Thursday, August 27, 2009

Homemade bliss

(FYI - I'm using my Treo to post this, since I'm not likely going to have my computer on today at all. Apologise in advance for the typos...for lo, I am agèd, and the wee keyboard, it bemuses me...)

I spent the morning working like someone a lot buff-er than me. Set up a trellis for the peas (trimming and wrapping wire is a new skill for me) (and my 'trellis' really shows it), trimmed the hedges, mowed the front lawn, rotated the compost, then took a pickax to the <strike>concrete</strike> hard-packed clay in the front garden bed.

THAT nearly killed me. Now, I know in my heart-of-hearts that this kind of work (kept within reason) is actually VERY good for my back. It hurts at the time, but OVER time I'm finding my overall pain is much better.

That said...OY! M'BACK!!!!!!!!

But, I now have a nicely 'fluffed', amended and currently taking a nice 30 gallon soak in laundry gray water - ready for me to plant some spinach in a couple days.

Then I came inside for some breakfast. Er, lunch. Whatever! FOOD, NOW, PLEASE!!!!!!!

I made a sandwich on bread I just made last night, soft, sweet and nutty with just a hint of 7-grain meal. I smeared it with a little mayo, then started to reach for the yellow sauce (a.k.a. French's mustard) when my eye fell on the zesty zucchini relish I made last week. Hmm, sweet-tart zucchini-onion-bell pepper relish, all (except the spices) from my own garden. {slather-slather-slather}.

A bit of ham finished the sandwich. Then a big glass of homebrewed iced tea with a dollop of lemon juice from my own little tree washed it down.

Ahhhhhhh...satiated...well, nearly anyway...some kind of FINISHER WOULD be good here...hmmmmmmmm...

A refill of tea, and a ramkin of homemade strawberry ice cream, made with the 'unwanted' foam skimmed from my homemade strawberry and blueberry jams.

Perfect. Tart and sweet, blessedly cold for my over-heated body, just a few small spoonfuls of bliss. Not so much that I feel bloated or guilty, more than enough to make me feel as rich as a queen. (And enough left in the freezer to make the Denizens a good snack after school.)

I am a wealthy woman, y'all. I am a TRULY wealthy woman...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cheaper Bulk Pectin

OK, my order has arrived and been used and the results were awesome soooooooooo…

Pacific Pectin has bulk pectin at very good prices. They have everything from their ‘Pacific Pectin Blend’ (which is what I got, and it does indeed work just like the boxed stuff) to the low-sugar type, powder or liquid, rapid set, slow set – whatever you need.

The ten pound box of the basic stuff I bought cost $63, and that included the shipping (I love a company that works shipping into their base price – it always unnerves me when I get to the checkout and only then get told to add $27.52 to my total for shipping). In my area, the standard 1.75 ounce box goes for $3.29, or $1.88 an ounce. At $63 for ten pounds, that’s right around $0.39 an ounce, nearly 80% less than the supermarket price!

Of course, it’s also the equivalent of NINETY of those little boxes, so if you’re a casual, ‘just this once’ jam/jelly/gummy chef it might be a bit much.

If kept in an air-tight container in a dark, cool place it will hold full gel-strength (I’m sorry, I just had a ‘hair products in my JELLY?!’ moment…) for two years; after that (they tell me) (because I asked) it doesn’t go rancid or anything, it just starts to lose potency. You can still use it, just add a little more to your recipe…how much more? Uhhhhh, well, ahem. See, there’s a science to jelly making, and then there’s an art to it, and this would be the part where the scientist puts down the precise measuring devices and starts dabbling in drabs and pinches and dollops. (I suspect my jelly in 2011 may have runny batches, and batches that could be used as a concrete substitute, and then some perfect ones…)

Not that anyone probably cares, but since I’ve been hearing a lot of uproar about Such Things: This isn’t a paid or solicited endorsement. I found them during a regular old search, ordered up and gave their stuff a try and it worked great – so I’m sharing.

Because Lord knows I share about everything else with y’all (would you like another post about inappropriate places for poop to end up? no? how about a lengthy rant about why anybody, even a young child, would ever use a wall instead of a Kleenex for their boogers?), a little direct ‘here’s an actual store with actual cheap prices for an actual product that actually works’ once in a while hardly seems out of character for me…

Monday, August 24, 2009

Money Monday: August 24, 2009

The last seven days have been really tough for me. There was more than the usual amount of crazy with the Denizens (bus is late, school out early, appointments, “sickness”, etc. etc. etc.), but that wasn’t the part that shoved me over the edge almost to the point of wanting to just sit down and cry for a while.

It was running out of soda on the same day that both my Scooba and my Floormate decided to have parts fail / break off / crack / spew / collapse, relegating me to cleaning the floors around the Den with a hand towel and the incredible cleansing power of cuss words.

So there I was. I’d just cleaned the kitchen, playroom, downstairs hallway, and four frickin’ bedroom floors with a hand towel. It was 101 degrees outside, and 80-something inside. I was hot, tired, sweating, my back was throbbing in a new and exciting way, and I decided that darn it, I needed a soda. For the good of mankind.

Because the mood I was in right that moment? I could have chewed somebody’s head off.

Soda hath the power to calm the savage beast…

And then…as I was lifting the cold silver can out of the fridge…a certain emptiness struck me…hmmm…fridge looks…powerful empty…no…no!...nononononononoohno, NO! DEAR SWEET $DEITY IT CAN’T BE SO, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, no! NO!

The last soda!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The world…turned gray…

And I woke up half an hour later in Turlock with a new tattoo and several yards of barbed wire wrapped around my ankles.

OK, not really.

But Dog is my witness, I did have a moment of vertigo. How could this be? So soon? SO SOON?! Because didn’t I just…I mean, I know I said ‘when it’s gone, it’s gone’ but I thought gone would be…you know, later than this…

And then I started wheeling and dealing with myself, trying to find a way in which buying soda would not count as totally breaking my own rules.

After all, I can’t exactly make soda, right? And I’m saving soooooo much money elsewhere, on strawberry jelly for example, that surely I have saved enough to buy myself some soda, right?!

I even went so low as to pull out the “well, but HE’S getting…” card. The husband is getting Kleenex THAT’S RIGHT!! Even though I could totally whip him up dozens of cloth hankies, he insists, in no uncertain terms, that he will not use a hankie, not even one that is 100% cotton, tie-dyed in cool, vibrant awesomeness and hand-sewn by his doting wifey-pooh.

Just as I was making the decision that diet Pepsi would be “my” thing…I tripped over the second half of the case on my way back inside the Den.

Oh. Heh heh. Yeah. That’s right. I, uh, sort of didn’t put all of it into the fridge, because there was, hee hee, zucchini…ahem, never mind! Just kidding! I wasn’t having a panic attack over diet Pepsi, just, you know, havin’ a little fun with y’all…


This right here is going to be the really hard part of my little project, especially for this early phase where I’ll have to be going out fairly regularly to get the things we need. I need butter, milk, eggs, soda, flour, sugar, cream and waitasecond, what was that middle thing again…?

I’ve already started imitating a helicopter at Costco, circling around and around and around the store, retracing my steps to put back the things I grabbed out of habit that are no longer on the Allowable Purchases list.

The list never was particularly long. The whole middle section of the store has been mostly off-limits to me for years, along with most of the right side aisles as well. One thing I do not need is sixty-four cases of pens and a filing wall system, you know?

But there have been other things I’ve cheerfully bought that are purely and only for my convenience. Chez-Its, chewy fruit snacks, goldfish crackers, Triscuits and tubes of roasted nuts.

None of them are horribly expensive, and the kids love them, and they make for fast lunch-making in the morning. C’mon. Six bucks and I’ve got a month’s supply of Chez-Its! Five bucks to refill the treat basket with gummy fruits!

Versus, having to make the cheese dough and roll it out and cut it and make my own version of Chez-Its. (Basically, pie crust dough with a whack of cheddar mixed into it, rolled a little thinner than usual and baked at a high temperature.)

Or having to make my own gummies, which I totally can but meh, I just don’t wanna and besides! It’s only FIVE BUCKS.

And of course…the soda. My precious, precious soda. I’m already rationing it, and cursing the fact that my poison of choice is the diet. (It has a use-by, and they aren’t kidding around. It turns into weird tasting bubbly water almost immediately after the use-by date.)

When I start telling myself how little whatever the lusted-for item is, I know I’m up against one of the weirdest of money-related human traits: The “but it’s such a little thing” syndrome.

For years, I thought it was Just Me who did this. I’ll give up cable TV and the gym. I’ll steel my soul and say NO VACATION THIS YEAR. I’ll resist the new Lexus and even the expensive dinners out.

But…not going through the Taco Bell drive-thru on my way home from Costco for a Victory Burrito and Super Gigantic Diet Pepsi of Doom? Seriously?

Not getting a shot of dark chocolate mocha from Barista’s before the farmer’s market (or any other time I happen to be downtown)? Not even a small one?


Through the years, I’ve been relieved to note that I am so totally NOT the only person who does this.

Oddly, the feeling of deprivation can be far more intense when you’re saying no to something small. It’s just two miserable bucks for the Victory Burrito, you know? Just two crummy bucks.

Aren’t I worth two bucks?

Am I that bad off? Two bucks is extravagant for me now?


Now the truth is – two bucks is not too extravagant for me. I can afford to get myself a burrito after overcoming the perilous odyssey that is a Costco trip.

And I suppose I can even argue that I “deserve” something for my trouble. I’ve just hefted fifty pound sacks of flour and sugar and heaven only knows what-all else not only onto the cart, but then off it and into the van. And now I’m headed home to heft them yet again, and wrestle their contents into bins and buckets…followed, of course, by the cooking part…

Sure. I deserve a little treat for all that work. And blowing four bucks on a burrito and a soda seems like a pretty small thing, fully within my rights as a citizen of the civilized world.

But you know what else I deserve?

I deserve to live my life in the way that gives me my best shot at happiness.

Sure, I could fork over the money for a burrito stuffed with beans and rice and guacamole, and it would taste good and I would be happy…at least for a little while.

But I could also keep that two dollars and put it toward something else – like, say, being out from under the debts we’ve racked up these last few years. Toward being able to say we own the Den of Chaos, free and clear.

Being able to say, “Check out this beautiful little ranch, ten acres of good land not too far from everything…”, and instead of being trapped because we don’t have the capital to buy or the ability to sell the Den in anything like a Timely Fashion, we could snap it up. Sell the Den at our leisure – or not at all.

We’re not going to get that kind of happiness buying overpriced burritos and sodas, no matter how much we may deserve them. We’re not going to get it by rewarding ourselves every time we do something we need to do. We’re not going to get it by deciding that gosh-darn-it, we’ve been working so hard, we deserve to…spend every dime we managed to save by doing all that work ourselves on a day at the carnival.

We deserve to go right back to treading water and wishing it were otherwise. We deserve to have a great time for a few hours, so that we can continue being miserable the other 95% of the time due to that terrible gap between actual income and what we need to make some headway.

The larger things are obvious. The smaller things…are subtle, and harder to put down. It feels so awful, putting down those itty-bitty things.

It can feel like the ultimate defeat, saying that a $2 latte just isn’t in your budget right now.

But it’s actually the ultimate victory. It’s a moment when you take your eyes off now and acknowledge that what you really want isn’t impossible. It isn’t beyond your grasp – it’s there. You can have it.

You just have to choose it…not merely in the abstract moments when you’ve had a little too much wine and are pondering what you woulda if you only coulda, but for real, for keeps.

Am I deprived? Nah. I’m living in and for a dream, that’s all. It may look like deprivation from the outside, but then it’s hard to see what I can see from out there.

I see not having credit card statements coming in each month. I see having a net worth back in the black again. I see having equity in this house no matter what the market decides to do. I see money in the bank, and the ability to let go of that month to month worry about it.

Am I willing to give up on all that for a burrito, or a soda? A latte, maybe, or a just this once pizza delivery?

Nah. I’ll patch an awful lot of jeans, plant peas by the hundreds and eat nothing but zucchini before I give up on it.

Because I’m totally worth it.

I totally am.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The week in review

The Short Version: First, I went, “AAAAAAAAH!” Then, I was all, “ARGH! ARGH! ARGH!” After which I said, “OH, you are @*^&@in’ kidding me!” Then, “Oh-no-you-di-in!” And then there was this lull where I just curled up in the corner and whimpered quietly to myself.

The Long Version: There were interruptions to the Usual Schedule this week. Monday is an early release day for the girls and Captain Adventure’s bus was Late – I think I had two hours before I had to drop everything and go get the kids. Tuesday was almost normal, except that people kept calling me. I finally stopped answering the phone, because it was always something complicated, stupid, insipid or just plain irritating.

Wednesday, I took Captain Adventure for an appointment wherein we decided we’d go ahead and try a new medication for him – but first, due to this incredibly rare side effect that occurs in something like 0.000000008% of the folks who take this particular stuff, and furthermore due to his lack of speech skills which would lead to him not saying something like, “Gee, my heart feels funny” if he actually did have a pre-existing condition…he’s supposed to get an EKG.

Hilarity ensues!!!

For some reason, he took one look at the EKG machine and decided it looked like the kind of thing that would burn him. So instead of finding the stickers cool and the “computer’s crayons” interesting, he kicked and screamed and fought and cried and guess what? You can’t do an EKG on a child who is kicking, screaming, fighting and crying.

It sort of throws off the whole test.

SO! I need to drug him up and take him back later. Now watch, the way my luck has been going lately, I’ll give him the “peace, my child” liquid and he will be in that 0.0000005% group which, instead of feeling warm, luscious waves of relaxation flowing over him, turns all spastic-hyper-crazy and stays up for six days straight wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!

Yesterday, Boo Bug stayed home “sick.” She said her stomach hurt and she threw up “a little” in their bathroom. Within an hour, she was just fine – and that meant that she started talking to me. Constantly. Non-stop. Incessantly. To the point where I was half ready to just take her to school and drop her off even though technically I’m not allowed to do so once she’s been called in sick – but seriously, what are they going to do? Chase me down the street?

I assure you my minivan can drive faster than the school secretary can run.

Speaking of the minivan – three hours at the shop for routine maintenance this week. Three. Hours. Granted, it was the 30,000 service and all but still. THREE. HOURS.

My hair practically fell out of my head in disgust.

But I did get a bit of inch-age done on the scarf I’m working on, so I’ve got that going for me.

And then today, I took Eldest and Danger Mouse to the dentist – for two cases of sealant and two fillings, both of them on Danger Mouse.

It was her first time under the drill. She was very, very brave and did a bang-up job and I’m extremely proud of her. She even wanted to go to school, after she’d been home for a little bit getting over the Novocain and letting the Tylenol work its magic. (Friday is not a day they like to miss – that’s when the fun stuff happens.)

Eldest announced on the way back to school this morning that if she didn’t have Appropriate Gym Attire today, she was going to be executed. Or have to go to detention. Or eat worms. She couldn’t remember exactly what. Anyway, it was something unpleasant.

She didn’t have appropriate gym attire because they sold out of appropriate gym attire and we were then on our own to find a plain gray shirt with no printing on it and plain blue or green shorts with no printing on them, either.

Good Freakin’ Luck. Especially if you’re shopping for a girl who is eleven years old, nine years tall but only six years around the middle. Gah.

So I did the only responsible, adult thing I could: I stalled until I was dropping her off after her third period gym class. Problem solved! (Temporarily, anyway.)

Meanwhile in other news…I have not had time to do any of the things I’d hoped to get under way this week.

And now I’m late picking up the first of the girls.


Eventually, this is going to get better, right? Eventually, we’ll all find our groove and people will be in school when they’re supposed to be in school and I’ll actually have a couple hours each day to do something other than tread water, right?

(Just say yes. I can’t handle the truth, people, I just can’t handle it…)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Emotions, now with subtitles

Captain Adventure came home from school today with a plan, and it was this: To immediately get on the computer for a game of Rollercoaster Tycoon.

He's frighteningly good at it, actually.

But! What's this? The mouse is missing! {sinister music!}

"MoooooMEE, air mine ouse go?"

"Ah, no games until you go poop in the potty, mister!"

SEE, this is the thing. We are in the window where nature usually calls. Yesterday, after half an hour of torturing the kid to use the appropriate household object, I let him take a which point, he promptly deposited his compost all over the upstairs hallway. ARGH.

So, new strategy. He's obsessed with this game. Great! Show me some potty use, and THEN you can have some Game Time!

He regarded me with dismay. He REALLY doesn't want to take time out of his busy day for The Stupid Potty Thing. But he also REALLY loves that game.

"No game?" he wavered. Then he screwed up his face and began to cry - big, heaving and oh-so-fake sobs.

Then he stopped in mid-sob, gave me a stern look and said, "Mommy, what I am doing? I CRYING! A-caus I SAD for mine game! Wah-huhn! Wah-huhn!"

New, Improved Emotions: Now with subtitles for your convenience...

(This is actually a very encouraging development overall - emotional awareness is huge for autistic kids. But it still made me laugh so hard inside it was all I could do to hold it together...a-caus I SAD, you sad-making monster, and I hope you're pleased with yourself...)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Money Monday: August 17, 2009

*sniff-sniff!* Ah! That new project smell!…smells like a need for seed money…hmmmmmm…yes, I am definitely detecting the piquant undertones of a spending fast

OK, all kidding aside, this is both part of the whole project and a means to get to a certain end, to wit, having the extra capital I need to buy the raw materials I need in order to start replacing the ready made with the home made.

A spending fast is a lot like the detox phase of a diet. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

The wrong way would be to spend the whole time thinking about what you’re going to buy the instant this spending fast thing is over. I’ve watched people succeed and fail at diets through the years, and I have to admit one of the common threads in the ‘failed diet’ group has been that the person dieting spent the entire diet obsessing about what they would eat at the diet’s end.

As soon as I’ve reached my goal weight, I’m going to plow myself face-first into the very things that got me into this overweight state in the first place and never come up again even if I LITERALLY drown in the pudding!

Same thing goes for a spending fast. If you spend the whole time thinking about all the stuff you can’t wait to buy, you’ll spend yourself right back into the mess you’re trying to escape within days of lifting your spending fast.

The right way (at least if you want the change to stick) is to embrace it as the first step of a brave new way of life.

For me right now, you know, duh. I’m talking about really stepping off the consumer treadmill, and getting into a kind of…modern day homesteading, I guess. Using my natural resources, from my land to my time and talents, to provide for our needs. Making money more by not spending it than by actually having cash flowing into our accounts.

A spending fast is only natural.

Generally speaking, you do a spending fast because you’ve got somewhere else you need the money to go. Debts or large purchases are the usual suspects.

I need the money to go straight into things like a second-hand tiller if I can find one (or renting one if I can’t), packages of seed, fruit tree saplings, more Mason jars, raw materials for crafting…in other words, I need to be shaving money out of immediate consumption to put it into another immediate need.

So, I’m fasting in the midst of plenty. I’m avoiding the supermarket, and convenience foods in all their forms. No quick hot dog at the Costco after an exhausting battle with fifty pound sacks of flour and sugar; no throwing a box of macaroni and cheese at the problem of what to make for dinner after a particularly insane day.

As those things are used up, they aren’t being replaced.

Instead, that money is going into those other things. Buying raw materials to make the things we used to buy, and some of the tools I need to do that. Buying the food we hope to be producing ourselves next year, in the same form we’ll be getting it from our own backyard. Raw, ripe and desperately needing to be eaten or preserved immediately.

Logistically, the spending fast is nothing new to me. I use them all the time to get things I want that I otherwise couldn’t afford. Sometimes, I even use them just to remind myself just how few things I actually need; it’s an excellent way to put the brakes on a rampaging case of the Gimmies.

But it still feels very different, probably because if I succeed at what I’d like to do, it’s not a temporary kind of thing this time.

If I succeed, I won’t be buying many cans of corn in the future.

If I win, all the things that are “give ups” now will be “not needed anymores” next year.

It still charms me…but at the same time, as each empty can or box hits the recycling bin and I find myself contemplating how, exactly, I’m going to replace that food with something I’ve grown at home or bought with other things produced here in the Den…I feel rather like I’ve decided to eat an elephant.

I’m really not sure I’m woman enough for what I’ve so cheerfully put on my plate.

But, having very little common sense and perhaps an over-enthusiastic confidence in my ability to at least give whatever crazy thing I’ve undertaken a good college try…I’m still game.

And as we eat what we already have here in the Den and I avoid automatically replenishing the boxes and cans and bags, already cash is starting to magically appear in my checkbook.

It really is true, you know…the fastest way to double your money is to fold it once, and stick it back into your wallet…

Friday, August 14, 2009

Good jam to be in

One of the things that is changing immediately in the Den is that we won’t be buying things we could make ourselves – that includes jams and jellies, which as you might expect we tend to go through at a fairly rapid pace around here.

In practical terms, this means I’d better get hopping on laying down what we’ll want over the winter – berry season will be over before we know it, and I’m pretty sure the kids will mutiny if we run out of jelly in January and I refuse to buy any more.

Next year, it’ll be our own berries I’m turning into jams and such, but for this year we’re getting most of them from roadside stands. This is part of the flat I got from a farm stand near Byron – they were super-super ripe, so the nice lady practically gave them to me. I paid $6 for a box that usually runs $20…but they were in use them NOW! condition.


A few weeks ago, I made a smaller batch of no-added-pectin strawberry preserves. They’re great, but the Denizens don’t like them much on their sandwiches. They’re too thick, almost chewy, and extremely concentrated in flavor. (Needless to say, the grownups are ecstatic about them.)

They also took forever to cook down enough to set.

This time, I wanted to make a more store-bought-like jelly and wanted to be done much sooner – so I used store-bought pectin. It makes for a reliable set, almost idiot-proof (real handy around here, let-me-tell-you), and reduces the cooking time from an eternity to less than five minutes.

First I ran the berries through the food mill to remove the seeds (diverticulitis flare-ups and those little tiny seeds don’t play nicely together). This left me with what was practically just strawberry juice – albeit a rather thick juice.

Then I did a Super Basic Jelly Recipe (almost right off the pectin box, but with a little more lemon juice, less sugar and a lot more volume), and ended up with these (plus another half-pint in the fridge…and already half gone…):

six pints of jam

It came out awesome. Smooth, sweet, and oh-so-spreadable.

perfect jelly spread

It may set a little more firmly over time, but I think I’ve hit it with this one. It’s enough like store bought to get past the Denizens’ cute little noses, but is just different enough to start their adjustment to homemade staples.

One flat strawberries: $6.
One box of store-bought pectin: $2.49 (ouch) (I’ve found much better deals online)
6-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice: Free from the tree in the backyard
10 cups sugar: $2.00

Total cost: $10.49, to make six and a half pints of strawberry jelly. That’s roughly 104 ounces, or $0.10 per ounce. Not too bad, compared to the on-sale supermarket price of $0.17 an ounce.

Now, the next time I make this jelly, I’ll be using backyard strawberries ($2.25 for the season’s starting plants, with a guesstimate of about fifty cents in growing costs for this many berries) (it’s a pretty un-educated guesstimate…we’ll see how it actually works out…if I can actually track things to that kind of level, which I likely can’t), and bulk-bought pectin ($0.39 an ounce instead of $1.88).

While I could do without the store-bought pectin, I think I’ll stick with it. The time savings alone is worth its weight in gold, but adding in the “sure set” part just clinches the deal. I’ve tried using none, and I’ve tried grinding up an apple or two for a pectin-boost…the results are good, but again there’s added time to cook and uncertainty around how much pectin that particular apple might have had.

I’m really enjoying the benefits of modern science right now. Woot, perfect set!!

The total out of pocket cost of that batch will be $3.25, or $0.03 an ounce. Righteous!

We can easily go through a pint of jelly a month; actually, I think it’s closer to every three weeks. (If I turned my back for just five minutes, we could probably go through a pint in less than that same five minutes around here…)

If I buy the cheap jelly when it goes on sale, I’m spending $2.99 a jar at the supermarket, which works out to roughly $50 a year.

Making it this way, with the supermarket-bought pectin, I’d be spending around $30 a year to make it. Making it from homegrown berries with the cheaper bulk pectin, I’m spending only $9 annually on it…thus “earning” around $40 for my trouble.

And I know exactly what’s in it. Nothing I can’t pronounce. No corn syrup, high fructose or otherwise. No dyes, no extra flavorings, no long chemical names that mean ‘keep it looking bright pink for six years if need be.’

I’ll be making a smaller batch of grape jelly (from store-bought grape juice I have out in the garage), and hopefully I’ll get out there pretty soon for a serious berry-picking day and get enough blackberries to make some seedless blackberry jelly as well. (Mine. All mine. Back off, man, just back off!!!)

These are exactly the kinds of steps I’m looking at taking – the steps we tend to dismiss as being too small to be worth even doing, too much work for the return they give, too much bother to, well, bother with.

At the moment, it’s fun. I’m sure it will become work soon enough…especially when making the jelly is coming on the heels of getting out in the heat to pick all the berries.

Pam, to answer your question from yesterday about the pressure canner – not for these. I only use the pressure canner for low-acid things like corn or green beans (although frankly, I prefer to freeze those – less fussing around to get the job done, and I think they taste better).

These were done with a boiling water method; the near-boiling jelly is poured into hot jars (sterilized in the canner while I was cooking the jelly), the lids and screw bands applied, and then the jars are all put back into the canner (any pot big enough to hold them and their “rack”, which can be something as simple as extra screw bands tied together, without crowding, with enough room at the top for at least an inch of water to cover them) and processed in boiling water. These went for twenty minutes under the boiling water, then five minutes to ‘rest’ in the pot off the heat, then twenty-four hours to cool undisturbed on the kitchen counter.

Half pints would take about half the time; quart jars would need a little more.

I don’t use wax to seal the jars – I just make sure the seal is good (the lid is pressing downward, and doesn’t budge when I take the screw band off and push on it), then label and put them away in the cupboard. They should be good for a full year from the date they’re made.

Whether or not they’ll actually last that long is another question entirely.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

If you give a Tama a short task list…

…she will probably get started on it first thing in the morning. Clean the front room, no big deal!

And then she will notice a big fifty pound box of cocoa powder by the front door, and she will want to move it to the garage storage where it belongs.

When she drags the box to the garage, she will notice there are many, many empty boxes sitting there waiting to be broken down and put into the recycling.

After she breaks down the boxes, she will want to put them in the recycling bin.

When she goes to put the boxes in the recycling bin, she will probably notice that the trash and greens bins haven’t been brought all the way in yet. And she will want this rectified.

When she takes the greens bin back to the garden, she will want to check and see how it is doing.

When she checks to see how the garden is doing, she will find aphids!!! are suddenly all over every single leaf in sight. And she will definitely want this rectified.

With. Extreme. Prejudice.

So she will have to find the old vegetable oil, and mix dish soap into it, and then mix that with water and spray it all over the aphids. She will also want to laugh like an insane person while she does this, because death to aphids, BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Then she will notice that the neighbor mowed his half of the lawn recently, and now her lawn looks extremely disheveled. So she will want to mow it. Or at least she will feel a social obligation to do so. Anyway, she will want to get the lawnmower.

Which will need more gas, so she will start searching through the garage to find it.

While searching the garage, she will unearth a large bag of toys that were flung out there at some point and start digging through them wondering if the missing Nintendo might be in there.

But she’ll come to her senses and return to the gas pretty quick. Right after she grabs that first handful of spider web.

Then she’ll fill up the mower, and mow the lawn. The lawnmower will blow a bunch of cuttings all over the walkway, SO, she’ll want to get the broom.

Which is in the shed.


Many hilarious adventures involving spider webs and ill-advised stuff-stacking techniques later, she will take the broom out to the front yard and start sweeping.

Then, she’ll remember the ants, which were trying to colonize under the driveway pad. So she’ll want to be extra thorough in the cracks of the driveway, so she can check for ants.

She won’t want to think what the neighbors think she’s up to as she sweeps, then crouches, peers intently at the crack, and then delicately brushes at the crack a few more times…and peers at it for another long moment…

FINALLY, she’ll put the gardening tools away and realize that she’s hungry and wants a snack. So she’ll go to the kitchen for some peach pie. (Breakfast/lunch/dinner of champions!)

And then she’ll notice that the floor in there is really, really dirty. So naturally, she’ll have to sweep and mop that before she can have pie.

And then as she’s taking the pie keeper out of the fridge, she’ll notice that the flat of strawberries in there are getting mushy and had better be used immediately.

So she’ll set down the pie and get out the food mill and the berry strainer and several pots and pans and pint-sized Mason jars and lids and tongs and all sorts of other implements, and she’ll make six (and a half) pints of strawberry jam. (Eating a big slice of pie during the processing time, which is the first time she can take her hands completely off the whole thing for more than a few moments.)

And then it will be time to pick up the children, so she’ll grab her knitting and get in the minivan, and alternate frantic activity with sitting around waiting for a little over an hour, knitting intently because what, just SIT here?! I’d go MENTAL!!

And then she’ll come home.

She’ll walk through her front door.

She’ll look at the still-messy front room that was her only task for the day.

And she will think, and for a few moments honestly believe, that she has gotten absolutely nothing done all day. She will begin trying to pinpoint where she went wrong. She will retrace the steps that led her to this moment.

And then it will dawn on her that actually, she got rather a lot done today thank you very much, and that she deserves not only a nice hot shower but an early bedtime.

Because tomorrow…she’s got another very short task list.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ya, ya, innaminute…

I need to go clean the kitchen. I mean, really…breakfast dishes, still on the table, at this hour?!


But first…just, you know, one more minute of this stillness. This almost-silence. This ability to read an email, actually read it, all the way through (I have 212 messages in my inbox I’ve set aside as needing at least some level of reading, that have been waiting for just such an occasion).

One more minute of this blessed time of nobody is telling me how booooooreeeeeeeed they are

I don’t know who was happier this morning, me or the Denizens. They went happily to school, dressed in their Specially Chosen Outfits (oh, the terrible dilemma this was yesterday, what to wear, what to wear!), with tie-dyed socks and in one case, wearing a wool hat (good grief) (it is currently 94 degrees outside) (wool hat) (sigh).

They were (in case you missed it) horribly, near-FATALLY bored these last couple weeks. The games had all been played. The art projects done. The friends visited. Grandmothers seen. Trips taken. Fairs attended. Video games played. Cartoons watched. Books read.

Everything on their checklist had been done, and in some cases done practically to death.

They were bored. B-O-R-E-D.

It’s a funny thing about kids. Kids who are otherwise awfully good about not being a nuisance will, when bored, turn into kids that strongly resemble Other People’s Horrible Brats.

Seriously. Who are these rotten kids, and what have they done with my precious angels?!

The pestering, the fighting, the squabbling…argh, I loathe squabbling, with the high-pitched whining about nothing and the way it will just sort of keep rolling on downhill…you took my thing, no I didn’t, yes you did and also you did that other thing, did not, did too, oh yeah well YOU did blah blah blah, did not did too did not did too MOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t know why they insist on trying to make me a judge and/or jury on these things. My solution to these problems is to simply say, “Fine. Nobody gets the DS, then!” and I take it away.

This is because I am way too lazy to try to figure out who actually did have ownership rights at that particular time trying to teach them the skill of working together, and how to handle conflict resolution on their own, which are valuable skills greatly needed in the adult world.

Gosh golly, but I am such a great mother…(shut. up!)

Seriously, though, these last two weeks were hard on all of us. My ability to plop down a project in front of them (here kids, it’s a cheap latch hook kit!! knock yourselves out…) and get an hour or two of relative peace and quiet was gone. There was nothing left to hold their attention for more than a few minutes at a time.

Even the Electronic Babysitter had lost its charm. “Seen it…seen it…seen this one too…seen it…yeah, this is totally a rerun…”

I had gotten so desperate that the time limits on video games had gotten longer and longer until by yesterday (when I was patching the holes in Boo Bug’s backpack) (I did use a denim patch on the inside, but it was a tricky spot and it kept peeling up…I think the thing is now more Mighty Mender glue than backpack), I no longer cared. Go ahead! Stare at the flashing pictures on the computer screen! Stare at them all day long, if it will just make you SHUT. UP. for a danged minute, I don’t care if your brain liquefies and pours out your ears…just don’t get it on the carpet or the keyboard, ‘kay?…

They were sick of me, too. Did you clean your room? Did you do your chores? Did you put away your socks? I’ll set the timer, I’m going to check in five minutes, do NOT bother me right now!, no you can’t have a snack I just gave you snack and it is not my fault you’ve suddenly decided you don’t like apples, do you see a nametag saying, “Mommy, Head Short-Order Chef” on me? I didn’t think so!

Nag-nag-nag, quiet-quiet-quiet, don’t-don’t-don’t. I was pretty sick of me, too.

I hopped into Homer the Odyssey a little bit ago to pick up the CSA box. Just…grabbed my keys, slipped on some shoes and went. Just like that.

No fighting. No lost shoes. No thousand questions. Nobody picking at anybody else. Nobody arguing about who got there first, or who got to close the door, or who had won the race to the van. Nobody asking realllllly long involved questions, or telling realllllly long, involved tales.

In? Question? Form? Because there was this guy? Who wasn’t a guy we knew? And he did this thing? And also? Mommy? It was? Really? Funny?

None of that. Just me, my keys, a quick and quiet drive, grab the box, back in the van, back home, done. Less than ten minutes.


I’ll go clean the kitchen in a minute. I swear I will.

But right this second…I’m just going to sit here and listen to the lack of sound, and cherish it…(for lo, it is fleeting…the pickup process begins in less than an hour…)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

This message brought to you by the first week of school…


I can’t wait for tomorrow. Seriously. These last two days? CRAZY. Captain Adventure started kindergarten on Monday. (I still have trouble accepting that my baby is in kindergarten, but let’s not start down that road again…)

Eldest had her orientation for middle school today. This managed to take up about four hours, even though it was only a two hour orientation.

The middle two are peppering me with questions and demands. Is ‘that’ dress clean? No, that’s MINE! Nuh-uh! Uh-HUH! Shriek! MOMMY I NEED A HAIRCUT! Did you wash my socks? No, not those socks the other socks!

And, my personal favorite so far, uttered about twenty minutes ago: “Could you knit me a new pair of pink socks for school tomorrow?”

But tomorrow, all four of them will be in school. Granted, Captain Adventure has an early release day and thus will be home three hours early, but for at least, uh, two hours…all four, in school, at the same time…

If you need me from 9:00 to 11:00 tomorrow, I will be taking a nap.

With the door locked.

And the phone off.

So, uh, don’t need me.

‘Kay? OK. And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go figure out how to patch a backpack…

Friday, August 07, 2009

Me wannit…

Right now, my gray water collection goes like this:

1. Dip bucket into tub to fill

2. Heft bucket out to garden

3. Pour bucket of water onto garden (I use this mainly on the roses, trees and front lawn, not so much the veggies because I am [probably needlessly] anxious about having soap-flavored tomatoes)

4. Repeat…repeat…repeat…repeat…the bucket holds about two gallons (and I am somewhat girly, so that’s all I’d be willing to attempt anyway), and the average bath around here is forty gallons (but does often get two kids clean before being ‘recycled’ so I suppose I can’t complain too much) (except that I do anyway because, well, what fun would self-inflicted back pain be without the vigorous complaining?!)

5. Lie on couch and complain vigorously about sore back

6. Vehemently and indignantly reply, “Don’t you know we have a DROUGHT ON RIGHT NOW?!?!” when loved ones hesitantly bring up the possibility of NOT hauling 3,000 buckets of water out to the garden each day because seriously – who does that?!

But the truth is, I don’t collect nearly the water I could because yeah. My back hurts and it’s late and I don’t feel like it and then somebody pulls the plug in the tub because I didn’t get around to it and I would get all huffy except that I’m secretly relieved because gah, hauling that bucket is a pain in the neck. And back. And elbow. And shoulder. And, well, everywhere else, too.

While continuing to plan out the Greatly Expanded Garden Project, though, I recognize that I need to do better, sore back, bad attitude and laziness notwithstanding. California is (as usual) in a drought year. While we don’t have water rationing here in town (yet), it is my duty both civic and frugal to reduce how much water I suck out of the potable water system as much as possible, as soon as possible.

Because I am a tool user, I started thinking about better ways to do this.

The first thing that popped into my mind was something with, you know, wheels. Like, say, a smallish garbage can with wheels on it. I could put a few gallons at a time into that (because filling it all the way up would be too heavy for me to move, and would probably snap the wheels off the tote [which is not designed to carry water, but rather garbage that will be mostly loosely-packed things like packaging], which would then pour $DEITY only knows how many gallons of gray water all of my carpet), and roll it out to the garden…and then I’d get the water out again with, uh, well, let’s see, how do people do that gas-siphoning thing, maybe that would work…

And then I go wildly off-topic because I start thinking about gray water getting in my mouth and trying to decide which would be worse, gasoline or gray water. Not from a ‘taste’ perspective but a ‘germy’ one…let’s put it this way, I consider the gray water from Captain Adventure’s bath to be a two-hit wonder, kind of an all-in-one water recycling and composting adventure.

That boy loses about five pounds in dirt with every bath, I swear he does.

So today I started looking at the possibilities. Rubbermaid makes some nice things, and oh! Look at this rain barrel thing, yes, that might work, I could rig up a high-to-low flow thing from the wheeled totes to a rain barrel with a spigot that would then allow me to water things, although I might need a pump which would mean I’d need to actually filter the gray water which, you know, sigh, now we’re getting into the complicated and expensive stuff which is largely why my methods to date have been a bucket. Oh! And a small plastic cup I use to get those last bits into the bucket.

I know. My technological advances are stunning. A bucket! And a plastic cup! Whoa! Somebody call NASA, this girl is smokin’

BUT. As I was clicking through sites with $6,999 ‘whole garden rain and gray water collection Solutions’, I found…oooooooh, I found… the EnviroWaterBoy .

And then I went like this: “Ooooooooh! Aaaaaaaaaaah!!”

And then I spent $500 in my head. $400 for the 24-gallon unit, and $100 for the solar charges because people?

We have sun.

Lots and lots and lots of it.

Please to note that it has wheels. And a sprayer. And no plumbing skills required, can I get a ‘hallelujah’? Just dump the suction hose into the bathtub and it goes “slurp! slurp! slurp!” and sucks the water in, and then you wheel it out to your garden and it goes “sssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhh!” with the sprayer and you can spray the water where you want it to go and I waaaaaaaannnniiiiiittttttttt.

And thus do I realize where my children get their Gimmies from, because I sound just like a five year old in the toy aisle of Target. Please? PLEASE?! PRETTY PLEASE! But I WANT IT! I WANT IT I WANT IT I WANT IT GIMMIE! GIMMIE! GIMMIE!! NO! NOoooOOooooOoooOOOOOOO, we CAN’T LEAVE.


Obviously, I don’t get one. My petty cash at the moment is a whopping, uh, well…I think I’ve got twenty bucks in my wallet. We have had six solid months with one big ticket item or another hitting us for anywhere from $400 to $900.

I need a few months (or years) with minimal smack-downs to get us back on track.

I don’t get any $400 gray water solutions. {quivering pouty lip}

Oh well. The world is full of such things. I’d also like a $30,000 solar system on my roof and six more drum composters. I’d also like a well. And to annex a couple acres from the ranches behind me (think they’d notice if I just sort of pushed my fence out? Maybe only a few feet at a time?).


I’d really like one.


…but for now, I’ll settle for something water tight, with wheels…

…hmm, you know, actually? Maybe a wheeled cooler…one with a valve to let the melted ice out…wheel it out where you want it, open the valve, and walk away while it drains…hey, that has possibilities! Also, I think I already have one out in the shed...

Thursday, August 06, 2009

It takes less planning to go to the moon…

…than it does to get four kids back in school.

I am hating this week. Hating. It. All the Denizens start school next week, which means that this week is the week when I start getting enormous packages in the mail – or worse, tiny postcards telling me to come on down anytime between 8:15 and 8:45 / 11:15 – 2:45 Monday, Tuesday or Friday (except every other Friday, which is Furlough Friday) (why no, we can’t put actual dates on that…it’s just every other Friday and you get to find out whether this is an ‘on’ or ‘off’ date by showing up and finding the doors locked! Or, not!), or, 9:00 – 11:27 Wednesday, OR, failing that, 1:29 – 3:18 Thursday, to pick up the packet.

Pickup truck with 8’ bed recommended.

Each of these packets contains approximately 62,000 pages I am supposed to fill out with the same information. Name, age, address, phone number, emergency contact information, mom and dad name, phone numbers, employer, blah blah blah . {flip to next page} Name, age, address, phone number, emergency contact information, mom and dad name, phone numbers, employer, blah blah blah.

Huh? Didn’t I just give you all that?!

Now, it may occur to one that this is stupid and also lame and that one is not going to enable the Crazy here by filling out the exact.same.information fifty-seven times.

One had better not act on this thought. One had better dutifully fill out each and every single line. Do not write “please see above” or “same” or “for the love of Mike, why don’t you people just look at the previous page?!?!”

They will send you a whole new packet OH YES THEY WILL!, telling you that the previous paperwork was not filled out appropriately and thus was discarded and/or lost.

It’s like they’re punishing you for attempting to shirk your work by making you write, “I will not attempt to apply common sense to the school enrollment process” six hundred times after school. Seriously.

Did they see a dentist? Dentist needs to fill out this form. Vaccination report, with scary flyers about how many kids in our district contracted Vampirism last year due to LACK OF VACCINATIONS ooooooooooh, SCARY!!! Pediatrician needs to sign here, here aaaaaand here. (The pediatrician’s office charges me $15 to do this, by the way. For each child. Sigh.)

And I have to do this for each Denizen. PLUS, of course, Captain Adventure has all kinds of extra fun and excitement. Copies of his IEP. Bus schedules. Last second teacher changes. Asking me fifteen times if he is potty trained yet - like the answer is going to change if they just keep asking. (If. Only.)

I guess my problem is that know that it is possible to put together an online form where I could go input all this information, for all the Denizens, one (1) time and have it populate out to all those flip-flangin’ forms for them to print at their convenience (and far more legibly, I might add) (but without my occasional artistic doodles, which would of course be a sad, sad loss to the art world).

But think of all the other things they wouldn’t have to put up with…like having to figure out what I mean when I say that the language my children speak at home is “American.”

Oh, it may have its roots in English, but the language we speak in these here parts ain’t no proper English no more. (Ugh…OK, that actually kind of hurt me to type…casual relationship with Proper English and all, ‘ain’t no…no more…’? Owies…)

Anywho, and be that as it may, I suspect the middle school will understand perfectly when I say the language Eldest most often uses at home is Long Suffering Sigh, with a secondary languages of Eye Roll, Shrug, Grunt…a.k.a., American Pre-Teen.

And then we have the added fun of the Swine Flu thing…oh wait, I forgot to say that properly…the SWINE FLU AAH! H1! AAH! N1! AAH! SWINE FLU! AAAAAAAAAAH! thing.

If I see one more flyer about the seriousness of how seriously they are taking the serious business of serious sanitation and serious planning for the serious probable school closures, I may just puke.

Oh wait. Better not. They’ll think I have SWINE FLU AAH! H1! AAH! N1! AAH! SWINE FLU! AAAAAAAAAAH! and then the Den of Chaos will be under quarantine for sixty months or something.

I appreciate the head’s up that the school may be closed without warning for three weeks or more if a “serious” outbreak occurs. But seriously – you can stop now. Anybody who hasn’t gotten the memo at this point isn’t going to get it because they live in a cave.

Meanwhile, in spite of having sixteen pickup truck loads of paper stacked up all over the house, do you know what I do not have?

Room assignments. Classroom supply lists. No way of knowing which kids will need binders and paper, and which will need notebooks, and which will need composition books. #2 pencils? Dry erase boards? Pens? No pens? Colored pencils? Crayons?

I don’t even know what time Eldest will be starting in the morning. Or getting out. She’s in GATE, which may (or may not) have a different schedule than the regular student body, which apparently may also vary depending on each individual’s class schedule.

I also do not know what time Captain Adventure's bus is going to swing by to pick him up Monday morning. Can they give me a clue, a hint, a sign, A TIME?!

Oh no. The driver hasn't done her "trial run" yet. She has until Friday.

You know, the last weekday before he goes back to school...?

Sigh. They just love giving my poor, drab little life a few splashes of color. Isn't that sweet of them? (At least I was able to confirm that he IS on the list and WILL be picked up, unlike summer session where they sorta-kinda FORGOT him...)

Still. You know. Only six more days to…

Monday, August 03, 2009

Money Monday: August 3, 2009

A couple weeks ago when I posted about my crazy self-sufficiency idea, Pipney Jane mentioned The Good Life . I hadn’t thought about that show in years, but I used to love it (although they called it The Good Neighbors here in the States).

For those who haven’t seen it (and I imagine that’s a lot of people, more’s the pity), the basic story is that these two people decide to drop out of the rat race and go to a life of nearly complete self-sufficiency. The catalyst for them is husband Tom turning 40 and starting to ask himself why he feels so…well, just…well. If he could just figure out what It is that bothers him, he’s sure they could do something about It.

After yet another frustrating / unfulfilling day at work, he comes home…and comes to this (the first five minute are the crucial ones):

I find it completely hysterical that, having forgotten all about this show, I’m in just about exactly the same place as Tom – forty, sick of the cycle and willing to work ten times harder at farming my “homestead” rather than face reentering the commute-work-commute-sleep-commute-work-commute-sleep cycle…especially since doing so would mean barely breaking even after paying for commute and childcare costs.

NOW. When it comes to what I’m planning to do around the old Den of Chaos – it’s nothing like The Good Life. What I’m after is not complete self-sufficiency. What I’m after is more of a self-sustainability concept.

I don’t expect to break us free of a paycheck. We still have a mortgage, and car loan, and credit card bills to pay. We have four kids who are going to get nothing but more expensive as time goes by.

I don’t expect to be completely free of the supermarket, either. We don’t have that kind of space, for one thing. Wheat alone would be a deal-breaker for us – we’d need double the space we have to grow enough to keep us in flour. For another thing, the definitive word from the city on keeping livestock is this: NO. The line between ‘suburban housing’ and ‘ranchland’ is literally my back fence, and I’m on the wrong side of it.

Which is probably actually a good thing. I’m flying solo on this deal and probably already biting off way more than I can chew just with the garden, harp and hand crafts. And being the primary caregiver for the Denizens. As well as being in charge of all maintenance of Den and Denizens.

Yeah…I think chickens wouldn’t stand a chance for survival around here…

I also don’t expect that I’m going to earn an actual paycheck-as-such doing this. This is not a replacement of money…it’s replacing the things we use that money to buy, by either growing or manufacturing them ourselves, or by selling things we can make to buy the things we can’t.

This obviously isn’t something that’s an instant-start kind of deal. Oh, the work can start immediately, sure – but the benefits are months away. A supermarket carrot can be had in under thirty minutes, even given the time it takes to find your keys…a carrot you grow in the backyard can take three months from seed to soup.

And in terms of having any actual income, either from selling the excess from the garden or from me peddling my handcrafts at fairs, well. That’s going to take a while, too, and again – it’s not going to be oodles and gobs of money. Twenty bucks here, a hundred there…hardly enough to keep four kids in jeans and tennis shoes.

But over time, as we settle in and figure out what works and what doesn’t, the ultimate goal would be to have the household endeavors provide for the household needs. Instead of using the paycheck to buy things for immediate consumption, we either make it ourselves or dip into the petty cash we’ve acquired by selling our excess to others.

I can lift up to $20,000 of post-tax spending off my husband’s paycheck, if I could provide all the food, clothing, entertainment and “etcetera” we currently just buy because that’s how it’s done, you just BUY it.

It’ll be work and plenty of it – but hey. Life is work. Most of us work in offices wishing we were somewhere else doing something else all day; I’ll be working in my backyard all morning wishing that seeds planted themselves, coming inside to make some soap for the next craft fair, or can some jelly or get some corn in the freezer.

And 2:00 is going to come around brutally fast, each and every single day. I’ve got four kids with four different schedules at three schools this year – that pickup ordeal is going to put gray hairs on my head, I just know it is!

I’m sure I’ll get sick of it sometimes, and wish I’d never started this twelve-layer Crazy Cake. I’m sure I’ll do something stupid and watch an entire crop die, or spend entire days watching the fish not bite my bait. I’ll go to craft fairs and not sell a thing, or find myself caught up in stupid politics at the farmer’s market.

Life is like that. Whatever we do to keep body and soul together is full of things that are fun, and things that aren’t fun at all. I tend to make my own fun wherever I am, much to the annoyance of more adult people who think offices are not playgrounds. (Two words for such people: Poopy. Head.)

But I think I’d like to take a page from The Good Neighbors for a little while, and work at the business of life for a while.

Knowing me, I’ll have a pretty good time doing it…and maybe, just maybe, the Denizens will learn a little something about where jelly actually comes from, and how much work goes into a jar of peanut butter…