Monday, December 29, 2008

Farewell to Georgia

Spending Christmas in Georgia with my family is always...interesting. The saddest thing, though, is that none of their good Georgia special produce is in season. But, I made do. When we got home, we had this special Farewell-to-Georgia dinner:
Those are pecan-crusted pork tenderloin medallions hiding under the delicious peach and onion relish. The peaches were frozen and the wonderful vidalia onions were jarred. The green beans and red potatoes were steamed and served with a little garlic butter toss.

Get it? Red potatoes and green beans - Christmasy! Pecans, vidalias and peaches - Georgian!

Okay, it's a stretch.

Shhh. Don't tell anyone because it's a secret. I'm on a diet. Seeing my mother at the holidays really put the fear of fat into me once again. Yeah, that whole, "diets don't work, you have to change your lifestyle" stuff isn't working for me, either. I started yesterday. I have freshly juiced veggies for breakfast, steamed veggies for lunch, and a reasonably-sized, balanced dinner. I'm trying the whole no-grain, no-bean, low starch thing, just to see how it goes. I walked 1/4 mile, which is 1/4 mile further than I've walked in months. We'll see how it goes. But keep it a secret, okay?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

As promised, more Christmas craft photos

Here's the trash bag wreath, done and hung for under $5:

And here's a photo of me cutting the marshmallows. I tried a knife, scissors and a pizza cutter. The pizza cutter worked best. The key to stick-free cutting is to keep everything well dusted with powdered sugar.

Stuff we are making

The kids love to do crafts, but the finances are very tight. I found some really cheap crafts for us to do this year and we are loving it!

These are snowflakes we made from Borax (have it on hand for laundry anyway), pipe cleaners and thread. Total cost was $2 for a package of pipe cleaners and they were ready overnight. You can read the instructions here.

I also found some really cheap fresh cranberries at the store and made these:

I boiled equal parts sugar and water to dissolve, let it cool for a bit (so the berries didn't pop) and added the berries. After soaking them overnight, I drained off the sugar water and rolled the berries in a little sugar. Doesn't it look like snow? They are tart-sour-sweet-yummy, too. Oh, and all those good antioxidants surely make up for the sugar, right? Who cares, it's Christmas!

We also made homemade marshmallows, which are yummy but not as fluffy as I'd like since I was using a hand mixer instead of a heavy-duty machine (my Bosch broke in our move here) and a trash bag wreath. I'll post pics of those in the next couple days.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Move the kids away from the computer screen...

If you have children in viewing distance of the computer screen, you might want to move them away before continuing.

In my Sunday newspaper ad slicks was a coupon for Franks' Red Hot, a hot sauce that's very popular in the South. It came with a fifty-cent coupon and a recipe for Buffalo Chicken Dip. Now, normally my children help me clip coupons, but this week I did it myself and I'm so glad!

I have scanned a copy of the ad for you to see below. I am writing a letter to the company to voice my displeasure. If you're a "letter writer" I hope you'll join me in protest. Here's the letter I wrote:

Dear Sirs,

I must voice a complaint about your new ad campaign. I am familiar with your ad as it is represented on the Frank's Red Hot website: "I put that [red splatter] on everything." It is cute and leaves it up to the consumer's imagination what, if anything, is concealed by the splatter.

But I was unpleasantly surprised by the new form of the ad appearing in an ad slick included with The Tennessean on Sunday, December 14. Instead of just a red splatter, the ad depicts a red splatter covering several letters, with "s" at the beginning and "t" at the end clearly visible. This leaves little to the imagination, spelling it out pretty clearly. The implied word is a vulgar obscenity, not at all appropriate for a Sunday newspaper or an ad slick that could be seen by children.

I do hope you will reconsider your ad's design. Our families are already exposed to enough vulgar language in our society, and it has no place in a food advertisement.

Thank you for your time.

Okay, you've had time to move the kids, here's the ad:

The company's contact information is:

Reckitt Benckiser, Inc.
399 Interpace Parkway
PO Box 225
Parsippany, NJ 07054-0225

Let's nip this new trend in the bud, shall we?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Um, I think maybe the time has come

Our poor car. She really needs to be put out to pasture.

I mean, yeah, I can take a lot of inconvenience to avoid car payments. We paid $420 a month for five years for this car. That's more than my Mom and Dad paid for their first few houses! It's been a real blessing, but the problems are starting to mount. Right now,
  • Neither automatic window rolls down. If you press the button and push the window, you can get it down, but it ain't going back up!
  • The only automatic door lock that works is on the passenger side. The whole button apparatus has fallen inside the driver's side door.
  • Neither key remote works.
  • The back cargo area is accessed through three doors, one that goes up overhead and two that open outward like Dutch doors. The Dutch doors have been broken, shut permanently for about a year. The spare tire, by the way, is only accessible when the Dutch doors are open.
  • The passenger side door handle on the outside of the car is hanging by a thread and can only be opened by someone with gentleness and a safe-cracker's touch.
  • The sliding side door that allows access to the back seats broke while we were at the grocery store this week. We got the door open, but it wouldn't shut. I managed to jimmy it shut after about a half hour of messing with the mechanics of the lock, but now it is shut permanently and won't open.
  • All the seatbelts work, but two of the shoulder straps are broken.
  • From time to time, something sticks in the transmission and shifting from first to second and second to third gears is a violent proposition, worthy of a whiplash suit.
  • When we engage the parking brake, something in the gas pedal sticks and I have to kind of "kick" the pedal to get the car to move.
The final straw happened yesterday while I was out with the whole gang of kids. The gas pedal stick happened while the car was in motion, driving down the highway. I "kicked" it several times, and it just stuck further in, giving the car more and more gas. Now, I generally drive around 50-55 mph, which makes the locals CRAZY, but I like the fuel economy I get at that speed. It was a good thing I was going that slowly to begin with, because I was going the speed limit (70) before I could fix the pedal. I reached under the pedal and found the metal hook that the pedal rests on, pulled forward with my foot, and it let go. But if this had happened on a surface street with oncoming traffic, in the middle of the day with kids crossing the street, or in a residential area, I'd be in trouble. It took most of my attention to fix the problem, and I just wasn't able to give traffic much more than a passing glance.

I'm not sure exactly who would give us a loan, what being freelance and all, but if anyone has a friend who is looking to sell their seats-8-reliable-car-type van out there, please pass on my name!

Who ya gonna trust?

A friend of mine is considering a very invasive and painful surgery done with only local anesthesia. She asked if anyone had comments and I sent her to a website where people who have actually had the procedure DONE discuss it. After reading it, she said, "I saw this website when I did my research online. All these kinds of comments prove what my dad's doctor says: Don't read that stuff!"


So, the debate boils down to a guy who 1) has never had the procedure performed on himself personally and 2) stands to gain financially from the procedure vs. people who have had the surgery and have no vested interest in sharing their stories?

Wow. Really? Boy, I don't know. I've become so distrustful of the medical establishment lately that I would really think long and hard about it. Other considerations my friend is facing: The surgery has a documented success rate of under 30%. It's an elective procedure, not covered by insurance. The side effects of the surgery include a possible worsening of the symptoms the surgery is supposed to alleviate. There are proven alternatives to the surgery that are less convenient (namely altered diet and exercise) but have higher success rates.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Are we overreacting?

It snowed!! I'm so excited! It was so pretty coming down in big, white flakes!

Okay, I understand that these southern cities have no snow removal equipment and tend toward the side of caution. I know that drivers get a little crazed when white stuff falls from the skies. But I gotta ask you. With no snow in the forecast, a high of 50 expected today, and this much snow on the ground:

Would YOU cancel school? Me, either. For heaven sake, you can still see the GRASS!! And no, that's not ice on the road, it's water. The snow has already started to melt. Which isn't good, because the kids I have to babysit on snow days (schools closed, parents still work) won't be able to make a snowman by the time they get here. That's gonna be one long day.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Call to Arms: The Turkey Army

A treasured tradition in our house is the Thanksgiving Turkey Army. This year, we are making gift bags by writing "We are thankful for you" on some plain brown paper lunch sacks. We add some stamps, glitter, and a reason or two we are thankful for each neighbor and stuff the sack with one turkey for each member of the neighbor's family. Here's how we make the turkey army:

First you either make a batch of Rice Krispie Treats or (if you're easily overwhelmed like me) buy the pre-made treats. If you use the pre-made treats, cut each treat in half and mold into a ball.

Now twist apart some Oreo cookies. You'll use half as the base and half as the tail. Use a little white frosting as "glue" to hold the ball onto the base and the tail onto the back of the ball.

Dip the flat, back side of the fat ends of three candy corn candies and arrange on the tail for "feathers."

One more candy corn for the head:

And voila! Your turkey army is ready to do battle!

Monday, November 10, 2008

I think I know one reason...

In earlier posts, I've mused that the Lord has His reasons for hubby being unemployed. I think I might know one of them. This will come as a shock to you, but I'm kind of easily swayed by my circumstances. ("DUH!" I hear you say, "Tell me something I don't know!")

Even just reading over my blog posts I see how I've been swinging wildly. Living it has been even more crazy. My faith/fear factor can change hourly. Oh, double-minded me of little faith.

I think maybe, just perhaps, this opportunity has been granted me so I can grow a little and get on more even footing in my faithwalk. No, it's probably not the only reason, but it's one I can see.

What brought on this great insight? The rush of relief when an advance check for a freelance project arrived in our bank account! Ahhhh, sweet.

Off to work on the lesson to be learned...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day!

I'm gonna be brave.

I've had enough of voting for "the party" because of its platform just to have the guy get into office and allow compromise on issues that I feel are very important.

I am not going to feel that I'm wasting my vote because I go outside the two-party system.

I am fairly certain that Barack Obama will be our next president.

I am voting for Chuck Baldwin.

There. I've said it. It's out in the open and I'm not going to be shy about it anymore.

It keeps getting more interesting, that's for sure

I don't want to go so far as to say it's getting worse, because I'm sure God has a plan. You DO have a plan, right, Lord? These layoffs and budget cuts have become industry-wide in hubby's business. Every company, even the secular ones, have begun hiring freezes, layoffs and cutbacks. It's kind of intense to see his job market dwindle to even more meager opportunities.

It's not like he can just go be an accountant. His degree is in this field. 20 years of experience are in this field. His contacts are in this field.

We're doing okay right now. We have enough money saved that, barring disaster, we will make it easily until December 15. All the bills will be paid, there'll be food on the table, I don't expect any issues at all getting done what needs to be done. We'll probably even have the roof fixed and put it on the credit card.

And there are freelance jobs available. I guess that's one upside to all the cutbacks. There are so many companies that have reduced their job force to the point that they have to hire the work out to be done by freelancers. This makes my mother angry enough to spit nails. She says it's a great deal for them, not having to pay insurance and benefits. I say it's a pretty good deal for us, putting food on our table and a roof over our heads! Besides, after spending my life moving from one state to another every couple years, it's kinda nice to stay in one place and work for companies all over the US. Even if the South isn't where I'd most like to be, it's probably better than trying to sell a house in this market.

It would be even nicer, though, if we could make up more of the lost income through freelancing than only 50%. Now would be the time for me and Blair to go find a job, I suppose there are places hiring holiday help. But hubby is still adamant that a) I'm needed here, especially while he is working at home and b) I don't belong in retail.

I don't know where I might or might not belong. But I'm willing to do what's necessary.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A little down

My mom is still having problems that came from the problems she had after her hip replacement surgery. She developed an infection while she was in the hospital, and is having a hard time getting over it.

My sister's back surgery was today and she came out of it great.

We looked into the "low income health insurance" offered by the state and it's a JOKE. It would cost us over $1500 a month in premiums alone to cover us. That's before we take a single step into the doctor's office, and it doesn't cover John's lousy teeth or Kate's braces.

Tomorrow is the election. It'll be Blair's first time voting. That's a wonderful, bittersweet moment.

I have a lot of things to do around the house and can't get motivated to do any of them. I want to go buy the video game I've been looking forward to and just sit and play all day until I feel better.

They had layoffs last week at two of the companies that have been courting hubby.

Our roof is leaking and they want $300 to fix it.

The mystery shopping market has really bottomed out around here. It might just be the time of year, but I had hoped to earn a little holiday money. There just aren't any jobs being listed.

I didn't sell anything at my Amazon store all week! My average is 3 items a day, and I have almost 300 books listed, but in the last 7 days everything has come to a standstill. I hope it's just the election.

Every time I play Pogo, my browser crashes! This is new and very frustrating. Especially when I'm mopping the floor with the bozo computer at Scrabble, and get within two tiles of winning the game and...

Enough moaning. Time for bed. Fiddledee, tomorrow is another day

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It gives one pause

My mom had hip replacement surgery a couple weeks ago. It went well, she was up and walking the same day. After three days she went home and was back in the hospital the next day with a pulmonary embolism—a blood clot in her lung. They put her on blood thinners and held her perfectly still until it dissolved and she went home. She went back in the hospital the next day, screaming in pain, with a huge lump of pooled blood (think watermelon-sized) that had collected on her new hip. All the blood thinners and inactivity made the blood rushing to heal that area unable to reabsorb into her bloodstream. Three more days hospitalized for blood infusions. They moved her yesterday to a rehab center where the physical and occupational therapists can work with her every two hours.

On Monday my sister goes in for spinal surgery. She has a herniated disk between L4 and L5 that is drooping into her spinal column. She already has numbness and a foot that doesn't move right when she walks.

Today is my family's first day without health insurance of any kind. We are considering extending hubby's insurance with COBRA payments, even though that will eat up 80% of what he makes freelancing, and possibly leaving the kids and I uninsured. The other option would be a $10,000 deductible plan for the kids and I, but even that would consume half of the remaining 20% after the COBRA payment. Right now, hubby is the only one who takes prescriptions and visits the doctor regularly. The kids and I have most of our issues handled with diet and lifestyle.

But one never knows, does one?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Price of food

I am the kind of uninspired cook that has to have a recipe. Blair can go into the kitchen at 5 and "whip something up," but I've never had that gift. I am also the type who beats herself up about the amount of money we spend on food. There are seven of us, which includes three teenagers, so I never expected feeding us to be a low-cost venture. But I always feel bad if I leave the store spending more than the "$100 a week" some of those other big families out there spend (like I believe them anyway.)

I can spend as little as $250 to feed us for a week. It won't be pretty, though. We're talking the Standard American Diet here, which is sad indeed. Cold cereal, PB&J, frozen entrees bought on a BOGO, chips and chocolate. *barf*

Or, I can spend $350 a week and feed us well. Leafy greens, colorful veggies, lots of beans and a smattering of meat. I know that figure shocks some of you, it shocks me, too. And lest you think I'm buying "goodies," here's this week's breakdown:

Bread: $21.44 (7%)
Canned goods: $16.70 (5%)
Dairy: $30.84 (9%)
Dried Fruit and Nuts: $9.47 (3%)
Frozen: $1.79 (less than 1%)
Grains: $8.97 (3%)
Meats: $42.66 (13%)
Paper: $17.34 (5%)
Treats (crackers, a jar of nutella and a jar of PB): $12 (4%)
Produce: $161.48 (50%)

That $323 will last us close to, but not quite a week. Yeah, I could (and do!) make my own bread. The bread listed here is weird stuff like bagels and tortillas. One of our less expensive snacks is quesadillas with just a tortilla and cheese, but I can't make my own tortillas well enough. And one bagel with a topping is a whole meal. Canned goods includes canned beans and tomato products. I could (and do!) make beans from dried, but canned is an important shortcut for me when time is short. $31 for dairy might seem a bit low for a family with growing children and high for a family with allergies. That total includes soy milk for Papa and lactose-free for Blair. The dried fruits and nuts aren't a weekly expense, but this week we're having a couple dishes that include them. They go a long way and have a good shelf life, so leftovers won't go to waste.

A package of corn is all I got from the freezer section. If we want ice cream or popsicles we'll make it ourselves. Grains includes whole grains to mill at home for bread baking, some polenta and a big canister of rolled oats. I went a tiny bit overboard on the meats this week. Although we are only having three meals with meat at all, they are salmon, lamb and chicken. The lamb was just one pound ground, so that's a chunk. The chicken, too, was a chunk and on sale. But, oh, the salmon! $20 is a whole lot less than you'd pay in a restaurant to feed salmon to 7 people, and I really feel strongly about the nutritional advantage of fish, but $20 for one item really chokes me.

I'm not going to begrudge the kids for asking for crackers and nutella. We're not drinking sodas or juice, and after a week of kale and collards they'll need something yummy. I'm not going to fuss about several boxes of Kleenex when we have runny noses or the cost of toilet paper. It is what it is.

But $161 for produce?!? Yikes! That really hurts! And the individual prices hurt, too. $2.50 for a head of romaine. One tomato for $2.59. One bell pepper for $2.09. That's just wrong. How am I supposed to push fruits and veggies if they are so outrageously priced?

And how, exactly do those other large families get out of the store for $100 a week? I can only assume they're eating the SAD. Our allergies pose a problem in that so many processed foods have corn and casein and other things we can't have. But really, do they just not eat tomatoes? Ever? No salads? What? How do they do it?

I was so spoiled by our CSA program. It was a challenge coming up with ways to serve what I got before it went bad, and I'll confess, the radishes, okra and one of the eggplants went to the neighbors. But paying up front for it made it seem like it was "free food" and that made it a lot easier to swallow than buying at grocery store prices weekly.

I need to figure something out for sure, because when we eat well, our food budget surpasses our mortgage payment.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Okay, I feel a little better now

It's quite a rollercoaster I'm riding these days. I pray for the faith that would keep me on an even keel.

At the recommendation of a Christian businessman and friend of mine, I recently read "The Four Hour Workweek." I do not recommend it generally. It has a lot of suggestions that cross the line for my overworked code of ethics (inflating the quantity of work you do at home while decreasing productivity in the office for the purpose of convincing your boss to allow you to telecommute.)

But he did have one interesting thing to say about my circumstances. He suggested I spend a little time in absolute destitution and face that which I actually fear. He laid it all out in glorious black and white. When faced with the stark reality of that degree of poverty, I suddenly realized two things (which I'd known all along and allowed my fear to shield from me):
  1. It wouldn't be THAT bad. No, really. I mean, it's not as bad as being in that situation and alone, right? I'd still have my precious hunkybunny beside me, and my beautiful children to love. That would go a long way toward comforting me.
  2. Would the Lord really let his people dumpster dive for food? Hm. Yes...and no. I mean it wouldn't really speak well of Him to have the world pointing at us as an example of "His People." But, He has been known to use the low and foolish to instruct the righteous, so yeah, I can see it might happen. But if it did happen, He would be there.
I guess what I'm trying to say (and saying darned poorly) is that nothing set before me in this life is insurmountable as long as He goes with me.

After all, I've just survived two years in the South! I got over that hurdle, so bring it on!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Oh my. Oh my. Oh my.

It's October. The severance pay runs out this month. We have no job offers, no interviews, no bites. I just did a "bare bones analysis" of our finances. To keep our house, food on the table and the electricity on, we need $5000 a month after taxes. To keep the prescriptions running, keep braces on the kid who is already braced, payments current on the dentist bill and hubby's back in line, we need another $1200 a month which includes the cost of insurance. No insurance? $2400 a month.

Those totals mean:
no TV ("free" TV isn't available here)
no Netflix (we're already on the lowest-priced plan)
no internet (this would be nearly impossible, the three jobs hubby and I are working right now absolutely depend on internet access)
one tank of gas a week (we are using two tanks a week right now)
the lowest cost phone plan (we switched over to this on October 1)
turning OFF the AC and heat (we turned off the AC on September 20, despite several 90 degree days since. Heat will eventually be more important.)
turning off the cell phone (we switched to pay-as-you-go on August 1 and have turned off the phone already)
handwashing dishes with water heated on the stove (I'm hesitant to do that because each time we've tried it in the past we have contracted viruses that hang around for months)
hanging laundry out to dry (I prefer air-dried clothes, but hubby is adamant. He even told me he thought it was illegal in this state to erect clotheslines. What a joker.)
no Christmas gifts (this will hurt. It's been a scary, hard time for the kids already. Compounding it with the thought of no gifts might push several of us—okay, ME—over the edge.)
two meals a day and beans and rice three times a week (eh, we'd probably be healthier for it. But the thought of having hungry children makes me very, very sad.)

We are talking seriously bare bones. And I can do it, I've done it in the past and I can do it again. I'm not complaining.

I'm panicking.

Because even if we turn off and get down to the bare-bones-level, there still needs to be $6200-7400 a month after taxes coming in as of November 1. I can make probably $1400 a month working outside the home, tops. Hubby's bringing in about $2500 a month with freelance work. My two little work-at-home jobs bring in about $400 a month, but if I work outside the home, one of those will have to end. We could send Blair to work, and she could probably make another $1400 which would bring us within shooting distance of our rock-bottom goal. But if we two are at work all day, we will both need clothes, and who would cook? Clean? Homeschool?

Okay. There. I've panicked and now I need to be done and move on.

I work this into my schedule every so often. Just panic, get it over with and move on. Admittedly, it's going to be harder to move on from now on because, after all, it's October.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

And what did YOU do today, dear?

I listed about 100 new books on my Amazon store site. I still have about another 50 to go. Drop by if you like books, I've got some pretty neat stuff up! Better yet, wait until Monday so you can see it all. But don't forget, okay?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No such thing as a free lunch

John came home from school (he's our only one in public school, the rest are homeschooled) last week and presented us an application for "reduced cost lunch." A sudden wave of guilt swept over me. Do we really qualify for public assistance? After reading the form, yes, our income not only qualifies for reduced cost, we qualify for free breakfast and lunch.

I guess it's comforting to know that if our income doesn't pick up, we can send the youngest four to public school for two free meals a day. I could work, hubby could freelance at home, Blair could get a job, or better yet, stay home and do the housework. I was wondering how hubby would juggle trying to do his freelance work AND school the kids.

Not that I'm rushing to register them. The Lord called us to homeschool and I believe we are to continue doing that until He says otherwise. But, I imagine not being able to feed the kids would be "otherwise."

Oh, Lord, now would be a great time for that job you're sending hubby.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

But what will I DO?

I always feel better in uncertain times if there is something I can be doing. Anything. Even if it's just making lists of things to think about later.

This transitional period we are in is very, very hard for me. The Lord keeps telling me to be still and rest. Oh, and I try SO hard, but there's always something to consider.

What if...

Yeah, but...

Okay, so...

on and on it goes. Yesterday I did pretty well. I spent the whole day focusing on just that one day. Just that 24 hour period and nothing before it or after it. It wasn't restful at all. It was a huge, pain-in-the-hindquarters struggle. But I did it.

Today I'm not doing nearly as well. I stopped by the game store today to take my pre-order of the new Harvest Moon game off and put it on the Animal Crossing game due out Thanksgiving week. I have been looking forward to that dumb game all summer, but I decided that I didn't need the game as much as I needed something under the tree for the kids this Christmas. Well, that right there is thinking ahead: Thanksgiving and Christmas.

My mom and sister have already cancelled our family celebration for this year. They don't trust my car to drive that far (neither do I) and can't help us afford gas to come for a visit. And, I guess, since no one can afford presents they figure there's no reason to get together.

This really kinda breaks my heart. Both my sister and I have had such a hard time these last couple months and the bosom of family is somewhere I would like to think I could go. I am not a family-get-together person. I chafe at the idea of family reunions and the holidays are almost always miserable for me. But I was actually looking forward to the idea that if worst comes to worst and we are STILL in this limbotown come December, at least I would have a week with those who have to love me no matter what to decompress from the state of mind I would no doubt be in.

So, see where it leads? See how the spiral of thinking leads downward for me? Other than sparing myself the frustration and physical exhaustion of moving, I can't think of a single positive about being here three months from now. I really didn't think I'd still be here at the end of September. I really had it in my head that we'd be taking posession of our new house on October 1. I guess that was just wishful thinking.

It's not like I hung my faith on it, but wow. It really never occurred to me that we could still be here on October 1.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Grinding to a halt

I had to quit my "Independent Contractor" job. I wasn't able to earn enough to make up for the price of gas. Fortunately, that's one of those jobs that I can pick back up again if gas prices drop and no one will be the wiser. I also have put my Amazon bookstore on vacation hold. Early last summer I was selling two or three books a day. I cancelled my Endicia account which allowed me to mail sales from home because of their monthly fees and the job uncertainty. Then the price of gas went bananas. Now that my sales have declined to one or two books a week, the numbers work out that driving to the post office (when I didn't have another trip out scheduled anyway) eats up all my profit.

The release date of Harvest Moon Tree of Tranquility was pushed back to October 1. Our family has a long-standing rule that you DO NOT PURCHASE ANYTHING FOR YOURSELF AFTER SEPTEMBER 30 because I usually start Christmas shopping in earnest on October 1. I'm collecting things all year, but the serious shopping begins 10/1. So, I can't get myself the game I've been waiting months for.

So here I sit. I've packed pretty much all I can without boxing up things we need for everyday living. I can't really clean any more because, as I learned from the hall walls I cleaned earlier this month, there's no keeping anything clean and it will just have to be redone. I have no distractions to keep me from obsessing over the job situation. I have nothing to do but sit and rerun numbers in my head: How long till the money runs out? How much do I have to make to get family health insurance and break even financially? Can I make that at Walmart? What is the billing cycle on the electrical, and how much can I save if I turn off the AC now? If gas costs x and it's y miles to the grocery store, can I save enough in coupons to go to the "good" store or do I have to shop at the store that's closer where the meat department smells suspicious?

The kids have started having nightmares. A sure sign of stress they're sensing from me. Christy couldn't sleep last night because she didn't want to go to heaven (!). It was a "fear of change" moment, and I wasn't in an emotional place to help her. I'm more in a "fear of not change" thing right now. What if we DON'T get a job soon?

Keeping busy used to help. Now that there's less to keep busy with, I'm floundering. I'm failing this test that I want so badly to pass.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Sure Sign of the Apocalypse

Let's see, there were four horsemen, a bunch of plagues, and...


According to AAA, 85% of the gas stations in my area were closed yesterday. I believe it. Today I waited in line for an hour an a half for the privilege of paying $4.94 a gallon (for 87 octane regular, mind you). Two hours later the only other open gas station for miles had closed. The one I went to was still open, probably because they started out the day rationing 15 gallons per car.

People in other parts of the country point and laugh at us and say we are victims of our own panic. That may be true of the prices and lines, but I'm pretty sure Mapco, Shell, Exxon, all the major distributors other than Citgo (which I refuse to patronize) and Kroger closed because they had no gas, not because they were panicked. As for the price gouging, what choice do I have, exactly? If I'm going to get my daughter to work and purchase food for the family I have to have a car with gas in it.

Knowing I'd be waiting in line, but not knowing for how long, I brought a book, my Nintendo DS and the menus and grocery list for next week. I finished the menus and list. I read two chapters of my book, but it was so boring I was afraid I'd lapse into a coma and lose my place in line. I played a little on the DS, but forgot to bring the car charger, so I didn't play long. Sitting there, I felt like I should be wearing platforms and listening to a Bee Gees 8-track tape. I'm ever so thankful I didn't run out of gas while sitting in line.

The Kroger employees were directing traffic on their own time (aka off the clock; without being paid; for FREE) and doing an excellent job. They were friendly, courteous and kept the lines from blocking traffic in and out of the shopping center. The customers were well behaved for the most part. There were several that were angry, noisy, rude and belligerent. A fist fight broke out when one guy wanted more than 15 gallons and by golly, he was gonna take it! I dislike this city intensely.

They tell me it's gonna get better. I hope it gets better FAST. I do not want to be in this city when the end comes!

Friday, September 19, 2008

TLAP Day again

Well, according to the official website, I should be wearing THE HAT. What kind of pirate are you?

You are The Cap'n!

Some men and women are born great, some achieve greatness and some slit the throats of any scalawag who stands between them and unlimited power. You never met a man - or woman - you couldn't eviscerate. You are the definitive Man of Action, the CEO of the Seven Seas, Lee Iacocca in a blousy shirt and drawstring-fly pants. You're mission-oriented, and if anyone gets in the way, that's his problem, now isn't? Your buckle was swashed long ago and you have never been so sure of anything as your ability to bend everyone to your will. You will call anyone out and cut off his head if he shows any sign of taking you on or backing down. If one of your lieutenants shows an overly developed sense of ambition he may find more suitable accommodations in Davy Jones' locker. That is, of course, IF you notice him. You tend to be self absorbed - a weakness that may keep you from seeing enemies where they are and imagining them where they are not.
What's Yer Inner Pirate?

brought to you by The Official Talk Like A Pirate Web Site. Arrrrr!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

No Major League Baseball for you, young lady!

I had to put Christie on steroids this week. Last Friday, she got a stripe of rash on her face. It was a long welt like a hive next to her nose. The next day it was all over her face. By the weekend it spread to her ears and covered hairline to chin. She did not want to go to church and get teased about it on Saturday night. We spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday feeding her Benadryl and Advil and brainstorming what it could possibly be causing it and watching her mouth and tongue very closely for breathing problems.

She put lotion on the welt after it came up, but not before, and not on her whole face. I rated that possibility at 15%. She used a new pillowcase Thursday night, but it had been washed before she put it on her pillow. I gave that a 35% possibility of causing the problem. We were absolutely mystified what the other 50% could be.

I took her to the doctor on Tuesday morning. While we were in the waiting room, I saw the light bulb go on over her head. "Mom, I went to the dentist Thursday!" That was it. Latex gloves. I was a bit surprised by the persistence of the rash after the allergen had been removed, but the doctor said that was almost certainly it.

It has been a long, slow heal. The welts went from puffy and white to raw and sore like a sunburn in great vertical stripes on her face. If the rash were on her arms or back, I think we would have skipped the Prednisone and just let nature take its course. But on her face, it's so painful and so shocking to look at, that I took pity on her and agreed to the drugs.

Nasty stuff, Prednisone.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cavities, Lollipops and Bacteria

Back in May, I posted about some lollipops the kids ate that were supposed to kill the bacteria that cause cavities.

Three of us went for our six month cleaning/checkup yesterday. Of the three younger girls, there were four tiny cavities, the kind that don't need novocaine, just a quick drill and seal. Each girl had one, and the one girl who's never had any had two. She has braces, but the cavities were on the biting surface of her teeth, not between her teeth or by the brackets where it would clearly indicate a cleaning problem.

Yet to be checked are my son with awful teeth and my oldest daughter.

How do I feel the lollipops worked? Hm. I'd say this testing was inconclusive. Although the cavities we had after using the lollipops were fewer and smaller in size than those we had prior to lollipop use, the one child who had never had a cavity suddenly gets two. Son's test won't be accurate, as I found the still half-full baggie of lollipops in his room last week. Hard to force a kid to eat candy, ya know?

Breathing deeply helps

As long as I keep my focus on what I know to be true in my heart—that the Lord wouldn't allow us to starve, that He has a plan for getting us employed and moved, that all things work together for our good—I'm okay.

But when I look at the reality (or talk to my mother-in-law), I start panicking.

Five kids. No income. No prospects. No insurance. A car held together with rubber bands and bubble gum. Gas at $4.25 a gallon. Milk at $5 a gallon. A hubby with health problems. One kid with bad enough allergies that daily medications are required. Me with physical limitations. None of us but hubby capable of making the kind of income necessary. A limited number of companies in his field. Shockingly few jobs at his level. None available.

We were offered a free car the other day. Would you believe we can't afford a free car? If it were something we could all fit into, I'd take it in a heartbeat. But it's a five-seater, which means two of us would have to stay home from wherever the rest of us go. And as a second car, we couldn't afford the additional insurance and registration on the darned thing, even if it did save us in gas money. Our van gets 13 MPG, so just about anything would save us gas money!

Okay. I have to stop now. I'm getting worked up again, and my hives are starting to break out again. Time for some more deep-breathing.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

He slept!!

Last night was the first night hubby slept without the assistance of pharmaceuticals in, (counts on fingers, takes off shoes, adds toes) 14 years. Has it really been that long?

It started out when he was at the height of his Chronic Fatigue illness. The doctor put him on a sleeping pill, hoping that regulating his sleep would ease some of his other symptoms. Didn't work, but he got good and addicted to the pills.

When we brought our concern to our primary care (odd term for this man) doctor, he said, "Do you feel like you'd like to knock over a pharmacy to get an Ambien? No? Then you're not addicted." I suppose he was referring to the emotional aspect of addiction, but our issue was with the physical reality that if he didn't take a sleeping pill each and every night, hubby simply would not sleep. After four or five days of not sleeping, he would begin having other physical problems, hallucinations and the like. Nasty.

When hubby was laid off, we started cutting back every single expense as close to the bone as we could, and that included our prescription drugs. Hubby takes pills like an 80-year-old. A sleeping pill, a high blood pressure pill, a cholesterol pill. I've gotten him off the pre-diabetic pills because he has yet to take a blood sugar test that is even in the high range of normal. The primary care (??) doctor saw a man with a bit of excess about the middle (not even a lot, mind you) and must have thought something like, "Hey! This guy needs drugs!" Forget the healthy diet I have him on. Forget the regular exercise regimen. Anyway, we're cutting back as much unneccesary expense as possible, and prescriptions we can live without are high on the list.

I mentioned to hubby that now would be a great time to quit the sleeping pills. He isn't working during the day, so he can nap if he needs to. We can't really afford the prescription, and wouldn't it be great to be able to do something as simple and essential as sleep without having to induce it with a pill?

It's been a very long, very difficult six weeks for him. But he did it. Last night is proof it can be done. It's also proof that he was physically addicted. Six weeks of withdrawals, I believe, should be proof enough for any reasonable physician.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fall already?

It's all the way down to 87° today, so I know fall must be coming! We weren't expected to get any Gustav precipitation, but it's been overcast for two days. So today for lunch I'm pretending it's autumn with my big coffee mug full of chicken noodle soup.

I'm helping the kids sort through their clothes storage boxes today. Not to get out warm clothes, it's WAY too early for that, but to cut down on the amount of clothes stored. I don't want to move two bins per person, one should be plenty. Of course, two would have been fine if I'd kept the kids' coats and snowsuits. But did I? Of course not! They went in the first garage sale after arriving here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I did it.

I can't believe I did it.

First let me explain the scope of what I did. When we moved into this house, it was a tad small for all the stuff we own. So, we just left a great deal of it packed and stored it in 1/4 of the space of our 2-car garage. Floor to ceiling. Then, over the course of the last two years, we have packed up more junk and added it to our storage area, until it took up nearly half of the garage.

Knowing a move was in my future, I decided not to move a bunch of stuff without knowing precisely what it is and where it is packed. So, I embarked on the Great Garage Repack. Each box was opened, emptied, each item in the box sorted (trash/Goodwill/repack) and disposed of.

End process:
I started with 89 boxes of varying sizes and shapes.
I made 14 trips to Goodwill (every time I left the house I'd take what had accumulated)
I generated 22 lawn and leaf sized trash bags of trash.
I ended with 29 boxes of varying shapes and sizes.

I'd say of what I kept, 70% is books, almost all of which belong to the kids. Raising readers can be a very expensive proposition!

I promised myself a new Harvest Moon game when the garage was done. Sadly, Tree of Tranquility doesn't come out until September 17, so I guess I'll get the attic done before my reward comes!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ah, blessed sleep

I got my ten hours of sleep last night and BOY do I feel GREAT today! Instead of four cups of coffee, I had one, and didn't need that. I actually ate breakfast, something I rarely do. I've already done my 30 minutes of Wii Fit, and although I pinched my knee in the doing, it's bearable pain.

Now I'm off to the garage to work a little on repacking the kids' boxes. When I get one-fourth of the garage repacked, I get to go buy the new Harvest Moon for Wii game. Oh, man, I'm so excited!

It's amazing how profoundly I'm affected by getting the right amount of sleep vs. getting insufficient sleep. I don't want to have to sleep in a separate room from hubby, but to feel like this every day...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Another rung on the moving ladder

It keeps coming with furious certainty—this idea that we're moving. Today I rehomed our hermit crabs and all their paraphenalia. It was a lot of stuff, and I don't think their new owner will have a clue what to do with it: her crabs were in a kritter keeper without even a lid and in painted shells. Horrors.

It's not the crabs I will miss, I don't think. They were interesting enough, and I learned heaps about them, but I never really made an emotional connection with them. But there was always something to DO. A cage to clean, food to create, a bubbler pool to invent, something to learn, someone to talk to. It's one more step toward becoming a hermit myself, I suppose, to cut myself off from that part of my world.

I feel a little at loose ends.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

It must have been a dream

I guess I had a strange dream last night, but I don't remember it. I woke up at the intersection of anxiety and depression this morning, with an odd feeling of foreboding.

Of course, the odd feeling could be coming from hubby landing a freelance job that will bring in some much-needed cash. My experience is that when we have a windfall of cash, the crisis that eats it up is hot on the heels of the deposit slip. So, what's it this time, car breakdown? Major illness or injury?

Now, don't go calling me Mrs. Gloom and Doom. I have several dozen years of experience of windfall-then-crisis behind me. I'm quite resigned to never having quite enough to make all the bills, meet all the expenses and have enough left over to be comfy, even for one paycheck. It's not somewhere I like to live, particularly, but there I am.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hello, am I there?

Something strange is going on in my brain. I feel like I'm walking around in a dream most of the time. Other times I sit and stare, thinking nothing in particular, then suddenly jolt back to life, having 20 minutes to an hour pass without knowing it. I'm having trouble remembering things and stop in the middle of sentences, carried off on some other thought.

It feels almost like I've been drugged.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

There's a first time for everything.

Well, this is a new one. Hubby was laid off yesterday. That's never happened to either of us before. It wasn't personal, the company laid off 10% of its workforce. Even hubby's boss was forced into an early retirement.

We're okay for now, they gave him a small severance package that will last us for a couple months if we are very careful. But there is so much to do. There's only one other company in our state that does what he does, and they had layoffs about six months ago.

There's a new job to find, and almost certainly a move to get ready for. I'm kind of in a spin right now. I was going to break out the canner and canning jars to put up tomatoes today, but instead it looks like I'll be taking a notebook through the house and taking notes on what needs to be done. We've never sold a house before, so there's homework in addition to housework.

It's all in God's timing, that's for certain. We weren't totally surprised by this, the company has been showing signs of decline for a while now. And we'll be fine, the Lord has confirmed that we are in the palm of His hand and in the apple of His eye.

But, there it is.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'm having three of those days

Ever have one of those days? I seemed to be having three of them yesterday.

It was a simple schedule. Take Kate to work, come home and do the first day of our Olympic unit study with Rose and Christy, vacuum and clean the loveseat, rest for a bit, then do a bit of IC work on my way to pick Kate up, come home, make dinner and throw "Flight of the Navigator" on for the kids.

These simple days never work out like they should. Why is that?

How it actually went: Take Kate to work. Bless her heart, she's so organized and prepared. Her uniform is clean and pressed, her lunch is packed and waiting for her in the fridge, she wakes me and her sisters up in ample time to go and has breakfast waiting for us! What a gem!

First day of Olympic unit: This is a computer-based unit, taking liberal advantage of the official Olympics website. Hm. Internet's down. What now? Move on.

Vacuum and clean the loveseat: Vacuum breaks. No problem, get the back-up from downstairs and finish. Can't find all the pieces to the steam cleaner. Wake up Blair, the last one who used the machine, who, bleary-eyed, finds all the pieces after about an hour of muttering under her breath and reorganizing the cleaning supply closet. Think she'll take it as a lesson to put things away properly? Unlikely.

Internet's up, so I get the girls going on the unit study. We do a little together, then they go off to do some research. Great! I can start cleaning the loveseat! But, it's almost lunch time. Okay, put on the potatoes, cook the sausage, rinse and chop the kale then clean part of the loveseat while it's simmering.

Carpet cleaner breaks. I was planning to clean the loveseat today, then the living room and hall carpet tomorrow. Drat. They're so grimy, too. While I'm fighting with that machine, trying to determine the problem, the sausage burns on the stove. Aargh. No problem. I'll just cut off the burnt part and keep moving forward.

Lunch is done, time to rest a little. Nope. Juice spill on dining room carpet. Argument between two siblings turns nearly physical. Wii won't connect and John needs to communicate with a friend now. Downstairs bath mat mysteriously turns up moldy and must be washed now. "And while you're at it, Mom, I have nothing to wear tomorrow..." Child assigned lunch dishes stalls and procrastinates until long after scheduled time.

Time to go to my IC work, but the kids are all still a little touchy. So, instead of leaving them here to play in the pool, they all pile in the car with me and get an early dinner out on the way home from picking Kate up. Who fainted at work. Again. (Like her mom, she just doesn't do heat.) And what is that scary sound the car is making when it shifts from first to second gear? Skip the drive-thru, let's get the car home to rest before it falls apart on the road.

I get dinner made with few problems, but nobody likes it. Whoever heard of a kid not liking pizza?? Okay, so it's stuffed zucchini, but if you close your eyes and hum "That's Amore," it kinda tastes a little like pizza!

Put on the DVD, and it's one of the very, very few "problem" disks we have received from Netflix. Kids agree on a video tape, but the VCR is broken. Five quick rounds of Boggle and it's off to bed for everyone.

Except me. Screwdriver and manual in hand, I set out to fix the carpet cleaner. I can't, but I do discover that it's only the handheld part that is not working. The actual carpet part is working fine, so I wind it up and clean the grimy hall carpet. I'm not gonna let this day get me.

I don't hit the sack until well after midnight, and tomorrow is a big, long, errand running day. But the day didn't eat me alive and for that I'm very happy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rescued Soup

I burned the sausage, but cut off the worst of the singed area and pressed on. Even the kids liked this, which is unusual, since they don't like soup.

I cubed four potatoes I got from the store as the locals aren't in yet and boiled them for about 20 minutes until they were good and soft. I drained them, but saved the boiling water. I tossed in some butter from local grassfed cows and mashed them smooth. In went the boiling water, some cooked and cut up cheddar bratwurst and the last of our locally grown kale. This simmered along for about 20 minutes until the kale was cooked down. I liked it without the brats, but the kids insisted on the meat. Very good.

Friday, July 11, 2008

100-yard challenge

I'd heard about the 100-mile challenge: eat only what grows within 100 miles of where you eat it. But I'd never heard of the 100-yard challenge until today. Our Homeowner's Association prevents us from putting in a full backyard garden like I've always dreamed of doing, and my physical state would not allow me much participation in its upkeep, but I think the idea of a Victory Garden is worthy of consideration. The challenge is not a commitment to eat three meals a day, seven days a week from one's own garden, only one meal a week. I could eat fresh tomatoes and tea made from the mint on my patio for lunch one day a week, easily.

One of my greatest challenges in life is moderation. I am a very black-and-white, all-or-nothing kind of thinker. I don't want a small patio garden, I want to plant my whole backyard in edibles. I don't want to agree to one meal once a week, I want to go all out. I don't want to "just" grind my own wheat and bake bread at home, I want to build my own house and get off the grid.

That is just SO not happening.

And I realize it. But I have to maintain my attitude that every bite of local food on my table improves my overall health, the health of my family, the economics of my city, the ecosystem, the farmer that grew it, and the world in general. I have limitations (and a man's got to know those, per Clint) of time, finances, pain and endurance, which dictate much of my life. I'd love to embark on a utopian dream of self-sustainability, but the inevitable setbacks and failure would dash my hopes and embitter my heart. The phrase "start small" has little meaning to me, but I'm working on it!

Last night's dinner was yummy.

That's locally grown broccoli, steamed just past raw. I love the leaves, they are richer in nutrients than the florets and don't make a mess between my teeth. The stems were so tender that they didn't even need peeling. This local variety was very delicately flavored, without the strong sulfuric flavor and odor of grocery store broccoli. Hm. I wonder if the sulfuric odor comes from travel and increased storage time.

The entree was storebought black beans and corn, cilantro from my patio garden, locally grown red bell pepper and green onions mixed in with storebought couscous. I made a bit of dressing with olive oil, lime, red wine vinegar and cumin, but what really boosted the taste was the spoonful of salsa on top. It was so good I had some more for breakfast!

I have an ice cream maker that has been run daily for the last couple weeks. It's not the old fashioned crank with ice and salt kind I used as a kid, but the kind with the tub that lives in the freezer until it hooks up to the electric base on the counter. I love it. Not only have we made fresh fruit sorbets, but we used it to quick-chill some lemonade when unexpected guests dropped by.

Last night, though, I used it to make the most wonderful ice cream. I got a vanilla custard going on the stove with local half and half and local whipping cream while I beat the yolks of some local eggs with sugar. I whisked it all together and warmed it until it got thick like a thin pudding, then refrigerated it until late afternoon. Before I started dinner, I put the custard cream into the frozen tub and started the motor. Rose chopped some local cherries (where did the cherry pitter go?) and I located some organic chocolate chips that we added when the ice cream was soft-serve consistency. I could NOT wait for the ice cream to harden in the freezer, so we ate it soft and creamy after dinner. It was marvelous. It was so rich and full of flavor that four tiny ounces really was a full serving! (I always laugh at the serving sizes on cartons of Ben and Jerry's. Yeah, like I'm really going to stop after four ounces.) Next time, I need to either find some miniature chips or give them a chop before adding them. They were just about twice as large as they needed to be.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Our Tropical Feast

We had a very yummy dinner last night. Some (but not all) of it was local, but I have to admit I imported for this meal and it was delicious.

We had pork tenderloin, rubbed with cinnamon, cumin, chili powder and pepper, seared in a hot skillet, then rubbed with brown sugar and baked until done. I served it on top of a salad of Napa cabbage mixed with baby spinach and tossed with red bell peppers. I made a dressing in the blender for the salad of one zested and three juiced limes, dijon, curry powder and a mango. That's sliced carambola (starfruit) and orange for garnish. Dessert was so simple - I cut up and blended a pineapple, threw in the juice of one lemon and a handful of brown sugar. I put it in the ice cream maker to freeze while I cooked everything else. While setting the table, Christy was inspired by our tropical theme and added mint stems and sliced lemons to the water and mint stems to the sorbet.

The grocery store provided the pork, sugar, and spices, Napa cabbage and spinach, carambola and mango and pineapple. The lemons, limes, orange, and bell peppers were locally grown and the mint was from my own patio garden. The water was local, from our tap with a good filtering system. :D

The kids loved this meal, most of them even ate the salad. I had one complaint about the sorbet from the child who dislikes pineapple, and John dumped the green "stuff" out of his water very dramatically.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Local joys and sorrows

Eating locally means revelling in the joys of the season. From the first bunch of spring kale to the first winter squash, each flavor speaks of its own diet of sun and rain. A tomato grown in the hot humidity of the south will taste and look different than one grown in the short-lived, intense dry heat of a higher altitude.

As an herbalist, I learned that native plants address native concerns. A mullein plant produces leaves that are a powerful expectorant in the season when nasty summer colds are at their worst. More recently I learned that even meats are seasonal, with the heavier beef and pork being suited to autumn and winter slaughter, while chicken is more suited to summer slaughter. Springtime? That's reserved for the new, tender greens like dandelion that cleanse the liver from all that heavy meat over the winter! It all works together in a beautifully choreographed dance.

But sometimes it doesn't work perfectly. 2007 was a year of profound drought in our state. Many farms closed for the season, others switched crops after suffering economically-disastrous crop failure early in the year. Eating locally was challenging as well, with more weeks of less water-intensive heat-tolerant crops, and fewer strawberries and tomatoes. That's part of the deal. What grows is what you eat. Sure, you could run to the store and buy some over-priced non-local strawberries. But the price you pay includes dependence on foreign oil for the packaging and the transport, pollution spewed out by the trucks or trains bringing the food to market, pesticides and fertilizers seeping into the groundwater, not to mention the practically tasteless product that has taken up to ten days getting to you. Now that's one expensive strawberry!

So, while we suffered through a strawberryless year in 2007, it makes this year's strawberries all the more precious. We have eaten each gem whole and raw, savoring every bite. I've been tempted to make a shortcake or preserve, but can't bring myself to. Seeing strawberries in my CSA box is an invitation to praise the Lord who caused the vine to flower and sent the rain to nourish each one. And that's one valuable strawberry!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Buttery Melty Goodness

I'm one of those strange birds that wants to taste what they're eating. Weird, huh? So, I don't use salt when I'm cooking (unless, like for baking, it's necessary for some required chemical reaction), but leave the salt shaker on the table for everyone to use as they see fit. Another example: I despise cooking oil in my baked goods. Even if it is flavorless, even if it is yummy, it adds calories to a product that just doesn't need it!

This morning's breakfast was coffee cake. I used just the plain old basic recipe, flour, baking powder and soda, salt, an egg, some honey, a little buttermilk, cinnamon, all the usual suspects. I left out the 1/2 cup of oil they wanted me to add (blech) and put used applesauce instead (yes, ALL applesauce.) But then when I got the batter in the pan, I thought about what it would taste like and my reaction to reach for the butter dish for that hefty sensation and rich flavor that would be missing. Instead, I heeded the call of the Amish and cut up a couple tablespoons of butter into tiny little chunks and pushed it into the batter before baking it. The cake baked, the butter created tiny craters of buttery melty goodness, and the cake was just right. And to me, a couple small chunks of butter is better than 1/2 cup of tasteless oil any day of the week.

Is coffee cake a local, seasonal food? Not this one. But the wheat was freshly ground from wheat berries purchased at Whole Foods, if that counts. The buttermilk came from the grocery store, but from a dairy in my state. The butter, well, there's nothing local about Land O'Lakes. But I did ask my CSA dairy agent if they could bring me a pound of raw local butter to their next drop. I can't wait!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Thinking about school

In previous years, our school year would begin on the first Monday after the Fourth of July and end May 29. This nearly-year-round schedule would allow us ample days off but still give the kids some time to take a nice summer break and just play all day.

This year I'm having trouble, and I expect it's a self-discipline issue. True, the painkillers make it hard to concentrate, and the budget is not curriculum-purchase friendly, but I seem to also be having an "I donwanna" issue.

My first child graduated 10 years ago. It was easy to get back in the swing after he left. I had five more to work with, the youngest was a baby, and they all had a long way to go. But when Blair left our school this spring, something changed in my mind. John probably won't graduate from our home school, but from the public school system where he attends now. He will be there another three years. After that, Kate won't graduate until 2012, which seems like forever. Christy starts sixth grade this year, and Rose starts fourth. I can see my involvement in the process lessening each year. Twenty years is a long time for me to be doing the same thing. Very long. I'm kinda flaky like that.

As for specifics, here's what I have so far: I think Kate will do Saxon Algebra I, and Rose will do Horizons math. But Christy needs more direction than Saxon offers and hasn't adapted well to the book or workbook forms of math instruction. I got a free month of Aleks, which she has been enjoying. I might consider continuing that, but the price is prohibitive.

We have a little music theory left over from last year that we will continue until we are done. I have some Botany the kids will do for science, but our main focus this year will be World Geography. I figure we'll work four days a week and really get a feel for the world. I can expand that with world literature, history, cooking, music and the like and teach all three of my remaining students together.

But then, there's the Olympics and the Election too - in the same year, yikes. Both worthy of covering to some extent. Hm. Maybe I should start the Olympics study in August, then finish up the Elections study we started last year until November. That will give me room in the schedule for the Botany and music theory and math. Then just after Christmas break we can start the world geography unit and focus solely on that (and math) until the end of the year. Boy, that really pushes it, though. Clearly I need to think about this some more.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Wish I had a grill

My kale leaf experiment turned out great. I washed the leaves and removed the center stem, then patted them dry. I have one of those pump-up mister bottles full of olive oil, and I used that to spray a thin coating of oil on each leaf front and back. I put them under the broiler for about five minutes until they got all dry and crispy on the first side, then turned them over to get crispy on the second side. The second side took only about two minutes. I sprinkled them with some salt and they were delicious! I imagine they would be even better grilled outdoors.

We keep meaning to get a grill, but hubby doesn't grill and I have a hard time justifying such a large expense for cooking. I've never had one I liked to clean, and have had many that were just cleaning nightmares.

Oh, but fresh veggies on a grill. Mmmm. What a wonderful meal!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Meat on a Stick

What is it about the combination of kids and summer that screams for simple food that you can eat in motion? My kids will eat something on a stick that they wouldn't touch on a plate. Here's an example:
This is what we had for dinner last night. I took some bamboo skewers and soaked them in water while I marinated a pound of (deeply discounted, thank you) rib eye steak that I'd cut into one-inch pieces in some vinegar. About a half hour later I cut up mushrooms, zucchini, red bell pepper and kale. I put some water on to boil while I assembled the kabobs, then put the orzo in to boil. I brushed the kabobs with a little olive oil and broiled them about five minutes, turned them once, then another five. The kids kept theirs on the stick, pushing the food up and biting it off one bite at a time. It was so much fun they even suffered through that "leafy green stuff" to get to the chunks of veggies they much prefer. We adults pushed the goodies off on top of the orzo, as is pictured above (on the Christmas plates, Christmas in July? Didn't think about that.)

One of the difficulties I'm finding with local, seasonal eating is the lack of variety. We have been very spoiled by the grocery store: I can serve asparagus in November as easily as May. But in June, where I live, it's kale, kale, kale, kale and collards, collards, collards, collards. Coming up with ways to eat the same old thing in a new way has been a real challenge for me. Kale is not as bad, I have steamed it, braised it and boiled it, all with success. But this kabob thing was wonderful! The kale came out almost as substantial on the tongue as a meringue, and crispy like a chip! I'm going to try broiling some large leaves today: flat and sprayed with a fine mist of olive oil. Sprinkled with a little salt it should make a really yummy afternoon snack!

We have been notified by the CSA that today is our last shipment of collards, and just in time. I finally found a single recipe that doesn't involve hocks, garlic and lemon juice, and I will be making that tonight. I hope it will be as successful as the kabobs.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

One more little chunk of history before moving on...

In my previous post about my trip toward local whole foods, I omitted one gigantic factor in my life: my disability.

I was born with hip dysplasia. It was too tiny to be noticed as a baby, and it fixed itself enough that by the time I was ready to learn to walk, my bones could handle the stress. But as I reached my preteen years and the sudden physical and hormonal growth that accompany it, the bones in my legs began to bow. From the hip to the knee, the bone now bows outward, and from the knee to the ankle the bones bow inward, giving my legs an "S" shape.

I dislocated my knee for the first time at age 9. The other knee went soon after that. Back in the 1970's there were few options for fixing recurring knee issues like mine. Microsurgery hadn't been invented yet, the now-common arthroscopy was not even a glint in the orthopedist's eye. So, they did what they knew to do: rebuilt tendons, cinched ligaments, moved muscles. Thirteen surgeries later, I cried "UNCLE!" The surgeries were not helping, and now I was battling arthritis from the constant assault of the joints.

All this has very little to do with my eating proclivities save a few points. One, that during the years of surgical intervention, I actually ate very little food and drank a great deal of water. Hospital food was never a big hit with me, nor was the take-out Mom would call and ask Dad to bring home for dinner. The pain meds left me constantly nauseated and masked any hunger I would have felt. But I was constantly thirsty. I kept a clean gallon milk jug full of delicious Rocky Mountain water next to my bed. It would go empty twice a day. That's a lot of water for a hundred pound kid! So you could say that one of my good habits was instilled early. To this day, I drink about a gallon of water each day as a baseline.

During pregnancy, the hormones circulating in my bloodstream made me positively "high" and giddy. The pain in my legs all but stopped, I could move very comfortably and felt great. But within a week of giving birth, the hormones changed and my joints stiffened, became swollen and hot to the point I couldn't walk for several weeks. I really didn't mind, after all, I had this new person to get to know! But the lack of exercise made my pregnancy weight cling to me. Each subsequent child added 20 pounds to my frame. When the child would wean and I could get back on strong pain and anti-inflammatory drugs, I generally lost about half of that weight again, as a result of nausea, lack of appetite and just being able to move.

Then the two C-sections that gutted me like a fish, ruining the rock-hard abs I had worked so hard to develop as a young woman, knowing that a strong core would help my knees. Weight began to pile onto my middle, a very bad place for fat to sit: balancing where my already precarious knees would have to adjust to it.

Now in midlife, I have good, bad and in-between days. A good day means I can stand and walk for nearly 30 minutes with minimal pain. A bad day finds me in a recliner or bed on pain meds. This leaves me with several mealtime options. 1) Eat out. Sink the budget and our health, this option is by far the easiest in the short term. 2) Eat extensively pre-processed food because it requires less prep time for me standing at the sink and stove. We're talking frozen entrees and nutritionless breakfast cereals here, make no mistake. 3) Eat food that is processed slightly less, do a little more of the cooking and thereafter, hurting. 4) Eat whole, local and mostly raw foods, paying more and working more for each meal; hoping that the short term cost in dollars and pain is balanced by a long term gain in health.

But, lucky for me, these options can vary from week to week, day to day and even meal to meal. I don't have to choose one to stick to forever. Lucky for me because I'd choose the course of least resistance: the extensively pre-processed road known as the Standard American Diet.

In My Day, Little One...

A very brief history before I launch into my locavore life.

I was always a chubby kid, my sister was jealous because I was "shapely" and I was jealous because she was thin. I went on my first diet at age 8. One banana and 4 ounces of milk every two hours, if I remember correctly.

In my day, little one, Mc Donald's was just starting to find its way into the larger towns of our country. I was 12 before I ate my first meal at a McD's. There were no Quarter Pounders then, just hamburgers, cheeseburgers and small bags of fries. The drinks were served in 12-ounce cups and no one ever asked for a refill. Before that first fateful take-out, we ate at home, almost always.

In my teens, my mom took off for a year or so to take care of an ailing relative and left me alone with my dad. Dad worked long hours and had personal issues to boot, and I was not interested in cooking in the least. I didn't want to be home with him much either, so I ended up eating more of my meals with friends than at home. I was exposed to all manner of strange foods: Mexican, Chinese, Kosher.

In high school, I fell in with the music department clique. They went every Friday morning to IHOP for breakfast. It was so cool to be counted among a group, and I loved being the quirky kid who always sprinkled pepper in her buttermilk and had a side of hash browns.

In early marriage, both hubby and I worked. Sunday morning omelettes at Hof's Hut was a real treat. That first child was born with a load of food sensitivities, though, and I had to learn how to cook for real. Told I couldn't breastfeed by well-meaning but mistaken nurses, I embarked on bottle feeding only to watch my son not gain. At three months of age, he had not gained but one pound over his birth weight. I got myself to a La Leche League meeting and learned how to breastfeed. After a few more months, my son was gaining and growing normally. It was during my dad's one and only visit to see his grandchild that I learned about whole, fresh foods, brown rice, live cultured yogurt and tofu. My dad, the alcoholic wanna-be truck driver, had discovered macrobiotics in the last years of his life. What a baffling day that was!

The babies stopped for about 10 years before resuming, one after another, in rapid succession. During my pregnancies, I learned and read about nutrition, both for me and the babies. I learned how to shop for and cook with whole foods, how to plan a nutritious well-balanced diet and kept a careful eye on my children's health. We didn't eat out except for the rare special occasion, and when we did, it was not fast food.

But, after six children, the non-fast variety of dining out became too expensive and cumbersome and our eating out devolved into trips to the drive-through or pizza delivery. The last baby had numerous allergies and food sensitivities and my attention to nutrition was aroused once again. I began growing food, canning, buying from a natural food co-op and learning all I could about herbal medicine. I even took an herbal medicine course, and am currently about three hours and a final exam short of being an herbal practitioner.

But the more I studied, the more I discovered the flaw in herbal medicine: it's still treating what goes wrong. What if there was a way to prevent things from going wrong, to walk daily in health?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The tomatoes, the silence, the new venture

My cherry tomato plants outgrew the Aerogarden this week and I couldn't bare to prune them as much as they would need to be to keep the tiny, compact size needed to fit in the machine. So, I transplanted them (or Blair did, under my instruction) into the Earthbox outside. She used twine to tie them to the fence for a little support, and they are doing quite well. I expect the first harvest in a week or so. I do intend to prune them as vigorously as needed, when they get to about two feet in height. But one foot tall just seemed a bit soon. They'll have loads of room in the Earthbox to grow and augment my salads to their hearts' content.

Haven't been posting much. Haven't been doing much at all. My knees have gotten to a point where if I bend at the waist I hurt myself. Imagine being a mom and not being able to bend at the waist. No picking up stuff off the floor, and cooking and laundry folding must be done from a sitting position. I did the grocery shopping today and every step was daggers in my knee. It didn't help that my sciatica on the other side was acting up, or that the bulging disk in my neck was sending a nerve headache to my head. I don't do pain well, which is a shame since I seem to have a lot of it. My wimpy little Darvocet didn't touch it this morning, either, which means a dose of much stronger Vicodin tonight. All these factors conspire to deepen the darkening clouds of my recurring depression that began gathering yet again at the beginning of June.

But, much to my protestations otherwise, all this sitting has had one benefit: I read a book! It was, of course, non-fiction, and on a topic I hold dear. It was The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It's a title being bandied about on blogs I read and I was piqued. It was very, very good. I had a teensy bit of overlooking to do (a little language, a lot of "old earth" theology, and some just plain silliness) but there was enough ammunition to fuel another battle in my "eating well locally" war I wage with my family. (Not against my family—I try ever so hard to not fight against them! Side by side we fight, in the style of Minutemen soldiers.) So, I've decided I'm going to begin blogging about my locavorous journey. Fear not, the posts (other than this introduction) will be separated from the other stuff of my life, so you can easily tiptoe around them. Won't bother me a bit. Like most of what I blog, what I write is more for the clarification of my own thoughts than the enlightenment of others, anyway! Not that I don't appreciate you, reader(s). And you know who you are.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Books and Reading

A friend was blogging today that she had a book she wanted to read, but more than likely she wouldn't get around to it.

I feel awful about the how little I read. Here I am in a "reading" house and I just don't read. The kids' favorite outing is the library, their favorite gift is a book, hubby is in publishing, my oldest girl is well on her way to a career as an author, and I can't tell you the last time I picked up a book other than a cookbook, a medical reference or my Bible and actually READ it. I do maintain a want-to-read list in case I'm ever hospitalized or get old.

"If you're gonna waste time with your face buried in a book, it'd better be to learn something!" Mom used to say. And I did just that for the majority of my young years. I could teach myself about anything I needed to know by grabbing a book at the library and teaching myself.

When I was a young married, hubby picked up on this trend and introduced me to Robert B. Parker's Spencer novels. I absolutely loved them! The chapters were short, the storyline engaging, and I was just old enough to remember the Spenser TV series with Robert Urich, who always topped my eye candy list. There was even a time when new installments would coincide with the birth of a new child, and hubby would read them aloud to me when I was in labor.

But, probably because my visualization of Urich didn't translate, the enthusiasm I had for Parker waned when he moved on to a female detective and retired the Spenser series. Eventually, pregnancy was put into retirement, too.

Then the capper. I got a Nintendo DS. No, it doesn't expand my horizons or educate me like reading. It's mind-numbing, and that's why I play. I don't become engaged in the storyline. Hubby reads at night, but reading in bed wakes me up as I become involved in the story. I game at night, playing Animal Crossing or Harvest Moon until the sheer boredom spins cobwebs in my brain. It turns off the cares of the day and lulls me to sleep. I can escape the piles of laundry, the dirty dishes, the never made bed, the badly-attituded teen, the constant demands on my time and just plant a garden or write some letters.

And I don't get paper cuts on the stylus.

Friday, June 13, 2008

So THAT's what it was like

Blair came home with a gift for her little sister: WOW 2008 disc 1. Great songs. Like I do with all our new CDs, I popped it into the Mac and downloaded its contents into iTunes to back it up and make its contents available on our iPods. When it was done, it ejected, it ejected, it...

didn't eject! Oh no! The CD was stuck in the drive! You know that little hole beneath the CD drive where you push in a paper clip and the eject a CD manually? New Macs don't have 'em. Why? Because that little manual eject would add width to their look-at-how-cool-and-narrow-our-CPU-is screen.

So, off to Mac Authority we go. Five to seven days they say. I rent a little iBook, but the tiny screen is so...tiny. I can access my business stuff online, but all my documents on the Mac are still on the Mac! Yeah, I have the backup - the one that runs with Leopard, which the little iBook doesn't have.

Two weeks without pre-made chore charts. Without my address and phone book. Without Quicken and my bank talking to each other and balancing my checkbook without my input. Bone knives and bear skins, Jim!

In home news, Christy has come down with a new batch of infections. First "pool ear" in one ear, then otitis media in the other ear. Now she has a UTI. She hasn't got what you'd call a delicate constitution, but when our diet gets too junky, her health always sounds a klaxon and gets me back on the whole foods.

I missed our CSA pickup this week. I had to drive Blair and a friend 250 miles on Monday to get her to where she'd join up with the next leg of her journey: all the way to Colorado Springs for a writer's conference! Then I had to turn around and drive the 250 miles back and try like crazy to get to the CSA pickup location between 4 and 6pm. Didn't make it. I didn't even get close until 7pm. The farmers are donating our share to the local food bank, though, so at least I know the food wasn't trashed.

I get to make the drive again in about two weeks unless I can convince the friend's dad to drive it this time. That would really be great because otherwise I have to try to fit the trip in after dropping hubby and Kate off at work and before picking them up and that is just too narrow a time frame for that distance!

And we are battling a tummy bug. Hubby's got it the worst. He's been off work more than on the last three weeks. I have it but not terribly, and the kids all got over it in a couple days. Mostly for me it's exhibiting as low energy and weakness. It's been a couple weeks since I've felt like doing anything other than sleep. I try to jolt myself into getting just the basics done (dishes, laundry and meals) with coffee. Put that together with the meds I take for my knees (yeah, I messed up the left one about two weeks ago and it's not bouncing back well) and I'm a real damp dishcloth. Charming.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Then the banquet

The day after the graduation church service, the church held a banquet for the grads and their families. It was a big, fancy dinner and the graduates were really "sent off" with a bang! At the end of the speeches and such, the pastor had all the graduates stand up. He asked each one of them in which area of ministry they would like to serve, and made arrangements to put each of them through a crash course in that area so they could begin right away. Very cool. Here is a photo of the family and one of the youth pastor with Blair and Kate.

A major milestone

Blair turned 18. (Her nickname is Mickey, like the mouse, hence the cake.) I can't begin to explain how it happened. Last week she was five, sitting on her Daddy's lap being unbelievably silly, this week she is eighteen. On her cake is a mortarboard. She graduated from high school within two weeks of her birthday, and we had out-of-state relatives for the ceremony, so she said it was okay to combine the two parties.

The church had a special graduation service with a nice little booklet of the names and photos of the graduates. She got to walk across the stage and get a monogrammed Bible, and the pastors' message was geared right to them. We came home and had an ice cream cake and opened presents. The 'big' present was an iPod. She is so into music and has never had her own iPod before.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Community Supported Agriculture

If you're at all "green" or interested in nutrition, you've probably heard the pleas to eat seasonally and locally. Ah, a noble endeavor, but not easy for a city girl to accomplish!

Or so I thought, but nothing could be further from the truth. Do a web search for "community supported agriculture" or "CSA." You'll come up with several sites, probably including one or two that will help you find a CSA co-op near you. Here's mine.

At the beginning of the year, I plunk down a nice chunk of change as a deposit. I also make monthly payments for the growing season. Next year I'll probably plan better and be able to pay it all up front. The farmer uses that money to prepare and plant his fields, and each week I get a "share" of my investment in the form of freshly picked, locally and organically grown, seasonal produce! I get regular reports from the farmer about what's being put in the ground this week, or what's being harvested, and recipes to use the fresh produce in.

We got our first "share" last week and it was so delicious. We had baby beets (the size of my thumb) roasted in a salad that were so good hubby even ate them! We had leafy head lettuce that was juicy and fresh. I steamed the Russian Kale and beet greens together and tossed them with some dried cranberries in a sweet and sour sauce.

But I couldn't bear to do anything to the strawberries other than eat them whole, fresh from the plant. Look at the luscious color.

You won't find strawberries with this color or flavor in a grocery store, I guarantee you. I haven't tasted a strawberry this delicious in...18 years. Yup, it was 18 years ago I had a tiny garden with a little strawberry plant that would produce maybe 10 strawberries each May.

My "share" costs about half of what buying the same amount of the same produce in my grocery store would cost. It's a great investment in local agriculture, nutrition and flavor! I can't wait for my next share of strawberries tomorrow!