For some reason, although it's Feb. 14, 2010, the computer won't let me post with the 2010 date. So...I've given the date as day and month in 2009.
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Living in a small house has its disadvantages. There never seems to be enough space for *anything*.
At one time there was a basement pantry/ shelf-type thing along the basement stairs, but my husband says it was torn out in the 80's. You could tell something was there, for there was painted space...but sadly, no shelves.
We solved that problem temporarily with a particle board pantry and a plastic shelving unit. It was fabulous until our cats discovered they could hop from the stairs to the top of the cabinets and 'people watch' what was happening in the laundry room on the other side...and oh gee, if something got knocked off the shelves in the process, it was a pure accident.
So, in sealing the basement, we have enclosed the stairs (much to the cat's chagrin) and built a lovely pantry space. Pure bliss! It's a lovely maple wood that be echoed in the rest of the room as we complete this laundry/ bath/ storage space.
So, right before Thanksgiving (of course *before* the holidays!) I had to gut the pantry, move the shelves, and have all my stuff in boxes.
NO MORE! This past week, the pantry was DONE! Hooray!
I happily filled it and thought of the poem by Keats. It is such a thrill to have ONE THING done in the basement for storage....I've grown to dread this never-ending cycle of remodeling that comes when you buy an older home.
Classically, though, I have found the cure for dread to be hope. So, rather than be overwhelmed with dread, I've learned to revel in the small things and take extreme joy whenever I can in whatever I can. This week, my joy was the pantry. For months, my pantry items have sat hidden in boxes. No more. Everything has a place. Truth be told, I could use another wall full of pantry shelves, but for now, it is sheer, unadulterated bliss.
True, there are some who won't appreciate this, but it's my pantry and I love it. I love it for all it's four shelves that are 15" high and 25" deep and for its maple polished beauty...for it's smooth finished edges and secure non-wobbly, non-warped shelves, I love it for it's PERMANENCE. It's not temporary, it's built INTO our home. It's not some press-board cabinet made by underpaid workers in a third world country and shipped to a mega-mart. It was lovingly made by hand, making sure the walls were straight and true (as true as you can get in an 80 year old house).
I'm sure there will come a day when I have to leave this beautiful thing, but for now, I'm seriously groovin' on my pantry.
Keats was right - beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder, it can be that which causes us to stop and smile and sigh - joy in our hearts forever.
Enjoy the poem & the pics!
A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever
by John Keats
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.
Nor do we merely feel these essences
For one short hour; no, even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple's self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light
Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast
That, whether there be shine or gloom o'ercast,
They always must be with us, or we die.
Therefore, 'tis with full happiness that I
Will trace the story of Endymion.
The very music of the name has gone
Into my being, and each pleasant scene
Is growing fresh before me as the green
Of our own valleys: so I will begin
Now while I cannot hear the city's din;
Now while the early budders are just new,
And run in mazes of the youngest hue
About old forests; while the willow trails
Its delicate amber; and the dairy pails
Bring home increase of milk. And, as the year
Grows lush in juicy stalks, I'll smoothly steer
My little boat, for many quiet hours,
With streams that deepen freshly into bowers.
Many and many a verse I hope to write,
Before the daisies, vermeil rimmed and white,
Hide in deep herbage; and ere yet the bees
Hum about globes of clover and sweet peas,
I must be near the middle of my story.
O may no wintry season, bare and hoary,
See it half finished: but let Autumn bold,
With universal tinge of sober gold,
Be all about me when I make an end!
And now at once, adventuresome, I send
My herald thought into a wilderness:
There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
My uncertain path with green, that I may speed
Easily onward, thorough flowers and weed.
I now know with great clarity what it means to get up BEFORE the chickens. Yes, yes, I do.
Since my DH had to work a night shift Sunday night, he's getting back to days and was up until 3 am last night. When he did come to bed, he flopped like a fish and snored like a lumberjack. Finally, I just got up. What do I need sleep for anyway? It's not really THAT important to life....
Then I looked at the clock...It was four-freakin'-o'clock ...in the MORNING.
So, I read some e-mails, played a computer game and realized, with some grumbling, that I was awake, WIDE awake.
So, I thought, what could I do before 5 AM that was away from the bedroom and needed to be done, besides laugh at a facebook post from my best friend "are you okay? It's 4:30 am there!?"
Like a song from the heavens, I received inspiration: "Clean the study! If you hurry, you can have extra recycling and garbage removed before the haulers come."
So, I got dressed, pulled my hair back, and sorted....and sorted...and sorted...I realized I wasn't really messy, just that I hadn't been taking time to stay on top of things.
Found some missing phonics and language books and sorted some more. Emptied two shoe boxes of school supplies (from my teacher's desk) back into the general office supplies (where I got them in the first place). Discovered I had more pens, rulers, and scissors than I started with! What blessed things!
Arrrggghhh! The closet! In putting coats etc. away, I had discovered that the kitten had gotten into the kitty BOB and it spilled into the closet...she had skated across some papers and decided to try and open a small sample of crunchies. There was spit-out, cat-chewed plastic and crunchy bits adhering to my long winter fleece coat...that had been pulled off the hanger, kneaded into a nice nest and COVERED in black cat hair. I had found her secret lair and snack supply.
Sigh. I should be grateful there weren't real mousie parts.
I now have a great huge bag of shredding a more piles for sorting.
I had forgotten the carpet in here was pink.
The bittersweet thing was that I also found a couple of things of my sister's. She died in early 2001. I've been tripping over a tote that had her favorite CDs in it. Sigh. It's time to sort it. I just incorporated them into our huge CD collection. Now the tote can be used for something else. I also found her business card holder...it was just as she left it...so, it is terribly useful, but all the business cards were obsolete. I recycled them and will use it for my own stash....and yes, I kept one of hers in the front pocket 'just because'.
In the midst of all this dust and frantic cleaning, it made me ponder. If life is this cluttered, how was my soul? What was I holding onto for a while that was cluttering up my soul so I couldn't commune with God? Hmmm. I thought of a few things. As I paused, I looked through the window and saws the sky turn pink. The sun was rising. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen the sun rise.
I was reminded again - the sun always rises. I thought back to that terribly dark time when we lost my sister. It was so dark and depressing, but every day the sun rose. My eyes turned glassy, for I realized that even in the chaos of dark grayness and acute sorrow, the sun rises. Darkness flees and light creeps across the earth, peeking into the windows, doors, and homes; waking us, rousing us, bringing us another day - another day to live, to actively choose how we use the precious gift of life that we've been given.
The sun rises...and I am grateful.
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Weds. 9/16 - I am happy to report that this cleaning has resulted in some good things....my DH and I are finally sorting through our VHS, CD & DVD collection. It's just chaos. BUT, we bought some organizers and are slowly getting this dealt with. One more area of order....may it spread to the rest of the house!
I just received word that some close friends were drooling over the remembrance of my decadent rum cake recipe. I sent some to them a few years ago and haven't made it since. I just e-mailed them the recipe, but wanted to post it here so that everyone could share the love because recipes such as this one deserve to be passed on and shared. They achieve nothing by being locked up in a recipe box. This really captures the decadence and complete goodness of the holidays. You have to make it NOW to enjoy it later.
Make some extra and share with friends. I've included all my notes over the years so you can achieve the same exact taste and texture I get from Grandma's recipe. This is indeed an eye-rolling, fork-sucking, plate-licking delish dessert. It's perfect with tea, coffee, cocoa, or a shot of something. If you add ice cream, you're just sending it over the top. I remember my uncles sucking down piece after piece of it.
Some History - This recipe graced my dad's family holiday table for YEARS. Grandma took such pride in it. She did at least 4 HUGE cakes every year and held back one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. The other 2 she took to church for coffee after service - Presbyterian Church, mind you.
First though, get yourself a good bundt cake pan, tube pan, or one of those 6-cakelet pans. It really should be cast iron for this to work properly and get the proper golden brown hue for optimum yumminess. They have all sorts of designs and shapes for bundt cake pans, but for now if you don't have one, go to the thrift store and get one for $3. Make sure it doesn't have any big nicks or scratches in it. Season if necessary.
RECIPE - Bacardi Rum Cake
(From the 1950's when butter had no fat values, decadence was in, and Saran Wrap was the coolest new thing!)
Note: Please don't use cheap Monarch Rum. Bacardi/Captain, etc. is just a few dollars more. Pay for the good stuff. It really shows.
1 C chopped walnuts or pecans
1 yellow cake mix
1 pkg instant vanilla pudding mix
1/2 C cold water
1/2 C oil
1/2 C rum (80 proof)
1/4 lb butter (1 stick)
1/4 C water
1 C white sugar
1/2 C rum
- Preheat oven to 325.
- Using Crisco, grease your pan well. No blobs of white, just a nice slick coating. If your pan has points, use a pastry brush for the nooks and crannies.
- Sprinkle chopped nuts over bottom and sides of pan (I will use extra if I have them for good coverage.)
- Mix cake ingredients in order on box, adding pudding with dry ingredients and rum with wet.
- Pour over nuts in pan and bake one hour or until completely done.
- Let cool for 20 minutes, then remove cake(s) from pan.
- When luke-warm, prick sides and top of cake and drizzle with glaze.
(When pricking cake, don't 'jab' it, this compresses the cake, roll the pick (like bamboo kabob skewer) between your fingers while pricking. Perfect holes!)
- Melt butter in saucepan.
- Stir in water & sugar.
- Bring to a boil and boil 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in rum.
* You don't want to add the rum with the water for it will turn bitter.
** You can also experiment with different types of rum (Captain, Coconut, etc).
To Glaze -
- Place cake (or cakelets) on saran-covered plates with enough saran to wrap up sides of cake.
- Gently pour glaze over cake. DO NOT pour all at once. You will need to wait for the glaze to soak in. I think I do 3 pourings.
- It is NORMAL to have some liquid on the saran.
- Bring saran up sides of cake. Wrap more Saran around top and sides of cake. Place cake into zippie bag (small quarts for cakelets, gallons for larger cakes).
- Age cake.
Aging Cake -
- To age the cake, flip cake over once a week.
- I use an extra jelly roll pan or roasting pan to store the cakes.
- No need for refrigeration, there's no air due to the tight wrapping of the saran and zippie bags.
- Flipping the cake is essential for even distribution of the rummy glazey goodness. If you don't age and flip, your cake will be soggy and sodden, though still tasty.
- You want to age the cake about 8 weeks before consumption. So, for Thanksgiving, make cakes the mid-end of September. For Christmas/ New Years, make around end of October
- I put people's names on the zippie bags and make a master list. These cakes have a tendency to disappear. If people *know* they are getting one, it makes the wait that much more bearable.
DO NOT Double this recipe - for more than one cake, mix up separate mixes. You can however, double the glaze recipe.
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I'm so happy to share this. It's a classic recipe made dense from the pudding and buttery from the glaze and just a bit crunchy from the nuts.
Please don't ask about the calorie or fat content. It's astronomical. However, a strange phenomenon has occurred over the years - it is well known that when consumed with friends around a happy occasion, calories have been known to vanish.
Okay, who would put huge cloves of garlic INTO a loaf of bread and then put said bread next to french, wheat, and sourdough? Fred Meyer. Why am I not surprised? Every time I walk into that store, something stupid happens to me. What am I, flypaper for freakiness?
As you well know, I just finished using up every half pint jar in the house making jam and had 2 cups of strawberry that didn't have a home. Oh well, I just poured it into a measuring cup and will store it in the fridge. It's good incentive to eat fresh jam, yeah?
So, while I was out today, I picked up some fresh bread from Freddy's. I normally check labels for EVERYTHING, but I was with my sister-in-law, her 6 year old and her boyfriend, I was slightly distracted. I get it home and spread two slices - the small heel for me and a larger one for my sweetie. I bring it to him, looking forward to that wonderful strawberry taste on lovely bread... and it tastes.... odd. It has an unusual bite. Definitely weird. I thought I got french or sourdough.
As this is running through my mind, my dear, dear husband queries, "Honey, did you know this bread tastes like garlic? Um, oh man, there's a HUNK of garlic in my bread. Ick... This is definitely weird, like the time I accidentally put ketchup on my taco. Garlic and strawberry do not go together!"
Now, lover of jokes that I am, I would NEVER, EVER, in a trillion million years make someone eat something weird. As you well know, there is no way I could have planned this if I had tried.
I had to agree, bread that had garlic chunks with strawberry jam was unusual. The bread would be great toasted with cheese with a pasta dish....but with strawberry jam, not so much.
Then again, that's what people were hesitant about lime and chili chips or ranch doritos or teriyaki burgers with pineapple. I could have hit on something here. But wait, really. Who wants the reputation for a mixture like this? Um, unless I can read the future and make tons of cash, I'll let someone else take the credit, thank you.
So, I am heading out to the store for bread. Again. Maybe this time I will get the right kind.Sigh.
The day started out to be stressful and ugly. I was dreading setting foot out of bed. So I'm getting ready and heading out to the coop and I hear a ruckus. I knew they needed crumbles and I figured they had probably knocked over their water.
As I open the door, I see them - 3 glorious eggs on the floor of the coop! They are each slightly a different shade, a different color of lovely light brown. I let out a squeal like a little girl!
Now, I know I might not get eggs every day at first, but I'm just so thrilled at these first ones!
I just had to post quickly here, for I knew you all would want to rejoice with me!
Well, if last summer was the Summer of Canning like a Crazy Woman, this summer is the Summer of Running Behind.
Last summer, I had come off of a 4-month cleansing fast that, while I was riding-a-broom cranky, I did have tons of energy which I promptly channeled into canning everything under the sun - because I could and needed to. I'm finding that the time was well spent and it has been a good gauge for what we use and don't use, and how often we use something.
This spring, I've had a flare-up again, and my energy is flagging. This, combined with intensive remodeling (tree removal, fences discussion, trash removal), chicken husbandry, gardening, etc. has landed me back where I was last winter/ early spring. Run down with flare-ups. Ick.
So. I've let some fruit feed the worms and compost, and haven't done much canning for me at all. I do have a list...one that seems to grow longer each time I look at it. BUT, things are getting done around the house and I honestly have been dealing with clutter, cleaning, and other necessary things.
Life goes in cycles. This week has seen me do another cleansing fast, and while not nearly as intensive or as expensive as the one I did over a year ago, it it still highly effective and I am so looking forward to being done, if only for the reason that I don't have to go do daily colonics. It has served as a reminder that I will ALWAYS have to watch what I eat, look for the hidden items that set off my flare-ups, and have back-up plans for when I'm laid low. (BTW, I've learned so much from you ladies in the prep department!)
So, maybe the running behind isn't so bad in some ways...it lets me gain perspective . renew my energy, and encourages me to approach things from a different angle. But still, I feel like I'm running behind.
Well, like everything in the summer, my chickens are growing. The littles that were so tiny and taking refuge in their 'cage' in the coop are now blended in (integrated?) with the larger 6 birds. They were spending more time out of the enclosure than in. I knew it was time to remove the enclosure when the big girls liked sitting on it and the little girls ran out. It won't be long before the Buff Orp Naomi is going to quickly get bigger than the Spotted Sussex Havalah.
All the girls like their chicken run - a 8 foot long by 3 foot high box without a bottom that has wheels on one end so I can take it to various parts of the yard. The lid lifts up and I do have to take each chicken in and out. Right now, with so much construction, I don't have an open 'run'. Eventually, the back yard will be their run, but not until we get a fence put in.
The girls are getting along well - as long at the littles keep their distance and don't go for the same tasty bug or flower, everyone seems to get along well. Every now and again there is a peck, but such is the life of a chicken. I'm so relieved their doing well. A few weeks ago it was looking much different. What a difference some time and growth make!
We've had many field trips out to the run. They seem to like it best on overcast/lightly sunny days with a nice breeze. They love eating the grasses, catching flies and eating every tasty bug they come across. Today and yesterday's 90+ degrees was too hot for them. They wanted 'out' after a few hours rather than at the end of the day.
It's amazing how you learn your animals. The 'little' ones still tire quicker than the big ones, and those two like to do everything together. Yesterday, they were sitting near the front of the run napping. I opened the lid and took the small buff Naomi out and put her in the coop. She sighed and settled into my arms, delighted that she could be in the coop. However, once in there by herself her chirp turned into a teradactyl-like SQUAWK as she realized her friend Havalah was no where around. I go to fetch Havalah and she flees to the back of the run. I lean over to coax her out and she's just out of finger's reach. So, the other chickens were amused, standing around realizing that I didn't reach for them, but for the little one. The barred rock Sarah took matters into her own hands and butted little Havalah in the tailfeathers, causing her to fly up directly into my hands. If you ask me, I think she planned it that way.
Today, after the morning out in the run, the littles were first to go in. Havalah didn't put up a fuss whatsoever, just hopped right into my hands. My dad was holding the lid open, coaxing the other birds toward me. Before he knew it, the barred rock Sarah had flown up and out of the box run and was strutting her way toward the coop as if to say, "Well. I'm not letting you manhandle me. I'm doing this for myself, thank you. Oh, what's that, a tasty bug???" and off she ran. Dad quicky caught her and she let out a 'bagawk bagawk'. When he handed her off, I look at her and say, "Well, Lady Sarah. What were you thinking taking off like that? It's not safe." I lie not, that chicken turned her head, looked me with each eye and went, "bawwk, bawwk, bawwk, bawwk" sounding just like people laugh. To make matters worse, she also pooped on me - while we were walking the few steps back to the coop. As I put her in the coop, she ran to the roost and flapped into the window, watching, cackling the whole time I was putting the other girls into the coop.
Well. I do believe I've been laughed at and told off by a chicken.
Well, the baby chickies are too big for the brooder and were moved today. I thought if they were all together outside no one would notice being big or small. WRONG. The littles are being picked on by both the middle girls and the big girls. The littles are fine by themselves but once you introduce another larger chick into the mix, it is readily apparent that the pecking order has been established and they DO NOT want it interrupted. The middle girls seem to be particularly vicious and they were Havalah's brooder mates. Yet another reminder that animals are animals and not people.
So, out of compassion for these birds, my dad built a 'cage' for the littles inside the big coop. The bigger birds are a little put-out because they like their space. They don't NEED it all but they like it. The little ones are off cowering in a corner in their great big world and the bigger chickens are clucking and picking on them.
All this still, after a day out in the yard eating tasty bugs, slugs, grasses, and spiders. You would think the chickens would be too tired to pick on anyone else, but Nooooo. For some reason they feel these littles are a great intrusion. Little Havalah the Speckled Sussex is still half the size of the middle chickens, and little Naomi is a tad smaller than her.
I have yet to see if we will achieve chicken harmony, but hopefully, over the next few days we will. You would think the chickens would remember what it was like to be that small, but I guess they forget. After all, their brain is smaller than half an almond.
We now have two types of chickens at our house; the Big Girls (the 3 Buff Orpingtons named Minerva, Golda, and Shira), and the Little Girls (one White Rock named Tikva, one Black Australorp named Hannah, one Barred Rock named Sarah, and one Spotted Sussex named Havalah.) The Big Girls are now almost 10 weeks old and the Little Girls are almost 4 weeks.
Since our 'miracle' this weekend of the Littlest Girl, Havalah, (the spotted sussex) surviving severe dehydration, the other three Little Girls are out with the Big Girls in the coop to give Havalah a rest and a chance to grow uninterrupted.
These two lots of girls have been together for almost 40 hours now. The Big Girls are tolerating this, but barely. Such looks of distain and shock! How could I, as a Chickie Mama, do *this*? How dare *I* make *them* share their space??? They look with distain at the Little Girls, like they are something to be avoided. They flutter down to the floor from the perch and the Little Girls go scattering. Everyone is sharing water and food, but sometimes, it's just trying for any sort of living creature to share.
So, I found a roll of hardware cloth and opened up the coop, just a little, for some 'breathing room' until we expand the coop itself. In the process, I changed the water and food trays. The Little Girls (Sarah, Tikvah, and Hannah) were exploring their own clean dish and Minerva and Shira were madly pecking at the wood chips and crumbles that floated down from my hands.
Golda decided she wanted no part of their fun. She had hopped up on the perch and was pecking at my shirt, tugging at it and chortling like chickens do. As I bent over to put the food tray back on the floor, she begins to look at me...and chortle... then pick at my hair.
Now mind you, I was just at the hairdresser's today and my hair always reacts badly to a cut...and it was quite windy. My curly red hair was sticking out in many places. Golda proceeded to grab a hair here and there, chortling the whole time...hopping up and down on the perch. As I stood up, she flapped her wings and jumped into my empty hands, something she has never done. So, what do I do? I tuck her against my body and under my arm like a Mama Chicken. Here, she pecks at my shirt a little, settling down with her head over my arm making those cute little chicken noises in the process.
What prompted this? I don't have a clue. I hold her for a few minutes, then she wants down. The other Big Girls look interested, hoping for treats. I wait for Minerva, but she hops away, clucking as if to say, "No way, nope, not on your life." Shira just clucks and turns her back to me. Golda proceeds to fluff her feathers and preen, apparently smug in her Mama time.
I know that chickens are farm animals. I know they are poultry for eating and food production. I know there are some people who firmly believe that people are crazy enough to project human-like characteristics onto their animals. However, there are some animals who cross the line from 'food' to pets – those who just melt your heart from the beginning.
Who knew I would be groomed by a chicken and like it?
P.S. Havalah was becoming listless and lethargic again, I diagnosed it as 'loneliness', so I brought her home a friend last night, a new baby Buff Orpington we named Naomi. Havalah has been showing her how to drink, fling crumbles, scratch. Naomi follows Havalah around the brooder and they are becoming quite the pair.
The last week has seen me watch some dear friends pack up their home of 10 years and move to Texas. They got caught in the micro-chip lay-offs a couple of years ago and with a new baby, well, monies have been super tight.
I watched them purge, sort, pack, and purge some more. Not everything fit into the moving van. Those things look huge on the outside but once you start squirreling boxes here and there, it fills up fast.
Suddenly I realized, yet again, how much STUFF we have. I wondered why I have so many clothes, tools, dishes, books, and furniture. It is all really essential to living or necessary for comfort? It forced me to reflect that if I had to do a hard-core purge of my belongings this week, could I do it?
Absolutely. What would I pitch? "Trinkets". Things that look nice in a home but are window dressing. Decorations, non-practical items, pictures, drawers filled with paper from my graduate work, notebooks from EVERY single class I've taken (that's been A LOT!)…a box of xmas things someone gave me (yeah, why do I have THAT?!)…the list goes on. It's spurned me to sort more and do more for our own organization.
As I watched them sort, I offered help and was told, "Oh, we're doing it little by little, but thanks." I was NOT surprised when I got a call on Saturday (they were packing the van Sunday) from a frantic friend, "Please, can you come help? There's so much to do and we're running out of time. The baby is driving me NUTS!"
So, I did. What was going to be a couple of hours turned into 6. I offered help packing or watching the 2 year old. I'm thrilled that I got 'baby time'. I did pull my shoulder out a bit, but swinging that giggling baby through the air will stay with me for a long time. I also got to hear bath-time laughter and chortles over his favorite snack of cheese and peaches. It breaks my heart that the next time I will see this child will be when he's in elementary school.
The move for them hasn't been easy either. They got no more than a day's journey and the moving truck breaks down, throwing them a day off schedule. The carefully packed van is now re-packed in disarray. A tiny tree branch is caught in a side mirror and broken and they are threatened with a 'bill for damages'. While they are getting closer and closer to their destination every day, I'm getting closer and closer to the realization that I can't just pop over and say 'hi' or love on the baby whenever I want.
I'm regretting the days I put off having tea or lunch with my friend because one or both of us were too 'busy' we couldn't make the time. Yet again, it seems, I've learned this lesson – don't put off spending time with people who are close to you. Life is too short, time flies by, and you never know when that afternoon lunch might be the last time for a while.
The sadness does have a silver lining. Friends who are true friends are not bound by miles. Technology allows us to keep in instant touch by e-mail, photos, etc. Should I visit them in Texas, I will be expected to stay with them. I could also connect with a dear friend from college and make a boatload of new friends in some Congregations down there. Somehow, though, it only tempers the loneliness…BUT, with that does come the joy of anticipation of their new life.
After a fender bender on April 1 (ironic, huh?) I had to take my car into the body shop this week. Just last week, I had removed the studded snow tires and put on all season radials.
An important sidebar: Last year DH got these fancy rims that didn't need hubcaps. He claimed they were cheaper than regular rims with lug nuts that needed hubcap covering. Whatever. He also said that they needed a special tool and that tool could only be used on those particular rims and nuts. Not as easy as any regular rim, I said, but fine. Little did I know this would be a problem come spring when he LOST the lug nuts to the fancy mag wheels. I had to go buy an entire NEW set.
This was done just 3 days prior to taking the car into the body shop for some work. I've been enjoying a rental car for the week and I picked up my car this afternoon . . . Friday . . . with wicked rush hour traffic.
The gentleman reviewing the work with me noted that I only had 2 lugnuts on the front passenger tire. WHAT? Where did they go?!?!?!?! They can't just jump off. Anyone who puts on lugnuts puts them on opposite sides - like on a clock - 10 and 4, then 2 and 8, then retightens them. These were missing on one side; 2 & 8 o'clock, respectively.
After a conversation with the guy who did my tires - perfect work, YES, he hand-tightened all four wheels, put 4 nuts on each wheel, etc. I called the tire shop. They confirmed they sold me the correct amount of lugnuts AND the tool.
Foul play? Gang initiation in the neighborhood to steal lugnuts? Could they have fallen off by themselves?!?!?
Flabbergasted, I requested 2 more lugnuts and asked the tire guy if could they please check the air.
So, the tire guy looks at the file, notices we come in there 'often' and comps me the lug nuts, about $12. He and another guy check the air. A pound or so low, but nothing to worry about. What did cause great head-shaking was the fact that on opposite tires - passenger front right and passenger left back, the lugnuts were loose enough to SPIN BY THEMESELVES. Unheard of with this tire and nut system.
This young man (reminded me of my red-haired 'adopted' nephew) was absolutely shocked...he said, "Ma'am, I do believe you've given your guardian angels some extra work today. We haven't seen ANYONE drive in here with such loose lugnuts without losing at least one tire and damaging their axles."
Did I also mention that while I was finishing the business with the body shop and driving across the bridge toward the tire store and home, my phone kept ringing. It was my mom...I hated to send her into voicemail, but I just couldn't risk chatting on the phone while I KNEW my car was missing lugnuts.
I finally called her back and she was frantic. Seems her 'mama radar' had been going off and she was worrying. The first words out of her mouth after "What's been going on?" were "ARE YOU OKAY?"
It's amazing how inspite of being an adult and married, I'm still not too old for Mama Radar. I was touched. I knew that when I needed it most, Mama was praying. Because of the prayers, I knew I was extra safe.
Can you imagine the accident I could have been in? Losing a tire(s) on the interstate, possibly rolling my tiny car, let alone the physical damage to my body?
Thank the Lord for Mama's who pray!!!
So this weekend, the chicken coop was finished. It's not a coop, my husband says, it's a chicken palace. Big enough to house 20 chickens with room to spare. I would have been happy with a simple shed against the garage, but it's HUGE. Big enough to house the chicken feed, bedding, etc. There's even an overhang for my husband's worm bins.
You want to know why it was finished last weekend instead of tomorrow or next weekend? My dad said he couldn't stand watching one of the chickens hopping and flapping, bonking her head on the lid of the brooder because she wanted OUT. He was worried that they might hurt themselves...me, I was worried that he was worried.
They made SO MUCH noise when I was moving them, you'd have thought it was the worst torture imaginable. I transported them outside in a 6 gallon bucket with a cloth over it, moving slowly so not to jar them too much.
In retrospect, I should probably have slowly tipped the bucket on its side and let them come out on their own, but I took them from the bucket myself and placed them on the floor of their new home.
They didn't know what to think, it was all so new, big and, well, NEW and BIG. I waited for them to discover the water and food, and finally my husband called me and said, "Sweetie, we have to go. We're meeting friends for dinner and you probably want to get cleaned up. They'll be FINE. Come on."
So, even though I wanted to stay longer, I left them. The temperature was fine. They had fresh food and water. Everything was fine. I go out there the next morning and the piles of wood chips had been flung everywere and the chickies were cheeping and making their usual noise. My husband was right. They were fine.
I left an over-turned bucket in the brooder (for sitting) and when I went in today, I noticed some feathers and such on it. I go to brush it off and to my surprise, Golda flutters up and sits there, cocking her head like she's waiting for me. I didn't think she was big enough to do that! So, I bring in some food and gently pick her up.
This buff chickie burrows into my arm and nestles into my lap, gently pecking at my fingers, pulling at an apron string. Moments later, she walks across my legs, down onto the wooden roost and flutters to the floor of the coop. Before I had gotten over my amazement, she fluttered up into my lap again and walked across my legs, onto the roost, fluttering down to the floor again! It was a game. She did this a few more times before she chirruped in a satisfied way, finding the new water I put in.
Scientists say that a full-grown chicken's brain is about the size of a walnut. So, these few-week old chickies' brains are in all probability the size of about half an almond or so. What was in the Creator's mind to give this particular chicken something beyond instincts for survival? I don't think I can answer. What I do know is that animals of any sort are amazing.
Who knew I would have a chicken with a sense of adventure and humor?
One of the posts this week in the food forums was on comfort food and poverty cooking. For a good page or so of posts, people were talking about biscuits, homemade biscuit mix, and even gravy. So, to that note, I share this story.
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When my husband and I were first married, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday dinner. I told him that I would happily make it for him, complete with whatever dessert he wanted.
He was hesitant to reply. Finally, he told me. Biscuits and sausage gravy…and apple pie. He didn't want to tell me about the biscuits and gravy part because I keep a kosher kitchen and he didn't want to cause me extra work.
Now eating kosher, I don't eat pork or shellfish – AT ALL. If I do, it upsets my stomach greatly. Come to find out, I also have a nitrite allergy. Nitrites are prevalent in pork. So, not just for kosher reasons, but for personal nutrition, I don't eat pork or shellfish. It's just not worth the hours of misery.
Also, I've never been a big gravy person. I don't especially like eating fatty emulsions over meat or potatoes. So, I began scouring the internet for gravy recipes, particularly those using sausage….and HOW to do this in such a way that I could match the reputedly "wonderful" taste and "mile-high" height of his mom's biscuits that he so dearly loved.
As life would have it, at the same time I was doing this, my husband happened to be chatting to his mom on the phone. She asked what he wanted for his birthday. He mentioned that I was looking for biscuit & gravy recipes on the internet.
She was appalled. She stated that I should come over and she would teach me how to do biscuits and gravy 'properly'. I let out a sigh that came from the tips of my toes. Lord knows, we had NOT gotten off on the right foot and she hadn't said 'Boo' to me since we were married a month before. Annoying me further was the fact that I was an excellent cook and not only cooked things in a healthy manner but took great joy in doing so. A part of me chafed in this lesson...
So, on a precious weekend day, my husband and I drove 30 minutes north of us to visit his mom and step-dad on his birthday weekend. He repaired something around the house for her while I got my cooking lesson.
We had to go to the store and buy pork sausage. You know, the non-link kind, because those "should be more kosher" (according to her). She cooked the sausage in the skillet, made the biscuits from Low-fat, low-salt boxed Bisquick, and a milk gravy from the pan leavings, using most of the oil from the cooked meat in the process. As I watched her make the gravy, I asked appropriate questions as she gloried in the fact that I didn't cook gravy. (Notice I never said I didn't know how...) I did learn that she heated her milk first. Evidently this makes the flour easier to whisk in.
Upon tasting it, I just about hurled on my mother-in-law and her immaculately clean kitchen floor. It was porky, greasy, and peppery. On top of biscuits, it was even worse. Was this semi-gelatinous porky mass actually supposed to stay on top of the biscuit and not slip off the plate? What added further insult was the fact that I was expected to sit down and partake of this meal with my husband and his step-dad.
I did manage to get the smallest biscuit and ate half the biscuit with jam…it was okay. I did eat a few bites of the pork gravy, enough to be polite. I can appreciate the homey-ness of the creamy-like gravy and the luxury of meat in something which otherwise might have been very blah. I can appreciate the berry jam. What I did not appreciate was having major gut rumbles later as NO amount of digestives helped. It did please my husband that I 'learned' from his mom.
So, when DH's birthday rolled around the next year, I vowed to be a 'good wife' and try this myself. After all, I had a lesson from the person who makes the 'best'.
I bought a pan especially for traif, non-kosher items like pork sausage. Cooked up the sausage (with plenty of ventilation) nice and crisp and patted these nuggets o'porky goodness virtually dry. Made the milk gravy with WAY less fat and Wondra flour. I thickened the gravy and added the meat. I did taste it and added some salt and pepper. I was amazed. This was actually tasty. I could see why people liked it.
I made two types of biscuits, my homemade bisquick and one from scratch. Both types were lovely and full, nicely golden brown. They were thick, flakey, and buttery; everything biscuits should be and no after-taste from preservatives or 'lo-fat' compounds. (DH liked them both but said the homemade bisquik was 'better' for gravy and the 'fresh' was better for jam...he did multiple taste trials!)
I did the math and figured out that I cut almost 80% of fat calories and 40% of the carbs in the gravy. DH did remark on the difference. "Wow, honey, this is way better than my mom's!"
There is indeed justice in the world, for at that moment, his mom called on the phone. She inquired what he wanted for his birthday. I swelled with joy when he told her that I made him biscuits and gravy…but shuddered as he added "….but they're not as greasy as yours, Mom…and it tastes SO good!"
Now, to this day, I adamantly state that I did NOT deliberately set out to insult my mother-in-law. I did not mean to 'take' from her, this special dish my husband enjoys, that she makes for him, and purposefully change it to hack her off. Nor did I intentionally set out to play the one-up-manship game with her when I made it remotely healthy.
I saw a favorite dish of my husband's that could be considerably lightened and did it…surprisingly well, I thought. Now I feel better about feeding it to my diabetic husband. By the way, the apple pie he requested for desert was lo-carb as well. No one could tell. He enjoyed every bite.
However, I did learn, that somehow green salads, green beans, carrots, or plain veggies, just aren't usually paired with biscuits and gravy. Evidently it is a stand-alone meal. No veggies or fruit or anything. Oh well…I tried to add a healthy touch.
With my husband's new job, we've been making a lot of transitions around here. I've been forced to deal with clutter, begin to make lunches again, and adapt to a new schedule. All good things!
Among this adapting, we realized that since the work truck is now his sole vehicle, I get my small commuter car back. We can finally pitch the great huge gas guzzling Oldsmobile taking up the driveway.
Now mind you, I've always had a love-hate relationship with that car.
I've been grateful for it but hated its idiosyncrasies. DH got it a year before we got married and paid cash for it from his mom. According to her, "it's been maintained and runs perfectly…no trouble whatsoever!" Well, a few months after we got it, things began going wrong. Big things. We began pouring money into this beast because we needed the car. Once I began to teach locally, I was the one to drive it because DH commuted more than I and took my small car for the gas economy. For the past few years, we've soaked the equivalent of low blue book into it. I've been grateful for it when I've needed to work.
Always, though, it's had some sort of drama; usually unwelcome. Always, I've threatened, "Boy, Turtle Car (named such because it's big, green, and slow) one day you'll be gone and I'll be happy."
Now that I'm looking for places to donate it, I find myself strangely not wanting to let it go completely. So I made a list of the Pro's and Con's.
Pro's – ummm…ahhh….hmmmm….it does work and gets us around when we need to, in town only. It is a good back-up car.
Con – It guzzles gas like an infant does milk. It has cost us the low blue book value in repairs. The a/c doesn't work. It has dozens of little annoying and dangerous quirks. We pay monthly insurance and DON'T drive it unless we have to. I hate it. It's taking up a good 1/3 of the driveway.
As I was thinking this through, I was reminded of the complaining Israelites – not too far a stretch for the mind of this Jewish chick. I recalled how no matter what was going on the Israelites complained during the Desert Experience and G-d answered them. There wasn't enough food so manna was sent; there wasn't variety of food so quail was sent; there wasn't water so G-d had water come from a rock; they were afraid so there was a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day. This went on for GENERATIONS. When at last the last of the complaining generation died, the new generation was ready to go into the Promised Land. The L-rd reminded them of His promises for hope, for prosperity, a new life.
This revelation warmed me to and sent sunshine into my soul. I remembered the past few years – how tight monies have been, how frugal I've had to be. Now, I'm still being just as frugal, but we're also able to put more aside and plan for that rainy day. (Of which there seem to be many on the horizon.)
Suddenly, I realized the abundant blessing we now have with this new job of DH's. The L-rd has indeed brought us a good thing - above what we ever asked or thought of. Why would I want to hold onto the ugliness of the past as represented through the symbolism of this car?
I realized, I DON'T! I don't want it, we don't need it, and we have no reason for keeping it.
My soul has wings today, as I clean out the last bit of stuff in the trunk. I am grateful for the time we had this car, how it met our needs, even for the money spent because we did learn something from that experience.
I am thrilled to realize that we'll get a tax write off and bless a non-profit with a working vehicle. Our 'trash' can be someone's treasure. We'll get our driveway back.
G-d does provide in the most amazing of ways but sometimes you have to let completely go and be willing to give up what you've been holding on to so that the blessing can be complete.
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UPDATE: The Turtle is gone! We decided on our charity to donate it to and since my dad was here today I had him follow me over to drop off the car. I told DH last night as he signed the title, "You do know that once it goes away, we can't get it back...right?!?!" He was laughing. Working with a non-profit was a great experience and I'd highly recommend donating to some private charities above a 'Craig's List' thing. I do NOT miss this car, I'm thrilled I've got a nice clean driveway!
My husband and I aren't big Valentine's Day folks. We might go out to dinner sometime that week and I might get flowers, but nothing too big. You see, as lovely as flowers are and as yummy as chocolates are, I don't refuse them, but I believe they have a time and place. I don't want them just because MOST women get them, I want them to be special…like the pink roses I got over a week ago.
BUT, DH is a romantic. He wants a special day to be special….so…..I really have to fight to get him to NOT spend money – like last year.
Last year, monies were so tight around the Sweetheart's Holiday, we had a quiet dinner at home and let the holiday pass us by. I think I requested something depressing like a clean living room. Ummm...barely got it. He really wanted to get me something neat...but we just couldn't afford it.
This year, with DH's new job, I got a surprise gift…early, in fact.
Imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when he tells me to 'measure my foot, please and never-mind why.' So, I do, not knowing what he's up to. I was stymied - he NEVER chooses my shoes, for I'm such a picky shoe person. So, earlier this week, a big box comes in the mail. When he gets home, he nonchalantly announces, "Oh, this is your Valentine's Gift. Here. You can open it now."
I open the box and squeal like a girl…I have a pair of ADULT size galoshes that look like lady-bugs! I've been wanting a pair of rubber boots for the garden and was going to go buy a pair at Bi-Mart for $8…but ….the colors there were really ugly…. green… brown… black… hunter colors. Nothing wrong with them, they were perfectly servicable, just not pretty. Sigh. I so wanted something pretty.
My dear husband also remembered that every time I've been in the Target garden section for the past few years during gardening season, I've commented on the fact, "Why don't they have adult size ladybug or alligator rubber boots?! They should sell them here, too!" According to him, I would whine about it…not true. Lamenting, yes….great lamenting. Great sighing, huge disappointment – why do the children get to have all the fun? After all, they are SO DARN CUTE!
What touched me the most is that he remembered. He took some of his hard-earned money and spent it on something he knew that I needed but also in a way that put a smile on my face. I know it's a silly thing, but it made me feel special.
You can bet I was jumping up and down, laughing like a little kid, touched that he remembered.
Now, if only it would rain!
P.S. If I wiggle my toes in the boots, it makes the eyes move up and down.
P.P.S. for a pic of the boots, go here
This was written in response to a friend asking me for advice on how to get organized. At first, I had to laugh...then reality hit....I can do this.
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It hit me around the end of the year how truly messy my house was. For many reasons, things have gotten stacked, shoved, piled, mounded, and shuffled to where I couldn't tell up from down, right from left, let alone in some cases, what was clean or dirty. This is such a far cry from how I wanted things to look, from how things have looked and it bugs the life out of me whenever clutter takes control.
True, we have a lot of stuff. Stuff I can't let go of, stuff that is a touchstone on memory, belonged to a loved one, or that is just necessary for daily living or my profession.
Part of the clutter is compounded by living in an old house that has nothing built-in or planned well so we're working around dysfunctional furniture and the like. I know it won't always be like this, but I still find myself looking around with my eyeballs bugging out of my head going "YIKES!"
The only way I've been able to reflect on this and not get caught up in the phrenetic energy of "Oh my messy house!!!" is to tackle a piece at a time. Everything I touch has to have a place or be put somewhere for sorting. If it's a bill, it goes into a "to be paid" pile or into a box for filing. If it's junk mail, it goes into the recycling or shredding. If it's something of my husband's, it goes into a tote for him to sort.
Yes, this can lead to rows of totes for various purposes like the way our living room is now. BUT, the totes are smaller pieces of the overall puzzle that can be dealt with in smaller chunks of time – 20 minutes here, after dinner there, etc. It CAN be manageable in small chunks.
I tend to come home from work wound up. SO, I select a task and hyper-focus on that for twenty minutes. If the sink needs cleaning, I clean it. If the dishwasher needs unloading, I do it, then quickly fill it and wipe down the counters. I'll take a tote to the basement and empty it into the pantry, closet, or laundry storage. Done! Small tasks in a short about of time, then I rest. Grab a cup of tea, love on a kitty, read the mail, but only for a short time, then back to another task.
Yes, it takes determination, follow-through, and true grit to ruthlessly pick through some things and realize, "Hey, I've not used this in 3 years, do I REALLY need it?" When the answer comes back as "No" or "Oh…that's where that went." I really reflect and have to remind myself the difference between a 'want' and a 'need'. Needs are those things that are essential to everyday living – sheets, blankets, socks, underwear, groceries. Wants are those things that are nice to have but not necessary. A bowl or lamp from a garage sale, pet shampoo for the pet you no longer have, shirts you no longer wear. Always ask, "Do I need this?" Chances are there's a resounding "NO". So - PITCH IT. Recycle it, donate it, put it in the bag and get rid of it, get it out of your house!
This will take more follow-through on your part. It's not enough to put those items in a bag or box. You will have to get rid of those boxes, bags, etc. of 'unwanted' things. Find a charity, a friend with a kid smaller than yours, etc. Such a good feeling comes when purging. It's addictive. Really. You'll grow to love it.
There is a balance, though. I can't keep a surgically clean house, it's impossible because we don't live in a sterile environment. We have kitties - they LOVE to find things to get into, my knitting being one. My husband is constantly bringing things home from one job site to another. Mostly though, my balance lies in the fact that I do not have obsessive compulsive disorder and REFUSE to let my things rule my life.
If a friend or family member calls or needs something, I don't have trouble leaving the dishes or laundry and focusing on their needs. Work and dirt will always be there. People and relationships will not. It's important that you take to time to watch your son skateboard for the first time down the driveway, read to the one with the scratchy throat or play dominoes on the dining floor. You're making a memory. Your kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews won't remember the dirty dishes in the sink but they will remember you playing with them and making memories.
Remember, though, clutter is like the ocean – you can't turn your back on it – even for an instant and it will sneak up on you and suck you under like a tsunami.
I don't want my epitaph to read: "Here lies a Crazy Canning Lady, friends of -------, who had too much stuff." Such a sad testimony.
I'd rather mine would read, "Her house always looked 'lived in' but she knew the meaning of friendship and would leave dirty dishes in the sink for a friend."
This yummy, lo-carb, high-taste soup is tasty and can be enjoyed with or without tortilla chips...tho you might want to call it Mexican Soup then. I pulled everything from my pantry and home-canned items. A wonderful use of those jars of veggies!
2 C tomato sauce
2 C crushed or diced tomatoes
1 C salsa
2 C corn (canned or frozen)
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp garlic
2 C chicken broth
2 C veggie broth
2 cans kidney or black beans
2-3 chicken breasts
1 packet of taco or fajita seasoning (or 1/4 C)
Chop onion & garlic, toss into skillet with chicken breasts and half of seasoning.
In large stockpot, combine all other ingredients except cilantro.
Add chicken when done.
If there is too much liquid, boil to desired 'soupiness'.
Prep Time: Maybe 10 minutes (all in home canning or cans).
Cooking Time: 40 - 60 min (you need to let all those lovely flavors blend!)
Serve in bowls. Top with a bit of cheese, dab of sour cream and a few olives.
Can serve with chips or bread. Nice whole grain bread is wonderful.
Chips are too addictive with this!
In a 1.5 C serving (what fits nicely in my big soup bowls), there is 1 (+-) carb. 15 grams of carbs, trace of fat in dairy..that's it! No lie. Yipee!
I'm all for saving a buck, but this is incredible!
This recipe for homemade laundry soap makes approximately 4.5 gallons.
1 five gallon bucket
1 bar Fels Naptha Laundry Soap (Zote or Ivory can also be used)
1 cup Borax (blue green box)
1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (yellow box)
4 gallons of water + 1 qt
Grate Fels Naphta bar into about 8 cups of water in a saucepan, leaving about 4"
of room at the top.
Melt soap into water. You will know this is happening when all the soap flakes
are dissolved and steam is rolling off the soap.
Meanwhile, boil 4 gallons of water. It is important that the water be boiling
for the soap to set properly. Steaming tap water isn't going to do it.
Once soap melts, add 1 C borax and 1 C of washing soda to melted soap and water.
Stir until there is no more 'grit' and it becomes a gelatinous blobb. Pull from
BE CAREFUL HERE - soap can splash and burn and get into your eyes.
Add 1 quart of water to bucket. Add soap mixture. Stir well. Add rest of water.
Cover bucket and let sit a minimum of 12 hours or overnight.
Next day, you will have a gelatinous jiggly substance with liquid on the bottom.
Break this up with a large spoon or knife. Trust me, you're NOT done yet.
Using an immersion blender or drill w/ paint stirrer attachment, whip the soap
until a full emulsion has occured, everything should be the same color,
thickness and consistency of a salad dressing.
Pour into clean milk jugs or recycled laundry soap containers.
Give it a shake before using to make sure it's still together.
Use 1/3 to 1/2 cup for regular loads, 2/3 - 1 C for large or heavily soiled
This is low suds soap, so you won't get alot of suds but it DOES clean
extraordinarily well, the FIRST time. No multiple washings here. No heavy
perfumes. NO itchy or scratchy show either.
I use dryer sheets for reducing static cling.
This batch is considered to be a 'double' batch and can be halved with no
problem. I use a 5 gallon bucket for mixing and it is just right.
On preparing the soap, you just can't toss in the bar of soap and expect it to
melt. You need to grate it or peel it with a veggie peeler. I've done both. They
both take the same amount of time. Peeling is easier on the wrists. I DO NOT use
my food processor, because I'm afraid, that while the soap is like a hard cheese
(and okay for sending through the processor), I don't want to burn out the motor
of my Cuisinart. If you have a food processor that you don't care about - go
ahead. Let me know how it goes.
I didn't like the Ivory soap. I don't remember why. If you're using the double
batch system above, add 2 bars of Ivory, not one.
I use the Fels Soap. Nice clean smell.
Target does carry the pink Zote, but I thought it smelled like toilet cakes so
no, I didn't buy any.
So here's the cost analysis:
I got all the supplies from our friendly neighborhood WINCO.
Fels Naptha Soap (white paper wrapper) $1.12 a bar
Arm & Hammer Washing Soda $3.12; (11 C in a box) .28 / batch
Borax $3.25; (15 C per box) .22 / batch
Water - a few pennies
Cost for 1 batch of soap is $1.62
I get approximately 60 loads per double batch, so ecah laundry load costs me .03 PER LOAD.
Now that's cheap soap!
Photos will be coming soon!
Originally written in May of 2008.
When bad things happen all in succession, it makes me wonder – it makes me wonder many things - but also realize where my faith lies. It is so easy to focus on circumstance and forget about who our Abba is – that He is the ultimate Provider.
Over the past two weeks, the front and back brakes have needed repairing on one of our cars, we paid thousands of dollars out of savings for our sidewalk construction bill and our washing machine died - just this week.
Paying a huge bill alone would put most people in a foul mood for months. I was thankful we had the money to pay it and were given a break on the overall bill. When things like car repairs happen, it's an inconvenience, but not a show-stopper for life's happenings. However, I can't recall when we had to replace BOTH sets of brakes on any car at the same time, within the same week in addition to a HUGE bill.
Earlier this week, when the laundry machine went south, I couldn't believe it. I got out the repair manual and with my husband, we diagnosed that the agitator needed the belt tightening, for it was barely moving the clothes around. All the electrical circuits were fine, it spun out, but the agitator wasn't moving. As the belt was being tightened, some bolts fell off the engine mount. Other screws were so old and rusty, they wouldn't come loose. As we worked, the engine swung back and forth and my husband, with his usual dry engineer's humor noted, "Hmmm. This shouldn't be happening."
After a few more pokes and prods, he realized that the belt was driven by a transmission and that was toast….so we 'pronounced' the washer dead. As I thanked G-d for the use I got from the set, I remembered the day I bought them over eight years ago. It was my first washer and dryer 'ever' and I bought it with some tax money. I was so proud of this late model GE pair.
Back then, the front loaders had just hit the market and I so wanted a set, but my budget was clearly set and there was no way I could buy a NEW set for over four times my budget. I remember shopping with my Mom. We looked and looked, and finally at a used appliance store, I found a gentleman who sold refurbished sets. After some discussion, I got an extended warranty, free delivery, and a great price. The hand of Adonnai moved on my behalf, and I was exceedingly grateful. I got a wonderful set of appliances that I desperately needed.
This time, eight years later, my budget was only slightly larger. My husband and I went to some appliance shops and quickly discovered with great shock that only appliances worse than the ones we currently owned were available to purchase for our 'budget' price.
We still realized that we might be able to find a used set, but loved the features of the newer energy efficient models. At the last minute, we called some used ads. Ironically, it was the stackable model of front-loader we were admiring in the used section of the appliance store that we couldn't afford. The man who we bought it from was an appliance repairman who refurbished it and sold it at our budget price.
After cleaning the new one I realized why it was being sold so cheap. It had spots of mold around the door and in the bleach/ soap containers – the unit hadn't been stored properly. After a cleaning and some wash cycles, it disappeared. The unit runs fine! What a blessing!
This experience had taught me a few things – no matter how small the desires of your heart, Adonnai hears them and delights in answering them.
As I am churning out load after load of clean laundry, my heart is filled with joy and gratitude at the provision of Adonnai.
All it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed and Hashem will take it, use it, and turn it to His glory, even if it is for the practical needs of laundry.
This was written in April 2008.
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It is a Jewish practice to put mezzuzahs up on every doorpost as a reminder that Adonnai watches over us and keeps us. In the Christian world, the equivalent would be to anoint or pray over something or spiritually cleanse a house or property. I recently learned a very tangible lesson regarding this.
Last spring we began having drain issues. The problem would come and go, and we thought we had it licked until last August when I found literal inches of standing water in the basement. This was dirty wash water, so I wasn't too freaked out. However, the next flood mere hours later was sewage. Raw sewage. Then I freaked. The smell permeated EVERYTHING. The house smelled not only of sewage but also of the rank, fetid, stale air of summertime in an old house.
After weeks of this smell, hundreds of dollars in home drain augers and professional plumber consultation, my heart sank as I realized that it could cost us potentially well over $10,000 dollars to re-dig our sewer drain. Thankfully, the neighbor man needed to do sewer hookups for new apartments as well, so we were able to split the cost of a backhoe delivery and they just billed us straight labor and parts. With a grateful heart, I paid the bill that was thousands of dollars rather than TENS of thousands.
Since then, our yard has been a pile of dirt. Literally. The workmen had to rip up a portion of the driveway, back yard sidewalk, 80% of the front yard and 70% of the back yard. Since then, construction crews and neighbors have been crossing our yards – both back and front – to save from walking around the properties, since our house is between them. I found this irking me because a person's yard is supposed to be private, even when there isn't a fence…. also at the same time, ironically, I couldn't place my finger on why my soul was not at rest.
After talking with a wise friend, she reminded me we have a spiritual connection to Hashem's (G-d's) creation - that anytime ground was disturbed, it usually had a ripple effect, and she wasn't talking about a torn up lawn or missing flowers. She was talking about a covenant – a binding agreement between two parties, usually G-d and humans. I remembered classic examples – Abraham and Isaac, Moshe and Aaron, David and Jonathan . . . and particularly when the nation of Israel took land, they had the Cohanim (high priests) come in and do an offering that consecrated the space.
I remembered when we were newly married, my husband and I walked around our property and prayed, prayed over our home, and put up our mezzuzas as a sign of commitment to Hashem and His Presence and Protection. I realized that through all the construction, not only had I taken down our outdoor mezuzahs (we repaired the doors), but that with the ground disturbance, I had a feeling of unrest and invasion.
So, I took an afternoon, set aside a couple of hours, and prayed. I didn't just pray, I PRAYED. When I pray, it's not like a trite mealtime grace, it's more a cross between the fervor of a Pentecostal woman, yet with the grace and beauty of Jewish tradition. I took time, prayed some Tehillim (Psalms) and was receptive to Hashem and the Ruach ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit). After prayer, I felt strongly that I was to anoint not only the house, but also the land. Yes, the land.
All of our land had been disturbed - yes, every bit, on each side, with the exception of a small tree line in the back corner. I went outside, walked the perimeter, prayed, and I felt strongly that I was to do as the priests did and pour out oil into the ground as a form of dedication and sacrifice to Adonnai. I wasn't to grab cheap salad oil either – I was to use anointing oil – the expensive, heavily scented, and consecrated anointing oil.
I hesitated for only a fraction of a moment, but poured four fluid ounces of anointing oil into a small zippie, trimmed off the corner and began to walk and pray. I drizzled that oil all around our lot – down the property lines, across the driveway, even behind the garage and places I couldn't walk, with a fling of the oil bag, every part of our ground had oil on it.
As I did so, I felt something begin to happen. I felt as if I was taking back something that had been lost. I felt peace, joy, and a sense of rest come. I walked back into the house and was taking off my coat. I watched as some work crews came, the very ones who had been careless about walking across our back yard inspite of requests to be respectful and walk around.
I observed the one who didn't care skid to a halt at the edge of our property line as if he had hit a brick wall and try to cut through our back yard. He froze for a few seconds, did it again, and on the third time, shrugged his shoulders, headed back to his truck and ended up walking around using the sidewalks, to the property on our other side. I smiled and blinked, and in that moment, in my spirit, I saw a protecting angel, larger than our house, standing, picking his sword out of the ground where the workman had just stood, with a huge smile on his face.
Now you might think I'm crazy, and there are ways in which I will admit I am, but this is not one of them. Angels are real - in many forms.
As I sat and basked in the Presence, I realized that Adonnai loves us and protects us. All we have to do is ask for guidance and protection and we will receive it, for it is His pleasure to look after His children.
Later that night, when my husband came home, I noticed that when he drove up, he let out a huge sigh, and was no longer as irritated as he had been. He happily put up our mezzuzahs and got a good night's sleep. So did I, for that matter.
This was written last March, but it remains as poignant as ever.
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This weekend I had two vendor tables at a benefit for a local organization which supports Israel. It was a lovely thing, great dancing, a lovely lunch, but it was not held where the Jewish population normally resides – it was held across town in a Christian building, for it was intended to be an 'inter-faith' outreach/ benefit, and the building rental was free. Vendors were asked to donate a percentage of their earnings, which we gladly did.
The building housing this benefit was the very definition of a "mega-church". Rivaling big-box marts and wholesale food clubs in size, this building dwarfed churches of traditional proportions. With a sanctuary to easily seat 2,000 – 3,000 and 'fellowship rooms' that could house a few hundred; the enormity of it stunned me. Another thing that stood out was that even though it was relatively new (it had been built within the past five years), everything was pristine and spoke of grandeur. There were marble floors, posh upholstered chairs in the halls, a coffee bistro in the lobby, and paper towels soft enough to clean babies' faces in the restrooms.
Mind you, cleanliness and class is something that should befit a house of worship. But the building, grounds, and touches were beyond pristine. Not that spotless is a bad thing, but in Congregations where there is much use, even the 'newness' begins to look 'loved' after a few years. This building didn't appear to see regular use it was so well taken care of.
Mind you, I was grateful that this church had donated the use of their building. It was indeed a lovely and spacious room, one that met our needs nicely. However, I was told that instead of using restrooms right across the hall from our room, everyone would need to walk about 500 feet across the marble-tiled lobby to where the restrooms were located. The rooms that were off-limits were marked "staff" and we were not 'staff' at the church. Being a younger person, I didn't mind walking the distance. It was inconvenient, but not debilitating. However, when a small group of elderly people attended (walkers and canes were present), and were told they had to walk the 500 feet across polished marble-slick flooring to find the restrooms, I was appalled. I was further shocked to find the 'elderly friendly' seats in the back of the restroom, as if they were an after-thought, not accessible for most in walkers or wheelchairs.
What bothered me the most however, was not this form of disrespect, nor was it the fact that the elderly people in need were Shoah (Holocaust) Survivors. They had been through the worst treatment imaginable in their youth and survived to have a family and belong to a safe community. It is only whereupon they visit a 'christian' church that they are made to feel like a third class citizen again.
What bothered me was the way this obvious and tangible need was treated by people in this community. When I told one of the maintenance people of this issue, they blinked a few times and said that unless they were under strict orders not to open those rooms unless there was a celebrity or staff. I couldn't find an available minister to help. I found myself thinking, what could be so special about a locked bathroom? Were there gold sinks, imported mineral water in the porcelain, what?
I was so disturbed by this blatant lack of respect, I was talking with my husband about it later that night. Working for the largest tv broadcaster in the world, he shared with me the construct behind these 'box-mart' churches. They are so huge, the ministers are equated with celebrity status (like Hollywood stars or presidents of nations) and are therefore untouchable. The 'average' person does not rub elbows with them, nor do many other people. Within these communities, there are classes of belonging, much like a kingdom or fiefdom. Should you require a minister, your name is checked against a database. If you are a 'member' or 'attendee', tithing records are frequently referenced to see what sort of service you get.
My mouth hung open as he shared this, for I thought, where is the community, respect for humanity, the personality, the relationship building? How can a congregational leader be on the same level as his congregants, encourage them to growth, share in their pain and joys if he doesn't know them? How can a person's needs be met if the leadership is so far removed from the people they can't remember what it's like to NOT have every bill paid completely at the end of the month? How can a minister relate to the single mom driving a beater car when their Jaguar was paid for in cash? What happens when a congregant needs something and can't leave a message? How does one connect with others on a personal level? How can a person freely learn and grow when a house of worship is designed like a five star hotel?
I called up a friend who was familiar with this church, hoping to understand a bit better about how this community was constructed. She confirmed the database and tithing records, stating that there were different levels of leadership, small home groups, and many volunteers. As she described it, it reminded me of a corporate business, a top-down design. I was wordless – how can a church – something designed to help, comfort, and encourage spiritual growth - be ran like a business?
True, my experience with Congregations has been as large as a few hundred and as few as twenty. I have seen old churches that are falling apart, inner city churches in need of paint, wealthy congregations that prefer to give money rather than service, and other congregations with support from their denomination to ensure everything is neat and in good repair. I've even traveled to churches overseas and seen multi-use buildings that have met many needs. So why is this bothering me???
Perhaps because I've never been the sort to treat one person different from another based on their economic standing. Possibly, I've got too many old fashioned values – I respect elders, treat people politely, and treat others the way I want to be treated. With great certainty, I can state that blatant wealth bothers me because as a teacher, I see so many people who need things – things that churches can provide – and don't because it's easier to polish a floor than visit the sick; more convenient to write a check than volunteer time at a shelter, easier to stay healthy when you're not mentoring families in transition.
I found myself turning to a devotional book in an effort to help me understand. I found some writings of Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sosov (1745 – 1807). He was a third generation Chassidic Rabbi who was known for his great love of Jews. I greatly appreciated what he said regarding wealth…" How easy it is for a poor man to depend on God! What else has he to depend on? And how hard it is for a rich man to depend on God! All his possessions call out to him, "Depend on us! Depend on us!"
This helped me realize that in living my life, why I was completely flummoxed when faced with blatant wealth. In my humble living, I had nothing that called "depend on me!" No possession called out in complete conspicuous consumption or extreme self-adoration. I have a small car that gets me where I need to go in an economical way. My mortgage payments are very affordable. My clothes are neat and in good repair, my hair is trimmed, I am healthy. In reading this, I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that I am not rich and have to maintain marble floors.
I read further and Rabbi Moshe said, "To know the needs of men and to bear the burdens of their sorrow – that is the true love of man." I found myself again grateful that in my poverty, I have gotten to know people and become friends with individuals I might not otherwise get to know. I know what it means to live in the inner city from paycheck to paycheck. I know how your soul rips apart over the unexpected death of a loved one. I can rejoice when a friend pays off their car and is debt free. I can dance with great joy at a friend's wedding, or cry with happiness over the birth of a child. I am blessed that I have been able to help bear the burdens of my friends.
As I have thought about this, I realize that I'm not angry about the lack of respect to elders, but I am more sorrowful that people can't reach beyond themselves to grow and learn, and somehow leave the world a bit better for having lived and experienced another person's sorrow and joy.
Perhaps this writing will cause you to take a second look at how you treat people and examine how you can ease a bit of the world's suffering. It has certainly caused me reflection.
This was actually written a year ago, but I found it. It seemed appropriate to post here.
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Over the past week, I've been dealing with some pretty intense things. I've had to file legal papers, deal with attorneys, and get ready for a major conference. I've also had to wrestle with words and writing things that will become part of public record and influence someone's life for some time, perhaps forever.
As I was reflecting and writing this week, I knew my words needed something, for I found myself being far too condemning and harsh. I didn't want to be, but my feelings of betrayal and hurt were obvious. My dear friend Mary reminded me that everyone needs hope. The dictionary defines hope as: (v) anticipation, something to look forward to, to wait, faith, an expectation of something, (n) a desire, a dream or aspiration, an expectation, a plan, a chance.
Think about it - during dark times, when our world is crashing in on us, what makes us reach out for something, anything to get us through? There is a place in every human soul that hates to give up, give in, or admit defeat. When we give up hope, we are accepting condemnation, darkness, and stagnation. Likewise, there is also something within us that forces us to admit that within the shadows are flickers of light. There is a part of us than intrinsically knows we have something to look forward to, something to do, finish, or become. Our soul knows that there is life that needs living. This is hope.
As I was doing my own soul-searching, I was forced to remember where my hope was placed. Were it not for the grace of Adonnai, I would be an absolute wreck and I realized that perhaps for some, and one person in particular, I would be the only tangible form of Adonnai and His hope that they might see or experience. So, I did a short verse search on hope.
The Psalmist said it well, "We wait and hope in the L-rd, He is our strength and shield." (Psalms 33:20) Our strength is never our own. We are mortal and tire easily. When we rest and allow Him, Adonnai can become our strength.
What about those times of exhaustion and torment when even praying seems to take too much energy? In the middle of his torment, King David spoke to his own soul, "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and Shield." (Psalms 42:5, 42:11, 43:5) As we do this, we are reminded where our hope comes from. We should encourage our souls to, "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him." (Psalms 62:5)
As I layed my burden down, my soul began to calm down. I began to move through a range of emotions I realized I had to let go of. My soul needed rest so I could move on and begin to heal. I found my solace in Isaiah 40:28-31, "Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the L-RD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
I was reminded that every individual could have strength and hope in Adonnai for wherever their journey in life takes them, but for many they had to start somewhere, and for one person, I was that place. As I chose to change words of my writing, I felt the missing pieces fall into place. Suddenly, the tone of my writing shifted. As I changed words of absolute condemnation into grace and tones of alienation into hope and love, I found myself smiling.
I was reminded of Emily Dickinson's words:
"Hope is a thing with feathers
That perches in the soul;
And sings the tune without words
And never stops at all."
As long as we can extend hope to someone, allow them to grasp at Adonnai's eternal love, we are encouraging their soul. In their dark time, we can help combat despair and begin to speak life. In speaking life, we are also taking time to allow the Holy Spirit to begin to restore places in a soul that we as humans are incapable of reaching.
It is humbling that we can be used in times of darkness to help others. It is even more humbling to know that our characters are being shaped and molded after Adonnai's own heart. May your own heart be encouraged and strengthened, may you renew your own hope this week.
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Well, I've been dealing with clutter for a while now and it's a true dichotomy. As it gets better, it also seems to be getting worse.
I've reflected on the fact that when I was single, the problem was different - a more organized approach and one I only had myself to blame for.
When I got married, I could appreciate a mess because we were both working and there just wasn't enough hours in the day to do things.
Now that I've been home for a while, I seem to be the sole clutter cleaner. I came to the realization that most of the clutter wasn't even mine. True, I had my pockets here and there, but a lot of it wasn't mine....the cats or chickens don't leave boxes lying about, so that left my husband. For some reason, our front room became the dropping ground for boxes of computer parts, magazines, wiring, cables, odd electrical connectors as well as construction debris, camping supplies; anything and everything imaginable. Daylight was being compromised in the front room because boxes on an end table were in front of the window. We had lost 2 sitting chairs due to totes and boxes sitting in them rather than people.
Dealing with the clutter has led me down quite the goose chase. I was "venting" to my sister-in-law one day and for some reason she wasn't surprised. Her dry response, "Well, I'm surprised you've not lost your mind before now" gave me pause.
I had to stop and ask why - I needed some history behind the behavior of clutter and as she shared with me, suddenly things began to make sense. She told me about my husband's upbringing and how after divorcing his dad, his mom immediately remarried a guy who was an alcoholic who abused both he, his older brother, and his mom.
His mom did the cooking and cleaning for the house and the boys, for if there was a flaw or imperfection, she wanted the boys to be spared and the blows to fall on her. Well, in abusive relationships, that doesn't happen - beatings fall on everyone. So, inspite of her compulsive cleaning of the house and the boys' rooms and constantly picking up after them, abuse was still there. Not only did the boys not learn how to pick up after themselves and function as part of a working household, they were receiving mixed signals as to what was expected of them on a regular basis.
Faced with these odds, who wouldn't say "forget it" and quit trying? Who wouldn't care about a mess because there was always someone to clean it up and take care of it? If you never have parents who are solid, caring, loving, and consistent, how are you to know love, boundaries, expectations, and how to function together?
I realized with startling clarity that my husband never learned to pick up after himself or what role he played in doing daily chores as part of a family unit for that dynamic changed, sometimes on an hourly basis. I was assuming that he knew that in my growing up, it was deemed irritating and irresponsible to let stuff pile up and not deal with it.
For the past few years, I thought that taking the passive approach would make him see things differently - make him see that I wasn't a maid and that chores didn't get done on their own....yeah, that worked well. I offered to help him clean, sort, etc. and we would get into fights over where things would live...there was no way to get him to see it wasn't a battle to win or land to be conquered, but a process to take one step at a time. After two years of being passive and my living room literally turning into a storage unit, I finally snapped.
We had a snow day a couple of weeks ago and I was at home. My husband was pulling a VERY long day at work (like he does whenever it snows) and I finally said, ENOUGH! I pushed, shoved, sorted, cleaned, consolidated, filled up trash bags and recycling bags...I went full tilt for a few hours. Through it all, though, I was respectful. I kept the good, the personal, the valuable, and weeded away the bad.
When he came home and saw the clean, he sat down and said, "Really? I know you warned me, but really? So much? So how badly did you upset my apple cart? Where did my things go? Where did you put it all?"
As he asked me these questions with wide eyes, in a fleeting moment in my mind's eye, I saw a small boy looking very confused and scared and small wondering what he had done to deserve such a thing as his possessions being moved and rifled through. I realized with startling clarity that he was still very much a small boy who didn't know how to clean up his toys, make his bed, or pick up his room. He was a small boy who would come home to find his world torn apart....he was a young man who came home three days before his wedding to find his possessions in the parking lot and his fiance nowhere to be found.
I could have wept at this point. It hit me - I didn't think about the boy inside the man. All I knew is that I was tired of tripping over stuff in the living room for two years and I was being forced to deal with his mess. Calmly and with love, I told him I put most of the things in the basement on shelves and that there was some trash but I consolidated his stuff, and the remaining boxes were those he had to deal with for they dealt with his work.
Then, after going into the basement to make sure, he calmed down. Looking at the empty chairs and clear end table, and his things sorted in boxes for more work, he was in awe and said something that made those frustrating hours worthwhile; "Thanks. I never know where to start and it's always so overwhelming."
I realized that it's only been now, that we've been married for over five years, that my husband has felt secure enough - in himself, his job, life, his psyche - that he would let me help him.
So. I've learned a valuable lesson here. My husband wasn't trying to be difficult by not putting things away. He honestly didn't know how. Maybe I had to be married for 5 years and get to know my sister-in-law, the holder of many family secrets. Perhaps I had to separate myself from my own upbringing ....
I learned that part of marriage is making things work for you and your spouse....in different ways, different dimensions....It is also about healing the past. I can't re-do his childhood, but I can make Now a better place to be in.