Friday, July 16, 2010

Who knew a "Black Thumb" could plant a garden?

I planted a garden this year, which is a major accomplishment for me (I’m the person who has killed an African violet, a cactus, and zucchini…all things that are supposed to be incredibly hard to kill). It started out small, just some tomato plants in a few five gallon buckets. I also got a couple of cucumber plants, and I figured that was plenty. I wanted lots of tomatoes so that I could can them and make spaghetti sauce and salsa from fresh tomatoes year round, and I’ve been eating lots of cucumbers lately.

This is how my garden started, all in pots.

After I bought all the potting soil, pots, plants, etc., and planted them all (by myself), the Husband decided he wanted to grow some chili peppers this year, and maybe some heirloom tomatoes. Keep in mind he has never had a garden. Also keep in mind that I tease him mercilessly because when he starts a new hobby, he goes all out…there is no easing into something new for him. Needless to say, my small bucket-garden was transformed into a 4’x16’ raised bed, completed with four heirlooms, three cucumbers, five roma and beefsteak tomatoes, two okra (for no reason other than that he liked okra when his grandma fried it when he was a kid, although he hasn’t had it in over 20 years), one bell pepper, and several (too many to count) Serrano, jalapeno, poblano, and God knows what other kind of peppers (we ran out of room because someone planted so many peppers, so my cherry tomatoes all went to my parents).

Our first harvest - Poblano peppers on the left, banana peppers on the right

Don’t get me wrong – I wanted the raised beds, and I’m thrilled to have them. However, you’ll notice I didn’t get raised beds until Husband decided to plant peppers; he was more than content with my tomatoes hanging out in buckets. You may also be wondering why he planted so many peppers. Well, he wanted to try different varieties, so instead of buying a few at the grocery store and trying them, he planted his own (multiple plants of each variety, did I mention?). He also decided he’d make hot sauce out of them. Finally, and I warned you earlier he goes all out when he tries new hobbies, his main desire to grow chilies was to try growing the hottest chili pepper ever created – the Ghost Chili. My dear husband went online, ordered seeds, and nurtured these seeds like I’ve never seen him nurture me or the dog. You have to wear gloves to even pick these ghost chilies, so I don’t know who in the hell is going to be eating them. He also got a few other varieties online, some of which died, some of which are growing nicely (damnit) in our over-crowded garden. (Oh, and let me just say here, we discussed how this was our “experimenting” year, so we probably wouldn’t have so many plants next year. Last night he told me he wants to build more raised beds for next year. Our backyard is beyond miniscule, and there’s already a patio and a raised bed. There is NO ROOM for more raised beds, unless he wants our children to play in them instead of the small patch of grass that currently remains.)
Jalapenos, banana peppers, and tomatoes

Anyway, back to the reason I wanted a garden. I LOVE canning things, but there aren’t many things I can successfully can and eat later – beans, butters, and tomatoes are about it. Other veggies that you might can taste weird to me, because I mostly like fresh, crunchy produce. Oh and I like jam. So, I have a water bath canner, but I was thinking about canning tomatoes, and have decided I’m going to make batches of spaghetti sauce, then just can the sauce; when the baby is born, I’m not going to have time to make sauce from scratch, so I thought I’d just make it now and be good to go. Once you start adding stuff to tomatoes, it changes the pH balance, and they say you need a pressure canner to can tomatoes once you add anything, as their pH balance is on the cusp anyway.
This is what my garden grew to after Husband got involved. I'll have to take pictures of it tonight so you can see how big everything has gotten; this is right after we planted.

I’m going to buy my pressure canner this weekend (so excited!!) and last weekend I bought a food mill, in preparation for canning (and because I watched Barefoot Contessa make a vichoisse and it looked amazing, and I’ve wanted one for awhile. It’s just a cheap one ($30) but it works great! I made spaghetti sauce last night from some tomatoes we’d picked this weekend, and the food mill was AWESOME! Part of the tomatoes I’d boiled, shocked, and then peeled over the weekend. But, half of them I threw right in the pot and let them cook, then put through the food mill. SO COOL how it takes the skins right off!! Husband said it was the best spaghetti he’d ever had last night, all made from tomatoes out of our own garden. Pretty cool.

I can’t wait to can this weekend. What are you going to be doing this weekend?

Let me tell you about my morning

Today must just not be my day. I woke up late and almost, almost stayed in bed…now I’m thinking I should have.

Let me describe my morning to you.

The husband and I carpool to work. Usually we take my car, but as I get more and more pregnant, getting in and out of his truck is easier than getting in and out of my car, so today we happened to be in his truck. I drive to my building, and Husband takes over from there, driving to his building since he has free parking and I don’t.

This morning, I’m getting on the freeway, and attempting to merge all the way over into the carpool lane. I’m almost there, but I stop in the 2nd lane to let a motorcycle and white Sequoia go by in the carpool lane. I can see another car coming, but they’re fairly far back, so I accelerate and move over. And since I’m in the V-8 truck and not my gutless car, I mean accelerate. No one could have accused me of cutting this other car off (which also happened to be a Sequoia, but was blue).

So we’re driving along, and I can see the carpool lane ahead of me…it is non-stop cars. We’re going about 60, and the single-car lanes next to us are doing about the same. All of a sudden, I notice blue Sequoia from behind me is next to me, and sure enough, she merges right over in front of me. SHE SPED UP TO GET ONE CAR AHEAD OF WHERE SHE WAS! And not only that, but I was right behind the white Sequoia in front of me, so she cut me off to go no faster than she was going before. I began to give her the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe she couldn’t see through my tinted windows and thought I was holding up traffic. But I think that's unlikely.

I noticed that I could actually get over one lane and speed up, passing the now three vehicles (two Sequoias and a motorcycle) in front of me, so I did. Yes, part of me was doing this because I was pissed at the blue Sequoia (which happened to be driven by a short middle-aged woman who probably couldn’t see over the wheel), but whatever…I moved up and in front of the slower traffic without cutting anyone off.

So, we’re driving along, and I’m once again behind some cars that are going about 60 or so. I tend to leave quite a bit of space in between me and the car in front of me; this is a habit from learning to drive in a vehicle without power brakes. There are cars slightly ahead of me in the lane next to me, but at the rate I’m going, someone could BARELY squeeze in front of me (however they would definitely be cutting me off and I’d have to slam on my brakes). All of a sudden, I happen to glance to my right and…BLUE SEQUOIA IS SPEEDING UP TO PASS ME! She’s also flipping me off WITH HER CHILD IN THE FRONT SEAT (I don't really know why she's flipping me off at this point, since when I passed her I also passed two other vehicles and didn't cut anyone off...perhaps she was just angry)!! Instinct kicked in and I floored it, closing the very small gap in front of me so that she couldn’t cut me off once again (I may have also flipped her off, but she deserved it; this was before I could see there was a child in the car).

Now, blue Sequoia is behind me yet again. There was now a bit of space in front of me as some cars had merged out of the carpool lane. I could have sped up, as I was still going only about 60 MPH, and the speed limit is 65. However, I am of course a cautious driver, so I felt it would be unsafe to speed up with this much traffic around me.

What would you do in this case?

You got it - I took my foot off the accelerator and coasted for a bit.

Normally, I don’t condone this type of behavior, but I have to admit, it was very calming.

A few minutes later, blue Sequoia merged out of the carpool lane yet again, so I sped up and left her in my dust. I think she was going to get off the freeway, but she could have been moving over to pass me. Either way, F her.

So later this morning, I experienced another incident. This one is in no way bad, yet just annoying (at least to me). I didn’t have time to eat breakfast this morning, so I went down to our cafeteria about 9:00 a.m. to get something to eat. I ended up choosing to stand in the grill line; usually when I get breakfast I just get hashbrowns, but French toast was all of a sudden calling my name!

You should know that the grill line at work often takes FOREVER. There were two women behind me in line, chatting about banking. I couldn’t help overhear, because they were standing very close (but that’s another blog topic), and because, so sue me, I like to listen; I think human behavior is interesting, and that involves listening to people and watching them.

So these two women, one near my age and one nearing retirement age, are talking about our local credit union. We happen to have an ATM for said credit union in our building, so it’s a very popular bank for employees to bank at. The younger woman was complaining because there are not many branches of this credit union near her house, but it’s so convenient because the ATM is here at work. The older woman joined in on the complaining, talking about her son who lives in Southern CA. Apparently there are “no” (and I quote) branches of said credit union down south, so she cannot transfer money into her son’s account. (I’d like to stop here and point out that she’s wrong, and there are branches of said credit union throughout California. Also, I’m assuming based on her age that her son is of at least college age, if not older; the fact that she is still putting money in his account worries me.) She then continues by stating that she told her son she’d just have to mail him money.

(Allow me to stop here yet again. In today’s day and age, there is NO REASON for anyone to send money through the mail. It just isn’t safe. I’m a member of the aforementioned credit union, as are my parents, and years ago my mom linked her account to mine (and vice versa) so that we could transfer money to each other. Years ago.)

So I’m standing there, yearning to tell these women that a) yes there are branches of said credit union down south; b) she should really link her account to her son’s so she can easily transfer money; and c) you’re a member of a credit union, you can go to ANY OTHER CREDIT UNION and withdraw or deposit money at their ATMs for FREE!

It really bothers me that there are people this stupid in the world. Okay, maybe they don’t know there are other credit unions down south, but wouldn’t you think about maybe doing some internet research? See where the closest branch is to your son. Call up the bank and ask them what the easiest way to transfer money to your son is (because clearly, this woman nearing retirement age was not technologically saavy, so okay, maybe she didn’t think about linking their accounts).

So I’m standing there, just burning with the desire to correct them, because I hate it when people have incorrect information (and sue me, I like to be right, and in this case, I know I am). Also, I don’t mind when strangers talk to me (such as the old ladies in the grocery store that apparently love me and always talk to me). However, since meeting the Husband, I’ve learned there are many people unlike me. He HATES it when people make random conversation with him in the store. With this in mind, I’m hesitant to interrupt the stupid women, because I now realize there are people who don’t want a stranger’s input.

In the end, I didn’t interrupt them. But I’m still thinking about it, because again, it bothers me that they have incorrect information and apparently don’t have the smarts to think outside the box a little bit.

Is it just me, or would that have bothered anyone else?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Don't think me a nerd...

...but I love cleaning products.

Awhile ago (okay, back in February) I wrote about my homemade laundry detergent. I’m happy to say that I made a batch of detergent the first week of February, and am currently on my last container, with probably three to five loads-worth of soap remaining. That’s FIVE MONTHS of laundry detergent that I made at home for about $2.50, if that.

Since then I’ve been Googling other homemade cleaning products, and have found a great all-purpose cleaner containing water, vinegar, and Borax, as well as some creative uses for salt and lemons.

My most recent discovery was that of a dishwasher detergent. I’ve been using the Cascade “Action Packs,” which are the little packs of detergent and spot-free rinse in one package. They worked great, but they’re pretty pricey. During one trip to Winco I bought a package of “Finish” tabs (the brand that used to be Electrosol, or something along those lines) because they were cheaper and Winco didn’t have Cascade. You definitely get what you pay for, because those didn’t work nearly as well. I promised myself that after the Finish tabs were done, I was going to find a new product that was cheaper, worked better, and was preferably homemade.

After doing my research online, I found that you can make dishwasher detergent by combining equal parts washing soda and Borax. Those are both products in my homemade laundry soap, so I already had them at home. I mixed equal parts together then added slightly more Borax because we have hard water (as instructed); I put it in a large container so I ended up using 7 cups of washing soda and 8 cups of Borax. I did my first load of dishes last night with the new detergent.

The results? AMAZING! My dishes were clean, and there were NO water spots. I basically consider this to be a free product, because I bought the washing soda and Borax back in February when I decided to make laundry soap. If I was going to guess what it cost, I’d say about $3.00 (assuming in making the amount of detergent I did that I used about half a box each of washing soda and Borax, and that they cost about $3.00 each, respectively). This amount of detergent will last me a LONG time, as I used about ½ a cup’s worth for my full load of dishes, so I’m pretty happy.

Just in case you’re not sure what these products are, here are some pictures. For those of you who live near me, the only store in town I found washing soda at was Winco. Borax can be found at Target, Winco, Safeway, etc.

I love finding cheap things that work great, and it’s even better when they’re homemade! Sometimes I wish I was a pioneer woman who had to make her own butter, cheese, cleaning products…and then I start to imagine life without air conditioning and am pretty happy to be here in 2010.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Clean House Anyone?

I’m back!!!

Well, I’m trying to be back, at least. I’ve decided that my time would be better spent capturing your attention with my creative prose than surfing the web reading boring and/or depressing news stories about our state’s financial woes. Okay or I’m just bored so I’m going to blog.

Thanks to satellite TV, I’ve greatly expanded my repertoire of television shows from just Law & Order and Criminal Minds to cooking shows, reruns of awesome oldies, and even some reality TV shows. One show I’ve been watching (well, I guess they’re split into two) is Clean House and Clean House: Search for the Messiest Home in America. At first I was addicted (much to Grant’s chagrin, as he hates the sound of Neecy’s (sp?) voice), but now I’m starting to be selective about which episodes I watch. Here’s why.

Long ago I watched that show with Ty Pennington where they find a family, and completely redo their house in seven days. I stopped watching it because I got sick of the sappy stories and the realization that these people would probably trash the house after a few years anyway (and besides, half these houses were in the ghetto…perhaps you should have just bought them a nicer house in a nicer neighborhood to give them a little boost ahead in life…because their ghetto neighbors are probably going to tag/rob/f*%k up their house in some way).

Then I started watching a show on BBC America called How Clean is Your House? These two British ladies come in to houses that are not only full of clutter but dirt, trash, grime, and quite often parasites as well, clean it all up, and teach the homeowners how to clean. They don’t replace any furniture, they don’t redecorate, and they simply clean it up.

Now I’m watching the aforementioned Clean House series and once again, I’m starting to get sick of it. Why? Take these two examples. Example number 1 involves a woman who has a good job as a nurse, two spoiled daughters (they admitted on the show they get whatever they want…and btw both are over 18 and live at home), a husband who is always out of town, a very nice, large house, and a shopping addiction. Her house is full of clothes with the tags on them, and clearly she is not hurting for money. She also admitted that she is not ready to make a change in her life (not shopping), but just wants someone to come in and clean up her house.

Example two is a woman who has been divorced for about a year and has four boys, ranging in age probably from pre-teen to early twenties. This woman was a stay at home mom for years, then had to get a job when she got divorced, so she doesn’t have much time to clean. She did everything around the house, and her four boys played sports and sat in their “man cave” and played video games, doing nothing to help mom.

In Example #1, the family did end up getting rid of stuff, but I hated to see them get their house redesigned, especially since Neecy “gifted” them a brand new, clearly expensive (and extravagant aka ugly) bedroom set. This woman brought everything on herself by shopping all the time, not cleaning up her house, and not teaching her daughters to clean up after themselves (and not punishing them when they contributed to the mess). In fact, she didn’t even seem that appreciative with all the hard work the Clean House crew did.

In Example #2, I almost cried when they revealed the house because the mother was so emotional and so thankful. Her boys really stepped up, sold their stuff to help buy their mom a new bedroom set, and even wrote out chore lists and learned to do laundry and iron their clothes. The entire family really learned a lesson, and you could tell that they were ready to make changes in their lives and the boys were ready to actually help their mom, as they could see they’d been taking advantage of her for years.

I guess that my point with all this is I’m tired of seeing people taking advantage of the system, getting things for free without really having to work for them, and basically being dead beats. No, I’m not perfect, and sure, I’ll take some things for free. But, I work hard, I had to learn to control my spending on my own, and I think there are always creative solutions to your problems, you just have to work hard to find them.

Although maybe this was their creative solution…?