couple of years old, so it's equipped with most of the energy-saving features we'd want to utilize.

Install programmable thermostat and only cool the house when we're home. Well, we don't even have A/C, so that's a moot point. Seems like they could give us some credits toward that garage fridge.

Switch our five most used lights to CFL's. We're in the process of doing that. As a light bulb burns out, we replace with the energy savers. Why throw out a good light bulb? I will say the energy savers have come a long way since 10 years ago when I tried them out. The gap between flipping the switch and obtaining illumination was palpable and unacceptable with a baby in my arms.

Turn your dishwasher off after the final rinse and let dishes air dry. Already do it. In fact, I don't even turn the heater option on. This freaked out a friend of mine who nearly leaped from her chair to towel dry my dishes before I put them away. Come on, they weren't THAT wet. And they'll dry in the cupboard.

Switch off computers and monitors when not in use. This one is making me twitch. Hubby's is off all day when he's at work (unless he logged on in the morning and forgot to turn it off), but the rest of us are on and off all day. The power-saver mode is an option, but it doesn't really work well on my computer, leaving me slamming my fist into the keyboard to get it to "wake up". The frustration level I experience heats me up, requiring me to cool down the house... too much energy expended.

Thus... we have room to improve. I do feel as if we've achieved some balance by over-doing other areas :) We'll see how the bill looks later this month.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

New Bookshelf!

My finished bookshelf.

I've been trying to figure out why I'm so proud of it; it's just bricks and boards, after all. The key here is that I didn't go out and buy something to fulfill a need, I used what I had. The bedrails were just taking up space in the garage, and it's a way to utilize them until I'm ready to sell the bunkbed set.

One thing that was a little different is that at the ends of the rails are thicker parts where they slide into the head and foot boards. I had to turn those parts up so that the rails would rest against the bricks and not create sway (and warp). Therefore I lost about three inches on each end of the rails. I also had to add the bricks in the middle, as the wood isn't strong enough to hold books for any length of time without warping. I did lose room for storage, but overall it's better than the clutter we had downstairs.

I like to use magazine racks and bins to hold collections of books. We have quite a few of the slender Usborne and Scholastic books, plus groups of books for certain unit studies (we've used quite a few Beautiful Feet studies which call for 8-10 books each). Keeping them together makes it easy to find them for the next kid!

Pictured above is just our history books. I later moved up language arts, science and art. Now I have an open shelf on our downstairs bookshelves (right next to my desk) where I can store all my notebooks, which is the way I organize info for myself. I have a notebook for each thing I do: my pet food job, my hair clip business, our homeschool PSP, and my "big book of everything" which has tabs to include separate activities that don't need a whole book (rosters for my prayer group, sports, etc.).

By September everything will be in great shape, LOL! Then I'll be ready to start all over again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Making" Furniture

Okay, part-time pioneers. I just know that you, like me, have things you're storing in your garage or attic that you might need "some day". That day is here!

Here's my need: long bookshelves for my upstairs landing to handle the overflow from the four bookcases in the living room (and two upstairs). Yes, we have a lot of books, but we homeschool and use almost all of them.

Finding a bookshelf that fits the size requirement would be easy if I were willing to pay big bucks for one. I'm not. Thrift stores have had various types of bookcases and small entertainment centers, but nothing that will fit our needs. I want something loooooong. And cheap. Hubby suggested planks from a lumber yard and suggested getting them cut to size. He was close, but I knew we could do better.

Then I had my "aha" moment. My boys used bunk beds from a company called This End Up. The furniture is designed to look like old packing crates and is very, very durable. While the boys outgrew the beds, I couldn't bear to get rid of them, even to sell them. For one thing, we're still using the dressers and I'd hate to break up the set. Anyway, all the parts are stored under the current bed, and out in the garage.

The parts I want are the side rails that slide into the headboard and footboard. The rails are low, made of wood and they're flat. There are four total and they'll be great propped up with the all-purpose cinder blocks. I don't have any blocks, but Lowe's has them CHEAP, so I'll be heading there tomorrow.

Of course, two of the rails were stored under all the Christmas decorations. I had to haul all the bins down tonight, which is no lightweight task. I have something like 20 bins of decor, most of it being Dept. 56 collectible houses. I can't just throw the bins around! Pulling out the rails took about 45 minutes (I found four heavy bins of photos, too, which I brought down to see if I'll ever get in the mood to scrapbook). Then came the quest for the other two rails. I finally found them behind the outdoor freezer (yes, I use every inch of space in this place), but was too pooped to grab them tonight. Steve's got some friends coming over to play tomorrow, so they can play "movers" first and haul that stocked freezer out from the wall so I can grab the dusty rails. Hope there are no mice back there.

I'm happy to be using these bed rails, as they are obviously not doing me any good out in the garage. Some day I'll sell off the furniture (or loan it to my sister for her little boy), but in the meantime I'll put the parts to good use. Now that's pioneer ingenuity!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mexican Lasagna for Dinner!

While gathering the ingredients for enchiladas tonight, I realized that A. "Someone" had forgotten to close the tortillas up tight against the invasion of air, and B. There weren't enough tortillas for a meal, anyway.

What to do with too few kind of crispy tortillas? "Mexican Lasagna"! It may go by other names (including "layered enchiladas"), but basically you make your enchiladas in a big flat lasagna pan and layer the ingredients using tortillas instead of noodles. It works great, although the portions are pretty sloppy looking.

Using what I had, I mixed a large can of kidney beans (drained and well-rinsed), half a chopped onion, and quart-sized bag of frozen chopped turkey pieces together. I layered the tortillas in the pan, spread on the meat/bean mixture, poured half a can of enchilada sauce over it, then sprinkled with cheese. The next layer became tortillas again with the sauce and cheese (I used a big pan, so I didn't layer up the way "real" lasagna would look).

It's in the oven now, baking for about an hour at 350. I've got three boys outside right now who've been swimming, running around and playing this afternoon, and a hearty dinner like this is well worth the heat the oven will produce on this warm summer day.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Drive Time

It's time to choose a driving school for our older son, Jack. Hubby and I have talked to different people about programs they've chosen for their children and weighed pros and cons. We've decided on AAA's program. For one thing, we trust it. We trust them with our son. And we trust them behind the wheel with our son in the car (even when he's driving it, eeeeek!). It's pricey -- $579 for driver's ed + 10 hours of drive time. That's four more hours than most programs offer, but it offers night driving and freeway time, which isn't offered by the competition.

On-line driver's ed is not desirable to us because we want our son to be able to ask questions and hear other people's questions. We believe in the Socratic method of learning, and practice it in our house. An on-line program may be able to ask the questions, but not facilitate discussion.

The abbreviated version of AAA (6 hours of drive time) is $388, $10 less than the competition. We considered that, too, but ultimately have chosen to bite the bullet and spend the money on the expanded version. AB Teen, another program we looked at, has driver's ed classes from 9-4, four days a week for one week. Triple A has classes two nights a week for four or five weeks. It stretches it out, which gives the student more time to think about the material and study on his/her own.

A friend's son enthusiastically endorsed AB Teen's approach, saying "You don't have to spend much time in class at all -- lunch and breaks take up a lot of time." Whoops! Wrong answer! I want my child to be STEEPED in driver's education. He's going to be maneuvering our car around town, possibly with his little brother (or me) as a passenger. He'd better know what he's doing. The less breaks, the better!

To me driver's education is a privilege and something to look forward. It shouldn't be onerous and unpleasant, like traffic school. Jack's looking forward to the opportunity to learn something new and gain new skills, and we're willing to pay for him to do it. I could teach him myself, but I really like the idea of a "pro" teaching him. I still remember my driver's training teacher and how endlessly patient he was with us kids. I hope Jack gets someone just like him.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Click to Help

There are lots of charity sites on the internet that give you the option to help out those in need from the comfort of your own computer desk. My favorite, the site I've been giving to for over twelve years, is

Years ago, my husband's direct mail firm was given the opportunity to let people know about The Hunger Site through a snail mail campaign. We were intrigued at the notion that one could just click a button every day and provide food for under privileged people. We visited the site a few times, and a habit was born.

Advertisers pay a certain amount for every person who clicks through the site. While the advertisers are obvious, they are not obtrusive, which I appreciate. The shopping is pretty good, too, it goes toward helping others.

Over the years the site has grown to include easy click-to-help links to breast cancer, literacy, saving the rainforest, animal rescue, and child health. All are worthy causes and are easy to click on.

I have the link to The Hunger Site noted in my toolbar, where I can't miss it. I try to click on it every day. My click today equaled 1.1 cups of food. I encourage you to visit, click, and start feeding people, too. And while you're at it, click on the other tabs. It's very, very easy.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Got Milk?

Okay, new tomato plant theory in the paper yesterday. The subject was yellowing leaves and underproduction, which is something some of my plants are struggling with. The answer was to feed the plants calcium. The columnist recommended using eggshells; just grind them up, sprinkle around the base of the plant, then water well.

I didn't have any eggshells yesterday, so I took a pint of milk, added water, and gave my tomato plants a good swig each. Today I baked cookies and made stir-fried rice, so I had about four jumbo-sized eggshells. I blended them in the blender (on "grind"), added water, then watered the plants with my concoction. I will be very interested to see what comes of this little experiment. I know for a fact that my snail population will lower dramatically; they hate crawling over eggshells.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What Happens In Vegas...

Road Trip!!! A week in Las Vegas; a partyer's dream, right? Well, I'm no partyer :o) And I traveled with the gal who co-leads my prayer group with me at church as well as my almost 12-year-old son. We were definitely going to be avoiding the seedy side of Vegas!

So, what was there to do? A short list:
  • Visit to the Museum of Atomic Testing (VERY cool and very well done)
  • Visit to World of Coke, where we sampled 16 different beverages Coca Cola sells around the world. They were mostly awful.
  • Rock climbing and hiking at Red Rock, which was wonderful. What a great park.
  • Field trip to Blackjack's in Pahrump, home of the year-round fireworks store. My son died and went to heaven there, and left with two heaping shopping bags of explosives.
  • Buffet meal at a casino.
  • An evening magic show billed as "for the family" which was actually PG-13. Run-down hotel; magician who was past his prime; I guess we did find the seedy side of Vegas after all!
  • Tour of Hoover Dam (interesting historically, but not much to really "see").
  • Visits to various name-brand hotels and casinos to get a look around. We saw the MGM lion, the amazing glass sculptures and dancing waters of Bellagio, and the outdoor evening light show at the older end of the strip.
Yes, I tried out some slot machines and lost every nickel I put in, so I learned to avoid them. The casinos are full of smokers and my eyes teared up too much to do much good anyway.

And for a pioneer-good-time... the air compressor in my car failed, requiring us to drive back to southern CA without any A/C. Now THERE was some fun! In Baker the biggest thermometer in the world registered 99 degrees, which didn't thrill us. We did stop at Peggy Sue's Diner for some ice cream. What a cute place! It's chock-full of movie memorabilia and is absolutely worth the stop. The diner is just north of Barstow, so you can hit it coming and going from Vegas.

We actually did live the pioneer life to a certain extent while in Vegas. We had a condo with a full kitchen, so we ate some meals (including every breakfast) in the room, saving money. My son got a children's pizza one night at the Cheesecake Factory and ended up eating it for two more meals; that was a nice money saver. We brought home leftovers from our meals and ate them for lunch, which I love to do. I already know I like the food and it saves me a few bucks!

Souveniers were few -- I have no need for most of the junk they sell in the shops there, and anything of quality is also available right here at home. All the same chain stores exist. We did bring home the tasting list from World of Coke. One of my least favorite flavors there came from China and was called "Smart Watermelon". It tasted like I was drinking gum. India's mint-flavored soda was another pee-yuuuu flavor. My son called it "sugary mouthwash", LOL!

It was really, really fun to go to a place known for excess and find a way to make it work for the type of lifestyle we like to live. If I were to go again (minus my son) I might try to find a way into the Bette Midler show -- maybe with discount coupons!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Container Cucumbers

One thing we love at our house is cucumbers. Steve loves them plain with a little salt, while hubby and I like them with a cut up tomato in a little vinaigrette. What we don't have a lot of is space, so containers are the way to go:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Great Container Challenge

I have read a TON of information about growing crops in small spaces. Almost every article I've read has touted the effectiveness of containers and how economical they are with regard to space.

Okay. I do have some containers on my potting bench and around the patio. They work well for small things, like one or two cucumber plants or a strawberry plant. I wondered how well containers would work for something big, like a tomato plant.

The new hydroponic upside-down tomato growers are cool, but we took down our patio roof due to termites, so there's nothing from which to hang the pots. Containers it would have to be. Ceramic pots were cost-prohibitive, and even the bigger plastic pots got kind of pricey. I went to OSH and bought $5 buckets, drilled holes in the bottom, and filled them with my vermicomposted dirt. Then I planted a tomato plant in each one, while planting other tomato plants in the ground nearby.

Here are the results. The first picture is two of the tomato plants in their individual pots. This picture was taken about two weeks ago; since then, the smaller plant has caught up and they're both about the same size. Both have some flowers, and are starting to fruit just a little.

Next up, the ground dwellers:
These are actually two tomato plants together. (You can see a cucumber creeping into the picture as well as the remains of the onions, which the cat likes to nap on.) There's a huge difference in size, color... everything. The only thing that is about the same is that both the ground-dwellers and the containers have few flowers and few fruits.

In the OC Register this morning there was an article about using nitrogen-based fertilizers. The main point was that the nitrogen really encourages color and leaf growth, but that all the plant's energy goes toward that and not toward fruit/vegetable production. That certainly seems to be the case with my tomatoes.

I'm giving the plants the benefit of the doubt. I've certainly fed them a ton of nitrogen (since I've been using the tadpole water as fertilizer), and maybe I haven't really helped them as much as I'd hoped.

Stay tuned for more fun from the tomato files. I'm really interested in finding out which group will provide the better fruit!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Pioneer Diet

I just took an on-line quiz to find out the type of diet I should take. It's based on my blood type, so I know it's configured just for me (and the millions of other people with my same blood type). I'm O negative, so I thought that maybe the diet would be tooled more specifically, but it was just for all O's. Here are the results:

Diet Profile : High Protein: Meat eaters.

Allowed : Meat fish, vegetables, fruit.

Limited : Grains, beans, legumes.

Food to avoid for Weight Loss purpose : Wheat, corn, kidney beans, navy beans, lentils, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, mustard greens.

Food that help with Weight Loss : Kelp, seafood, salt, liver, red meat, kale, spinach, broccoli.

Enlightening. I do like meat, but I've been trying to limit it a bit more (my triglycerides are running a little high). I love beans, especially with cut-up onion and a dollop of sour cream (like the black beans at Rubio's -- LOVE them). Everything on the "avoid" list is on my "YUMMY" list (except mustard greens). I eat all those foods and really enjoy them.

The "help" foods are okay. I'm surprised to find salt there, especially since I spent two weeks tracking every bite I ate to make sure my salt intake was lower (which worked; I lowered my blood pressure by 20 points without meds). I like spinach, especially when it's lightly sauteed with crisp bacon and a little garlic. How dietetic is that?

I wonder if the pioneers ever wondered about the food they ate or if they were just darn glad to have it. I've got a huge suspicion that they were more concerned with getting enough to eat as opposed to worrying if they were eating too much. All their manual labor likely wiped any excess fat from their arteries quite nicely.

To look as slender (okay "gaunt") as a pioneer, I'm going to need to up the exercise. It won't matter if I'm eating a block of cheese a day if I can move enough to burn the calories. Sitting here at my computer is burning very little of the bag of Munchos I ate earlier today (curiously, potato chips are not on my list of foods to avoid; they must be okay because they're salty).

At least the beans I've just planted are the pole variety instead of the kind that gets dried. I'll bet the calories from most beans comes from the juices/fluids used in packing them in cans. I always drain and rinse mine, which removes at least a layer of salt and preservatives.

In the meantime, I'll continue to limit my grains. I sure do love them, though, especially when they're deep-fried and rolled in sugar! With bacon on the side.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Deals, Deals, Deals!

Bookman II, a local used bookstore, is closing one of its locations (the one right by me, darn it). I've been getting emails about their liquidation and finally stopped over yesterday. Oh. My. Goodness. What a tremendous bounty! While I'm sorry that the economy is such that the owners have to shut their doors, it did translate into some amazing deals.

One book that I pounced upon was a small science workbook designed for 7th graders. Written in 1942, it's old-looking, but in great shape. I read through it and really like the way it's laid out -- I think it will be perfect for Steve for the fall. I'd planned to put him in a life science class at a local co-op, but he's not crazy about taking another class outside the home (I've already enrolled him in a writing class). Decisions, decisions. The workbook would enable him to be more self-directed, which he likes, and do a lot of research, which he also likes. Something to consider... we have all summer, which is nice.

Anyway, we found two good-sized stacks of books, some hardbound, for a total of $20! There was a customer ahead of us trying to get a book for $3 that had originally cost $125 and was marked down to $9. We listened to him harangue the clerk, who then called over her mother, the owner of the store. The woman listened as the man (now very polite and charming) asked if there was a way to find a price between $3 and $9. She said, "We'll just keep the book." He persisted, but she was firm. "We'll keep the book."

The kids and I talked about the scenario in the car on the way home. We all agreed that there is nothing wrong with trying to get a better price; the man's problem was that he didn't know when to quit, and he wasn't dealing with the person with the final say. Also, he turned on the charm too late -- the woman was NOT amused that the man had given her daughter a hard time. However, she stayed professional, which I appreciated.

Our economy means that many businesses are closing their doors. It's sad... but it also creates some bargains as the shops clean out their inventory. I told my boys that it makes good economic sense to purchase, if we have the money and it's what we need. It does not make good moral sense to kick people when they're down. Trying to skim a few more dollars off an already great deal was not a good choice for that customer.

That said, one of the books I picked up was a brand-new book that wasn't marked down significantly. I would have paid $5 for that book alone, so I made the choice to put it back. I know my budget, and I know what I can afford. The hard part is sticking to it!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


This is huge! Skipper-the-bullfrog just ate his first live fly. We are so darn proud of our little guy [pause here so I can wipe a tear from my eye]

In the last two weeks we had HUGE changes in our tadpoles. Gilligan all of a sudden matured into a real frog... then died. Not sure what happened there, as he seems to have drowned. Skipper survived and just today absorbed the last of his tail. He can still swim, and actually prefers the water. Clearly we got two different species.

However, Skipper hasn't eaten in about a week and I thought he might be grieving for Gilligan. I've tempted him with every known frog food I could find, even going to the grocery store and fishing around under the lettuce for the leftover slimy bits to bring home. Skipper's got diced squid, bloodworms, and something called "tadpole bites" in there too. Nothing. No poop, either, which really made me nervous. What do you give a constipated frog?

Then, tonight, a lazy fly landed on me. I caught it, and deposited it in the tank. Skipper sensed it and stalked his prey. I think he just needed something live, so now we'll be visiting the pet store for tiny crickets, or hanging around the compost pile for some nice, juicy fruit flies.

Skipper is about the size of the end of my thumb. If he's a bullfrog, he's got a LOT more growing to go.

I'm Going Crazy!

It's the end of the home-schooling year (we are traditional schoolers). That means organizing grades, end-of-year events, and just the general happy malaise that comes with the end of a term.

At the same time, my hairclip business is booming, which keeps me really, really busy. Yes, the irony of selling a gilded, beaded hairclip while encouraging my compost pile has not escaped me :o) However, I have never claimed to be an earth girl; I LOVE my bling! (And make-up)

So... to bring you up to date: the peas are completely out and the beans are in. They shot up within days of planting the seeds, which was very encouraging. The cucumbers are all doing well, too. I've taken pictures of some of the more interesting items in the garden, but have misplaced my camera, darn it.

My big experiment, "Containers Vs. Ground" has really been eye-opening for me. Once I find my camera, I'll post some pictures and show you the excitement and drama that has been occuring in my little patch of heaven!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

All the peas are gone... and the skies are gray...

Blank spots don't stay empty for long in my garden. Now that the peas are completely finished, it's time to put in the beans. The ground is warmer, which is good for pole beans.

The stakes and twine I used for the peas ended up being kind of messy and undesirable. For the beans I found some square tomato cages that seem like they're just the thing. I've planted two beans on each side, for a total of eight bean plants per cage. I hope it fills up and gives me lots and lots of beans! We all LOVE to eat them raw here.

The weather has been weird; gray skies, kind of humid weather, yet the ground is bone dry. I can water twice a day out back and still end up with parched earth in all my pots. Yesterday I went out and dug around, poking holes, raking/turning where possible, and then soaking all the plants. Then I cut back a few that were pretty straggly so that the overall effect looks more maintained instead of "what happened?"

Working all weekend at the swap meets and festivals takes a toll on the amount of time I can spend out back. One drawback of standing on my feet all weekend is that my back needs at least all day Monday to recover. Squatting and kneeling are OUT!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Finally... a dull moment!

My new business venture has kept me out of circulation as I sell, sell, sell. So far, so good! Spent Saturday at the swap meet hawking my wares and Sunday working my regular job (which I'll soon quit so I can spend more time at the swap meet).

So... I was very happy to be home this morning, puttering in my garden. I pulled up all the old peas and found a colony of snails happily chewing away at whatever they could get ahold of. They now live... elsewhere.

Once the peas were gone, I could see the onions more clearly :o) Pulled a few and chopped them up for our enchiladas tonight and took a few more over to a friend who has just downsized from a large tract home to a very small apartment. We chatted about ways to incorporate some vegetables or fruits into her patio, but concluded that it's just too shady. She may be growing tropical plants instead.

Don't forget to check out my site: -- hair clips, necklaces, badge holders and bracelets -- all beautiful and all affordable.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Business Opportunity!

Just as pioneers did in days long past, I take odd jobs here and there to help ends meet. I've just started something new: I bought into a jewelry company that makes beautiful hand-crafted beaded hair clips.

Now, you can see by my profile picture that I'm not the most likely candidate for a hair clip. However, the little mini clips look great on me -- they provide a little "bling" that's perfect for dress-up hair.

When my hair was long I put it up all the time. Invariably I had a headache within about two hours. Those "claw" clips dug at my head and regular barrettes and ponytail holders fell out of my fine hair (and there's a lot of that fine hair). These clips don't move! Professional ice skaters use them, and that's recommendation enough for me.

I'm going to try selling these clips (and the associated jewelry and accessories) at swap meets and craft fairs. More moolah from Mama means we can keep homeschooling!

Check out the link to my website and surf the site. I hope you'll find things you like -- and buy them!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Handy Dandy Kitchen Tip

Every now and then I hear about a tip that makes me slap my head and shout "D'oh" like Homer Simpson. I had such a moment at a friend's house and I thought I'd share it with you.

Some background... I like powdered soap for my dishwasher, but dislike pouring it from the box (even though it has a handy spout). Nine times out of ten I pour too much, or the box is heavy for my hand, or I don't want to stoop, or...(you can fill in the blank). I don't like those boxes.

While staying for a weekend at a friend's house I decided to run a load of dishes for her and looked around under the sink for the dishwasher soap. She had it in a large coffee can with a little scoop for dispensing just the right amount.

"D'oh!" What a great idea! I didn't have a coffee can, but I did have a giant can from an industrial-sized can of tomato puree. It was easy as pie to peel off the label, wash and dry it well, then pour in about 2/3 of a box of Kirkland dishwasher soap. I popped a tablespoon off an old measuring spoons set and left it on top of the soap.

For an effective wash I use two scoops. It doesn't quite fill the soap dish, which is okay -- I don't think a full soap dispenser is actually necessary. My dishes get clean, which is a priority, and I'm not irritated about soap loss from spillage. If you don't like to stoop, put the can on the counter instead of under the sink (wrap it in a cute Con-Tac paper to match your kitchen). You'll still have to bend over to hit the soap container, but at least you will have eliminated one bend!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Water Features

In a small garden or patio, a water feature isn't always an option. I've investigated wall fountains and bird baths, but my heart is really in having a small pond. In my patio, it's hard to imagine how it can be feasible.

Well... Skipper (the larger of my bullfrog tadpoles) just sprouted his little frog legs. Even though I've read that it takes up to two years for the tadpoles to fully mature, he's going to want to stretch those legs at some point and crawl around (Darwin is alive and well in my kitchen! I should have named one of the tadpoles "Darwin".)

Creating an outdoor habitat for the frogs has now become a priority for me. I have time, as Skipper and Gilligan are still firmly tadpoles, but I want to incorporate something that will accommodate my pets without looking really out of place (or taking up too much room).

I'm considering the area by my compost pile. First, there are always lots of bugs around it, which will be a boon for the boys. Second, it's partly shaded, which will be nice when we get to the summer heat. My cement patio, bordered by a garage wall and a house wall, gets H O T.

So now the next step is to research the type of small pond that will work for the boys. Fortunately they like slime and dirt. I doubt I'll need a filter. I think if I just spray it out every few days we'll be fine.

Once school is out I'll send my big boys out with a shovel to create an environment. I'll post pictures as we go along!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Going Up!

If you're like me, you have more gardening ideas than room to display them. One way I've been able to fit a few more blooms into my patio garden is by going up -- vines, flowering trees, and my "tipsy pot".

I found the tipsy pot on-line while surfing for small garden ideas. Its stackable pots are ideal for strawberry plants and petunias, which is how I've planted mine. It resides in an unused corner of the garden, where it adds a splash of color and the ability to grow a few more pieces of fruit.

I created mine with terra cotta pots. If I were to do it again I would definitely get plastic pots; they're just lighter and easier to work with. I tried using a regular garden stake for my first attempt, but it snapped immediately. Real rebar was required for heavy clay pots.

Here's a link to the site where I found my inspiration and how-to. Have fun building your own tipsy pot and enjoy planting it with a variety of colors!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Free" Fertilizer

I've posted about vermicomposting before; composting with worms, which is my favorite way to get rid of kitchen scraps. Now I have another new fave: tadpole water! I've got a couple of bullfrog tadpoles (Skipper and Gilligan, his little buddy). They live in a 20 gallon tank on my kitchen counter, where they swim around and hang out, waiting to grow their little froglet legs.

In the meantime they do an excellent job of chowing down on the "overripe" lettuce and greens that we seem to find fairly often. Right now they're feasting on some watercress I bought thinking it was cilantro. No one ate it, and it began to, uh, change. Thriftily, I froze it. Now I break off parts and toss it to the guys, who think it's a delicacy. It must be good for them: they're growing and pooping. A LOT.

And there's my free fertilizer. Every time I clean out the tank (about twice a week), I capture the water in a jug and water my vegetables out back. They are SHOOTING out of the ground! All that nitrogen in the water is a good thing. The water not only contains tadpole offerings but the residue of whatever they've been eating, so there's lots of rich vegetable matter going into the ground.

I'm delighted. So are my plants. The tadpoles? They prefer the water green and slimy, so I think they're a little irritated that I went in with the sink sprayer and cleaned everything out. They're doing a great job of getting it back to their idea of normal, which will help continue the cycle until they're grown.

By the way, the tadpole pictured isn't mine. The guy in the picture is a little more developed, but I couldn't resist the photo! The photographer, "skassam" captured a great shot. See more of his work at:

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fresh Peas!

We were able to harvest our peas today -- they are AMAZING! They're so fresh that we can eat the pod, too. The "fresh" peas you get in the grocery store are all dried out. They're easier to open, but the pod is good for little more than composting.

Tonight I prepared a London Broil with roasted onions and served fresh raw peas and pods on the side. My husband likes to eat the pods whole, like snap peas. I like to eat the fresh peas on their own, but I did eat a few pods as well. So juicy and fresh.

It makes any effort expended on gardening well worth it. And any money I've spent has come back ten-fold just in the freshness and beauty of the harvest. I've said it before and I'll say it again; I wish we had more land! Years ago we participated in a co-op garden with some other families, but it was in a city where we don't live. When the renter of the space moved, the rest of us were out of luck.

I think that will be my new goal -- to find some available land and grow what I can.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day, y'all! In the paper today were inspiring stories of people who are planting trees, putting out recycling bins, exchanging their light bulbs for the "curly" kind, and a variety of other planet-saving ideas. I applaud them. I think all those ideas are great and that everyone can do each one of those things at the very minimum.

Then I read an article by an "earth" group whose spokesman came out negatively about Earth Day. (I WISH I could remember the name of the group! Unfortunately, I already recycled the newspaper that article was in. That's called "irony".) Anyway, he said every day should be Earth Day. The things we do specially for this day should be the things we're doing anyway. Earth Day, if it's to exist at all, should feature some larger, better activity that we wouldn't normally do.

I understand that thinking. I even applaud it. However, I don't want to negate the smaller things and discourage people who've never given a thought to keeping our planet healthy. For a child to put a seed in a pot, water it, watch it, and ultimately glean the results... well, that's an awesome first step. That child will hopefully grow and do more and more, maybe someday planting a kitchen garden.

For Earth Day today my children and I are going to go to the beach. We're going to meet some friends and play, but we'll also bring a few trash bags and see if we can scoop up some debris and leave our area a bit cleaner than we found it. When I was a child my mother routinely asked us to pick up three extra pieces of trash when we picnic'd or went to the beach -- she said it's always better to do a little than to do nothing.

And then we'll come home and maybe we'll put a few more seeds into our ground. We're currently growing peas, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, rosemary, mint, strawberries, blueberries, lemons and peaches. Hubby has asked for a tangerine tree! It would be fun to surprise him with one today.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Using What You Have 2

I don't usually post more than once in a day, but I really liked this snippet of info posted by my friend, Shavawn, on another site:

I'm going to go make potato soup for dinner because my potatoes are starting to grow and my milk is about to expire! Nothing will go to waste now! Would that be considered as going green?

Yes! It's absolutely going green. Once those potatoes sprout, there's green everywhere :o) Actually, using what you have and figuring out how to make it work WELL is the best part of this post. My dad told me his mother encouraged him to scrape out every can and use every drop of liquid -- she said it wasn't being "cheap" it was being a "good cook". I think it's both! And both are good. Why throw perfectly good food away? Good job, Shavawn!

More Food-Gathering in Urban Areas

I've just discovered a magazine called Good, which in their words is "a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward." The articles focus on ways to keep moving forward, one step at a time, in making our world a better place to live.

A few weeks ago I linked to an article about a man in Sacramento who leads garden walks around urban areas -- he and his group pick the fruit that's ripe (with the home-owner's permission) and donate the harvest to local food banks. Good is running a similar article about people in a variety of areas all doing the same thing. The good idea is catching on!

Check out the original article on-line:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Getting Organized

Continuing with my "spring cleaning" theme, I've been taking a careful look at my cupboards. Some are in great shape and others need a lot of help. The joy of a cupboard is that it has a door that closes and shuts away all the clutter and debris. I like that.

My cupboards aren't bad, there are just some things in there that could be pitched. Over time, cupboards seem to take on a life of their own with excess objects finding themselves wedged in place. This is especially true with the refrigerator, but that's another column for another day.

One thing I love is shelf extenders. You can stick an extender in a cupboard and instantly have another shelf for storage. As you can see in the photo, I use them in the kitchen so that I don't have plates and bowls stacked on top of one another -- everything is easily accessible.

On the top shelf, in the boxes, are sets of Ikea stemware. This is a great way to store glassware, yet have it readily available for parties. Everyone gets glassware -- no plastic wine glasses!

The tropical plates on the bottom shelf are from Target -- $1.49 each! Yes, they're melamine and will last forever, but what value! The red salad plates are also from Target. They were marked down after Christmas to 75 cents each.

All the mismatched plates and bowls somehow seem more coordinated when well placed in a cupboard. Right now this is the best-looking cupboard in my kitchen; I'm still working on the rest!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Easter Fun!

The part-time pioneer has had full-time bronchitis this week, but we still needed to get some Easter decorations made. With two boys who are teen and pre-teen, cute little bunnies are OUT. More complicated crafts and projects are IN, so we decided to make blown eggs. This entails blowing the "guts" out of an egg and then painting the shell with acrylic paints. Messy and fun!

We had a pack of 18 eggs in the fridge (using what we have) and a bunch of paints out in the garage left over from all kinds of other projects. We found that the paints that worked best were left over from Boy Scout Pinewood Derby projects; shiny and easy to apply. The boys blew the eggs -- my bronchial tubes made blowing difficult, but I managed a couple.

I did capture all the leftover yolk and carefully strained it to avoid shells. Then I baked a frittata for dinner! We had baked some homemade bread as well, so dinner was easy tonight.

Painting the eggs was soothing and creative. It was the perfect activity to do with bigger kids who want to be creative. Our plan tomorrow or the next day will be to thread them, then hang them from the large picnic umbrella in the backyard. Since we're slated for rain tomorrow, we may make this an activity for later in the week.

Clean-up was a breeze -- all water-based paints! That's actually one of our regular salad plates there that we're using as a palate. A salad palate? LOL!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Just Drive, She Said

Growing up, driving my mother’s car was humiliating. She always had good, solid cars that were not even close to being cool. I remember trying to “cruise” in her Volare station wagon; embarrassing. It had a “Go, Dodger Blue” bumper sticker and a Jack-in-the-Box bobblehead on the radio antennae.

Years passed and I found myself in sudden need of a car after mine was totaled in an accident. By then my mother had passed away and my father still had her old car in the driveway: a white Buick Century. Needing transportation quickly, I bought it.

At first, tooling around town in the Buick was a little disconcerting; everyone else driving one was over the age of 65. But I found that it fit two car seats well, and the trunk was so big that we could buy our Christmas trees and lay them down sideways in it without having to tie them to the car. It was a great trunk for hauling boogie boards and bikes to the beach.

When the gauge approached 100,000 miles, my husband began making comments about looking around for a new car. I was sadly reluctant to let this last piece of my mom go. Driving around with my children listening to their kiddie tapes, not worrying about the sand and Cheetohs all over the seats was relaxing. And remembering my mother, who used to do the same thing with us as children, makes me feel that I am continuing the legacy of being a cool parent. In an uncool car.

As it turned out, an illegal driver who blew through a red light made the decision about whether or not to trade in the car a moot point.

A friend came to pick us up at the scene of the accident and said, “Don’t forget to get everything out of your car before they tow it.” Her eyes widened as the pile of sporting equipment, car seat and other miscellaneous items piled up on the sidewalk next to her car. We barely fit it all in to her sedan.

Now I drive a Trooper. It’s marginally cooler than a Buick, but of course my son, who is approaching driving age, is dying at the thought of having to drive it. He has his eye on sportier models. No matter. I blithely spread my Boy Scout sticker on the back window and, as a crowning touch, a Jack-in-the-Box bobblehead on the antennae. Perfect.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Cleaning for Spring

Lately I've been nesting. Or maybe it's spring cleaning. At any rate, I've been getting organized and clearing out unnecessary items that can better benefit someone else -- in another house or garage.

I'm pretty good at clutter control, but even the best of us have room for improvement. Today I tackled the back yard which was only recently photographed for inclusion in a local magazine; you'd think it would look pretty good. Still, things grow and need to be clipped back, especially the English ivy which encroaches from my neighbor's yard. I love the ivy, but it gets pretty bushy and needs thinning.

I felt kind of bad when I yanked on one strand and about two feet more came from my neighbor's side of the fence. Oops. I did that two or three more times before I caught on that I should use my clippers. I don't want to leave their side of the fence denuded of greenery.

The kids helped, too. We found some great "boy" jobs: climbing on a tall ladder; hauling a heavy plant in a pot; digging a hole. We rearranged a few plants, cut a few things back, poked holes in the dirt of all the potted plants and just generally spruced things up a bit.

In the process we enjoyed the little white blossoms of our pea plants beginning to bloom. The first cucumber seed pushing a pale green shoot out to greet the sun. And the tiny strawberries and peaches that are so small, yet so precise.

The only bummer of the day was what to do with all the ivy. My worms dislike it; I have put bushels of ivy in the compost pile only to have it rejected by all the chompers who busily churn out fertilizer for me. Since we live in a townhome we don't get the "green" trash can from our local service, so I had to just throw it all away. For some reason this bugged me, then I realized that if that's the biggest problem I had today, I was doing pretty darn well!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Pioneer Ingenuity!

Gadgetry is a marvelous thing. I do love my gadgets (as I mentioned in a previous post), but they can irritate me mightily at the same time.

Here's a good "for instance"... we have a shower head that we bought new when we moved into our home. Over the years it has become clogged with various hard water deposits and who-knows-what. I've soaked it, bleached it, gotten into the little holes with a toothpick... and have finally given up. Off to Target I went and returned home with a new shower head.

My older son installed it today. It took a little doing since the instructions helpfully came in three different languages, but none of them referenced the way the hose part was supposed to attach. Jack's a bright boy -- he figured it out. Then he noticed that instead of six options for spray we now only have four. He thinks this is going to make a big difference in our lives and isn't sure he can wash his hair on the "massage" setting.

I'm thinking of the pioneers of yore who were lucky to wash their hair once a week (in COLD water). I started revving up for my "you don't know how lucky you kids have it" speech when I realized that I might not like it either. Hmmmm. If Mama is discomposed, then obviously the fault is with the product, not the spoiled inhabitants of the house.

In the meantime, Steve was at work with our hand-held can opener which apparently was having problems. He got out the screwdriver and fooled around with the blade for awhile, but ultimately figured out his own solution (see picture). Now that's pioneer ingenuity!

I'm reminded of a babysitter we had years ago, a young teen of about 14 named Justin. We came home after a night out and found a claw hammer in the sink covered in a suspicious red substance. I brought Justin into the kitchen, pointed at the sink, and said, "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Oh yeah," came the answer. "I couldn't find your can opener, so I opened the Spaghetti-O's with the claw part of the hammer."

That is such a "boy" answer that I was left speechless. I was impressed by his originality in finding a solution to his problem, particularly since the can opener was in the drawer RIGHT BEHIND HIM. The hammer was at the far end of the kitchen in the "junk" drawer, entailing a much more detailed search.

I think Steve had the right idea with the church key. The can lid isn't sheared off cleanly, but it does have a lovely starburst pattern. It's not like I keep the cans and lids forever; the recycling bin doesn't mind the condition of the products when they're tossed in. The point is, he figured out a solution to his problem, as did Jack and Justin.

And that's the pioneering spirit!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Garden Needs a Little More Life...

I am the proud adoptive parent of two tadpoles, Skipper and Gilligan. I thought they'd be a fun addition to the kitchen in the 10-gallon tank we already had. What I failed to realize was that their scummy pond water would really stink, especially when I treated them to some boiled lettuce (which they love).

Since adopting my little guys I have found out that as they are bullfrogs (and non-native to southern California) we will never be able to release them into the wild west of the Rockies. That means we will have big croaking bullfrogs for the next 10 or so years. Hmmmm.

When I was a girl we had a bullfrog that visited our home every summer. He hung out by our drippy hose out front. My dad named him Benjamin B. Bullfrog and we heralded the advent of summer with his arrival. Apparently he survived somewhere the rest of the year; we had him from June through August.

Therefore I'm thinking that Skipper and Gilligan might enjoy their own "pad" outside. Since we have the tiny patio out back, hubby and put our heads together and decided to incorporate the tank into our landscaping until the guys turn into frogs. At that time we'll build some sort of little pond for them full of stagnant leaves and dirt. Ick.

We've been tossing around the idea of a backyard pet for a few months. We used to have a rabbit, but he chewed up all my plants, tunneled under the fence and met the neighbor's dog. It wasn't pretty, but it was quick. I was hoping for some hens (homemade eggs!) but I don't think they're legal in my neighborhood. Bullfrogs it is. Fortunately my bedroom is on the other side of the house so I won't hear their chatter while trying to sleep...


Monday, March 23, 2009

Gadgets Galore!

Everywhere I look there are gadgets, gadgets, gadgets! Gadgets to help us do everything more efficiently: hang up our clothing, wash our floors, open our cans, pay our bills... the list is endless and it's all available right now if you call this toll-free number! My children are attracted to the commercials and I am too -- to a point. Most of them seem like a lot of money to spend to save just a little more time.

Well. I'm not saying those things aren't useful in their place. And I'm not saying that I'm operating off the grid here with my hand-cranked hair dryer. I just think that there's a place for gadgets and a place for doing some things by hand -- it brings us closer to the job and gives us an investment in it.

My first example: Bread Machines. I received mine free from a friend who was cleaning out her mother's house (after her mother had found a Greater Home). Homemade bread is good. Free is great, so I happily took my new gadget home.

Hmmm... where to store this unwieldy thing? We have a small kitchen... Storage solved, but it was always a pain to haul it out when I wanted to use it. The machine worked great, but pouring a bunch of ingredients in a chamber then forgetting about it wasn't enough for me. I used the machine for a few years, then passed it on to a friend. Now I knead my own bread (takes about 10 minutes) and it makes me feel good. The friend who has my new gadget is in heaven as she has about 10 minutes a day to prepare all the food for her family, so the gadget gives her the feeling of "homemade" while she attends to something else. We both win.

My second example: Crock Pots. Now this is a basic necessity for any home. It's not a gadget, it's an appliance, an appliance you need. With that said, I realized that having two of them was one too many. The new-to-me one (given to me by a friend who never used hers) was a beautiful stainless steel with a removable crock. However it cooked really hot, unlike my "real" crockpot, the one my mother used my whole life. It's beige with little mushrooms all around it and is stained from years of potlucks. The lid isn't original because it got mixed up with another crock pot at a church function. It's familiar, I like it, it works great, and that's what counts. I gave the stainless steel crockpot to my friend with the bread machine. Now she can make a complete meal for her family without even being home! She's dancing all around the house.

My third example: Mixer. Some of you have the deluxe stand-up mixers that do everything but pour the batter into the pan. I'm on my second or third hand-held beater, which works great (until the vent holes underneath fill up too full with cookie dough). I think we're all in agreement that a mixer is a good and useful gadget, especially when we're trying to beat egg whites into a stiff peak (something I do once every two years or so at Easter). Licking the beaters is much easier on those little hand-held mixers, too.

My fourth example: Blender. I have a Cuisinart new in the box that I've never used because my blender is so convenient and easy to clean. I'm on my second or third one of these, too. We make smoothies many mornings, which is a great way to start the day with some fruit (and maybe a secret veggie or two that I slide in and hide from the kids). I puree my blended soups, whip up milkshakes and chop away using my ordinary $12 blender from Target. Love it.

And my last example: Hubby's Gadgets. We all know that most of the fun toys in the kitchen are purchased by and for our men, right? Hubby loves his coffee grinder, individual cup coffee maker, and wide-slice toaster. I can be as "pioneer" as I want, but I can't turn out evenly browned toast over a fire, nor do I want to. His little coffee maker is ideal for the one cup he desires in the morning and it's easy for him to maintain himself (always a plus).

I'm eyeing a wheat grinder, but have realized that I would then feel obligated to grind my own wheat. I'm not there, yet. I enjoy baking from scratch, but I really enjoy having my flour come in a big bag from Costco that I can dip into quickly. A waffle maker would be fun, but I'm the only one who really likes them. And why get a George Foreman grill when we have a BBQ right out back?

As for the "as seen on TV" gadgets, they are very entertaining to watch on TV, but even my kids notice the deceptive practices they use to advertise some of them. My younger son remarked, "Have you noticed that every time that lady sweeps up the mess it goes out of the range of the camera?" Yep, I have noticed. I've noticed it with the mop, too.

We blend our appliances with our desire for simple living. So I will continue using my old-fashioned mop (or rag) to wash the floor. My son will use the Swiffer to clean the laminate. I will knead my dough by hand. The kids will use a chain saw to cut up our firewood. And we will all enjoy our clean home, fresh food and warm hearth, the part-time pioneer way!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Using What You Have

Part of the life of the pioneers was using what they had available in order to make dinner. If they had flour, they made biscuits. If they were out of butter, meat drippings would do. They used what they had and they shared with the folks traveling with them.

Today was a pioneer day for me. A friend of mine has a friend who works for a grocery store. She's allowed to take the bread that didn't sell and pass it along. I acquired a very nice flat loaf of what I would call a foccacia-style bread. Very gourmet!

Upon arriving home, I split it in two down the broad flat side, then made pizzas out of it. One I made in a traditional way: cheese, black olives and pepperoni for the boys. For hubby I created a base of pizza cheese, then sprinkled on feta cheese, black olives, chopped roasted chicken (leftover in the fridge) and three or four chopped artichoke hearts. He LOVED it! The boys loved their pizza, too.

It was an ordinary kind of meal jumped up to the next notch. The best part was that it was "free". Yes, I'd purchased the ingredients in the past, but they're things I buy in quantity and keep on hand. The bread was a bonus -- I would have made my own pizza dough without it. It would have been good, but I doubt I would have thought to jazz it up with the artichokes and feta cheese.

So... I was a part-time pioneer today. I foraged and found the bread (rather, it found me), and used what I had to make a nice dinner for my family. After dinner we munched on homemade snickerdoodles and watched a DVD we got from Netflix (one of my favorite sources of entertainment).

So, pioneers -- what's in YOUR fridge? What ingredients do you have that you can combine in a fresh new way to excite your family? Or even just present the same old thing a new way? My son always laughs when we go to Mexican restaurants because they have the same six ingredients with several different names: tortilla, beans, cheese, peppers, chicken and rice become tostadas, burritos, enchiladas, nachos, etc. Muy bien!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Life in the Fast Lane (Surely Makes You Lose Your Mind)

Ahhh... the dining habits of a two-year-old. One day nothing but wheat bread with peanut butter (crusts off) and the next day three full-course meals with snacks, desserts, appetizers... whatever he can get his hands on.

What is it with toddlers and their ability to fast for days at a time yet put on weight? It sounds like something from my most horrible nightmares about dieting. Jack will begin to cut a tooth (a one-to-two month process) and will immediately begin rejecting food, sometimes just out of habit. I suspect him of really being able to eat but fasting to annoy me when he wakes up in the night reciting the names of various foods: "S'getti, cookie, cackers..." All the starchy, carb-filled foods.

When he does eat, nothing can touch. It's actually okay for carrots and macaroni and cheese to intermingle, but forget casseroles, lasagna, quiche or any other food that is a mixture. After all, Mommy may have put something healthy in there. He wants his food out where he can get a good look at it.

My friend has a little angel who innocently requests a type of food only to reject it when it's served in favor of something else. Tears, tantrums and fasting ensue if she doesn't get her way. Her mother is kept busy running a one-woman diner. "Of course," we all think to ourselves, "she's ridiculous. She should have a little discipline." Oh right. The child wants food! And just maybe this is the day she'll actually eat it.

Another friend has a child who has watched way too many Oreo commercials. One day, while we were on the phone, she kept interrupting our conversation to say over her shoulder, "No, you are not done. Pick them all up. NOW!" Her three-year-old had split apart an entire bag of Oreos licked the cream filling out -- discarding the unwanted cookie part on the kitchen floor. If that were at our house, Jack would be trailing after him eating the cookies right off the flloor. They're convenient, already split apart, and illicit.

A couple of women I know try to avoid the lack of nutrition that comes with selective eating and fasting by subsituting sugarless cookies and healthy snacks. I guess that works out okay for the kids, but what about the poor parents who have to eat up the leftovers when the child is finished? I think we're all in agreement that we'd rather have a leftover bowl of Honeycomb than a slimy cold bowl of oatmeal. Even Goldilocks wouldn't eat it.

That takes us to the logical conclusion of toddler fasting: parental obesity. Well we're not going to just throw all that perfectly good food away, are we? One mother doesn't bother fixing herself lunch anymore; she just eats her child's leftovers. I go the other route: 27 little tiny containers in the refrigerator each containing three beans or a spoonful of mac and cheese. Then every couple of weeks or so I throw it all out because it's green and leafy in a manner more suited for a laboratory than a stomach. But see, it wasn't wasted. I did save it.

I've got a lot longer to go in the fast lane. Ideally Jack will begin to eat regularly in a few years around the time he gives up the pacifier, the bottle, gets potty-trained, and starts school. But those are other stories.

(Editor's Note: This article was written nearly 14 years ago for a mom's club newsletter. Jack is now 15.5 and eating everything in the house. His younger brother still resides in the fast lane on occasion.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

DIY Liqueur

Who said "home ec" only consisted of sewing potholders or baking cupcakes? You can have fun in the kitchen making an exotic liqueur -- best of all, it's work that is done in stages, so you have plenty of time to relax and build up a big thirst.

This recipe for limoncello comes from the OC Register's November 27, 2008 edition. I found the recipe and immediately saw the possibilities for an excellent and unusual homemade Christmas gift for my husband. I enlisted the help of my 11-year-old son for the zesting of the lemons, which was a huge help. For a modest fee he may consider helping you, too.



14 lemons
4 cups grain alcohol (I used a modest-priced vodka like Smirnoff's instead)
3 cups simple syrup (recipe following)

Cook's Notes: really cheap alcohol can give this drink a gasoline-like flavor.

  1. Wash, dry and peel lemons, trimming away any white pith. Put peels in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid (I used a Rubbermaid container, which was fine). You won't use the rest of the lemon in this recipe, so make Chicken Picatta for dinner or some lemonade.
  2. Add alcohol and seal. (I duct-taped the top just to make sure it didn't pop off.) Place in a cool, dry spot away from sunlight. Let sit for two weeks.
  3. Add simple syrup; stir and reseal. Return to its spot and let sit two more weeks.
  4. Strain liqueur through a double layer of cheesecloth into a pitcher or other easy-pouring vessel. Strain again through the cloth into individual jars or bottles. I used a dishcloth and strained it into a bowl. Then I used a measuring cup and poured straight into bottles using a funnel. No problem.
The fish bottle I bought is from World Market and cost less than $10. I doubled the recipe and ended up with enough for the whole bottle plus was able to almost fill the original vodka bottle. It makes A LOT and a little goes a long, long way. In fact, it's almost too sweet for hubby (and he loves sweet liqueur), so mixing it with some club soda and serving it over ice might be the way to go.

Simple Syrup


2.5 cups water
3 cups sugar

  1. Combine water and sugar in medium saucepan. Stirring occasionally, bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat a bit and keep mixture at low boil for the next five minutes.
  2. Set aside to cool in pan. Store in clean glass jar in refrigerator for up to one month if you're not planning to use it right away.
Fun note about zesting all those lemons... hubby found my 28 nude lemons in the garage fridge (remember, I'd doubled the recipe). He was curious... I told him that the kids and I had zested them all so he could use them in his Jack LaLanne juicer and he was so happy! He was probably happier about that than the eventual gift of the liqueur. He is very easy to please :o)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lemon Tree, Very Pretty...

For Christmas this year, hubby and I decided to give each other homemade presents. He gave me a beautiful picture he created (see his work at and I gave him homemade limoncello liqueur.


A friend graciously allowed me to harvest the lemons I needed from her tree -- 14 in all. I thought it was very generous of her, and said so, but she said, "They'd probably just fall to the ground and rot if you hadn't picked them."

Hmmmm... How many other people have full trees that are going to waste?

Enter Tom Sumpter of Sacramento. The entire transcript of his radio interview can be found here: but in essence he had a similar "aha moment" and decided to do something about it.

Sumpter organized teams of local folks who went picking. They found local homeowners with laden trees who were glad to donate their fruit in return for a clean backyard. The fruit went to an area food bank, hundreds of pounds in all.

It's a win-win situation for everyone. According to an article in a recent OC Register, food banks are giving out leftover holiday food and other mismatched types of items simply to be able to give out a bag of food. Fresh fruit would be a huge blessing for many people -- and yet it sits on trees in the backyards of people who may not have the time or energy to pick it. Having a group of people come to collect the fresh fruit and donate it for you seems like the best of all worlds.

It's food for thought.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


One of the favorite pieces of advice I hear from people who are trying to save money is "Buy your clothes at thrift stores." This is excellent advice if you A. Have an easy-to-fit body and B. Live near a thrift store that has quality clothing.

My size 14-"petite" (short and dumpy) body doesn't fit a whole lot at most thrift stores. Even if I'm lucky enough to find a pair of pants that I can button at the waist, they're generally dragging at the feet. Yes, I can take up a hem, but sometimes I'm just lazy.

There are a couple of good thrift stores in my neighborhood and I swing by once in awhile. They were great for the kids when they were young, but used boys' clothes in sizes that fit my pre-teen and teenager are usually pretty thrashed. We don't find much for them.

My usual stores have been pretty picked over lately; I guess everyone is in the same boat of trying to save money where they can. I decided to venture out of area to see what a new venue might provide. While up in Lake Arrowhead last weekend I stopped by a thrift store in Blue Jay and nosed around. I was delighted to find two pairs of jean capris that fit me perfectly. They're good labels, too, something that makes my vain little heart very happy. I don't mind used, but I do mind CHEAP used.

Even better, they had a sale on children's books, and I was able to pick up a huge bagful for only 15 cents each. These are being shipped off to an acquaintance of mine who is on the mission field in Indonesia. A flood came through last month and spoiled all her young son's books.

I love that I was able to get a couple of pairs of pants inexpensively ($5/each!) which will vastly improve my wardrobe. I'm also happy that I can help out someone else -- that my own financial issues aren't preventing me from assisting another family. Sometimes it's hard to remember that other people are hurting far more than I am. We've taken a financial hit this year, but at least we're still in our home, eating at each meal and able to buy a few new-to-us things to keep life going. The people I'm helping don't care what anything costs -- they're delighted to have it. I'm trying to keep that type of positive outlook, too.