Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Potted

Every year when the weather warms up I plant what I like to call a garden (which is really just a strip next to the deck stairs in the back yard).  This year I had big growing plans.   I was going to move the patch to a different part of the yard, or maybe build some planter beds, or both. However, I went on vacation in early March.  After that I was scrambling to get caught up for weeks, then all of a sudden it was the end of April and I gave up on my big plans.

I decided to do things the same as other years, and went to the closest garden center and bought four tomato plants (Roma, Red Cherry, Black Krim, and Big Boy) and two pepper plants (Big Bertha and Big Daddy). I also bought a four-pack of orange marigolds (to ward off pests)

On Mother's Day I planted everything. The tomatoes I tried to grow from seed never took off when they were set outside, and when I moved two volunteer plants to a different part of the garden patch one of them re-rooted and thrived.  The other didn't make it. With those plants gone there were some empty spaces to fill in the bed. I went back to the garden center and looked at the selection of tomatoes. I bought a Super Sweet 100, a grape variety that's done well for me before and Fresh Salsa, which was new to me but sounded good.

When I checked out the cashier asked me if I liked to grow tomatoes, and told me they had some "rejects" in the back; I could take anything I wanted.  I always like the sound of Free, so I went to take a look.There were six plants on the shelf. All of them were lanky and hunched over--they reminded me of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, but I can't pass up a bargain and added two of them to my box.

When I got home I planted the two good plants in the garden, then wondered what to do with the freebies. The stems were bent over, and I didn't really have any more room in the garden. Enter the freestanding containers.  I have a motley collection of repurposed pots and buckets in the garage.  I found two that were the appropriate size, drilled holes in the bottom, and got ready to plant.  I know from past experience that tomatoes form roots along the stem, so I always plant them deeply; however, in this case I buried those suckers! I broke off a few yellowed leaves at the bottom and put the plants in the pots so the root ball almost touched the bottom, then filled the pots with soil. The bent-over stems were hidden from view, supported by the dirt.

Big Mama (green pot) and Steak Sandwich (white pot) 
I moved the pots to a spot in the rocks next to the garden area. It took them a couple of days to recover from the shock of being buried, but the last few days of summer-like weather allowed them to perk up nicely. Today I inserted stakes next to the plants and tied them up with strips of plastic from newspaper sleeves.  Steak's stems are still bent out of shape, but he has a few flowers; that's a sign of tomatoes to come, so I won't judge a book by it's cover.

I realized today that eventually I'll have to find a different place for the pots.  See the greenery at the bottom of the picture?  I planted some canna lily bulbs there, and they'll soon grow tall enough to block the sunlight to the plants.  Maybe by moving the tomatoes I'll be able to figure out where to put a new garden.

NEXT YEAR.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sauerkraut or Sauerkraut? It's All Good

The other day I got an email from Son Tony.  The subject was Homemade Saurkraut‏:
Mom, 
Gotta pass this one on. Ridiculously easy and great results. Remove the core and finely chop a head of red cabbage. Add 1.5 tbsp sea salt or pickling salt (can't use regular iodized because it messes up the fermenting) into a bowl with the cabbage. Mix firmly by hand to start breaking up the cabbage and release the juice. Pack firmly into mason jars, only fill each about 3/4 full. Add water to the jars to fill up to the neck of the jar. Seal jars and leave on the counter for 7 days. Supposed to be really good for you like yogurt because there is live bacteria unlike the canned stuff.
I love saurkraut, but had never thought of making it myself.  Of COURSE I had to try it!  Last Tuesday I bought the necessary ingredients, and after dinner I began the culinary adventure.  I had a few questions, though, and exchanged a series of texts with Tony:
Me: Getting ready to start saurkraut. Do you think using the slicing blade of food processor would make it small enough?
Tony: I read a couple recipes that recommended doing it that way. You can probably get it thinner than I did cutting by hand.
Tony: Also can't remember if I told you 2 tbsp or 1.5 tbsp of salt... Mine ended up a little salty so next time I will reduce a little.
Me: Do you remember about how many pounds your head was (or how many jars you filled)?
Tony: It was 3 lbs and it filled 2 quart jars to the top. I should have spread it into 3 jars and left more headspace so they wouldn't have leaked.
Me: Thanks for all the tips :-)
It only took me 20 minutes from the time I got out the food processor until there were two jars sitting on the counter waiting to ferment.  Based on Tony's experiences I placed a plastic produce bag underneath.  For the next week I'd check the jars a couple of times a day.  At first nothing happened, but on Day 3 the jars were sitting in a small puddle of purple liquid that had leaked out.  The same thing happened on Day 4.  In both cases I cleaned up the mess and made sure the lids were secure.

Last night we broke open the first jar and served it with leftover pork steaks and french fries. It was the best saurkraut I've ever had; crunchy but tender, with a nice sour taste.  Hubby Tony and I polished off half of one container.  Tonight I made the same dinner, substituting mashed potatoes for the fries.  I'm not sure how I'll use the second jar, but I'm looking forward to figuring it out.

One last note.  I wondered about Son Tony's choice of cabbage, so I asked him why he used red instead of the more traditional green.  His response: I just like the color!


Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial

Today, of course, is Memorial Day in the United States. A day to remember those who have served in the military and given their lives for us.

It’s a Federal holiday, so most people are off work. Not me, though. The mall was open normal hours so I had to work my regular five-hour Monday shift.  Most years I don't give more than a token thought to the meaning behind Memorial Day (isn’t that sad?), but because I was being compelled to work I kept thinking about it and wondering what I could do to commemorate it.

Traffic was very light this morning and I got to the mall with 20 minutes to spare. I used that time to drive to a nearby Walgreens, where I bought a small American flag. At the Customer Service desk I struck the flag in a basket of green plants. I guess it wasn't too visible, because no one commented on it, but every time I looked over there it reminded me of the importance of the day.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

I Did It!

Earlier this week I wrote about how I've been biking in the neighborhoods around my house.  I'd like to do more, but there are quite a few rolling hills in my area, and I have trouble getting up them.

It's pretty embarrassing to have to get off my bike halfway up a hill and walk the rest of the way.  Tonight Hubby Tony set off on our bikes after dinner and rode for about 30 minutes.  Tony led and chose the route.  As things unfolded I realized we'd be coming home through the subdivision to the east of us.  The one with the nice big hill you can coast down, and then the equally big hill going up.

I've never made it up this hill, but  tonight I was determined. I started out pretty good,  but soon I was barely turning the pedals, and going so slowly I though the bike might fall over. To distract myself, I started counting my pedal revolutions--how many times my right foot came up to the top. It took more than 50 rotations, but I'm proud to say I did it!

When I got to the top I was completely winded, and my legs were so tired I had trouble navigating the rest of the (completely flat) route to our driveway.  But if I keep it up, I suspect that soon the hill won't be so intimidating.

Friday, May 25, 2012

What A Rebel!


I was working an extra shift at the mall Customer Service desk today. Before I started my shift at noon I had a meeting scheduled at 9:30 and no time to return home to change into my work outfit of black pants, white shirt, and black closed-toe shoes.

Usually when that happens I bring my work clothes and change before I start my shift. That’s a hassle, though. Either I have to find a place to stop (bathrooms in municipal parks and gas stations are good) or I have to change in the mall bathroom and take my casual clothes back to the car.

Today I was in the mood for something different. Before I left the house I put my pants and shirt on, but instead of adding nylon knee highs and dressy shoes to complete the outfit I put on a pair of flip flops.

My unorthodox outfit made me feel like quite the rebel. Even though the temperature was hot, the breeze on my toes was really comfortable. When I got to work it only took me a minute to change my shoes before I went into the building.

The whole thing was such a positive experience I’ll have to think about doing it again!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Have Helmet Will Travel

On Wednesdays I don't have to be at work until 12:30. This morning I rolled out of bed knowing I was going to do some type of outside exercise to take advantage of what might be the last of the nice weather. Today the high temperature is supposed to be in the mid-80s (almost ten degrees over average), but starting tomorrow it looks like we'll be flirting with record highs (in the mid-90s, maybe even close to 100!).

What type of exercise, though? I've been doing a lot of walking and thought today I'd mix it up. Hubby Tony and I have been riding our bikes around the area a bit in the evenings; I decided to strike out on my own this morning. After breakfast I applied sunscreen and grabbed my cell phone. I took my bike down from the hook in the garage, put on my helmet, closed the garage door, and headed out.

Leaving the neighborhood, I took my turn at the three way stop sign by the school complex where an elementary and a middle school share a common entrance street, then rode one block and waited for the light to turn green at the stop light. I went left, then right at the first street into a subdivision.

Sometimes the subdivisions around here flow one into another. Sometimes streets are marked No Outlet. However, if you know the pedestrian cut throughs you can disregard the signs. I rode through parts of three municipalities (Manchester, Winchester, and Ballwin), trying to stay close to the curb. Some of the streets had been refinished so many times, though, the asphalt stuck up two inches higher than the gutter and made it unsafe.  On those I was forced to ride in the street. There were few cars, though, so it wasn't a problem.

My bike has ten speeds, but it's older and the gears don't work as well as they should. The hills I rode would be nothing to a real rider, but were intimidating to me. I decided I could either get off and walk the bike up them, or stand up on the pedals and attack. I chose the latter, channeling my inner Spinning persona to propel me to the top.

I looped around neighborhoods for about 45 minutes, then headed back towards home. This time when I passed the school complex there was a line of cars waiting to drop off at the elementary school.  I waved to the crossing guard as I passed by, and got a friendly wave in return.  In the garage it was harder to put the bike on the hook than it was to remove it, but I felt like that was a  sign I'd gotten some good exercise.  If I keep it up I'll be flying around on two wheels in no time.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Time To Eat! Now!!!

funny pictures of cats with captions

During the weekday Hubby Tony always gets up earlier than me. One of the things he does before I roll out of bed is feed the cats.

Last night he had business that took him away from the house, and I went to bed knowing I had cat duty this morning. I had a hard time getting to sleep. First I was too hot and got up to turn on the ceiling fan. Then I was chilly and threw the sheet over my body. I rolled from side to side trying to get comfortable, and kept looking at the clock. Finally, almost an hour after I went to bed I fell asleep. Then I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and had to repeat the falling asleep operation all over again.

When Pepper the cat started the “feed us” process by jumping up on the bed and walking over my legs I was NOT in the mood to oblige. However, he was quite persistent. Soon his brother Jackson started in, too, meowing from the floor right next to the bed. I held out for 15 minutes before I reluctantly gave up and put food in each bowl-Pepper in the bathroom and Jackson in the main level dining room. As I crawled back in bed I heard the first birds starting to sing.

Thank goodness Tony will be home tomorrow morning to take care of the cats!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Feeding Finches

For years I've had a bird feeder hanging from a shepherd's hook on the deck.  It's attracted a nice variety of birds, but we've had our share of other creatures, too, like chipmunks, racoons, and squirrels.  The squirrels were particularly annoying.  Not only did they consume more than their share of birdseed, they'd also scare the birds away and sit on the seed tray to eat. When they'd jump off I'd always hear a batch of seed falling off.

Last summer we had rocks installed under the deck where we had trouble growing grass.  Even though the landscaper installed a plastic barrier, when the weather warmed up this spring there was just enough moisture on top of the barrier that we had seed sprouting in between the rocks.  I didn't have enough time to pull the seedlings out one by one.  I talked to the landscaper; his suggestion was to spray the rocks with Roundup on a regular schedule, but I didn't want to resort to chemicals.

I had just about decided to get out of the bird feeder business when a friend told me that I could still enjoy watching birds out of my kitchen window if I switched over to a finch feeder. The nyjer seed that the small birds enjoy eating is cultivated in Asia and Africa. Before it is imported the seed is sterilized, which prevents germination of both the nyjer and any other weed seeds that might be mixed in.

Nyjer is a tiny seed, so to go with the new food I'd need a new feeder that had small feeding holes.  Last week I used the last of my "Fancy" bird seed mix, then washed out the feeder and stored it in the basement.  For a couple of days I had a parade of birds land on the deck rail and look around for their meal, which of course wasn't there.  I didn't feel bad, though; it's springtime and there are enough natural sources of food that I knew they could find something to eat.

Today buying a new bird feeder made it to the top of the list.

I went to Valley Park Elevator & Hardware, an old-fashioned grain elevator/hardware store ten minutes from my house. They had a variety of finch feeders, but when I looked at the price tags I was shocked. (The one that I liked the best cost $35). I decided to shop around at a few other stores to see if I could find a better price.

Image source.  I hope my feeder looks like this soon!
However, I knew it would take at least another week before I could get around to more stores, and I really miss seeing birds on the deck. Next to the register there was a display of sack feeders (basically a mesh bag with a drawstring top). For less than a tenth of the price of a fancy feeder, I could get back in the bird feeding business.  According to the tag, the sack would hold approximately 8 ounces of seed.  I decided to buy a pound.  The store clerk walked to the back of the store with me, where he scooped out nyjer from a galvanized trash can into a brown paper bag, weighed it on an old-fashioned scale, then sealed the bag with a piece of masking tape.  I carried it up to the register, and paid for my purchases.

When I got home, I held the sack over a bowl and carefully poured some of the seed in, tightened the drawstring, then hung it on the shepherd's hook on the deck.  If I remember right, it didn't take long for birds to find the original feeder.  I hope the same thing happens again with this new one.

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Sentiments Exactly

From a.eye at Shouldn't Life Be More Than This?
Letter to a dear friend 
I know that our relationship started out pretty intense. 
It was like, we were almost inseparable from the beginning. As soon as I had a break at lunch, I would be with you - even if it was just for a few moments. After work, I would be with you until my nap. Then, I would wake up and we would be together until I had to break away to make dinner - though sometimes I was able to have you keep me company in the kitchen as I cooked. 
After dinner, we were truly inseparable.  I was at your whim. Anytime you let me know you wanted some attention I was there to give it to you. I was always there.
Lately, I have been a lot less into you. 
Trust, though, that it's not you. 
It's me. 
I have sometimes gone days without any contact with you.  When we do get back together, I play catchup and make up for all the lost time.  But after those precious moments, there are even more days of no contact. 
I know that I don't want to completely part from you, but I do need more space.
I take pleasure in knowing that being with you has helped me meet new people and learn new words.  I have also been able to increased my confidence in being able to sometimes beat my mother in her own game. 
April was hard for our relationship. I was really busy with blogging with the A-Z Challenge, I was really busy with coaching, and really busy with teaching. My phone is so old that I don't even have enough memory on it to be able to use it to meet up with you. As soon as school is over and I have to return my iPad to the school, I don't know what I will do. I may have to buy some sort of new device to help keep us together. 
Until then, I will try and be with you as much as I can without becoming obsessed again, Words With Friends.
image source

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Right Side?


Starting shortly after noon today there was an influx of teenagers walking past my mall Customer Service desk, so I assumed that one of the nearby schools had an early dismissal day.

One of the teens, a beautiful willowy brunette who looked to be about 16, came up to me talking on her phone. Her shirt had an expensive-brand logo on the chest, and I bet her purse cost more than what I make in a week. I heard her say that she was at the mall, and then she thrust her phone at me, asking me to talk to her dad.

I started the conversation with my normal phone greeting…[Name of Mall] Customer Service and my name. The gentleman on the other end had a distinguished-sounding voice. He asked if his daughter was, indeed, at the mall. I answered that she was. He then proceeded to ask me my name (first AND last), and my job title. I felt like I was being grilled.

After he’d gotten all the information he needed, he thanked me and ended the call. I handed the phone back to the girl, who gave me a smile as she walked away.  I didn't know if I should feel sorry for the girl or her father. Was he completely overbearing, or had she given him a reason not to trust her?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Strawberries In Tuxedos

Aren't they cute?


These were one of the gifts I received for Mother's Day. I also got a beautiful pair of earrings, and a planter bowl of flowers for the deck.

It was a great day. How was yours?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Movie In The Morning

Today I went to a "private" showing of a movie. I'd like to think that it's because I'm a VIP, but it actually has more to do with the fact I woke up too early.

I had a lot to do today, and it all had to be done by late afternoon. When I woke up shortly before 6 to go to the bathroom I couldn't go back to sleep.  I tossed and turned, thinking of all the things on my list. After an hour, I decided to get up and start the day. I threw on clothes and headed down to the kitchen, where I heard Hubby Tony in the shower as I was pouring my first cup of coffee.

Tony had heard that The Artist, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year, was back in theaters this weekend. We hadn't seen it yet (although we both wanted to) so he suggested we go. I asked him to research theaters and show times, then headed off to scoop the cat litter and sweep the kitchen floor.

I was out back pulling weeds when Tony got back to me.  He'd found out that the first showing was at 9:40. In the morning.  It was 8:35.  If we moved fast, we could get there.

Neither of us could remember going to a movie in the morning, but it turned out to be a really good idea.  The movie theater we went to was located in a mall (which didn't open till 10), so parking was a breeze.  There was no line at the movie box office, and we didn't have to wait to have our tickets taken.  Even though the concession stand was open, we passed on snacks.  Popcorn did NOT sound good so soon after breakfast!  We arrived at the theater ten minutes before the movie started.  There was no one else there, so we got our choice of seats.  We chatted through the video commercials and waited for the movie to start.  The commercials ended, and the trailers started.  No one else had entered the theater.  We had the whole place to ourselves!

It was like watching in our family room, except the screen was massive and the sound system pristine. We lifted the arm rest between us and I put my feet up on Tony's lap.  I was able to talk back to the screen as loud as I wanted, and when I had to go use the bathroom halfway through Tony was able to tell me what had happened when I was gone.  We stayed to watch the credits, and didn't have to worry about people climbing over us to get out.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wake Up Call?

I have a "Thought For The Day" calendar that I look at each morning. This was today's thought:


Since I pulled the page off the calendar I've been pondering the message. In 2008 I spent an entire year doing a daily activity that was new to me, but somewhere along the line I stopped.  I need to get back to putting diversity in my life.  

This small piece of paper may turn out to be a great kick in the pants.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Skip The Elevator-Take The Stairs

This morning I had a doctor's appointment.  His office is halfway to work, so when I left the house after breakfast I wore casual clothes and carried my work clothes in a bag; that way I could get to the mall early enough to change in the bathroom before I had to start my Customer Service shift.

I thought I knew how long it would take to get to the doctor's office, but since it was after rush hour I overestimated and pulled into the parking lot 20 minutes too early. After spending a few seconds pondering what to do, inspiration hit.  The medical building is four stories tall, with stairs at each end.  My doctor's office is on the third floor, and the building's elevator is slower than dirt, so I always take the stairs. Since I had time to kill today, I decided to get some exercise doing extra flights of stairs.

I entered the building at the center entrance and walked to the stairwell closest to the doctor's office. When I got into the stairwell, I checked to see if there were any security cameras to record my unusual antics. I didn't see any, so I figured no one would be watching me. I slung my purse across my body and started up the stairs at a fast jog.

With only three flights of stairs, it was hard to get in a groove, but I did my best. I went up and down the steps at one end of the building four times, then walked to the other end and did four more reps.  I walked back to the first side (stopping at the bathroom on the way) and started on a third set.

Just then I saw a UPS delivery person carrying a few small boxes use the stairs just above me; that was enough to make me stop.  However, I'd put in a good 15 minutes of aerobic work, and was pleasantly winded and sweaty enough to cross exercise off my list for the day. Besides, it was time for my appointment.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Tortilla Flats

Several years ago Hubby Tony decided he wanted to take charge of dinner one night a week.  After some discussion, we decided Sunday would be a good day.  He picks out the menu, gathers the ingredients, and does the cooking.  The first couple of weeks I found I was giving too much advice (i.e., trying to control things), and banned myself from the kitchen.  I usually go upstairs and read, or during the nice weather go outside and do yard work.

Most Sundays Son Donald rolls in sometime after lunch to hang out and helps his dad cook. They have a great time together.  A couple of weeks ago I decided I wanted to spend some quality time in the kitchen with Donald and announced I'd take back dinner preparations for one week.  Today was the day.

Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo, so I decided the meal would have a Mexican theme. When I saw a post in my Reader this week for chocolate corn tortillas by Stef at The Cupcake Project I decided it sounded pretty easy, so as part of the meal Donald and I would make our own tortillas, something I'd never done before.

Stef's post was on Thursday, and she promised an accompanying tortilla filling was coming, but on Saturday morning I  came up with my own idea.  Son Tony had cooked a wonderful pork roast in adobo sauce when he was in town for Christmas; if I added potatoes to that (and made it more like a stew) I could still have tortillas and serve them like bread.  I went to a Mexican grocery store near the house and bought the special ingredients--masa harina (corn meal made from corn soaked in lime then dried before being finely ground) and a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

I decided to use the recipe for tortillas on the side of the masa bag and save Stef's chocolate version for another time. There were only three ingredients-masa, salt, and water. I mixed everything together, and Donald kneaded it smooth. We let it rest, divided the dough into 16 pieces, rolled each piece into a ball, then put the balls between layers of plastic and flattened them with a rolling pin.  Some of the tortillas came out less than round, but I figured they'd taste just the same.

It took 30 second on each side to cook the tortillas in a hot pan.  When they were done I piled them on a plate until dinner time.  Tony couldn't stay out of the kitchen, so he and Donald worked together to make guacamole.  I heated up pinto beans and put everything, along with a green salad, on the table.

The tortillas were darn good (if I do say so myself).  Some of them could have been a little thinner, but for a first try we didn't do too bad.  I'd bought a large pork roast, so there was quite a bit of food left over.  I sent some home with Donald, put some in the refrigerator for tomorrow night's dinner, and froze a couple of cups worth of pork for a meal down the road.

As we were cleaning up after dinner Donald wanted to know if I was going to add tortillas to my recipe repertoire.  I replied that I just may have to.  Any excuse for eating Mexican food is OK in my book!



Friday, May 4, 2012

A Peony For Your Thoughts

I have one peony plant, which is in the back yard next to my neighbor's fence.  Each year when I see the buds starting to form I can't wait for the blooms.

Today was the day:


The flowers never last long, though.  By some strange coincidence right after the peony blooms each year we get a hard rainstorm or heavy wind which makes them flop over or knocks the petals off.  This morning, right on schedule, we had a gully-washer come through; I was out in the car and for a few minutes visibility was so poor I had to pull over to the side of the road.

When I got home and checked on the peony, all the open blooms had toppled and were laying on the grass.  I raised them up again, but based on past experience they'll never be the same.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Out With The Cold

Even though our weather's alternated between balmy and blustery, it's definitely getting warmer. We haven't worn our winter-weight coats for weeks.

From December through March (and sometimes into April), the outwear in the coat closet is an important part of our wardrobes. Then things warm up and I forget the closet's there. Several years ago I got busy and failed to wash our coats. When I put mine on the first cold day months later, it still had the previous year's supply of dirt on it. Yuck!

Since then I have a reminder on the calendar for May 1st to wash all the winter coats. I started the job yesterday and finished it today.

I have one everyday winter coat. Hubby Tony has two. I gathered them all up and took the pile to the laundry room just off the kitchen. Each coat was almost, but not quite, a full load, so I added a few extra articles in with each. At the end of the project my dirty clothes baskets were empty and I felt like I'd killed two birds with one stone. In my experience, heavy things like coats never completely dry in one dryer cycle, so as each load got done I took the coat out and hung it over the back of a kitchen chair. Eventually, half of the kitchen table chairs had winter wear slung over the back.

This morning I put everything away. I don't know about you, but during the winter I never bother to fasten my coat when I hang it up, because I'm just going to use it again the next day. In honor of the end of the season, though, I zipped and Velcro-d everything properly and made sure the hoods were hanging straight before putting the coats back in the closet.

The casual side of the closet looked so nice I decided to take a look at our "dress" coats. Tony and I both have all-weather and wool models, which I checked for cleanliness. We had a mild winter and the dress coats didn't get a lot of use. The ones that didn't need cleaning got the same hanging treatment as their casual siblings, and I started a pile for the dry cleaner.

I'll have to repeat the process with our jackets once I'm sure we won't need them any more, then I'll be able go on about my business and ignore the closet until things start cooling off again.