Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I spent most of the day inside today. Didn't even take my morning walk around the garden because I was busy with Other Things, namely the Things that are supposed to be refilling my Etsy shop and/or coming with me to craft fairs in the very near future.

Not that I'm freaking out or anything but dog-DANG, you know, when I ordered the dyes and blanks the numbers didn't seem that big...but when I'm washing and sorting and ironing and planning and folding / banding / tying?

It's a lot of yarn and fabric.

But actually, I'm digressing. (I have been up since 3:15 [a.m., ya smart-alecks!]. Rambling is probably going to happen. Repeatedly.)

After I got home from picking up the Female Denizens, I suddenly thought, Oh! The garden! I haven't walked the garden today!

I have this vague feeling that without my daily support, everything will die. That's right! Nature has far less to do with the bok choy thriving or the broccoli not-so-much thriving as does my daily stomp through the yard inspecting the process or lack of same in each of the beds.

So I scowled at the broccoli beds (of twelve plots, only two have broccoli coming up). I plucked caterpillars off the Brussels sprouts and the broccoli. I informed the moth who was obviously laying eggs on them right there in front of God and Everybody that I was so going to be killing her babies later.

I thinned the carrots. It pained me, but I learned from the last stunted crop that it is important.

Then I spent some time poking at the beet bed. Parts of one row are thriving, parts of another are thriving...and the spaces between are like scorched earth. Hmmmmmm...

Fertilized the pumpkins up front. Got the leaves off the spinach up front. (We had a small wind storm, and the tree in front of the Den let loose so many leaves it looked like an ocean of the things, all over the lawn, driveway, pumpkin patch and spinach bed.)

Cooed at the bell peppers, and grabbed two for dinner.

It was supposed to be a pork soup made with carrots, bell peppers, onions and peas grown right here.

And it was.

Except for the peas.

WELL. Actually, there were some peas in there.

A few peas.

Like...maybe...ten of them?

SEE, what happened was, well, I was out in the garden? And there were a bunch of peas ready to pick, all swollen up and lovely and perfect?

And so I gently cut one off the vine just like the gardening book said to and then I looked at it and thought it just looked so darned pretty and I wanted to see the peas so I split it open and hey! There they were! All green and smooth and perfect and I wondered how they tasted and...uh...wellllllllll...

I sort of maybe kind of stood there in the garden shelling peas and eating them as fast as I could for a little bit? Because they were sweet and delicious and just a little bit crunchy?

And then I realized that basically, I'd eaten more than half of that first wave of peas and then I told myself that nobody would mind because it wasn't like the Denizens liked peas anyway and the carrots would suffice.

But I put the pathetic remnants in the soup anyway because...well...they were there.

And now my children think I am either the toughest broad EV-AH, or really, really sick and in need of some kind of intervention...because I not only ate peas, I ate them RAW, right out of the shell!

(They have no idea, NO IDEA, what they are missing. Thank Dog, because if they did I might never get another pod of my own again...)

Monday, September 28, 2009

This just in...

I am sitting in my bedroom with the windows open.

And I am about to get up and close them.


(This is exciting because it was over one hunnerd deg-grees out here just yesterday, which was day five of high-90s-low-hunnerds and can the sun not read a simple calendar?! What part of "first day of Fall" is His Hotness having trouble understanding, huh?! But today it "only" got to 90. Tomorrow it may stay in the 70s. Yay, Fall!)

Money Monday: September 28, 2009

You know…we’re all investors. Whether we realize it or not, we are.

Every day, we make decisions about how we’re going to invest our resources. Some of us are extremely conservative and only go with the sure bet kind of things. We’ll invest our time and talents in a steady job in exchange for a steady paycheck. We’ll invest five bucks in a McMeal, expecting that we will get a full stomach for it immediately.

Others of us are a little more daring. We’ll take more risk.

We’ll go to the supermarket and buy raw ingredients, risking all sorts of disasters. From leaving the pot on too long and burning things beyond recognition to not getting around to cooking it before it rots, investing $200 at the supermarket can be riskier than you might suppose on the surface of it.

But of course, risks like those are routine. So routine, in fact, that we don’t even consider them to be risks at all. Paying $50 for a pair of boots isn’t an “investment.” It’s just boots, for heaven’s sake! And going to the supermarket an investment?

This woman is whacked, yo.

But part of having a frugal mindset is constantly being aware not only of what things cost, but what their opportunity cost is as well.

For example. I’m out in the big bad world and I see a really cool pair of boots for fifty bucks. (Let’s just say.) And as it just so happens, I have a couple hundred bucks in my petty cash account…so if I wanted to buy the boots, I can pay for them in cash right here, right now.

But. Do I need them? Welllllllllllllll, this is open to interpretation of course, but unless I’m currently barefoot the answer is probably not really.

And for me personally, “cute” boots really are a waste of money. I won’t wear them. I may think I’ll wear them. I’ll envision myself being the kind of woman who stomps around in fashionable boots and the image will please me mighty well and all, but let’s face it: I’m not a fashionable kind of woman. My lifestyle is not fashionable. In point of fact, my lifestyle is the kind of lifestyle that takes fashionable things, wads them up into tiny balls, passes them through a mulcher, spits mud on them, irons them out in a vain attempt to make everything right again and then goes, “Uh, ta-da?”

I live a lifestyle of blue jeans and work boots. If I want boots, I’d better give the “cute” section a miss and head on over to the “can repel fire ants, rattlesnakes, mud, flood waters and five year olds with a shoelace fetish” aisle.

They’d be a bad investment for me, one where the money I spent would end up sitting on the shelf for a few years before I quietly snuck them out to the donation bag in the dead of night…weeping softly to myself because I had such high hopes that this time, miraculously, I would be that fashionable boot-wearing kind of gal.

But let’s say that’s not so. Let’s say I’m still working in the financial district and such things as kicky boots are definitely a part of my daily wardrobe. So the boots could be considered a decent investment for me. I’ll wear them regularly, and get good use out of them.

That’s still not the whole equation – there’s still the question of what I’m giving up, what other things I could be doing with that money.

I could buy ten whole chickens on sale. Or 150 pounds of flour, with enough left over for ten gallons of milk. A quarter hog. Enough beans to solve world hunger (if I could just figure out the distribution problems).

I could buy up to fifty articles of clothing at the thrift store. Shoot, with luck, I might even be able to buy ten pairs of boots there, instead of just this one! (You’d be amazed how many nearly-new boots end up on the thrift store shelves around here. Apparently, I’m not the only woman out there who only thinks she’s a sexy-boot kind of gal.)

Fifty dollars is twenty-five packages of seed at the hardware store, each of which will plant between twenty and forty feet of something. That’s more than enough to feed my own family and our neighbors and make the folks at the local family shelter very, very happy indeed.

Fifty dollars could buy twenty-five yards of brand new cloth from the discount bin at WalMart, or, the entire stock of fabric remnants at the thrift store.

Fifty dollars is more than enough to take a class at the parks and recreation center – maybe a sewing class, so I’d know what to do with all that fabric.

Maybe a quilting class, and then I could make quilts to add to the things in my Etsy shop. (Yes, I know, it’s almost empty right now – new stuff is coming. Boy, is it ever coming…I’m’a’gonna lose what’s left of my mind trying to keep all this stuff organized…)

I could simply hold onto it and wait for something better. Add it to the side-of-beef fund, or even just wait for the boots to go on sale at the end of the season – in a nice, interest-bearing account where more pennies get added to it every month.

Or. I could take that money and buy some raw materials. Maybe I could buy enough raw materials to make 100 hand-dyed handkerchiefs that sell for $2 each – shazam! My $50 is now $200, like magic! (OK, magic, plus about a hundred hours of work…I think there should be a rule that we don’t discuss hourly wages when we talk about artistic endeavors, it’s about always depressing...)

It’s at this point that people sit up and go, “Oh, that’s investing! That other stuff isn’t investing, it’s just buying!”

But I humbly submit to you that, like it or not, you are investing your life.

What you do with your time is an investment, whether you spend it sitting behind a desk in exchange for a sure-fire paycheck at the end of the week, or writing stories you only hope will be published someday by someone, or planting seeds and hoping they’ll grow and feed your family and let you have fresh organic produce without having to sell your internal organs on eBay for the privilege.

What you do with your money is also an investment, whether you’re putting it all into only immediate needs and desires, doing your best to spend it in ways that give you the most benefit, saving it for future use, or deciding to put some into a business of your own in the hopes of growing that monetary seed.

It all has some degree of risk, from “almost none” to “are you crazy?!”

It all has some form of reward, from “negligible” to “gratifying.”

If you can find the spot where, for you, that risk and reward come into perfect balance, where your returns are gratifying and the risk manageable for you (and that’s different for every person – some people would be on anxiety medication trying to deal with the risks I take, while others would be buying rollercoaster tickets trying to get a little more adrenaline into their lives), you’ll find that you’re really living – conscious of what you’re doing, aware that you are not just drifting along doing what you “have” to do.

It’s a nice way to live, even if it does mean you give those trendy boots a miss this time around…it doesn’t feel like a loss, when you’ve thought through why you want them and why you don’t, and made an “investment decision” rather than deciding to “stick to the (ugh!)budget.”

Trust me on that one.

Friday, September 25, 2009

When I CAN DO IT goes horribly awry…

Well. I guess it can actually go more awry than this, but…still.

Captain Adventure has been home sick today. He’s got one of those single-symptom things going, a high fever with no cough or anything else to give you a hint as to why. This morning he wasn’t too interested in eating, but about half an hour ago his stomach suddenly woke up and said, “FOOD. NOW.”

So he came in, disconnected the fax machine in mid-fax (sigh…my little engineer…what dis do? {mommy shrieks, stomps and carries on} …oh, it’s a mommy-freak-out-uh-nator, cooooooool…) and announced, “I need-it a sam-itch.”

So I rewired the fax machine (SIGH), hit ‘resend’ and came downstairs to make him a sandwich stand on the curb and clap as he paraded his mad sandwich-making skilz past me.

“First,” he announced. “I hafta put de cereal inna bag.”


So he merrily put the last few crumbs of cereal remaining in the Den into a baggie.

“OK! Now I make-it a sam-itch. I need bwead, NO! I KIN DO IT!!”

“Noooooooo, mommy will cut the bread. No knives for Captain Adventure,” I said firmly. I put up with a lot in the name of letting him be more self-sufficient, but I draw the line at using knives. So he watched anxiously as I cut two slices of bread.

“NO! I KIN DO IT!” he bellowed as they fell onto the board. Then he snatched them away and carefully turned them over, ready for filling.

“Now I get the Meat,” he decided, and brought out the shaved turkey. After some tense negotiations, I got most of the pound and a half back from him and handed him a seven-shaving wad for him to “do himself.”

Then cheese.

Then mayonnaise.

Then blackberry jam.

Then peanut butter.

Then it needed to be cut into four pieces. (Irritation! Mommy and her irrational refusal to let me play with the knives…!)

Then it needed to be squished flat. Really flat. Like, pounded.

Then bagged up.

And then…he walked away from it.

Because see, the point wasn’t to eat it…it was to make it himself.

So. Um.

Anybody want a (ahem) thin (and slightly crumbly) turkey, peanut butter, blackberry and cheese sandwich?



…didn’t think so, somehow…

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On the list of Things That Make Me Tired...

#27: Logging into email and watching the status bar as it receiving message 2 of receiving message 3 of receiving message 4 of receiving message 5 of 221... it's...?


I may never catch up on this deal...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Gotta give her points for resourceful thinking

OK, I admit it: I'm a fundraising curmudgeon. I HATE all those catalogs and flyers and so forth and so on.

So far, we've had Tupperwear, wrapping paper, walk-a-thon, read-a-thon, makeup, and cookie dough.

Now Tupperwear, I love. Couldn't afford right now, but love.

The Sally Foster gift wrap is good stuff, too. High quality. Thumbs up.

Anything-a-thon may get annoying when you're getting FOUR identical envelopes all at the same time, but I just do a flat pledge and there we are.

But the cookie dough...y'all know about my baked-goods snobbery, right? I admit it: I like almost NO cookie I didn't bake. Mrs Fields can get some of my money...coincidentally (not!), guess where I first learned to bake cookies?

Anyway, the tubs of plastic with semi-solid dough-like substance in it, which makes 36 cookies for twelve bucks?

Ahem. Tell you what, my darling school: How about I just write a check straight to the student fund instead? You get the whole twelve bucks, I get to deduct the whole twelve bucks (yes, it's tax deductible, at least for our school - YMMV), and I DO NOT have a tub of noxious waste waiting to defile my baking sheets. (Did I mention my baking snobbery?)

Which brings me to the one thing common to ALL these fundraisers that REALLY burns my turnovers, which is the "free" prizes.

Sell one, get this (yawn) whatever.

Sell four and get this AWESOME ZINGER-WHAMMER, WOW-WOW-WOW!!!

This, naturally, leads to begging, pleading, bribery, threats, tears and other skullduggery in an attempt to coerce their doting momma into buying hundreds of boxes of whatever.

Whiiiiiiiiiich leads me to Boo Bug, who wanted me to buy cookie dough.

Really, reeeeeeeally badly.

I said NO. I told her it was toxic waste squeezed from the bowels of Satan. I even gave her a check and told her that she should be proud. That was how much the school would get for TEN of those nasty tubs, and isn't that the whole point, sweetie?

She thought about it for a minute, then asked, "How much is bird seed?"

Uhhhhhhhh...I really don't...

"BECAUSE! MAYBE! You could make the cookies for the birds! They like anything, even store-bread!" Ah, bread snobbery! I'm passing it right along to the next generation.... "And it might be cheaper because I 'member YOU said bird seed was 'spensive, last year...!" (She starts dropping letters when she gets excited andalsoherwordsallruntogetherlikethis!!!

SEE, this is the danger you face, when your kids are smarter than you...still said no, but had to give her points for thinking outside the box, there...

(Bird seed is way less expensive, and cookies are bad for them. We discussed this at length. Along with the fact that she really didn't need another flam-whammer OR the didja-which.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Money Monday: September 21, 2009

The rubber is starting to hit the road around here, and not all of us are particularly happy about it. And “not all of us” should be pronounced, “almost none of us.” Seems like every day, we have a “last.” The last box of mac-n-chez. The last bag of spaghetti noodles. The last can of green beans. The last watermelon.

My husband is the only one who seems mostly unaffected by the slow but inexorable emptying of the conveniently-packaged quick-hunger-solutions from the pantry. This is because he’s the kind of guy who will cheerfully eat what happens to be on hand, and not worry too much about what isn’t – his “favorite” food tends to be whatever he’s currently eating.

The kids, however, are not enjoying the lack of Chez-Its and are alarmed by the rapid depletion of the marshmallows. Also, some of these things feel to them a bit like taking a giant step backward in their own self-sufficiency – making a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese was simple enough for them to do themselves.

Making a cheese sauce from scratch is a tad more advanced in the cooking department. And oh by the way – we’re out of elbow macaroni. So, you know, if you want that specific form of pasta under your sauce, you’ll have to figure out how to make it.

Without a pasta extruder because I don’t own one of those.

Hey kids, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s learn to love fettuccini!

And for me, well. It’s one of those profound learning experiences…which of course is putting a positive spin on how it actually feels, which is something like this: OhmyGAH, what was I THINKING this is CRAZY I can’t handle it and WAH!WAH!WAH!!

Seems like everything is taking more time these days. Like laundry wasn’t already bad enough in terms of sucking time out of my week, now each load takes an additional five minutes in gray water hauling. Doesn’t sound that bad, except that we’re doing at least ten loads a week and often more like fourteen. An extra hour a week fiddling around with the laundry starts to feel pretty burdensome, pretty fast.

And of course now that I’m recycling the gray water, I’m hand-watering the roses, trees and front lawn.

You know, in all my free time…speaking of which…with a new set of crops in the ground just barely starting to sprout, weeding is once again an epic chore.

And of course, there’s also that whole part where food needs to be prepared from scratch, either to eat or to be put up for later. In exchange for the ‘almost instant’ spaghetti sauce later, I’ve got to spend the better part of a whole day cranking the food mill and stirring a pot of slowly evaporating tomato juice until it gives up a good 50% of its moisture and becomes a thick tomato sauce at last.

And now that the last bag of store-bought spaghetti is gone, if we’re going to have it I’ve got to get out the pasta machine and spend an hour or two making it. Mix, rest, roll, rest, cut…then cook or dry for later in the week.

The Christmas craft fairs I’m hoping to use to get some cash money in the petty cash box are coming fast. If I want to snatch one or two of them this year to help defray the clothing expenses that are coming at me like a speeding freight train, I’d better get my crafty-ness in gear and start building up inventory!

Which I’ll get right on, as soon as I patch this, mend that, sew up these and finish knitting the pre-winter sweaters for the Denizens…

To make a long story short (too late!), time has suddenly become an insanely precious resource.

When I manage to get a little emotional distance on the issue, I have a good laugh on myself about it. Dog is my witness, I thought this wouldn’t be all that hard.

After all (I said smugly, forgetting that yea verily, arrogance goeth before comeuppance), it’s not like we do much “convenience food” as it is. I’ve baked from scratch for years. Meals start out with ‘raw’ ingredients that have to be stewed, simmered, broiled or casseroled, right?

How hard could it be to also manufacture what few snack foods I actually buy?


There are times I look at my kids and wonder how it was that I didn’t think they ate all that much. The baking I have on tap for today is going to take a dozen eggs, eighteen cups of flour, a gallon and a half of milk, three pounds of pork, six onions, fifteen pounds of tomatoes, a wide assortment of carrots, green beans, zucchini, potatoes and anything else I find languishing in the crisper, a cup of popcorn, about a pint of cooking fat and six additional potatoes for the potato crisps I’ll be putting into said cooking fat.

That will give us snacks and lunches for up to five days, although we’ll be out of bread by Wednesday morning and probably the popcorn and potato crisps will also be gone. (Which is just as well, because in the absence of preservatives those things don’t last as well as the store-bought versions do.) So I’ll be doing about half of all that again on Wednesday or Thursday, and likely another bread baking over the weekend.

So, what does all this have to do with money?

Well. Something new and rather exciting happened this month. I took only half my usual household allowance into the household checking account on the first of the month - $750 instead of $1,500.

I still have $430 left, with only nine days left in the month. And speaking of the bill payin’ account, guess what else? We have an unprecedented $1,800 left over in that account as well.

This is the tremendous power of even a modified spending fast like the one I slapped on us back in August – but this one has the added benefit of not having an end date looming.

There’s a nasty thing that often happens with a spending fast, which is that the day after it ends you rush on out and buy all the stuff you didn’t buy during the fast, and all that precious, hard-won money evaporates so fast it doesn’t even have time to sizzle as it vaporizes.

The one we’re on right now has no specific end date. The things I haven’t been buying as they’ve been used up are not on the radar to be replaced – so we get to keep the money we’re saving indefinitely, roll it into other things like accelerating the payoff on our debts or replenishing our savings.

This is pretty hard work, taking things to this kind of level. It gets a bit frustrating (a bit?!) sometimes, trying to keep up with the demand.

But honestly, this feels like a lot of other things I’ve gotten through in my life so far. Learning to play the piano, getting through college, paying off tens of thousands in debts, figuring out how to make a self-sustaining homestead out of less than an acre of suburbia…there’s a learning curve involved, a period of time where you feel…well, you feel like you’re trying to ride a bald-tired motorcycle up a greased ramp. The wheels are spinning like mad, but you’re just not getting anywhere.

But eventually, something clicks. You learn how to shift your weight, which way to lean, how to get those tires to grip and move you forward. You start to realize that the tires aren’t as bald as you thought, and the grease isn’t all over the ramp – it’s just that you haven’t seen where the dry patches are.

Right now, I don’t have a good routine for all this extra work. I’m fire fighting – running from flare-up to flare-up stomping for all I’m worth.

But I’m also taking notes. What works, what doesn’t. How much of what things I need to make at a time to get the best possible balance between not being in the kitchen all the danged time and having snack foods around that are actually EDIBLE.

Things will click. I’ll get this down. My ancestors somehow managed not only to feed much larger families than this, but did it completely off their own land.

It’s a little (a little?!) extra crazy right now. I’m more frazzled than usual and feeling the pinch of less time, especially in the email-checking and Facebook areas.

But it will get better, feel easier, become automatic and even second-nature; and I’m sure eventually I’ll get to the point where I can’t remember why I thought all this was soooooo hard.

In the meantime, I’ll warm myself by the glow of the positive numbers in the checking accounts.

They do wonders for a bruised up psyche.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Life is so gross, sometimes...

This is a post containing material of a gross nature.

Reader discretion is advised.

SO. This is the time of year when I start becoming obsessed with flies. House, horse and fruit - we've got them all in great numbers right now...and this year, between the steer compost in the blended soil we just spread, new compost piles just starting to do their thing, and me spending an hour or three charging in and out every day (instead of sealing the house tight and refusing to come out until December when the winged demons are all dead like a sensible person), the problem is a lot worse in the house this year.

The sight of flies crawling around my kitchen grosses me out in a way even the nastiest diaper can't.

I've been swatting and working extra hard to keep the kitchen clean and rotting food in the compost (ahem...yeah, sometimes I don't empty the kitchen compost tub as often as I could), but still they come. By ones and tens and hundreds and thousands.


Which brings me to the gross part.

I made burritos for dinner tonight. The Denizens LOVE burrito night, because it's one of those rare meals where they get to pick exactly what goes on their plates, and how much...and everything is in little bowls on the Lazy Suzan, which is Just Plain Cool.

So we're all making our burritos and there is Joy and Merriment and I am being complimented as the Best Chef Ever and then I noticed a big fruit fly skittering around on Captain Adventure's tortilla.


He saw it at the same time. I opened my mouth to say something calming, like 'hang on, buddy, mommy's got this', when...when my son, my sweet little boy, my chubby-cheeked innocent...

..slapped his pudgy hand down over the little fruit fly, squishing it expertly against his beans...

..then, as I opened my mouth wider to yell, "Nooooooooooooooooo...!"


Ate. It.

And then I had a heart attack and died, the end.

I'm not sure what bothers me more, that he did it...or that he did it so CONFIDENTLY, leading me to wonder if this is, you know...a....regular? Thing? With...him...?

Ugh! Shudder! Weep...

..hold me...

(I don't CARE that it's "free" protein. I don't care that fruit flies are a delicacy in Outer Bbzecherydhckvlee. IT IS JUST PLAIN DISGUSTING, READ MY LIPS: DEEEEEEEE-SKUS-TIN!!!!!)

..I need a badly...

Monday, September 14, 2009

There’s a certain TRADE-OFF here…

Homework accomplished, Danger Mouse appeared at my elbow this afternoon.

“Mommy, can I have some pie?”

“Whaaat? You want pie?”

“Yes. I want pie.”

“I have some carrots, you know.”

“No, just pie.”

“Onions? Mmmm, raw onions…”

“MomMEE. I. Just. Want. Pie.”

“Eggplant? Tomatoes? Bell pepper? Just picked this morning…”

“{long-suffering sigh}”

“So, pie, huh?”


“You’re sure?”


“Wait. You’re telling me, you’d rather have chocolate pie, than eggplant?!”

“{eye roll} Yesssssssssss!”

“That’s just plain weird, dude…”

She gave me A Look. An exasperated look. An irritated look. A look which clearly said, How come *I* had to get the crazy parent?! A NORMAL mother would just give me some danged pie, already, how come *I* always have to go through a three hour barrage of teasing before I get what’s coming to me?!

Yeah, well. I tell you what, kid: Only crazy parents bake chocolate meringue pie while their kids are at school, expressly for their Precious Babies’ after school snack. (Well, that…and perhaps because she’s been craving chocolate meringue pie for, like, two weeks and finally decided that if she made it for you all for your snack, whatever slivers she got out of the deal would have no calories due to that whole ‘if you share your dessert, all the calories disappear’ rule.)

It’s the price you pay, babe. You want the kind of mother who bakes pies and bread and cookies all day while simultaneously making potato chips, popcorn and crackers for your lunches?

You’ve got to put up with some crazy.

That’s just the way it is.

(I burned the last batch of crackers this morning…it made for epic amounts of smoke, and the fire alarm went off, and the cat almost puked up her spleen because it startled her so badly…do not startle an aging cat, they puke rather easily…and then after I swept them off the tray onto the cooling rack I got tickled about it and I sat there at the kitchen table laughing until I almost cried and forgot all about them [they were kind of ‘out of sight, out of mind – my kitchen is rather cramped and counter space is limited, so the cooling racks tend to be relegated to the front room or even the office], so when they came home and started offloading their backpacks and such into the front room, there was this pathetic pile of charcoal-black crackers that made them think Uh-oh…please dear God tell me THAT isn’t supposed to be our after school snack…my poor Denizens, they really do have a mother who borders on certifiably insane, don’t they?!)

Money Monday: September 14, 2009

Wow, did I ever have a great Saturday! First, I slept in until almost noon! Then I had a hearty brunch my husband made, and then we went out for ice cream, and then we went to the Bean Festival and had all kinds of fun and went on rides and they had this incredible rollercoaster and it only cost a quarter a ride! And then we came home and my husband grilled these steaks that were soooooooo tender they practically melted our mouths and then we had chocolate pie and then I sat on the sofa for about three hours watching CSI:Anywhere while my husband rubbed my feet and the Denizens cleaned the house including the bathrooms…

…and then I woke up and it was five a.m. and I was really pissed because it was an awesome! dream. Also, I said some very rude things about five a.m. that probably it didn’t deserve but come ON, it’s five a.m. on a Saturday and I am awake?!?!

Then I spent the morning spending money – but in a good way. I bought our four trees, which ended up being one granny smith apple, one that has three kinds of peach and two kinds of nectarine, one Bing cherry and one Ranier. I may be picking up one more of the multiple-apple varieties later, but the ones they had available at the local nurseries just didn’t tickle my fancy much. I bought some more seeds and a six-pack of six-inch Brussels sprouts.

And a small sump pump, whose story is another whole post all by itself.

Then I came home and spent the rest of the day playing in the dirt. I planted more spinach, golden beets (I love those – sweet and tender like fresh beets are but they don’t stain everything they touch), more carrots, some bok choy, some potatoes, broccoli, onions and garlic.

It involved the shovel and pickax again (groan), because the root vegetables needed the soil broken up to a greater depth than we had done previously. In related news, my tennis elbow is back with a vengeance and I’m very tired of it. Feh.

Sunday, we finished planting the trees (PVC was broken…again…seriously, I’m starting to think my husband defrauded a PVC company in a past life or something…), cleaned up the yard a bit more (lots of green webbing all over the place from the ex-lawn area), and then we went to the Bean Festival.

Now, I’ll admit that the main reason I wanted to go to the festival was because it is a place where I can get some of the more unusual beans for very reasonable prices. I picked up Christmas lima beans, Anasazi, Orca, Moccasin and Yellow Eyes, as well as some of the more common things, like red and green lentils, small red kidney and the classic white navy bean – restocking the pantry after a year’s worth of soups, salads, sweet and savory baked side dishes and of course burritos stuffed with that ultimate comfort food, refried beans.

And then I got to thinking about how cool beans really are, and how often I serve them in one form or another around here, and how rare it is that something so inexpensive is so darned good for you, and I thought hey! Why not dedicate some blog space to them?

So here it is. In honor of the Bean Festival, and of our town’s status as the Bean Capital of the World (which status I’m not sure is entirely global, as I suspect that it is a self-proclaimed title, but let’s not get fussy, shall we?)…the cool stuff about beans.

Dry beans are a tightwad chef’s friend. They are very inexpensive, costing between fifty cents and two dollars a pound even at the supermarket (the high price leader, compared with direct from the source, bulk or festival pricing). They have good flavor on their own, but also make excellent foils for your favorite seasonings. You can leave them tasting the way they do, or disguise them from your picky eaters by cooking them in stronger seasonings.

And they really fill you up, granting you that “sit back from the table, groan a little, pat your stomach and say, Dang, but am I ever FULL!” feeling…but without 1,600 empty calories, 95% of same from fat like some of the other popular cheap meal-stretchers. (Hello mashed potatoes and gravy, and yes, I am looking at you!)

Beans are loaded with fiber and protein, packed (to various degrees, depending on the variety in question) with vitamins and minerals, have practically zero fat and are an all around Dietary Good Guy.

Left whole in a soup they add interesting flavor and texture; pureed, they give a wonderful richness without adding empty carbs or calories to the dish. (And can thus be disguised from the picky eaters – if the Denizens don’t know there are lima beans in their soup, they won’t automatically hate it.)

They also taste awfully good (and add vegan-safe protein) crumbled or tossed into or over a salad, cooked into omelets, added to curry, baked with maple syrup…shoot, they’re just plain good, in a hundred different ways...and all for pennies on the dollar compared to the meat most of us use for our main protein source.

They come in a tremendous array of colors, sizes, textures and flavors – far more than the usual pinto, kidney, navy, black or lima that make up the usual offerings at the supermarket. They can add a lot of visual interest to your dining, without having to pay a bazillion bucks for the privilege. Check out Pacific Grain and Foods and search on ‘beans.’

They also store extremely well and for ludicrously long periods of time – like, two years if stored correctly (closed container, dark and cool place). Two cups of dry beans will expand upon cooking to around six cups of wholesome, gut-filling food, making it an efficient use of storage space as well.

Every emergency pantry should have a container or two dedicated to beans.

NOW. Those are the awesome things about beans.

There is, of course, a dark side.

One is that dry beans aren’t exactly instant food. Ooooooh no. They are pretty thoroughly dehydrated, and most will need to soak for a significant amount of time before they can be cooked.

If you forget all about them until thirty minutes before dinner, you’re sunk.

Bad Thing #2 About Beans is…well…you know…tootie-toot-toot…?

Oh, OK, I’ll be a grownup. Gas.

It’s true. Beans cause gas in many (most) (nearly all) people. Some people can eat them all day and night with no (ahem) symptoms, but other people can be unable to ride elevators for six days because they glanced at a bag of beans in the supermarket.

Discussions abound about “de-gassing” beans. There’s a lot of argument out there, and I’m not going to attempt to give a definitive answer on the whole topic here.

I keep things simple. I use the old-fashioned cold soak method, which means I wash the beans and pick them over for little rocks and whatnot, then put them in a big bowl with plenty of cold water and leave them overnight. In the morning, I drain them, discard the soak water, and then get on with the recipe.

This does an “eh” job when it comes to de-gassing, especially for people who don’t regularly eat them. It works well enough for us and is efficient both in terms of time (letting them soak while I sleep works for me) and energy (no stovetop required for rehydrating the beans).

The most common suggestion for more thorough gas reduction involves using the ‘hot soak’ method. In this method, you put the beans into hot water and bring the pot to a boil and let it go for two or three minutes. Then you put on the lid and ignore them for at least one hour, but preferably four or even more – even overnight, so you could start this process after dinner one Night 1 and have the beans for dinner on Night 2.

After soaking, discard the soak water and carry on with your recipe. The hot water and longer soaking time encourages more of those hard-to-digest sugars to dissolve into the water, which reduces how many of them percolate through your colon later.

Some folks worry that they’re tossing nutrients down the drain when they dispose of the soaking water – the scientist types say, “Pfft! No significant nutrient loss!”

Others insist that the beans must be rinsed thoroughly for best effect. I don’t have any scientific answers on that, but it seems to me that if you’re particularly sensitive (or have a long elevator ride at work) every little bit of hard-to-digest sugar you can get rid of before eating them is worth ditching.

Now, for some people, it never gets any better. Eat a bean, play a tune, forever and ever. For others, it’s never a problem. (I hate those people. Seriously.) For the rest of us, as you slowly add more beans to your diet, your system adjusts a bit.

There’s still a problem, but it isn’t life altering.

By which I mean taking the elevator is still a possibility, even if its crowded with people you like or at least have no personal grudge against.

There are also things like Beano, which provide the extra enzyme you need to digest “problem” foods like broccoli, cabbage and yes, beans.

It can be a real godsend sometimes, too.

Wanna give them a try, but don’t know where to start? Check out the US Dry Bean Council’s recipe section. From appetizers to desserts, they’ve got a great starting point for getting to know the many personalities out there in Bean World.

They’re humble things, beans. Often overlooked, disrespected, shrugged at and otherwise demeaned. Relegated to being a side kick, baked in sugary sauces and set next to the star of the show, Gramma’s Famous BBQ…and yet they are inexpensive, flavorful and flavor-enhancing, filling, health-ful and, while time-consuming, generally pretty easy to prepare.

Substitute beans for meat a couple times a week, and you can make a significant impact on your grocery bill and be giving yourself a healthful change of pace, without coming away from the table feeling like you’d rather eat the rabbit than the rabbit-feed you just ate.

You know what else? I am so growing my own beans next season. They produce a relatively large amount of food for a reasonable amount of space and besides – they’re fun. C’mon, a plant that you harvest by pulling it up by the roots, dropping it into a bag and beating the heck out of it?

It doesn’t get more fun than that.

Friday, September 11, 2009


No, I don’t mean politically – it’s always silly season in Politicsville.

No, what I mean is that we have officially entered the knitting silly season, which goes like this: Hi, Almost Fall! I’m going to pick out patterns for gloves, sweaters, hats, scarves, socks and so forth and then completely IGNORE or otherwise FUTZ WITH said patterns and then I will be all, “OH MY GAH, why isn’t this WORKING?!

It started with the black gloves I think I mentioned not long ago. They were one of those “um…” projects, something I cast on because I was between projects (we shall not discuss how many almost-finished projects are languishing all over the house right now, OK?) (fine. eight. there are eight almost-finished projects in bags, boxes, crates and baskets all over my house right now. there. are you happy now?).

I used what was left of the beautiful black superfine alpaca I got from Lisa Souza a few Stitches ago. The moths had done some pretty gnarly damage to the skein (sob-sob!), but I did manage to get a few semi-decent sized balls out of the mess.

And I have so learned my lesson on that. It doesn’t matter how sexy and lovely and touchable the yarn is – you shouldn’t leave it out so you can pet it at will.

ANYWAY. First, I picked a pattern – just a simple glove pattern for a basic pair of gloves.

But the pattern was knit flat and seamed. I mean, seriously…knit flat and seamed, are they kidding me? I’m not that good at seaming, it would totally show!

But that’s OK (I said to myself), I’ll just go ahead and knit it in the round.

You know, I’ll just…adjust as I go.

No thought, no sitting down to ponder out how this would impact the instructions, I’ll just figure it out as I go.

The problem is, it actually worked out for me. I used double pointed needles and joined (being careful not to twist) and then I knit a pair of Basic Black Gloves that are warm, fuzzy and fit perfectly (which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering that I was compulsively trying them to on check the finger lengths as I went).

Basic Black Gloves
Fuzzy picture, anyway…

itsy-bitsy spider
The itsy-bitsy spiiiiider went up the…

hey! no pictures!!

Then I cast on another “…ummmm…” project. Because goodness knows, I wouldn’t want to finish one of the other projects still glaring at me accusingly from around the Den. I decided I’d make this cabled scarf I saw in one of the magazines.

Only I didn’t like the cable pattern or the border they picked so instead I sort of didn’t cast on anything like what they had pictured and instead I made this one.

cable scarf

This is a superwash called 7 Settembre, by Baruffa. I have to confess I was a little worried about it while on the needle because it didn’t feel the right grade of softness for something that would wrap around your neck, but am delighted to report that upon washing it softened right up into a lovely, soft-draping and neck-approved fabric.

cables on scarf

And, I totally like these cables more than the other ones. Which were less angular and then had that XOXO border thing next to them. Meh.

AND NOW, I am moving on to the annual Denizen Sweaters. It’s starting to be cool in the mornings and pretty soon we’ll be moving into that part of the year where we need to wear something in the morning but it won’t be cold enough for a jacket and furthermore it’s going to be considerably warmer later in the day so whatever is worn will need to be crammed down into a backpack.

Naturally, I start flipping through the magazines, pattern books and Internet looking for something I can make with the yarn I already have.

This is like putting up a sign on the door that says, “Welcome, Silly Season!!”

Already, I’ve done things like picked out the most impossible pattern imaginable done on fingering yarn and tried to tell myself that I could so totally do that in the worsted I’ve got on hand.

I’ve messed with the patterns so much they no longer remotely resemble the original. And they’re at a different gauge, and a different row/column count. (But I insist that I’m still using the pattern.)

And I’ve chosen about thirty-seven patterns that would be adorable on any one of the kids. BUT, I’ll of course have to buy five skeins of this and six of that and I don’t have anything in a DK weight around here? Seriously…? Wellllllll, maybe if I held two strands of this fingering together, it would…wait…do I want to use alpaca fingering on a child’s sweater, that will be dragged through the mud, crammed into backpacks, jammed under the benchseat in the minivan and there abandoned for weeks or months, loaned to a friend at recess, whose mother will toss it in the washer as a favor to me before returning it because her daughter dragged it through the mud on all the way home…?

Last year, I swore that this year I would be doing simple, quick sweaters in machine washable acrylic.

I swore it.

With many swear words, to boot.

But silly season is working its wiles on me. I look over my robust collection of acrylics and think, Yes, but, it’s the wrong gauge…and I don’t like this color for this project…and besides, wool is warmer…

I’m messing with patterns and then I’ll be upset that they don’t come out looking like the picture.

I really don’t think there’s any hope for me.

But, on the bright side, if I ever ran for public office, I would fit right in…

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The fourth first

I kept Captain Adventure home from school Tuesday because he was acting sick. Sort of. No fever, but a runny nose; no cough but he kept pointing to his entire head and saying, “Owies!”

And he wouldn’t eat breakfast. My boy doesn’t ever not eat breakfast. He may turn his nose up at lunch, snack and dinner, but when he gets up in the morning he tucks right in like a coal miner.

So I kept him home and he proceeded to be the most astonishingly annoying little twerp in the known universe. He was just in a really nasty mood for the most part, and spent most of the day in Destroyer of Worlds mode.

He took my knitting (currently a boring cotton kitchen towel, because I need them) (seriously, though, yawn!!), wrapped the towel and the circular needle cable and a fair portion of the cotton yarn around the legs of the ‘food prep’ table I’ve got set up semi-permanently in the playroom.

I could have killed him. Of course, I discovered this after a full morning of having him yelling, howling, screeching, throwing things, pulling my hair, kicking me, crying, saying, “But I wuv oo!” whenever I would say, “No! Enough! Get OFF me!”, and then proceed to hit me in the face…oh yeah. It was a great day around here.

Finally, I threw in the towel and set him up on the stupid computer. Enough. I’m done. I don’t care if your brain does turn into a gray mush and your eyeballs melt out of your head and you end up living in a home for autistic children when you’re forty. Play your stupid game and leave me OUT of it!!!

About ten minutes later, he’s standing at the top of the stairs bellowing, “Hey Mom-MEH! MOM-MEH!? Mine cheek fell down-UH!”

“Your what did which now?!” I yelled back.

“Mine cheek, it fell down-UH!” he roared back. I heaved myself out of the chair, limped to the bottom of the stairs and squinted up at him.

He was standing there grinning and holding out his hand.

“Seeeeeeeeeeee? Mine cheek, it felled down-UH! SEE, MOM-MEH!?”

There was a little dot of blood on his lip, and in his hand was a tiny shard of white.

Not cheek – teeth. His first tooth ‘fell down’ Tuesday afternoon.

…and thus did much become clear…

His whole head / throat / body didn’t hurt – just his mouth. The tooth still had a significant amount of root on one side, so I imagine it was painful as it rocked back and forth. It hurt to eat, but he was hungry as a newly-wakened bear.

Starving. But eating hurt. But starving! But eating is owies…gah! I must take this out on somebody…oh look, there’s my mother, who is about the safest person in the universe and it’s probably her fault anyway because she is supposed to be keeping my life running smoothly and does this look smooth to you, no I do not think it does…

So I made a fuss over him and his tooth, and he then ate three whole turkeys, five pounds of cheese, two loaves of bread and drank three gallons of milk, and what passes for normalcy was restored.


That’s the fourth first lost tooth around here…but I think it was the hardest of all.

It’s what I imagine life would be like for parents everywhere, if baby teeth routinely started falling out at age two instead of around five-ish.

And it’s tiny, and white, and perfect, and somehow incredibly sweet. You’d think I’d be over such things by now, and that by the time you’re on the fourth go-round of firsts you’d be pretty blasé about them.

But it just doesn’t work that way. His first real smile was just as thrilling, his first laugh had the whole house in an uproar, his first steps were charming and of course those first words had me so excited I almost melted into a puddle of warm goo.

The fourth firsts are no less thrilling than the first firsts, at least not for me.

But I do wish they didn’t have to be so…dramatic

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Take a walk with me…(picture heavy!)

OK, I finally got around to pictures. Well, actually, I had the ‘before’ pictures for a while. Anyway, whatever! Pictures!!

When you first pull up to the Den, there’s a stretch of dirt along the driveway. It’s not that big, which makes the fact that it looked like this extra shameful.

Front Patch Of Shame

There have been many things attempted in this patch. A hedge, a flowerbed, a collection of Native-ish Californian grasses and wildflowers, and ultimately three rose bushes that languished there, neither thriving nor perishing. The husband dug them out when I wasn’t looking and declared that he was going to concrete over the whole slab of dirt.

The problem wasn’t the location, it was our slovenly gardening behavior. It actually occurred to me, as I was struggling to keep the wheelbarrows full this weekend, that in a lot of ways this whole painful weekend was a kind of penance.

“Bless me, Mother, for I have sinned…it has been over ten years since I took any care whatsoever of this little piece of You that is ostensibly mine to nurture.”

“Take thou this shovel and do thy penance, my child…two hundred wheelbarrows full of soil reparations ought to make a good start…”

Yes, Mommy…

Now, it looks…well, about the same, actually, only now you can’t see the bottom of the concrete slab anymore (so. embarrassing.). But it will be a sort of pumpkin patch, if the seeds in those little mounds cooperate.

pumpkin patch

Oh. And this little lump here? That’s where my husband accidentally put a shovel through some PVC and had to dig it up and repair it. It had to happen, because there is some kind of karmic law on the books that says any time he picks up a shovel, PVC must be broken somewhere in the yard.

broken PVC

If you head toward the front door, there’s this little box under the front window.

window box spinach

Currently, it has spinach planted in there which should start sprouting in a week or two – before that, it had a dying miniature rose bush (again, it was our neglect not the soil or location), some broadleaf thingee and a whack of weeds. For a while we did the whole “replant with new flowers every season” thing in there, but it got expensive and time-consuming and then we sorta forgot and, well. Ahem. Yes. Let’s move on, shall we…heading around through the back there are, of course, the beds that started this whole nightmare of a project…

bell pepper
Bell peppers, grown from seeds taken from a supermarket pepper…

Manny the Aphid Slayer
This is Manny. He kills aphids and pretty much anything else that tries to make a home on the bell peppers. Go, Manny, go!!

Peas and plenty of them…they’re all about this high now…which reminds me, fair warning, anybody who comes over to the Den around middle-endish of October? Expect to have a bucket of peas dumped in your lap to be shelled…to avoid this, bring your knitting and remember the key words: winter coming, need wool, warm sweater, baby needs a new pair of booties…

green beans
Green bush beans, planted just last week, already starting to pop up here and there…

Original iPod
My backyard iPod. This little dude can REALLY belt out the tunes!

Now. The back forty(feet). This is what it looked like before.

The Back 40...feet, that is...

Aaaaaaand here it is with about four-five inches of new topsoil over/in/around it, and “beds” marked out with construction string (two beds are behind the trash totes – sorry, I’ve got a major case of laziness today).

Back forty (feet)

Because of the nature of our growing season and food needs, we didn’t want to build anything permanent back there. Right now, we have seven smaller beds for colder weather stuff like potatoes, broccoli, winter sets of onions and garlic, that kind of stuff.

Next spring, we may well go to having only two or three things in this whole area for the ‘high velocity’ part of the season. If the idea is to actually feed the family, well. We chew through an astonishing volume of food in a year around here. It’s been absolutely shocking to me, as I’ve sat down to calculate out how many jars of spaghetti sauce, cans of corn, bunches of carrots and so forth we actually eat right now.

If I wanted to continue having spaghetti every Friday, for example, I would need roughly four HUNDRED pounds of tomatoes to make enough quarts of sauce for it. GAH!

I sincerely doubt I’ll be attempting to grow and preserve that much – but as things stand, we’ve got a crummy three quarts of ‘mother sauce’ in the cupboard. Unless I’m going to get out there and try to get down on the ‘bulk’ action with a local farm, we’ll be out of tomato sauce long before we’ll have a robust tomato harvest again.

Our five little plants did a bang-up job this year, but c’mon. Three of them were cherry tomato plants. They fruited up manfully and all, but an entire week’s worth might make less than a quart of sauce.

And I kind of doubt I’ll be heading out to try to angle in on the bulk action, frankly. Oh sure, the prices are awesome when you buy by the quarter-ton. That’s 500 pounds at a whack, which would run you about $750 at the farmer’s market (which is about half the usual supermarket price as it is!), for which you pay between $30 and $50 if you drive up to the farm itself, pop open your minivan and pay cash right there on the spot.

BUT. Now I’ve got 500 pounds of tomatoes in the back of the minivan, right? Which I’ve then got to unload into the garage. And then I’ve got to get them all washed, milled, and boiled down into mother sauce, and canned no less, before they rot and the fruit flies get fat enough to butcher, skin and roast – and make a year’s supply of candles from their tallow to boot.

I think I got three white hairs just thinking about that kind of Extra Crazy. Especially since the Usual Crazy doesn’t say, “Oh, I see you’re busy right now – I’ll come back another time.” Ooooooh no, it just boils right on up and over the top of the kettle while I’m not looking, and then in addition to having to deal with the Usual Crazy, I’ve got extra cleanup to do.

Hey kids, I’ve got a great idea! It’s called, We only eat what is currently in season! (Of course, who does the most kvetching about not having canned corn and frozen peas and jars of spaghetti sauce in the pantry? Me, the same person who stomps and rants and screams about how much “hard work” it is to grow, harvest, and lay down the very things she’s kvetching about not having…)

Anywho, with this string-method of “bedding” our yard, we just move strings around and we’re done. It also allows the Denizens to run through the yard (which they will do) without running right over the top of our food (one hopes) (probably in vain).

Now these two guys…oh dear.

Under Negotiation

These were supposed to be redwood trees. You know, majestic redwoods. Iconic tree of California. California redwoods, the soaring, swaying giants of the Central and North Coast…yeah. Well. These? Not-so-much with the dignity and soaring and majestic behavior.

It’s not really their fault – they really didn’t belong here. They like cooler temperatures overall (strike one – we warm up fast after our so-called winter and stick in the 90++ ranges clear up until Halloween some years), lots of continual moisture in the winter (strike two – we get a soak/dry/soak/dry kind of pattern throughout the winter) and to be cuddled up by fog in the summer (strike three – I don’t think we’ve ever seen fog in the summer time out here, in the forty years I’ve lived and/or boated out here).

The amount of water we’d have to pour into them to make them semi-happy trees was ridiculous, and since they don’t have a deep taproot it was also one of those never-ending propositions. And then they can get upwards of 350 feet tall if they’re happy, and they have a shallow root system – hello, giant redwood tree crashing into the neighbor’s house because OH YEAH, forgot to mention we have a fairly robust Delta breeze that whips through here pretty violently in the evenings, especially in the winter when the ground might actually be soaking wet…

So, out they came.


The husband is going to remove the stumps (whew, I’m off the hook for that little joyful task!), and then we’ll be putting in two apple trees (one granny smith, and one multiple-grafted one that produces three different kinds), a multiple-bearing peach/nectarine/plum tree (how cool is that, by the way, one tree, several varieties of fruit?!), and a self-fertilizing cherry that also has a couple different varieties on it.

Four trees, an entire orchard of produce. I’m still just charmed by that. I’d heard of these things, but I didn’t realize they were readily available to Joe A. Gardener. I’ve heard varying reports on the volumes of each fruit they produce, but I have to admit I’m not that picky about the quantity. If I get tons, I’ll make preserves and such. If we get just a few, we’ll just eat them and be glad for the treat…in a couple years, because fruit trees are about as slow a food as you’re going to get.

Which disappointed Eldest no end, because she ate a really delicious peach and wanted to plant the peach pit to grow a tree – we totally supported her in this and all, but had to reluctantly tell her it will take a minimum of three years and up to seven before she’d get any fruit from it. To an eleven year old, three years is forever and seven is whatever forever plus four equals.

Meanwhile, guess what we’d forgotten peeks over our back fence?

Almonds over the fence

Almond trees. Our region is kind of famous for them, and somebody planted two of them right up against our fence and apparently forgot all about them – nobody has actually worked any part of that particular ranch for years. There’s actually an almond huller rusting underneath them, too!

So I’ll be out there collecting up the almonds that are on my side of the fence pretty soon. It won’t be many, but even a half-peck would be welcome.

But I won’t try to steal the huller. That would be wrong. Besides, I don’t think it actually works anymore, and I am not in the mood to start tearing apart somebody else’s busted-up huller trying to figure out how it might work if it had the right parts replaced. With my luck [and aptitude for such things], I’d lose a finger trying.

OK, so, moving past the back forty(feet), there’s the back weed patch – where the Killer Ninja Worms dwell. This is what it looked like before…

Back Weed Patch

And here’s how it looks after this weekend.

uh...needs a little work still...

Obviously, I still have work to do over here, too. Adding the topsoil here was almost accidental, to be honest – I don’t think the soil really needs any help, but we had just finished the strips next to it and my husband asked if I thought we should put some in there, too, and I said, “Yes. No. Well. I dunno. Maybe. Uh.”

And then he sighed heavily and dumped some in there because gah, when I start with the yes/no/maybe/uh/I dunno/whaddya think/lemme-go-hit-the-Internet-for-some-research-on-that routine, it can be days before we get to an actual Final Answer.

Coming through the side gate from the driveway, past the air conditioning unit and the garbage totes (ah, such views! such smells!), we have twin strips of dirt. For a short while we had some groundcover growing here, but my husband got tired of having to keep it in line (it liked to crawl over the walkway) so he turned off its water and killed it.

Back Strip

This is a somewhat tricky area. It gets a weird blend of full sun and no sun, depending on the time of year. It gets more full sun in the winter than the summer, but at the height of summer it is practically a full-shade area. Which can be good, considering that our summer temperatures can get downright brutal, and the way the sun beats down can shred canvas.

So, whatever goes in there has to be either shade-loving, or at the very least shade-indifferent…probably various herbs and definitely this is where my horseradish will go. Maybe some ginger, some mint…all the stuff I mix up in hot water and suck down when I’m feeling sick because why on earth would I use what works OTC medications to cure a cold, when ginger-mint tea tastes so much better?

fence side footprints
Those big wet-looking patches are actually footprints – my husband went stomping through there trying to figure out if there was MORE broken PVC under all that dirt.

window strip

We got a lot done this weekend. I’m really proud of us, actually. That was hard physical work, and let’s face it – we’re not exactly the buffed-out twenty-somethings we once were. But we did it!

And the kids got in on the action, too. OK, mostly, they played in the dirt (wouldn’t you? I mean, if I were their ages and my dad had gotten two dump trucks full of dirt and there were these two mountains of the stuff on my driveway? HECK YEAH, I would’ve been solid dirt from my toenails to my hair follicles, too!), but they also helped to plant the front patch, and they’ve always been in on the weeding and harvesting (my poor, poor tomato plants…if there was even a hint of red on any tomato, it would be snatched off the vine).

Now, they’re both charmed and dismayed to see the peas and green beans coming up. And as she was grinning and dusting off her hands after helping to plant the spinach, Danger Mouse suddenly sobered and said, “Wait…does this mean we’ll hafta eat more spinach?!”

Oooooooh noooooooooooooo…!!!!!!

There’s still a lot to do. Pretty much every weekend this month is taken up by digging, trenching, planting, turning and otherwise futzing around with the garden. We aren’t taking a whole lot of time off for fun and games; even the Bean Festival next weekend (yes, beans, beans, the musical fruit…Tracy California is still a major player in the bean-growing industry) (OK, y’all can just stop laughing, right now, people…!), taking place less than five miles from the Den and something we haven’t missed more than I think one year in the eleven years we’ve lived out here (not coincidentally, it was the year they charged admission – something they quickly realized was a Very Bad Idea Indeed so it is once again free, woo hoo), is on the “well, maybe if we finish up early on Sunday we can head over for an hour or something” list.

Which is a bummer because you know what’s on the list of entertainment on the homegrown community stage? Hula combat.

YES. WAY. I did not even know such a thing existed. Hula dance, sure. And I knew the hula tells stories and of course whenever a culture tells stories there will be fighting involved, but hula combat?

Now that right there is what I would call can’t miss entertainment, folks.

But it’s right at 12:00 on Sunday, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be up to my elbows in dirt and cussing because someone put a shovel through yet another sprinkler pipe and now somebody has to go to the hardware store yet again! for more PVC…

…hee…but can you imagine the looks on their faces if I took the Denizens to the kid’s zone and the 4H club was all, “Hey kids, you want to plant some beans? C’mon, it’ll be COOL, and you can take the little cup home with you, too!” after I’d just made them plant, like, twenty FEET of the things?!...

Monday, September 07, 2009

Ya load fifteen yards, and whaddya get?

So! Labor Day weekend! When normal people are kicking back, enjoying some BBQ with friends and family, maybe taking in a movie, hitting up the Really Awesome Sales and all like that.

But we, well. We know how to par-TAY. Oh yeah! SO, Saturday afternoon, a dump truck backed into our driveway, dumped a load of blended soil, loam, sand, compost and shredded wood into the middle of it, and drove away.

Then he came back, and dumped a second load of the same stuff.

And then he drove away quick, before we could even get a license plate or anything.

AFTER WHICH, we spent most of Saturday and almost all day Sunday shoveling fifteen yards of dirt into wheelbarrows, wheeling the wheelbarrows to assorted points around the Den of Chaos, and dumping this mixture into beds, boxes, side-strips and other places where twenty years of unchecked erosion had washed the soil away and/or where it just really could use a ‘nutrient refresher’ – like our “back forty(feet)” field where the vast majority of our growing of fresh vegetable stuff will be taking place.

I hurt in new and exciting ways, y’all. And so does my husband. Neither of us are used to this kind of work anymore. I have to say I admire my man for being so willing to not only put up with the Crazy I dish out around here, but to pick up a shovel (or drill, or sledgehammer, or whatever) and spend all three days of a precious three day weekend working like a horse to bring my visions into being.

I love that man. He’s a good’un.

AND, we now have new growing areas in the front, back and along the sides of the Den. We have spinach planted under the front window (which for some reason makes me snicker – I dunno, I guess I just picture unsuspecting people walking up, looking at the planter box and going, “Uh…is that…spinach…?”), and in the front patch beside the driveway we’ve planted what we expect to be more of a “color” sort of display for Halloween than actual food production – zucchini that should get to harvest before winter slams shut the door on it, and pumpkins and sunflowers that might if we have a long, languid saunter into winter.

What we actually would like to have by Halloween is zucchini actually growing (yeah, see, I made this relish? And the husband has been taking it around everywhere with him? and now everybody wants some, so I need, like, another thirty pounds of the stuff?!), pumpkins at least forming (and we’re not above sticking a couple store-bought ones into the vines for effect, either), and hopefully at least a few of the sunflowers up. Those seeds are a bit old and I’ve found they have about a one-in-four sprout ratio but hey. It’ll be cute for the trick-or-treaters and will amuse me…and after all, what is it all about, if not my amusement?

The shelling peas are starting to grab the so-called trellis, a few of the green bush beans I planted last week are poking their heads out, my bell peppers plants are finally starting to produce Actual Bell Peppers (and there is a huge praying mantis living in them, and I can get hours of amusement out of watching him hunt the aphids…go, Manny, go! go, Manny, go!!).

I’ve got onions, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, sugar snap peas, pole beans, spinach and garlic ready to go into the plots I’ve staked out in the back forty(feet).

Two straggly redwoods came out, and four new fruit trees are going in.

It’s starting to look like a place that grows food around here, a strange combination of beauty (for what could be prettier than new-minted greenery popping up all around your house?) and no-nonsense industrial trappings (neon yellow string creating “beds” in the field and a ‘don’t even THINK of running here!’ guide for the Denizens).

Also, the neighbors are pretty sure we are, in fact, utterly insane.

Ach, well. You know what they say: The truth will out.

…it was only a matter of time…

Friday, September 04, 2009

Don’t think I passed the inspection…

A few minutes ago, I was outside crouched over one of the garden beds cooing at the peas.

What? Look, they’re like…well, they’re basically at the toddler stage, you know? Getting to about three inches tall, putting out those first vine-y tendrils that will start wrapping around my so-called trellis to pull themselves upward so they can become big, strong vines loaded with big heavy pea pods…they need encouragement!

Oo ess a big stwong pea-pwant? OO IS, ESS OO IS!!!

OK, OK, it’s sick and I probably need psychiatric help.

…especially if you consider that I’m “rearing” these things to be sacrificed like plump little green lambs in a couple months…never mind! Whatever! Point being, I was out in my backyard admiring the Miracle of Life and thinking all kinds of deep thoughts.

You know, like, I sure hope the Denizens learn to love peas this winter! and bwa-hahahaha, I can’t wait to start loading their plates with fresh peas! and I wonder which one of them will declare their undying hatred of shelling peas first?

Because if those suckers produce even half what I think they will, we will be shucking peas for about six weeks straight and filling up our own freezer and half the freezers in San Joaquin County with the bounty in about two months time.

And then I got distracted by a very intense humming noise, which sounded like a miniature helicopter was buzzing around in the tree over my head.

I looked up and watched my resident hummingbird as he flitted around the tree trying to settle down somewhere.

But, you know, he’s a hummingbird. They don’t really do that whole “sit down and relax” thing. So he’d sit for half a second, then jump up and buzz-buzz-buzz for a few seconds, then sit for another half second, and so on.

I just crouched there and watched him. Because unlike a hummingbird, I’m pretty good at just parking my carcass and staying put for a while.

Oh yeah. When it comes to just sitting around doing nothing and “thinking” (pronounced, “daydreaming”), I am the go-to girl.

Just as I was thinking it was time to wash the feeder and put it out (natural hummingbird food is plentiful through the spring and summer, but starts to dry up a bit in the fall and then things get downright nasty for the little critters through what passes for winter out here – and the California hummers don’t migrate, they just sort of tough it out), he noticed me.

Hmmph, what’s THAT ugly thing in MY garden?!, he said to himself. He looked down his long nose at me, made a little chirrup noise, buzzed around the tree a couple times while he thought about things…and then he zoomed down and hovered right in front of my startled face for a couple breathless seconds. I could actually feel the tiny breeze from his nearly invisible wings on my cheeks. He was so close he was setting off my jerk-away instincts, which were really at war with my OhMyGod, don’t you DARE MOVE right now!!! delight at being that close to one of those jeweled beauties.

He was curious.

I was charmed.

And then, he flicked his tail and zipped away.

I, uh, ahem. Yes. Well.

I don’t think I passed his inspection.

Ach, well. He’ll like me better when I get the nectar up and keep it comin’ this winter…

Thursday, September 03, 2009

You’d think I invented it…

So a couple nights ago, I made ice cream. Because you can’t have fresh pumpkin pie without some fresh vanilla ice cream. I think there is actually a law on the books somewhere about that…anyway! I used all but about a scant cup of the half gallon of cream I had on hand, and it sort of needed to be used or tossed really soon.

So I put it into a Mason jar, capped it and sat on the sofa shaking the jar while the news droned on and on and on about how many gazillions of acres are on fire in California right now.

We have great weather, can grow just about anything and enjoy a long, languid growing season – but we do pay for our pleasures. High taxes, constant drought, money problems both personal and state-wide, AND OF COURSE, a fire season that is like the dress rehearsal for the riders of the Apocalypse, each and every year.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose…


One minute, I was shaking this stupid jar full of sloshing heavy cream and thinking to myself that this was a pretty stupid way to be spending my time. I could be finishing the fingers on that second glove (black alpaca, very soft and very warm), I said to myself. Sure, it’s 101 today, but winter she is a-comin’, and you’ll want those gloves…

And the next, the slosh suddenly turned to a thunk-thunk-thunk.

A quarter cup of butter was floating around in the buttermilk.


I felt so clever, you’d think I invented butter-making. I insisted on showing the kids (who gave me a look that clearly said, “And we care because…?”), and then I proudly announced to my husband that I had invented penicillin made butter.

You know, out of cream.


Just me, and heavy whipping cream, and a Mason jar.

And then I made buttermilk pancakes this morning.

Which also felt extremely cunning because hey! Look! I made butter, and also I made buttermilk!

I’m so clever, I scare myself…

…no really, I’m kind of freaking myself out here…it’s just butter, made just like we all made back in elementary school at some point during Pioneer Days (or whatever)…and I’m all like, “Lookit me! Pasteurization? Penicillin? Moon landings? Pffffft! Nothing on me, man, I made butter!!!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

In which my husband saves the day

This morning, I was telling my husband about my baggie issue. We discussed what fabrics were available and how keeping things simple was in order and the household thread supply and so forth and so on.

That's right, we're ALL ABOUT the hard-hitting, hot-topic conversations around here, yo.

ANYWAY, as he was getting up to hit the road, he said, "Well, guess I should make this weekend a sewing weekend...I've got a bunch of stuff in my mending box anyway."


Now, he does sew a thousand times better than I do. And he's the one teaching the girls how to make seams and other sew-y stuff.

And now he's got all these plans for various baggie types.

And he's given away the fact that he has his own mending box.

Which SOMEHOW just got three times fuller than it was before he left this morning.

..can't imagine how THAT happened...


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Livin’ the wild life

It may come as a complete surprise to everybody, but you know what? This whole project of mine, self-sustainability, not buying things we use up at the supermarket, blah blah blah?

It’s hard work.

And it’s dirty work. Gone are the days of giving a shower a miss, or setting my jeans on the bathtub to be worn the next day – they would practically stand up and walk out all by themselves if I tried it.

And guess what else? There is wildlife involved.

Like yesterday, when I pulled out a big old patch of star jasmine and began cultivating up that area for a spinach patch. I was digging with the cultivator thingee, and as I dug it into the extremely muddy, by the way ground and gave it a twist a forty-foot long snake with venom dripping from its bared fangs worm shot out of the ground and landed across my foot wriggling like a ninja warrior.

I shrieked like a girl, stumbled backward, tripped on an exposed tree root and fell right on my behind.

In the mud.


Because a worm startled me.

I mean, really, now.

But, well…it was a BIG worm. And it startled me. I’ve never seen a worm do that before. It literally shot out of the ground, got some air, landed on my foot and proceeded to vigorously wriggle like it expected something to happen.

I’ve now seen it about a zillion times because every single worm in that whole area does the same thing. They look like regular old red worms, but if you disturb their soil they leap out and attempt to…actually, I’m not sure what they think they’re going to do. Wrestle me into submission? Defend the fort? Dissuade the ugly featherless bird from eating them by seeming tough? Anyway, they got their one shriek out of me, and now I’m ready for them.

In fact, now I’m thinking they’d make pretty darned good bait, if I ever get ahead of the available-time-curve enough to add fishing to my list of self-sustaining foody ways. There’s an awesome fishing hole not twenty minutes from my front door…fifteen, if I hit the lights just right…

I can only imagine the hilarity that will ensue if and when I actually do dust off my disused-for-over-twenty-years fishing gear and actually manage to land one of those squirming, slimy things…I mean, someone who screams over a worm is probably not going to handle landing a catfish very well, doancha think? And LORD HELP ME, there are sturgeon in them-thar waters, too…I don’t think there’s an uglier fish in the Delta than a sturgeon…

Of course, there was also this morning, when I was fiddling with a stuck valve on the sprinkler system. First it squirted me in the eye. Then my fiddling resulted in the long-defunct back lawn system roaring to life, and that valve hasn’t been used in so long that when I went to shut it off, it really resisted.

And then just as my brute strength and cussing cunning was winning the day, a black widow spider darted out from under the semi-defunct valve and ran up my excuse me but BARE arm. FORTY FEET TALL! FANGS DRIPPING VENOM! SCREAMING “FEAR ME, FOR I AM LEGION!!”

I screamed like a trained opera singer (“GAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAH!!!!!”) as I swatted it back to hell. And as I was thrashing around thwarting the minion of Satan, I fell into my pea bed and knocked over my so-called trellis, which is made out of wire.

It felt great! Because nothing says soothing, spa-like exfoliation, now with extra tetanus! like scraping your back and arms down a trellis fashioned out of the cheapest grade wire fencing available…except possibly doing that and bringing it down on your face as well, and then thrashing around in it because you’re not entirely sure the spider is truly dead. (It was. There is no spider deader than that spider. I think I actually atomized it.)

I picked myself up, limped inside, poured myself an iced tea and sat down at the kitchen table to snivel to myself for a while as all the things I had better get done pounded on the door of my mind.

One thing about this whole “homesteading” thing, there really isn’t a whole lot of down time just yet. I’m not sure there will ever be much of it.

I thought I was pretty frugal and did things from scratch a lot before I started this little social experiment – HA! HAHAHAHAHAHA! Yeah, right. How about this one: I send five people out of the house with lunches, five days a week. All kinds of stuff in the lunches, too – sandwiches, chips of various types, apple slices, applesauce, wedges of pie.

Now, I don’t have enough Rubbermaid-style containers left to get through even one day of lunches. They get lost, their lids get broken or misplaced, etc. etc. etc. And the plastic baggies are about to be used up. Without whipping out my wallet…what do I do?

Wellllllllll, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do: I’m going to dig through the fabric and mending baskets, and start sewing up snack bags. In my copious free time. Using my mad sewing skilz.

HA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! HAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHA! Whoo! Yeah. My sewing skills, they are epic.

Like the time I sewed my finger to the felt when trying to make a Christmas stocking.

OR, when I attempted to repair a fallen-out hem on a pair of skirts and somehow sewed the front to the back and then ripped out the wrong seam.

NOT TO MENTION that I once put the pins in the wrong way and broke not one, not two, but three needles before it occurred to me that duh, I was basically trying to sew the pins to the fabric. And how is that working out for you there, Tama…?

Ohmygah, but I should not be allowed anywhere near a sewing machine. EVER.

Great, now I’m thoroughly depressed. Stupid baggies. Why can’t they grow on trees or something? Well. Only one thing to do, I guess.

Two words: Pumpkin pie.

Made with our very first ever homegrown pumpkin. Which was about as pretty a specimen as has ever been produced on this, or any other, planet. (But I may be a tad biased.)

Smooth, creamy, tender, spicy, in a tender crust…see, now, it isn’t all bad.

I may suck at heavy lifting, and I’m pretty lousy at that whole sewing-thing. I’m not exactly calm in the face of venomous spiders and can be startled into a mud-bath pratfall by a worm for heaven’s sake…but I do know how to turn a squash into a mighty tasty pie.

And I make good strawberry jam, and applesauce. I can grow zucchini and tomatoes, and I make darned good pasta, too, if I hafta.

We’re going to be oooooooookay, people.

…but our portable food containers, they may be a little on the, ahem, fugly side…