Friday, December 6, 2013

Mischief and Mayhem for the Office

I would say Altoids Tins but I'm using several different candy tins.

I have someone who is difficult to buy gifts for.  Or even make gifts for.  So this year I had the brainstorm to make him some office distractions that are hidden in Altoids Tins.  I went searching online.  After filtering out the thousands of survival tins, I only found a couple of good ideas.  Then my brother loaned me this book.

After reading it avidly, I went and raided the Dollar Tree which provided even more ideas.  And because I had a few ideas for ammo and building supplies.

These tins fall into either the mischief or the mayhem category.  I'll leave it up to you to decide.  And I'm quite sure that there are several industrious folks out there that can come up with more ideas.

BTW, I still not done.  I'm working on a crossbow, make your own darts, dissection set, and catapult next.  And a certain brother is getting the 2nd book in the series for Christmas.

This is the blow dart set in a Godiva Chocolate Pearls tin.  The blow tubes are reusable plastic straws cut down to fit the tin.  And the small plastic sections can join two of the tubes together to make a longer blow tube.  The main ammo is toothpicks with the cellophane flags.  There are also a few plastic darts that I added.  Honestly, the toothpicks fly better and farther.

This is a pure silly version of darts.  The tips are made of some really sticky tacky material that sticks to most things.  I had to cut them down so that they are short enough to fit into the tin.  And I'll be adding pieces of plastic so that he can cut new fins when the cheap ones fall off.

Tower Blocks for those moments when you need to keep your hands busy, and quiet.  Or to just bust the boredom for 15 minutes or so.

Bubble Wars.  An ump may be needed.  The one who gets hit with the least bubbles wins.  Or is it the one who gets hit with the most?  (I'm thinking about doing a version with no pop bubbles as well.)

Water Balloon Slingshot.  That is a carabiner, rubber band and a piece of scrap hose.  The ammo is the water beads sold for use in flower vases.  While I'm not a good shot anymore, I am enough of one to verify that those beads will splat and explode just like water balloons.  That vase on your desk would make a great disguise for a ton of readily available ammo.  Just fill it with fake flowers.  Or perhaps blow darts with fake flowers attached.

So, any additional ideas?  And suggestions for the ones I'm already working on?

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I used the first batch of the pie crust to make a sweet potato sonker.  It wasn't bad but it wasn't great either.  It was good enough that I was willing to eat a piece.  Well, half pieces once I realized just how much was in a piece.  But Munchkin didn't like the texture or flavor combination for some reason.  So I divvied up the last of it between a friend's family and my parents.  They all tried it and it again rated an "okay".  They would eat it if it was offered but weren't interested in making it.  Oh well.

So I'm going to try another recipe today.  And this one will actually be simpler for me to prepare.  Months ago I altered an apple mincemeat recipe so that it used pears.  Apples are a food allergy in this house.  The only thing I didn't add to the recipe was the nuts.  Then I canned it.

So this evening the crust will get used again to see what Munchkin thinks of the pear mincemeat.

I don't know that I will succeed in finding a pie dessert that Munchkin will eat but I'll try a few more recipes this year.

At Thanksgiving I brought some of his pumpkin doughnuts for his dessert.  We were all greatly amused when the first thing he did was take a bite out of each doughnut.  It's his way of ensuring that no one will take one, yet none of us have ever taken his food.  He was just being completely silly which was confirmed by the big grin that he gave us.

Munchkin was perfectly thrilled to get extra pumpkin doughnuts and cheerfully sat with the rest of us through dessert.  Maybe I'll just have to stick with cake like dessert for him.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pantry Basic Recipes 2 (or A Good Pie Crust)

Over the years I've gotten away from doing pie crusts.  I just hadn't had good luck with gluten free crusts which is amusing since gluten causes problems in crusts.  But since I was on the experiment spree I decided to try again.  I started with this base recipe and made a few changes.

The changes are shown below.  I used my own flour mix and I've broken it down here so that you can make just enough for the recipe.  I really, really hate having leftovers of custom mixes that I may not use again so I'm not going to do it to you.

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp tapioca flour
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp potato starch
  • 1/2 c. sorghum flour
  • 1/2 c. garbanzo bean flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Instant ClearJel (optional; not packed in a gluten-free facility)
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 Tbsp lard
  • 1 Tbsp Spectrum butter flavor shortening
  • 1 1/2 tsp Egg Replace mixed with 2 Tbsp water
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice or vinegar

  • I used lard rather than butter because of Munchkin's allergies.  And because my best pie crusts in the past occurred when using animal fats.  I only used the Spectrum in this recipe because I didn't have enough lard on hand.  (I ended up making a double batch.)

    The crust came out good if not quite as flaky as I prefer.  I plan to try to fix that next time by rolling the crust, then folding it over and rolling again.  If I do this a few times it should have the effect I like.  And while Munchkin didn't like the pie I made with this, he did like the crust.  So I'll be using this one again with another pie this week.

    Monday, November 25, 2013

    Basic Pantry Recipes 1

    With my back and neck acting up I've had to find something indoors to keep me moving.  Add to that the addition of lots of pumpkins and I decided to explore finding pie recipes that are Munchkin safe. 

    The first challenge was the old staple - pumpkin pie.  To get started I needed to make safe versions of evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk.

    To be honest, while both took most of a day to make, they were very easy to make.  And next time I'll pull out the small crockpots which will free up my stove.

    For evaporated milk, I took 3 cups of the So Delicious Coconut Milk and put it in a small pot on the stovetop.  I started with the temp at 4 and when it heated enough that I could see the heat coming off I turned it down to three.  I stirred it at random throughout the day to keep it from separating.

    For the sweetened condensed milk I used 4 cups of the So Delicious Coconut Milk along with a 3/4 cup of sugar.   I mixed those together in another small pot and followed the same temperature and stirring guidelines.  When it was done I added 1 tsp of vanilla.  This seemed to come out a little thin but after sitting in the fridge it thickened.

    And the final ingredient was a new one.  I made vanilla paste.  I used the recipe at the link below.  At first I wasn't impressed.  Now that it's had a week in the cabinet and thickened, well I'm impressed.  It has worked well in all the recipes I tried it in.  I will still be making vanilla extract but I will make this each time I use up a bottle.  The paste will definitely be used in a few recipes.  The only change I'm considering is making the new batches with honey instead of agave.

    So with all the basics on hand, I pulled out the Libby's pie recipe and started experimenting.  Since I was making all of the ingredients I split the recipe into quarters.  And I had four failures.  It seems that while Egg Replacer is good in a lot of recipes, pumpkin pie is one of those recipes that it doesn't do much for.  In all but one the batter tasted wonderful but it just didn't set up.  In the one I had added tapioca flour and it set up better but the body was still "wet".

    So I checked the website for Egg Replacer custards, a lot of them had thickeners added.  So I went searching for GF, DF pumpkin pie recipes.  Google can be a great friend when recipe hunting.

    Oh my there are definitely a variety of recipes out there.  I found three that had a lot of high ratings.  And after years of running across weird tasting duds that only one or two folks like, I look for lots of ratings.  Anyways, given what I had on hand, I went with the recipe from Karina at Gluten Free Goddess.  Not to mention that I also haven't had a fail yet from her recipes.  Here's the link:

    I used sorghum flour and my own pumpkin spice mix.  Oh, and I used the So Delicious Coconut Milk, not canned milk.  And lastly, I used arrowroot starch rather than tapioca starch.  That's just a personal preference.  It came out perfect.  No crust needed and it tasted as good as any we've had.  I can taste the sorghum but it blends so well with the pumpkin that it actually just tastes like a pie with crust.  A good, non smooshy, crust.

    Unfortunately, Munchkin doesn't like the texture.  Well, unfortunately for him and for my diet.  The texture is no different that regular pumpkin pie, it's just a Munchkin issue.  So I'll be stashing this recipe back to try again next year to see if he changes his mind.  Meanwhile, I have pumpkin pie to eat.  And it lets me stick with his diet, which is just fine.

    Friday, November 22, 2013

    A New Trick

    Now for the past few days the pain up and down my spine and arm has been both getting better and worse.  The sharp, make you want to cry pain has faded but the steady throbbing pain has increased.  Yup.  So much fun.  And the arnica works wonders for it.  But I'm taking a lot of arnica just to keep it to a dull throb.  And new pain is showing up because of how I've adapted my movements to compensate for the original pain.  Yuppers, the fun of muscular and skeletal pain teaming up.  Today I figured out a much more affordable way to handle it.  And, surprisingly, it works really, really well for me.

    Most folks who have kids have heard about putting Vicks Vaporub on their feet and then covering the feet with warm socks.  I've used it for my Munchkin many times.  And once or twice for myself.

    So this morning I had a brain storm.  Instead of Vicks, I used Tiger Balm.  There are no words for the relief.  The pain is not completely gone, which is good, because I will still get warnings about bad movements.  But it is down to the dull throb that I can handle.  In addition, it allows me to move without the "compensation" movements for one area or another.  This will allow all the muscles to settle down.  Even better, one treatment was good for 4 hours for me.  

    Feeling sooooo much better. 

    Wednesday, November 20, 2013

    Bits and Pieces

    Not a lot of changes here. 

    I am still not doing garden stuff.  One of the indoor tasks I decided to complete was the installation of some addition lighting in my kitchen.  It's been on hold for a few years because I keep getting told that "someone" will come up and wire it to function from a light switch.  I finally decided to stop waiting and to put it up myself.  I can live with the loss of the outlet.  The lack of light in certain areas has been driving me crazy though.  So I got a light hung over the sink and a set of halogen pucks lights put up under the cabinets.

    Apparently putting up the halogens was the last straw for the nerve in my neck.  I didn't pick up on any warning signs while doing the installation but within two hours I could barely use the arm for the pain.  After a long convoluted "adventure", I finally got some arnica.  I spent one day taking enough that I couldn't feel the pain at all.  That was heavenly.  Now I'm taking just enough to dull the pain, yet still allow me to feel if I'm doing something with that arm that I shouldn't.  But I have lighting!  And it's wonderful.  The halogen pucks put out a lot more light than the little LED pucks I tried. 

    The light over the sink is a lantern style with amber glass and I absolutely love the effect.  I can see clearly to do the dishes but the light spread through the room has a lovely tint.  And I don't know what memory it triggers, but that light causes an automatic calming effect on my system.  I'm guessing it's a childhood memory trigger of somewhere we used to go with my grandparents.  Either way, it's nice.

    I'm without a vehicle this week as my van is at the repair shop.  All of us, including the mechanic, are hoping that this is the last repair for quite a while.  The front seal will be replaced as well as the timing belt.

    For now, I'm working on curriculum materials and computer stuff.  I still have to be careful since even that seems to get the nerve really irritated.  But I am getting a lot done.  And realizing a lot of things.  A few days ago I found an old computer backup.  Since I was looking for some materials I designed back then, I got it all unzipped so I could look through it.  After all was said and done I found myself deleting tons of materials regarding IEPs, meetings, training, etc.  And smiling because even the challenge of creating our curriculum and making it adaptable for my son doesn't cause the level of stress that was associated with all of that stuff.

    I'm also getting basic housework caught up on, including laundry.  But the new lessons/issues regarding laundry are a whole post by themselves.

    And lastly, I've given in a scheduled a doctor's appointment.  That led to a whole round of fun when it turned out that they had mistakenly received a notice telling them that I was changing my primary physician.  Not that I wouldn't, if I could find a better one that accepted my insurance.  But the doctor's office that did it isn't any better and I only went to see them once.  My choice was an alternate doctor or the ER, so I chose the alternate doctor.  After a couple of hours that mess was straightened out, but it was too late for me to get an appointment before I lost the van for this week.  So the appointment is Friday.  Hopefully we can get everything handled in one visit but I doubt it.  The broken toe will require an X-ray at the least and probably a referral to another doctor.  Oh well.  I might as well get it all taken care of since I'm going to go in.

    Truthfully, it's been a topsy turvy week but we are doing good.  Hopefully, by the end of this week, we will be doing great.  And even better, if things go right, by next week I'll be back on track for getting the garden cleaned up and prepped for next year.  So I'm keeping fingers crossed for good things coming our way.

    Wednesday, November 6, 2013

    End of Season..

    For most folks who garden, it's the end of season.  A lot of my friends and acquaintances gave up on their gardens about two weeks ago when we had our first frost.  I've been debating on over winter garden and may still do it if I can find garlic and onion bulbs.

    But for me, the frost was just the start of another part of gardening.  It is time to prep the beds for next year.  And move those beds that need to be moved.  And add another bed.  Oh, and make sure to grab that last harvest.  So that is what I've been doing, in increments, because somehow I irritated both my lower back and my shoulders at the same time.  In truth, I did it so severely yesterday that there were debates as to whether home treatments would work or if I needed to go to the emergency room.  But since I know that almost all the treatments that an ER could offer won't work for me, I won the argument.  The trade off is that I most likely won't be doing anymore garden work this week.  But I do have a friend's son who is willing to barter his labor for some of my canning, so he is coming over to finish the bed that I was in the middle of filling with compost.  Next week I will move on.

    Since I can't work in the garden, I've been working, carefully, in the house.  I got certain freezer groceries repacked into the sizes that we use.  And I worked on lesson plans, and lessons.  I've also been doing laundry.  And making large batches of our taco seasoning, with dried herbs and peppers from the garden.  I processed 15 pie pumpkins into puree.  And I have about 100 more to go.  Getting those pumpkins is why I was in so much pain yesterday.  But since my garden produced no winter squash this year, I am immensely grateful for the gift of pumpkins.  I got lots of lovely vines, but no squashes.  Tomorrow I will can some chicken breasts, and maybe if I'm not too sore, do some more pumpkin.

    I also received the gift of a new dining room table and chairs - in white.  I love them but if I want the chairs to last I'm going to have to make chair covers.  I've already made a plastic cover for my boy's seat and made the patterns for the cloth covers.  I've also cut one of them out.  But the hours at the sewing machine will have to wait, just like the garden, because it has the same effect on my back and shoulders.  The covers will be a really light cream color, which yes will get dirty like the white, but can be pulled off and washed in the machine.  I will also be making a set in a light sage green if I've got enough of that fabric.  Or at least a couple of spares.

    I also receive a few other surprises.  The worst is that Murphy is still playing.  My van is still leaking oil.  This time the leak is from a front seal on the shaft for the timing belt.  This of course resulted in a face palm moment with lots of head shaking.  But it is what it is.  The mechanic is giving us a discount on this repair because he feels that he should have found it when they were doing the last repair.  Since I don't know this vehicle's engine very well I can't comment on that but I'm grateful for it regardless.  On the positive side, the timing belt will be replaced since the old one will have to come off anyways to do the repair.  We don't know when, or if, the existing belt was ever replaced so this is somewhat reassuring.

    But the others have been positive.  A friend who was helping her son move brought me his old computer chair.  It has a few issues but nothing that I couldn't fix.  I took the arms off because one was broken beyond repair.  And since the original fabric cover is tearing in areas, I will be making a cover for it.  Because it has wheels my son keeps snagging it to roll around the living room in.  It's cute to watch.  And he fully understands that he has to surrender it when I need it.  But he sure enjoys those moments that it is his.

    That same friend is "clearing out" her excess sewing stuff, so she brought me a big bag of upholstery fabrics.  There looks to be enough of one of them to recover the couch cushions.  And enough of another matching fabric to recover the two chairs' cushions.  So that is the project in line after the covers for the dining room chairs are done.  This project will actually be two fold.  First I will use some plain sheets to make a plain covered cushion.  Then I will use the upholstery fabric to make a removable cushion cover.  This will make it a whole lot easier to take care of messes and spills.  I've got some experimenting to do regarding a protective layer though.  I'm not sure if I'm going to add a plastic layer or just do a really, really good coat of the water resistant upholstery spray. 

    The other part to this is that I will be learning just how they made the spring cushions that are the bottom cushions.  I will be taking lots of pictures of them as I work on them.  The reason for this is to see if I can make a set for the two chairs.  Those chairs used to have spring cushions but a family member decided to replace them with 4" foam.  I'm going to try to restore them if possible.

    So, it is the end of one season and the start of another.  And things are, hopefully, looking up.  

    Thursday, October 24, 2013


    At our house we don't typically celebrate Halloween in a fashion that anyone else would recognize.  We turn off all extra lights, curl up on the couch/floor with popcorn, and watch movies like Nightmare Before Christmas.  It's one on one time for Munchkin and I.

    Now the reasons behind this are all related to Munchkin's food allergies and autism.  Almost all of the candies given out, he is allergic to.  He doesn't understand knocking on someone's door, and saying "hi" but not going into the house.  When kids came by our house, he didn't understand why they weren't coming in and playing.  All things which just led to elevated stress levels so we went with our current method of "celebration".

    Each year I keep an eye out to see if there is a community event that he could participate in but I hadn't found any since most events focus on giving out candy and sharing food.  This year though, well this year the local botanical gardens are holding an event that doesn't involve any candy giving.  The kids will have mazes to play in, hayrides, and crafts.  So we are going with a friend and her son.  Just to be on the safe side, I will have a small bag of safe candy with us.  If they do give out candy then we will do some candy swapping.  But it looks like he will be able to participate in most of the event.

    And on Halloween night, we will celebrate our way and have lots of silly fun.

    Wednesday, October 16, 2013

    Allergen Free Recipes

    About a month ago I ran across the new Pillsbury doughs.  I've experimented with the pizza dough and the pastry crust now.  They are okay.  Okay in the way that most ready made foods compare to homemade foods.  Which means that for GF stuff that's out there, they are pretty good.

    But 1) we are spoiled by home cooking, and 2) there were still some ingredients that my son reacts to.  It really stinks but it was a good diet challenge.  And it proved that we still needed to avoid those ingredients.  Not that Munchkin minded because he just devoured them completely.

    So I went hunting pizza crust recipes again.  I've got Carol Fenster's recipe but I'm just not happy with it.  It is good compare to almost all other GF pizza crusts I've found.  But it's always gummy in the center for us.  So I went hunting again.  And I found this -   Guess what - it's good.  And it is better than the old recipe, even with substitutions.  I'm still going to have to play with it though because Munchkin won't eat pieces that don't have pizza sauce.  Of course that may be because we so rarely have any bread type stuff to eat.  But for now I've got two recipes that are way above any of the other suggestions out there so I'll work with that.  Now I've got to work on making them to freeze so that I have dough on hand, even on rushed days.

    And while I'm sharing recipes, here is the link to the site that has the GF pie crust that I used to use.  I've used both of the ones she has, with any necessary changes for allergies, with great success.  I just got out of the habit.  And since I've actually trying to add grains back in to our diet, except for gluten grains, I've got to get back in the habit.  I hope these recipes help someone else as well.

    Oh, and for those who follow, the playset is completely painted and assembled.  It took two days for Munchkin to finally believe that it wasn't going to disappear overnight.  And another whole day of play before he was willing to spend and time on his other play things.  All in all, a great success.

    Thursday, October 10, 2013


    First, in regards to the "sagas", I really can't say that anything is getting better.

    But on to other topics.  Last winter my Dad decided that he would give my son the wooden playhouse/swingset from their backyard.  It had been through two tornadoes so it needed some repair and modifications.  One whole section had to be removed.  He did some work and then brought it up to my place.  For some reason he and my brother thought that it would stand upright in my garage.  It didn't.  It filled one half the garage laying on it's side.  And because of the space limitations I couldn't do anything with it.

    So spring came.  And with no other help in sight, a friend had her husband and boys come up and pull it out of the garage for me.  I am very grateful for this help.  Once it was out it was easy to see that Dad has missed a few things - like safety rails on the upper part.  So I got to work on the rails and on painting the playset.

    I got most of the wood cut and 2/3s of the playset painted before the "sagas" and everything else hit resulting in no further work getting done for a couple of months.  One of the mini episodes that occurred over those months was the discovery that some of the teens at the apartment complex next door had gotten it into their heads that they wanted it for a hunting blind.  Whether or not I was willing to give it up.  So same friend's hubby and boys came up and moved it deeper into my yard and closer to the fence.

    Over the last few weeks I have made a determined effort to get the playset finished.  Most mornings I spent an hour or two working on it.  There were things that had to be changed because of problem that I discovered after I started working.  And a few things that just had me shaking my head over either the original design or Dad's modification.  But I finally got all the wood cut correctly.  Then it was put in place and anchored as securely as I could, which typically meant a lot of screws.

    Some days were amusing because my son was getting jealous of the fact that I was getting into the playset.  It seems that he wants to play in it.  ;-)

    Then I finished painting.  Just two coats over most of the body of the structure took 1 1/2 gallons of paint.  I was amazed.  The first layer took a heck of a lot more paint than the second layer did.  But it looked a lot better.  And the paint should help keep my son from getting many splinters.

    The only part I hadn't managed to paint was the roof.  I was debating replacing the wooden shakes with some of the asphalt shingles I had in the garage or the molded roofing that we had used on the little house.  The main reason for this was because I had those items on hand and I didn't have anymore outdoor paint.  But on an instinct I went by the local Habitat Restore one day last week.  I had figured that if I could find a red paint, or any primary color, it would work for the roof.  Well amazingly they had a can of exterior paint, actually two, in the exact same shade.  That was the only exterior paint they had and I was amazed to find even that.  When we opened the can to see what color it was it looked like a deep magenta.  I decided to go with it.  At $5 for the gallon it was the best option.  I don't know how to do the other types of roofing and it would have taken months to get someone up here who did know.  I wasn't willing to wait anymore.

    So Monday I started painting the roof.  Three layers later the paint can is empty and the roof looks good.  And that deep magenta color dried into a barn red color that looks great.  So tomorrow I dig the holes for the support bricks.  And hopefully, at some point this weekend, we'll get the structure into the backyard and all the parts connected.  I'm quite sure that my son will spend hours playing on it each day until it gets too cold to play outside.  And maybe even after that.  I'm enjoying the reminder that there are a lot of things that I can do on my own.  And I'm immensely grateful that there are folks out there who are willing to help with the parts I can't do on my own. 

    Sunday, October 6, 2013

    The Sagas

    This was supposed to be the year of things getting better.  Maybe that's why the mess of the past six months or so has hit me so hard, both physically and emotionally.

    The "sagas" that have been going on are the "car saga", "the air conditioner saga", and the "bathroom saga".  And scattered in between each of those situations have been multiple other issues that range from slightly smaller to almost as problematic.  The result of all of it has been to push my stress levels through the roof.

    In short, the AC saga was that the AC was throwing off bright white electrical sparks when starting and while running.  Despite two visits from the repair guy it didn't stop.  On labor day the AC stopped working.  Since I didn't want to end up with a holiday visit fee we waited until Tuesday to call the repair guy again.  This time he found the problem - a wire that was completely exposed.  None of us understand how the breaker didn't pop or how he didn't get shocked when he handled the wire bundle.  And the AC didn't stop running because of the wire.  It stopped running because the wire apparently, finally, at a hole through the coolant line and released all the coolant.  So despite all the males in my life saying that it was nothing to worry about, including the repair guy.  Despite all of their assurances that I couldn't be seeing what I was, in fact, seeing.  Despite their assurances that it couldn't cause a fire.  The problem indeed was something to worry about.  I did see what I was seeing.  And the problem could have caused a fire.  And I still jump every time the AC kicks on, especially during the busy times of day when it causes the house lights to dim for a moment.  I'm not looking forward to winter and frost on the unit.

    The car saga started with the old van and its transmission.  I thought it was over when I got the "new" van back two weeks ago after some drastic and expensive repairs.  But yesterday while running errands it became apparent that there is still an issue.  I've only driven the van 4 times since I got it back and each time is an exercise in nerves since I'm as nervous about it as I am about the AC.  This last repair was because the flywheel disintegrated while I was driving the vehicle.  Oh, and finding parts for old cars nowadays is an exercise in frustration.  Fortunately we discovered an auto supply store that has experienced folks and knows how to get parts that are not readily available.

    And the bathroom saga, well that's still ongoing.  I will hopefully get to put another patch on the bathtub today.

    But, on the positive side, my son is responding really well to the new curriculum I created for him.  And even if we found another one of those learning "gaps", he is learning to overcome it.  I have a couple of gracious helpful acquaintances who made sure I got home when I ended up stranded.  And one wonderfully helpful friend who took me grocery shopping for two months.

    We've been walking to all the local places that are within a few miles of the house.  While one side of town isn't accessible, because the bridge crossing isn't safe with my son, the other half of town has a decent grocery.  And I can pay most of the bills on this side of town.  (Realize that this is a two stop light town.)  While the walking hasn't caused me to lose weight, it has actually helped me a lot.  I discovered that I had to change the speed on the lawn mower the last time I used it.  And I've been using the walks to do road safety and science observation lessons with my son.  I was using it to teach him where the fire hall and police station were until I discovered that the police station is moving.  So that lesson is temporarily on hold. 

    So I'm taking deep breaths a lot and trying to focus on the good.  Trying really hard.

    Saturday, September 7, 2013

    Murphy II

    We are still dealing with the repercussions of Murphy's visit.  And they are expensive things that can't be put off.  Since I don't want to put up a major downer of a post, I'm not really posting at the moment.  I'm waiting for the positive to appear to balance the negatives.  Right now, honestly, the positives don't come close to balancing much less overwhelming the negatives.  But I am grateful for the positives.  Without the positives this would be so much worse.

    So I'm stopping this post now.  If you've got the energy to spare, please send some prayers for us here and for my family.  Life is on the rough side for all of us right now.

    Saturday, August 17, 2013

    Ponderings That Are Amusing

    A friend:  What if vampires, werewolves, fae, etc. were real?

    My response:  They've gotten a hell of an image consultant and press team.

    Friday, August 16, 2013


    Once a very long time ago, I heard a story about Odysseus being reincarnated and the life that he chose for that reincarnation.  The story I remember is that he chose to be a farmer.  When I looked online I found the Myth of Er which merely says that he chose the life of a private man but no further information.  In the story I remember others were present and questioned his choice, wondering why he would chose to be a lowly farmer when he had been such a rich and powerful king.  Which then segues into a telling of the tale of Odysseus' life.

    Ever since then that scenario has stuck in my brain.  If we were reincarnated into new lives, what new lives would we chose and why?  If we are indeed reincarnated, and we get to chose the next life, why did I chose this one?  Why did my son chose the one he did?  What lessons were we hoping to learn?  Or, what life occurrences were we hoping to avoid?  Or alternatively, if a higher power chose these lives, why?  What lessons are we to learn from this lifetime?

    I wonder about what I would say to myself in regards to this life after it was over and I remembered all my prior lives?  What would I be happy that I learned?  What had I failed to learn?  What had I done that would make me truly ashamed?  What had I learned that I had wanted to learn?  And what learning surprises had appeared on the way through this lifetime?  Who had I helped in a good way?  Who had I harmed?  Who had I known before?  Who was new?  Why were things successful?  Why did things fail?  Or if I had to face a higher power, how would I feel about my actions, deeds, thoughts?

    Could I hold my head up and know that I had treated others in ways that I could be happy with?  Could I hold me head up and know that I had aided those who needed it whether it be by my deeds for them, or to protect them?

    Sometimes when I ask myself those questions I am quietly satisfied with my private answers.  Once or twice in my life, I've been ashamed.  I don't hold myself to anyone else's standards. I have my own private deeply held beliefs that I try to live by.  I'm glad that most of the time I can be satisfied.  And as I ponder tonight it's a mixed bag.  But mostly I'm satisfied.  And again, curious, what were those other lives like?  What did I want to learn in this one?

    I know that an answer will not magically appear.  But I can ponder it.  And occasionally wish that somewhere in the balance for this life a big lottery winning will appear.  ;-)  Or even better, a complete and harmless cure for autism.  :-)

    Life is okay tonight and I'm just pondering.  What would your answers to the questions be?

    Wednesday, August 7, 2013


    Things are slowly improving around here.  And I'm grateful for the improvements.

    Munchkin is getting over the latest eye infection.  And as of yesterday he is no longer photosensitive.  His eyeglasses are once again on his face, where they belong.  The icepacks, both homemade and purchased, are all back in the freezer ready for the next time. 

    The ice maker is up and running at full speed now that I found the problem and fixed it.  Part of a plastic veggie back had gotten caught in the "teeth".  I thought I had gotten it all out months ago but apparently there was a section that I missed.  It took several loads of ice cubes before it became visible enough that I realized it was there and got it out.  And then the production of ice exploded.  I don't know that I'll leave it running since we really don't use that much ice normally but for now it's going.  Munchkin is very curious about ice and where it comes from since he's been using so many ice packs over the last few days.

    My van is in the shop still.  It turns out that the problem which caused it to stall out and stop running is connected to the slow oil leak that it has had since we got it.  Per the mechanic, the exhaust system had been backing up slightly and causing pressure in the engine.  The result was the slow oil leak and the lack of power in the engine.  The lack of power which I thought was just me needing to get used to having a V6 rather than a V8.  Although the amount of gas it uses still confuses me.  Anyways, getting back on track, the exhaust issue was apparently that the catalytic converter was slowly collapsing.  Then I drove into water ~1 foot deep trying to get to my folk's house in order to take care of animals.  Apparently that was the last straw and the catalytic converter finished it's collapse the other day when I was running errands.  Due to the shop being busy at the moment it took two days to find this out.  Now Dad is on a hunt to see if we can find a way to do it/get it done at a better price. (>$450)  We've just had too may big money hits in both households through the last month.  And we've got those once a year bills that just happen to be due in the next month.  So I will wait without complaining because this is what happens in life occasionally.  (And yes, I am truly at peace with this.)

    Since my van is not running at the moment, a wonderful friend thought of me when she had a few hours without her boys.  She offered to take us grocery shopping so that we could get the things that I buy monthly, and was out of because it was time for that monthly shopping trip.  Murphy did join us on that trip but I dealt with it.  And, fortunately, it was not anything that caused problems for her.  I am very grateful for that blessing.

    Another wonderful friend thought of us and sent us surprises as well.  This friend doesn't live locally but we talk almost every day.  And she occasionally sends surprises.  In addition to that surprise, she has decided that she is sending us her old iPhone.  It had issues with phone calls that caused her to have to replace it.  But that's the only area it's having problems in.  So we are going to turn it into a communication device for Munchkin.

    And I'm keeping fingers crossed that we'll manage to get a trip in to the humongous used book/media store that is about an hour from us.  A couple of other people we know want to go check it out so we may be able to carpool.  I'm hoping to stock up on basic readers for Munchkin and maybe a few movies.  I should have enough books to trade in so that I won't be spending any cash.

    And lastly, I should be able to take care of all the home school fees by the end of this week.  That will allow me to get all the registrations done.  I've already gotten our curriculum materials through sales, barter and good luck.  I just have to take care of this last bit to completely sever our connections with the public school system.

    Now, since a storm is coming in that is causing the power to flicker, I'm going to hop off the computer and shut it all down.  I hope you are all having a good day.

    Saturday, August 3, 2013


    It seems that Murphy has come for an extended visit.  I don't know why.  It's been three weeks of things breaking down, family relationship messes, and child illnesses/issues.  I normally look for the positive side of things but it's been getting hard.  I spent quite a while last night doing meditation and praying that Murphy, and whatever triggered his presence, will now pass us by.  Forever if possible.  And that we, including my extended family, will be able to recover from the issues with peace and minimal further "damage".

    From my heart and soul to those to exist above.  I hope it is so.

    On the positive side - Munchkin is getting over yet another eye issue.  After speaking with his doctor we've decided to change one of his allergy medications.  There is the possibility that the medication he was on was causing his eyes to be extremely dry resulting in them not tearing up enough to handle irritants.  Hence the multiple eye issues since he's been back on his allergy medications full time and at adult dosages now.

    Positive side #2, although Murphy really interfered in a lot of things yesterday, and cost us money we just didn't have to spend.  He didn't do so until we had reached the stores that we needed to in order to get things to help Munchkin with his eye issues.  And while he threw both big and little issues in our path to getting some of those things we managed to persevere and get what was needed.  And a little angel popped in for us to help with one completely impromptu idea that actually worked very well indeed.

    Positive #3, friends who listen to me vent about Murphy's stunts so that I could see past the pain of the stress and move on.  And who were able to understand when I laughed about things and able to laugh with me.

    Positive #4, a relatively pain free day physically despite all the stress.

    Positive #5, a bountiful beautiful garden and a mostly mowed lawn.

    Positive #6, a loving child.

    Positive #7, that we are alive,  awake, and breathing to see the beauty of another day and move past the issues that have been plaguing us.

    Positive #8 - While this is a positive, possibly, for us, I'm quite sure it wasn't a positive for my dear friend.  But she sees it as at least a partial one since it can help Munchkin.  Her iPhone has developed an issue that means she can no longer use it.  Actually it can't effectively be used as a phone anymore since it won't alert that a call is incoming.  But it can be used for other purposes and it can be protected with an Otterbox.  So she is sending it over so that we can look into setting it up as a backup communication device for Munchkin.  Or maybe as the main device since it can be protected.  And I can keep the unprotected small tablet for backup.  (That is an amazingly sturdy little tablet!)

    Positive #9 - That with the assistance of dear friends and family we are once more headed into another year of homeschooling.  This allows us to leave the stress of dealing with the school system behind.  In fact, sometime today I should be getting around to getting the lesson plans into the scheduler.

    Here's hoping that Murphy is not plaguing any of you and that he has been directed away from us.

    Sunday, July 28, 2013

    Bountiful Harvest

    For some reason this year my squashes aren't doing well.  Except for the one in the garden bed with the Ghost Peppers.  That pumpkin plant is exploding!  But all the rest are having issues even though they are getting plenty of rainfall.  So we'll see what happens.  Ironically, the two pumpkin plants that I put in the other pepper bed aren't growing at all.  Apparently not all squashes and peppers are good companion plants.

    On the other hand, my hot peppers are going wild.  And my small sweet bells are doing just as well.

    Today's Harvest

    Despite, or maybe because of, the plants being harvested while we were gone there was still quite a bit to harvest this afternoon.  Above is a mix of sweet bells, cayennes, habaneros, jalapenos, one onion, and the one ripe ghost pepper.  That one front and center is the ghost pepper.

    There are actually quite a few onions ready for harvest.  The tops toppled and dried up while we were gone.  And I know it wasn't due to lack of water since it rained well while we were gone.  Well enough to trigger flood warnings for my area.  So later this week onions will get harvested  and put in the dehydrator.  So will the cayennes and jalapenos.  And the tomatoes I spied on the way through will get harvested and dried as well. 

    Those sweet bells, the habaneros, and the ghost pepper are headed for a different fate though.  They are headed to become Habanero Gold and Ghost Gold.  The Habanero Gold is already a successful recipe in my house so that will be relatively easy.  On the other hand, Ghost Gold is going to be a new creation.  So I'm expecting that there might be an imperfect batch or two as I work on that recipe.  And there are taste testers ready and willing to help me create a good master recipe.  We are all looking forward to it.

    And apparently someone upstairs is aware that I might need to do a few batches to get it right because there's another ghost pepper on the bush that should be fully ripe tomorrow or the next day.  :-)

    There is a truly bountiful harvest in my garden.  I am ever so grateful for these gifts.

    Coming Home..........

    When we got home I started relaxing.  But the true moment of full relaxation was when I opened the door and could smell my house.  It doesn't smell bad.  It's the smell of old wood houses with wood floors.  And it brings back so many good childhood memories.  And now good adult memories.

    And after a week away, my gaze was hungry for the familiar.  And instead of seeing "mess", I saw home.  I saw the sewing machine I had been using the day before we left.  And our furniture, books, stuff!  I saw home.

    I don't know how to describe the feeling to those who may not have ever felt it.  Physically, you stand slightly taller and straighter as stress goes away.  Your shoulders and back muscles relax from the load they were carrying.  And yet at the same time, the exhaustion from that load comes crashing down.

    But then the mental hits, and you know that you are somewhere safe.  On the vacation we went to a place where they could measure brain waves to see who was more relaxed.  I easily beat all but the youngest members of our group.  I'd love to see what level I register at now that I am home.  Right now I'm tired mentally.  But at the same time rejuvenated because of all the grace filled, beautiful blessings that are present here, at home, for us.

    As I sit here now, continuing to let stress go, my skin gets running sensations of pins and needles as the muscle groups relax.

    But all of that is me.  Perhaps the best parts came from my son.

    When I asked him if he wanted to sit in the van to see the end of his movie while I unloaded, he shook his head no.  He actually shook his head.  He's never done that before.  Earlier in the week, he nodded.  I'm hoping that he may continue to do so.  But I ramble.  He wanted to be home.  And he wanted to be IN his home, not just sitting in the van in the yard.  And upon entering his home, he did all his normal come home behaviors with the biggest, happiest grin on his face.

    And then, of course, he started acting out.  Something that I'm pretty sure was because he was feeling those same sensations that I was and he doesn't have a way to express it.

    But the best moment of them all was when I sent him to bed.  He climbed in bed, and then just had to "find" all of his toys.  And then quite a few minutes of squirming around just to feel his bed, sheets, pillows, and blankets around him.  And then that amazingly happy smile as he gave me a good night kiss, rolled over and pulled the blanket up.  While I wish I could share that smile with you, I can't.  I don't keep a camera on hand for moments like that.  And the moment with him was some much more important than any camera shot.  It was one of those smiles that shows perfect happiness with the world and makes you feel like you just got a full body hug at the same time.

    I love my son for so many reasons.  The ability to remind me of the simplest joys in life is just one of those reasons.

    Saturday, July 27, 2013

    We are HOME!

    Sometimes you have to go away for a while in order to truly appreciate what you are coming back to.  We went on "vacation" to a family reunion for a week.  I won't go in to the events of the reunion.  It's over and done, and we are home.  Although there was the really good point of reconnecting with a cousin that I haven't seen or spent time with in a really, really long time.

    My yard looks like a jungle because it is growing as well as my garden.  It took me a moment to see the garden beds through the grass.  So I will be mowing Monday and Tuesday mornings.  But there was true joy in seeing my yard, garden and house as whole layers of stress rolled off of my shoulders.  I'm home.

    A wonderful friend came over to check on the house and love on the cats while we were gone in trade for anything that was ripe in the garden.  And apparently lots of things were ripe while I was gone because she's canning salsa made mainly from that harvest.  But she did leave me something special to harvest - the first ripe ghost pepper.  It is bright red and definitely ready to harvest.  So sometime this week I will be experimenting with a pepper jelly recipe.  I'm keeping fingers crossed that it goes well.  Especially since there are quite a few volunteers for taste testings, including that cousin.

    And there were surprises in the backyard.  The grapes and blackberries are finally ripe.  It's very late in the season for them but I'm glad that the birds left me some.  After getting to taste a few ripe grapes, finally (after 3 years), I find that I'm glad I took the time to research varieties and find this one.  They are absolutely delicious.  There aren't enough for canning but definitely enough for snacking on. 

    As for blackberries, well I'll know how many of them there are after I wade into the mess that is that bed.

    The Job's Tears are now flowering.  And the ginger is showing sprouts.  And the asparagus is sprouting ferns.

    All of these blessing while I wasn't here to see them.  Yet in returning from that absence I feel all that much more thankful for their presence.

    Sunday, July 14, 2013

    Welcome the Heat???

    I'm not talking about the temperatures outside.  I'm talking about my peppers.

    This year I planted two ghost peppers.  Given all of the information I found on growing them I figured that they would be fine if place on the far side of the bed next to the bed which contains the rest of my peppers.  And then this year we got unusual summer weather.  Weather that apparently the ghost peppers like.  So instead of small plants that I have to baby along to get some peppers, I have two large plants that are covered in peppers.  And a lot of blooms for more peppers.

    Now originally this got a major thumbs up from me.  And I've been plotting all the fun recipes I can do for my brother, one friend, and another friend's hubby and boys.  And trust me, I'm plotting.  I'm going to have fun with those peppers.

    And then yesterday I pulled some jalapenos for my friend's boys.  They like to eat them.  I sliced up four of them.  I didn't use gloves because four jalapenos is not a big deal.  Except that they were hotter than expected and my fingers had that light burn feeling for the rest of the night.  And the oils from my fingers got on my burger and corn resulting in them having a burning bite.  And then her boy eats just a couple of slices and ends up sucking down lots of water from the burn.  Now, originally I let it roll off of me because I hadn't heard anything about the jalapenos that I had sent home with her a week or so ago.  And her boy thought that maybe he had eaten a seed or two.

    Well, today I was walking the garden with this same friend and showing her how many peppers are on the ghost pepper bushes.  And we were discussing how difficult they were supposed to be to grown and how well they were doing.  And I flashed back to the jalapenos at dinner.  I think we both did at the same time.  Because the next thing that both of us "wondered" about was if the ghost peppers had crossed with the jalapenos.  And now we are wondering if they crossed with the cayenne peppers as well because her toddler son grabbed one and squished it, then got very upset.

    So toddler son quickly got scrubbed.  And got to drink coconut milk for any burn that may have gotten into mouth.  Then we continued our thoughts.

    We know that there hasn't been a cross over with the sweet bells because I've already used several of those and there is no heat.  But apparently I've either got the hottest jalapeno and cayenne peppers that I've had in years.....or the ghost peppers cross pollinated with them and upped the heat.

    So I apparently have more testing to do.  Or, I should say, my friend's hubby has some testing to do since he likes the hot peppers and is willing to taste test.

    It's going to be interesting either way.

    Thursday, July 4, 2013

    Independence Day

    I can't say much about Independence Day that isn't already being said all across the web.  I have enjoyed rereading both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights today.  Something everyone should do, so if you haven't please find a copy and get reading.

    For us the day is rainy so no fireworks, and no cookout.  Which is actually not a big thing for us because we weren't going to be doing those things.  Instead I'm doing the first harvest of summer from the garden, shelling beans and filling the dehydrator.

    I wish I could say the harvest was going to be enough for us for the year but it's not.  Again, that's part of the learning curve.  I have determined that one of the garden beds will have to be moved.  It is just too close to a silver maple even though I thought I had given it enough room.  And in a competition for nutrients between a tree and annual vegetables the tree is going to win every time.  And honestly, I don't think raised beds can provide us with enough for the year in at least some of our crops.  So I'll take what nature provides and keep learning.  I'm not going to redo the entire garden here since we are being forced to move in 2 years.  I will plan on a much larger "in the ground" garden at wherever we end up at.

    On the positive side, the harvest is going to be much larger this year than it was last year.  Getting the plants in early has helped a lot with that.  And surprisingly, the ghost peppers aren't requiring any pampering at all so far.  And I've got peppers growing on the plants.  I'm looking forward to working with those peppers later this year.

    As for Independence Day - I thank those who are continually striving to keep Americans free and independent.  Not just the military but also those who keep eagle eyes on our politicians to keep them in line.  And those politicians, few though they are, that work against those who are power hungry.  And those who strive to be able to stand on their own, and help others to do so when they can.  Independence Day means so much more than fireworks and cookouts.  May those who are fighting for our Independence, in ways both big and small, be blessed and protected in their efforts.

    Tuesday, June 25, 2013

    No Poo!

    I've been using the No Shampoo method of washing my hair for over a year now.  It works well.  It has only had two downsides.  The first was that my hair can end up being hard to brush out until it dries some.  The second was the result of weekly swimming in a public pool - hay hair.  And one really, really big positive - the severe dandruff, which has plagued me most of my life, disappeared in the first few months.

    It might help to realize that my hair is really long.  It falls to my thighs.  And it's a crazy mix of textures and thicknesses.  And of course, because of its length, the top can sometimes be oily while the bottom is dry and brittle.

    So, having said that, letting my hair dry for about 15 minutes or so before I brush it out is really not a big deal.  It does require that I remember to take the towel off of my head once I'm dressed.  And brushing my hair out before I shower helps a lot.

    I really couldn't come up with anything to do about the effects of the pool except to wash again thoroughly immediately after getting out of the pool.  And rinsing with a lot of water.  This reduced the effects but didn't necessarily get rid of them.

    And the dandruff.  Well if you've never suffered from it at the level that I do, there's no understanding the joy of it being gone.  I could create snow drifts just by scritching at the front of my hairline!  So having that gone has been wonderful.

    But the number two problem tempted me to give in and use commercial shampoo & conditioner again when I was given some.  Originally I just put it in the swim bag to use on days we were in the public pool.  And oh what things I learned.  The first was that I had forgotten just how much fragrance was in those things.  Now that I don't use them on a regular basis I was highly sensitive to the fragrance.  The second was how much less I actually used since I had gotten used to not needing lots of suds.  A Lot Less!  And while it weighed my hair down, my hair was smooth and shiny!  And I could brush it wet!

    So I used them when we went to public swim.  The fragrance overload was more than enough to outweigh the temptation to switch back.  Then we came to the summer break when we go use a much less chlorinated private pool.  I put the bottle in bathroom to use when we were rushed and I just didn't have time to measure ingredients.  In other words, when I was being lazy.

    Well, I found myself making excuses for using the commercial shampoo & conditioner.  And therefore using it more often.  And yes, still on those original bottles because I was using so much less.  And then the dandruff came back.  Yup, less than two months using commercial shampoo & conditioner and my dandruff was back.  And not in small amounts.  I can create snow drifts again.

    I knew it was happening so I tried just conditioning the middle and ends.  But it just didn't work.  The dandruff stayed and got worse.

    So this past week I smacked my own hands and went back to the "No poo" methods.  And the dandruff is quickly disappearing.  I may explore and see if there are some natural conditioning methods that I can use for the shiny look and tangle issues but for the most part commercial shampoo & conditioner are now regulated to be used only after swimming in highly chlorinated public pools.

    For those who want to try the recipe I use is simple:  1 tbsp baking soda to 1 cup of water for "shampoo" and 3 tbsp vinegar to 1 cup of water for "conditioner".  If you need more shampoo then make another cup of it don't increase the baking soda amount per cup.  No more than 1 tbsp per cup.  I typically make two cups.  Oh, and most people start out with 2 tbsp of vinegar.  I just find that the increase amount works better for my hair.

    Hope you all are having a good summer!

    Monday, June 10, 2013

    Freshening the Bathroom

    Okay I know I already covered that we had shifted to using homemade washable wipes in the bathroom.  (Look here if you have questions: )  And it actually works really, really well.  And the savings in our budget has truly been appreciated.

    But there has been one downside.  The downside is that even the plastic container I use eventually absorbs unpleasant odors that can be smelled in the bathroom.  At first I started putting a layer of baking soda in the bottom of the container.  And changing containers every other month or so.  Since the containers are made from vinegar jars headed for recycling it's not a big deal to make a new one.  But I still didn't like the idea that someone visiting might smell something unpleasant.  So I was really debating buying some of those scent absorber things to deal with it.  And waffling because that was an expense I didn't want to add on and I'm allergic to almost all of those things.

    Today someone sent me a link for homemade shower soothers.  While exploring that link I found this:

    So there was a big smile on my face because I have plenty of the ingredients on hand here and wouldn't have to go pay for something loaded with stuff that I'm allergic to.  And I'm cheating slightly by setting them in the oven on the lowest setting in order to help set them faster.  I'd use the dehydrator but it's full of cantaloupe right now.

    If these work then I've got a couple of other places I want to try them in.  I'm pretty sure they will work since this was "fate" responding to a need I had.  I also really like the idea of tossing them into the laundry with the contents of the container to help with cleaning and freshening.  I'm thinking about experimenting to find a way to hang them in various places.  We'll have to see what happens.  All in all they should be an effective item for us.  I hope that some of you might find them useful as well.

    Sunday, June 9, 2013

    DIY Spice Mixes

    For quite a few years now I've made the spice mix that we use for tacos.  The main reason I started making it was because it was very hard to locate a taco spice mix that was safe for my son.  At one point it was impossible.  So I took a base recipe from an allergy free cookbook and altered it.  A few years later we found a premade mix we could use by Ortega. 

    I still use the homemade mix.  Now because of the truth of cost.  For around $10, I can make enough of the mix to get us through 6 months or so.  It breaks down to about $.16 a meal.  That's a great deal less expensive that $1.84 per meal (if I get a good price).  If you find yourself using a mix repeatedly, you may want to seriously consider finding a good recipe and making the mix yourself.  The mark up on store bought spice mixes is really outrageous.  And you can eliminate those things that you really don't need in those amounts (like salt) or that someone doesn't like.  For example, my nephew can't stand cinnamon.  So when I cook for him, I either eliminate it or sub something else.

    Right now I'm working on growing all of the ingredients for the taco mix so that I don't have to buy them.  This batch got made using home grown oregano and onions that I dried and powdered.  Just those changes have added a nice flavor kick.  I'm looking forward to seeing what it will taste like with all of the ingredients being home grown fresh.  In the back of my mind is the thought that I may end up decreasing the amount used per meal if the flavor kicks up too much, which will make it even more affordable.

    And it's not just the mix that tastes better.  Mom has gotten around to trying the spices I gave her and is amazed at how strong they are.  And her cats are in heaven with the catnip which she is having to keep to tiny amounts.  I watched one of her cats sit there and rub itself all over the tiny section of carpet where a two leaf segment dropped.  It was determined to enjoy every last little bit of that catnip.  The next batch gets split between my brother and I.

    For me the amazing part is the difference in flavor even from items that I purchase bulk or at natural food stores.  It seems that no matter how fast they package it and ship it, it can't compete with something picked a week or two ago and dried at home.  I'm looking forward to emptying my spice jars out and refilling them with the home grown herbs this year.  I'm also looking forward to experimenting with making a dried spice & veggie mix to use for our chili.  Do you have any spice mixes that you have made and/or use on a regular basis?  Please share.

    Monday, May 27, 2013

    Memorial Day

    For the past, the present, and the future............

    Thank You!

    Sunday, May 26, 2013

    A Moment In Time

    For about an hour today my world disintegrated and I faced some of my nightmares.  My son went missing from a locked fenced back yard.  He is learning disabled and nonverbal.  In a fit of something he managed to force the double gates open.

    Emergency response started looking as soon as I called them, within 15 minutes of him disappearing.  We had a time frame because I periodically check on him to make sure he's okay.  Within thirty minutes a whole collection of friends and acquaintances started showing up at the house to help us look on foot.  I was calling everyone on my phone list regardless of how I knew them although good friends were the first called.

    Approximately 15 minutes later one of the helpers that was walking (pacing) with me along the road in front of the house looked up to see my son coming out of a neighbor's house.  For whatever reason, their front door had been open and unlocked while no one was home.  And for whatever other reason, my son decided to explore their house.  And that is, as far as we can determine, where he had been the entire time.  Curled up on a bed in one of the back rooms under the blankets.

    The adrenaline is stilling crashing out of my system.  It will likely be doing so for another day or so.

    That is an hour of my life that I would prefer avoid a recurrence of if it is at all possible.  Yet at the same time, my prayers were answered even while I panicked.  He was safe.  He was kept safe even though I did not know where he was.  He was safe even though he shut his service dog outside the house when he went in.  He was safe. 

    Thank you seems like too little to say to his guardians who kept him safe until I could be with him again.  It seems like too little to say to the emergency workers who searched for 45 minutes or so for him.  It seems like too little to say to the friends and acquaintances that came running, as fast as they could, to help look for him.  But there are no other words to express the deep gratitude and relief that came not just from finding him, but from knowing that so many would come so fast to help.  So Thank You!

    I am once again reminded what treasures my life holds in it.  I'll try not to need quite such a sledgehammer to the head again any time soon.

    Friday, May 24, 2013

    A Wonderful Garden Weeding Tool

    Okay, before I get to the rest of this post - yesterday's harvest resulted in enough yummy fresh peas to make five servings.  If I hadn't munched some it probably would have been six.  This was from a very full 7' x 4' raised bed.  I'm not going to do the rant on a different part of gardening because I'm sure you can do the math yourself.

    Now to the point of this post. 
    I love this tool.  It's called a stirrup hoe. It turns what would be an hour of more of hand weeding into 15 to 20 minutes, if that.  Last year I had forgotten that I had this wonderful tool in the garden shed.  I remembered at the end of garden season.  Yup, another palm to forehead moment.  Especially when I realized how much it would have helped me when I was weeding Dad's gardens.  In particular, the extended rock garden.

    Now I do a lot of things to keep weeds from popping up because I hate weeding.  The need to weed is part of any garden so I truly love any tool that makes that weeding go faster.  And this tool does that.  Note - I hate regular hoes.

    This hoe goes below the surface and cut/digs out weed roots.  And it doesn't move the soil itself very much.  After I run it through the bed it's only a matter of minutes worth of effort to grab the weeds and toss them out of the garden bed.

    There is one problem though.  I'm working in tight spaces.  When I use this hoe I'm standing up, which is wonderful for my back, but not so wonderful for my aim.  As a result, I only tend to use this hoe when the weeds have gotten really bad (which is how I forgot about it). 

    So this weekend I'm going to look for another one while I'm at the flea market.  I got this one as part of a bulk buy at an auction in better times.  If I can find another one, I'm going to turn it into a hand tool.  Then I'll have the best of both worlds for handling the weeds.

    Fingers crossed for finding another one I can afford.  I hope your weeding is at a minimum.

    Thursday, May 23, 2013

    Fresh Peas II (and a seed bank rant...)

    Okay the pea plants are starting to fade.  We've got less than a week until June so that's actually normal here.  And the weather went from Bi-Polar to Hot!  So I harvested today.  All told I got about three pounds of fresh peas to peel tonight.  Yummy! 

    And I may get another two pounds when I cut the plants out in two weeks.  I'm cutting them out because I have garlic planted underneath them and I don't want to disturb it.  And I expect I'll harvest more then because I'm quite sure that I missed some that I will find when I'm not worried about not damaging the plant.  And then the plants will end up in the compost pile.

    Now the rant.  Or more a "because I care" message.

    There are a lot of folks out there that are selling "seed banks" for "disaster times".  And there are a lot of people buying them and setting them in a corner for those "disaster times".  And there are a lot of people who are going to get a really, really hard lesson in reality if they ever have to fall back on those seed banks.  I'm leaving out all the sections on the hard realities of gardening and just addressing seeds here.

    This year I decided to clean out my seed box before buying any new seed.  I've had massive fail rates on those seeds.  I expected it but I wanted "to be sure" before I went buying new seed.  And even with the massive fail rates, I still got some plants and that meant that I could buy fewer plants/seeds.  But if I was solely dependent on what had been in my seed box for food - we would have starved.

    Now at this point some of you are thinking "well it was old seed and she didn't store it correctly."  And you would be correct.  But then we hit the new seed. 

    Now new seed bought in the last couple of months should have a really good germination rate.  Now this is the point where those of you who garden start thinking "but she didn't germinate them correctly" and want to teach me about sterile pots/soil/etc.  And you would only be partially right.  One tray of seeds didn't get babied.  The rest did. 

    With new seed, being babied, on plants that almost always germinate regardless of most conditions (pumpkins and squashes), I'm getting a 0 - 25% germination rate.  And this is seed from the big companies not cheap seed packs.  Okay, granted this is seed purchased at big box stores, not from the better online companies.  But this is the seed that is in most of these seed banks.  And I got similar germination rates for direct sowed seeds in the garden beds.  New seed.  Folk, these are seriously bad germination rates for me.  I normally get at least 80% germination even if I goof off and forget to baby the seeds/seedlings.  High enough that I don't plant entire packets and I make plans to give away the extras when sprouting is done.

    Now here is where I smack my own hand because I know better than to let so many years go by without using seed and saving my own seed fresh.  But you folks who are putting aside these seed banks don't know this.  And there are a lot of people who are just learning to garden that don't know this. 

    So, if you absolutely must have a seed bank that you don't create from your own plants each year.  First, please view it as a yearly expense and replace your seed bank seeds every year.  Max - every two years.  Second, please get organic heirloom seeds.  Then you know you have the best seeds to give you every possible chance at success.  Third, store whatever seeds you get in a cool dark place in your house - even if they are sealed in a can or mylar.  Oh, and honestly, seal them up yourself.

    Now, if you are as broke as I am replacing the seed every year is daunting.  Especially when you are talking about replacing it with organic heirloom seed.  But there are a couple of ways that you can do this without doing major damage if you can't grow a large garden from year to year. 

    My first suggestion is to team up with someone you know who gardens regularly.  You can do this by offering one of two things.  First, offer them the seed bank in exchange for a matching amount of fresh seeds at the end of harvest time.  This is fair because while you paid for the seed, they will be putting in the time and effort to grow the crops and harvest them in a manner which provides seed for replanting.  They will get paid for this effort with the food that they raise and the seed that they can save for themselves.  But be honest with them about the age of the seed that you are providing.  And expect that there will be failures which you will get no seed for, but then they will get nothing either despite the work they put into it. Second, if you don't already have a seed bank.  Offer to buy them seed for the plants that you want seed for.  Buy it fresh that year.  Then the rest is the same agreement.  This can be a really beneficial relationship on so many levels. 

    The second suggestion is for if you don't know someone who gardens, or you want to learn more about gardening yourself, you can bypass working with someone else.  Just grow one or two of each plant each year in a small plot or pots.  Then save the seed from those plants to work with the following year.  Don't toss the prior year's seed until you have harvest this year's seed.  That way if you end up with a problem you can try again.  Actually, I would save back a couple of years but then I'm super cautious.  Even if you have a low germination rate you should be able to get some seed.  There are problems with this idea in regards to pollination and genes but it's better than nothing.  And those problems are why I suggest keeping several years worth of seed.  If needed you can back up to prior years seeds, and while the germination rate will be lower, you can "undo" issues that may pop up.

    Okay, that's enough rant.  I've got a mischief child who is giving me funny looks because I'm eating peas in the pod.  :-)  I'm going to go do some peeling and then head out to harvest a wild crop.  Hopefully some of you are getting some good harvests as well.

    Monday, May 20, 2013

    Fresh Peas

    Okay, I messed up in planting peas and didn't realize it until I caught sight of the empty seed packets yesterday.  The oops?  I planted both edible pods and early peas.  Ah well.  I'm going to pick them all when they are plump enough and shell them.  Mischief child will only eat peas that are not in the pods.

    And there are a lot of pods.  Much, much more than I got last year!

    But I did sneak by the garden bed today and grab a handful of the edible pod peas.  Just to taste them.  I had to make sure they are good, you know.

    And they are.  I might have to sneak a few more tomorrow.

    Friday, May 17, 2013


    I swear that it's not just Spring that's gone Bipolar.  Nowadays every day seems to have the swing from one extreme to another.  Fortunately for my sanity, the good is equal to or better than the bad.  It's nice.

    The garden is still going strong.  The potato plants have exploded upwards.  Even two bags of potting soil wasn't enough to lift the soil level to the next board.  So next week I'll be getting four more bags.  And fingers crossed that we will get a lot of potatoes this year because we are definitely eating a lot of them.

    The peas are seriously happy.  And even with pods on the vines they are growing even taller.  Next year I will have to double the trellis height.  Right now I'm looking forward to the yummy harvest.

    The greens are doing fabulous.  And I've been teaching more than one person the basics of doing a "cut and come again" greens garden.  And we brainstormed on doing them in a variety of ways, including gutters and upright PVC pipes. 

    None of the cucumbers came up, even though I used new seed with the old.  So I gave in and bought starter packs.  I will be putting up that trellis next week, and the one for the tomatoes.  Some of the tomatoes and peppers are already flowering.

    I got the sweet potato slips, and got them in the ground.  Then I discovered I could start them myself at home.  It was one of those palm/head moments.  I remember reading something once that had convinced me that you shouldn't start them at home but I can't remember what it was for the life of me.  So starting next year I will be starting my own.  One less expense.

    One of the ideas shared was doing strawberries in upright 8" pvc pipes.  I like the idea but I'm debating altering it slightly.  The original had them set up as a fence line with bracers between the pipes.  I'm thinking about making them the corners of the trellises for the garden beds.  My only conflict with this is that I move the trellises with the plants.  So if I do it, I may set them in place as permanent uprights at the corners and sides.  Then I can add the remainder of the trellis elements as needed for whatever is planted in the garden bed.  Of course there is an area that I could do them as fencing along, but it's rather deep in the shade during late spring and summer.  So it's probably not the best spot for strawberries.

    It finally got warm enough that I could put the Ghost peppers out in the garden.  I was surprised at how small the root system was considering the size of the plants.  These are definitely going to have to be pampered through the dry months here unless that root system does some amazing things once it's in the ground.  But I'm looking forward to harvesting them and making stuff for my brother.  I'm also debating testing them in my Hab Gold recipe.  It should be interesting.

    And now that I'm coming out of my shell more I'm finding more similar minded folks.  I've found a couple who are just as much into gardening and canning as I am.  And a couple more who want to be.  It's been absolutely wonderful to be able to freely talk about stuff and brainstorm things.

    So the positives are outweighing the negatives right now which is definitely wonderful for us.  I hope the same can be said for you all.

    Sunday, May 12, 2013

    Mother's Day

    Okay first off:

    Happy Mothers' Day!

    That is for all of us who are raising children in our lives right now.  And those who have raised their children.  And those who for some reason have lost their children.

    But I also wish a Happy Mothers' Day to all of those women who would have been mothers.....except for some reason their baby's souls went home before the baby was born into this world. 

    I have a dear friend who has been pregnant quite a few times in her life but for whatever reason, the pregnancies were never able to come to turn.  She didn't abort.  She did everything the doctors told her to.  But for whatever reason, all of her children came and left before it was time for them to become part of the outside world.  And she loved each child dearly while they were with her.

    She nevers gets to hear folks tell her "Happy Mothers' Day", although she is a great aunt for the kids in her family.  A great "aunt" to my son.  Heck, to be truthful, a great "aunt" for any child whose parents will allow her to be.  When we lived close enough, she was my son's second mother.  And in my, and his heart, she still is.

    So for her, and all the women out there like her, Happy Mothers' Day. 

    Tuesday, April 30, 2013


    The general information out there is that beans are easy to sprout.  You all remember growing beans when you were in elementary school - right?  And then there's the advice to soak them overnight beforehand in order to help them sprout.

    Well, apparently not all beans follow this advice.  Without soaking the pinto beans had a 75% germination rate.  The kidney beans were about 40%.  The black beans, well out of a whole bed only about 10 sprouted. 

    So I started over.  Well partially.  I didn't pull out the ones that sprouted but I prepped more to fill in the gaps.  Since I already had them on hand I started with pinto and kidney beans.  First I soaked them overnight.  That was more than enough for the pintos.  But I had to soak the kidney beans again because they jammed tight in the jar and not all of them got a good soak.

    When I replanted the kidney beans yesterday, maybe 10% of them showed signs of starting to sprout already.  I'm hoping for good things.

    When I got ready to replant pinto beans today I realized that almost every bean in the jar had started sprouting.  So I carefully transplanted and am keeping my fingers crossed.

    The black beans I set to soaking yesterday.  I drained them this evening.  Tomorrow I'll plant them and we'll see what happens.  I think I'm going to plant several per hole in hopes of getting at least one plant per hole.

    And I accidentally weeded out some of my cucumber plants before I realized it.  I'm going to give it a week and double check to see how much damage I did.  If it's too much then I'll pick up a couple of packs of pickling cucumbers to plant in the beds.  But since the ones I didn't weed out are still tiny babies I figure I probably didn't pull to many.

    Anyways, fingers crossed for the beans to do well.  And I think I will make sure to set back seed this year so that I can be sure of its age and condition for planting.  I have a gut feeling that part of the problem is that the seeds I'm using are off of the store shelf and not packaged for planting.  There's no telling how long they had been sitting or what conditions they had been stored in.  But I can't find kidney beans packaged for planting at all.  And this year was the first time I ever saw black and pinto beans in seed packets.

    Anyone else out there have some experience with these types of beans in the home garden?

    Monday, April 29, 2013


    I'm grateful for many things in life and I don't always remember to say that.

    I'm grateful that the peas have decided to grow with a vengeance and are now almost three feet tall.  In the last week they've started blooming.  In another month or so I should have a bumper crop harvest.

    I'm grateful for the rains that are coming about once a week.  While they are driving my son crazy because he can't go outside, they are providing the gardens with a better watering than can be provided by me.  And the plants are truly appreciating it if their growth is anything to go by.  The peppers are all growing up.  As are the beans and tomatoes.  The potatoes are exploding up and will be needing more soil before long.

    I'm grateful for the gifts that come from nature even when I'm not expecting them.  The chocolate mint that escaped its planter and is now gracing pots to be bartered or given away.  The strawberry runners that have escaped their bed and are also now in pots.  Those are set aside to encourage good growth so that when I move in a few years I will have plenty of healthy plants to go with us.

    I'm grateful for the random people who have graced my life in the past week or so.  Offering help even if I was unable to accept it.  And those who offered and did help, with no thought for payment but just because they themselves were in similar situations and understood.

    I'm just as grateful for all of the random people who have appeared in our lives at different times.  Whether it was to help, or sometimes hinder, they were all there for a purpose.  Some to bring peace, others to teach lessons.  Although, I hope I have learned those lessons well.  And I hope for future lessons to be much gentler.

    I'm grateful for the friends who came and got even more plants to grace their yards and preventing me from killing them.  And their offers to help when I need to get things done in the yard.  And the one who truly surprised me with a garden membership for my son and I.  (Which will get very well used!)

    I'm grateful for all of the lessons taught to me, as I grew up, by caring parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents and friends.  Many of those lessons have helped me to keep going when I was ready to fold.  It has absolutely nothing to do with the severe stubborn streak that seems to be embedded in our family's genes.  Honestly. ;-)   Some of those family members are not here anymore.  Or are they....since their lessons are still an active part of my life.  And sometimes I swear they are looking over my shoulder and whispering in my ears, just to keep me on track.

    I'm grateful that someone, somewhere in the universe, listens when I close my eyes and offer up pleas for things that we need (and sometimes just want).  Then places those things in my path whenever possible at prices that I can afford.  And sometimes at prices that remind me of the difference between need and want. And rarely, but just enough, provides a surprise bit of income sometimes to just keep us afloat for that tiny bit longer.

    And while sometimes I close my eyes and dream of unlimited money or wild shopping sprees for necessities that don't have a monetary limit.  I just as often close my eyes and wish for a partner for my heart and soul.  But even more frequently, I close my eyes and say "Thank you" for what I do have.  And I hope that the gratitude that suffuses my body, mind and soul during those moments truly is expressed to those unseen ears and eyes.  Because I know that without those unseen eyes and ears, things could be much much worse.

    So here's to being grateful.  Here's to hoping that I will continue to have positive reasons to be grateful (hopefully without negatives).  Here's to life, an adventure that exists for us all.

    (Nothing is wrong.  I just felt a soul deep need to express how grateful I am for the blessings that have come our way and that attempt to balance the negatives of life.)

    Tuesday, April 23, 2013


    For the past few weeks I've awoken each morning to beautiful sunshine sneaking through the edges around the curtains and shades.  It is a wonderful way to wake up and gives each day a beautiful start. 

    My son tends to awaken with the sun.  On the days that he is truly determined to sleep in I will find him completely burrowed under his covers.  But normally we both get up with the sun even if we spend the first hour or so being lazy.  Well, okay, he spends it being lazy.  I just get a head start on the daily to do list.

    In the garden life is growing.  All of the fruit trees, vines and shrubs are showing life now.  The peas are sprouting wonderfully.  The storm last week seems to have motivated them and they are now getting taller than the trellis!

    I met up with a friend and we went to the botanical garden sale.  Lots of beautiful plants but I limited myself to just two.  My friend found quite a bit to make her happy.  She will be doing a lot of planting for the next few weeks. 

    On Saturday I went to the local Master Gardener sale.  They had a variety of plants but nothing I was looking for.  I've become a picky gardener again I suppose.  I'm looking for edible plants I don't already have and those are harder to find.  Oh well, it was a nice calming walk as I explored.

    Everything I've planted seems to be doing well except for the bean plants which haven't sprouted.  So today I will be setting beans to soak overnight and then replanting tomorrow.  Hopefully that will help improve the germination rate.  The carrots have a lot germination rate but I'm putting that down to the fact that the seeds were very old and hadn't been stored well.  To balance it I took the remainder of the seeds and spread it across part of the plot.  Then I used fresh seed for another section of the plot.  I'll also look into saving some of the seed from them, although that may not be possible.

    I also got a flat of Job's Tears, nasturtiums and witch hazel started.  Only the nasturtium seed is old.  And that varies, some of it from years ago, some from last year.

    The chocolate mint has escaped it's planters and spread across a small section of the yard.  I'm not sure when or how it did it but I'm pulling the runners and sharing them.  I may pot some up for the plant exchange in a few weeks.  I'm thinking about bringing mint, strawberries and a few other randoms from the yard.  I don't expect to find anything we need but I love sharing.

    We also went to the local thrift sale.  And amazingly they had some summer clothes in my son's size.  I've been watching for months but had only found one item here and there until now.  So, a bit lighter in the wallet than I should be, but he's got clothes that will fit for summer.  All the clothes are in great condition and cost me a great deal less than they would have at a regular retail store.  I normally buy year round to set aside for the next year but his growth spurts have been so unpredictable the last couple of years that I can't.  If I buy too far in advance I find myself with the wrong sizes for the season.  That's a waste of money that we can't afford.  So I find myself tremendously grateful for a good local thrift store and their 50% off sales.

    I'm hoping to make a duct tape body double sometime in the next month or so.  It would be a tremendous help for me in making so new clothes for myself.  So, fingers crossed, I will be able to recruit a helper or two so that I can get it made.  And maybe make some for them as well.

    Now I'm off to mow the lawn.  Wish me luck.  I hope you are all having wonderful days.