Monday, January 31, 2011

My grandmother’s house smelled like an old house, but it wasn’t old. It was the smell of face powder, perfume aged beyond its expected life span, of rose water and glycerin, of mold and dust and all those aromas that mingle together to personify grandmothers.

My grandmother’s house was a treasure trove. She didn’t expect children to be seen and not heard. It wasn’t neat and tidy, a place where you sat with folded hands and napkins placed politely on your lap, talking in hushed tones so as not to disturb the adults.

In my grandmother’s house there was a miniature sleigh, a base fiddle, apothecary jars and fiestaware. There were display cases from the Rexall Drug where I used to be a master chef with all the ice cream and condiments a kid could hope for, or perhaps a princess being served whatever hear heart desired. She had all the things that kids dream of –candies, gum, soft drinks and comic books to take home after the day’s work. It was heaven to snuggle under the covers reading the latest edition of Archie, Casper or scary monster comics. There were dolls and toys and games, paper dolls, cards and stuffed animals. It was Candyland and Toyland all in one.

Unlike the red hat ladies, she didn’t wait until she was old to wear a red hat with her purple dress, to dress up for an Easter Parade . . . in the middle of winter ..or to plant silk flowers in her garden so she would have color all year. She wasn’t eccentric, that’s just how she liked it.

We had art class on the back of wallpaper samples. We would draw our masterpieces: landscapes and flowers, sketch ponies or our next ballroom gown. She wasn’t a packrat but rather a wardrobe mistress. We would dress up in fox furs and feathered hats to pretend we were movie stars strutting around Hollywood in our high heels. There were prom dresses from the 50s, purses from the 60s, jackets and pants, top hats and handkerchiefs, to dress ourselves . . . .or one of the mannequins that lived on the second floor. Hello Dolly.

Packages would arrive containing silly things: a 20 yr old National Geographic, a transistor radio –turned on and speaking all the way to St. Louis, a small shrubbery, news clippings about social events in town, pictures where she embellished her outfit with a little ballpoint pen, just to add that extra something. There would be old toys long forgotten from childhood, ribbons, costume jewelry missing a few stones, Kool-Aid packages and recycled harlequin romance novels. Crazy things that no one else would send -- and few would want. But that is what made it exciting. My children would call me at work urging me to come home quickly so we could open the package and see what curiosities it held. It was like Let’s Make a Deal. What would be in box #1?

By some miracle a stray cat came into her life when she was 99. Some said it was a bad idea and she should get rid of it. Some people were wrong. She found a companion, not a cat. A cat named Sugar that would walk to church with her, and wait outside until services were over and then walk her home again; a cat that would meet her at the curb when she had been out running errands, a cat that would sit with her daily and caress her cheek or rub her legs, a cat to talk to when she was lonely or feeling down. The house was no longer empty, filled only with memories of times past. Now she wasn’t alone. My grandmother found a perfect friend. We should all be so lucky.

So when you remember her, don’t think of her as the eccentric lady down the street but as an adventuress or maybe an actress, a designer or perhaps a playwright creating her own world of imagination and creativity that makes my structured world pale in comparison.

Who will do this for future generations? I’m certain I am not quite so clever.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cat Returns from the Dead

"Spitter's back," my husband e-mailed me at work. "What?" I replied, "He's been gone for years, you must be mistaken!" No, he described the cat in detail, right down to the swirled patterns on his side rather than the typical tabby stripes. He was looking good, fat and fluffy, obviously well cared for.

His name is Spitter. He is the baby of a stray mama that came to visit and presented us with several cute baby kits. I let them live on the font porch in an oversized igloo doghouse. We have a really big porch, nine feet wide and spans the whole front of the house, so there was plenty of room. One of the little guys was spunky right from the start. Eyes still closed he would hiss whenever I decided to pick him up and cuddle with him. This little bitty, inches long, blind kitty. All I could do is laugh. "I'll name you Spitter!" I said.

As happens with stray cats, he was with us for awhile until one day he didn't come back. There are many coyotes and other dangers out here. It's always a bit sad but I can't save them all. From time to time we would see a dark cat from a distance. Last summer it came onto the property but much too far away to see details. I thought it looked like Spitter but one dark cat looks much like another from far away, and Spitter had been gone for quite some time.

I walked out onto the font porch a couple of days ago and there he was. Spitter returned from the dead, on life #8. He ran up to me and almost jumped into my arms- until the alpha male stray ran up. Then there was hissing and spitting on top of some really eerie noises that you wouldn't think would come out of a cat- a banshee perhaps, but not a cat.

I had to push the tricyle between them which scared Spitter. He was gone again-until tonight. I opened the front door and he was right there eating the dry catfood I put out twice a day for the cats, and raccoons, opossums, etc. He ran at first but came back and jumped up on me again wanting his back scratched and head rubbed. Definitely our little Spitter.

I don't know why he is here. I hope his new family is still around. So many people in our area are out of work and have had to abandon their pets because they can no longer feed them. I worry about the alpha cat too- he thinks I am "his" person. No other male cats can get near me if he's around and I'm not in a position to get him neutered right now. I hope it works out.

In the meantime I will keep my eyes out for a "lost kitty" sign and hope that he has a nice warm place to go tonight before the ice and snow starts. I must say it is nice to see him again.


The Icing Begins Tonight

"This storm will make history," the meteorologist said, combining the 1982 worst snow storm (around 2 ft) with the 2006 worst ice storm (several inches) that shut down the city with over 500,000 without power for days. The Missouri National Guard has been put on alert. AmerenUE, the power company, has made arrangements to bring in out of town crews.

According to NOAA weather:

Ice: 1 inch of ice or more.
Snow: 1-2 feet depending on where you are
Winds: 30-40 mph
Trees: the last time we heard trees breaking and falling all over our property.

The Pieta Prayer Book has a Blessing Against Storms that I like. Perhaps combined with our four corner packets we'll keep our power this time!

Jesus Christ a King of Glory has come in Peace. † God became man, † and the Word was made flesh. † Christ was born of a Virgin. † Christ suffered. † Christ was crucified. † Christ died. † Christ rose from the dead. † Christ ascended into Heaven. † Christ conquers. † Christ reigns. † Christ orders. † May Christ protect us from all storms and lightning † Christ went through their midst in Peace, † and the word was made flesh. † Christ is with us with Mary. † Flee you enemy spirits because the Lion of the Generation of Judah, the Root David, has won. † Holy God! † Holy Powerful God! † Holy Immortal God! † Have mercy on us. Amen!

I think I will go pick a bit of that greenery, from yesterday's post, and place it in some water. It might be a nice to see in a day or two!

ice storm

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Seeking Spring

Little green leaves popped their heads up through the pebbles and dried broken weeds, remnants of Fall's last hurrah. We have a reprieve - two short days between last week's lingering piles of snow and the imminent wintry mix awaiting us on Monday. Today the sun is shining, reflecting off of our white siding, warming the area on our western facing deck. One of the stray cats figured out how to climb the supports and throw herself up to the rails so she sits on my lap savoring these brief moments of warmth and comfort as I pet her and give her nose a few little kisses.

It's a nice reminder that Spring is around the corner, a bit of hope. It won't be long before our gardens are lush and green, hummingbirds will swoop down out of the blue seeking nectar from the columbines and bee balm and we listen to the cries of nestlings perched high in the treetops.

Take a few minutes to brush aside the leaves that have compacted during winter creating a warm winter blanket. Find your own signs of springs.

my bird bath

Thursday, January 27, 2011

81 Pounds of Hog Heaven

It's BACON! We split half a hog with our friends. This hog was raised on a nearby farm and processed at our local butcher which is a nice, family owned shop located out along the back roads. They process deer and many of the fresh meats for local fundraising events and parish picnics. They stock the typical chicken, pork and beef throwing in some more unusual items such as elk, bison and a whole host of sausages, even a pig ear or two for your pups. It stands next to the used car lot by the same name, really more intermingled, sort of a one stop shopping experience if you are in the market for a side of beef and a trunk to haul it in.

Our neighbors had the butcher process their half, making the bacon, cutting chops and curing the ham. We wanted our half as is- we're going to learn to do this ourselves with the end result of a fresh hog processed without artificial additives, except the nitrite that is mixed into the cure and is included in all hams. It turns it pink.

We started with a pork belly which will become bacon. We cut it into pieces that fit nicely in a non-reactive dish-we used glass. You have to keep the meat elevated so it does not sit in the juices that are leached out by the salt that we rubbed on it. This was just Kosher salt.

After salting, cover the dish with cling wrap and place it in a refrigerator at 38 degrees. We have a spare refrigerator in the basement, one that we brought back from my grandmothers house. Now you wait for five days. After that you smoke the meat for about five or six hours. It was cold outside so that time might be reduced in fair weather.

We have various other pieces to process: the hock, neck bones, shoulder, butt and jowl. Tom jumped on the neck bones right away making a dinner of tender pork and sauerkraut.

The ham was injected with the quick cure and rubbed with sugar cure. We placed it in a large plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator. We will take it out after a week and add more cure, placing it back in the refrigerator for about a month.

The pork shoulder was smoked along with the butt for about 17 hours and finished off in the oven.

The butt is so tender it just falls apart. We pulled it and sealed it in one pound packages using a vacuum sealer.

We ground bits and pieces and sealed them in one pound packages.

The bacon came out simply delicious. We did not slice it yet, just packaged it up and froze the portion we will not use for awhile. It's smoky, salty and very meaty.

We are pretty set for meat now, still having some beef left over from last year. Hopefully the ham will turn out well since it's 17 pounds. We'll divide it up as well, freezing for future use.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dr. Pops Saves the Day

Rosalina was mauled by a dog, her condition critical, and no one who knew cared to help, nobody but Doctor Pops. You see, Rosalina is a little doll- really, a plastic and fabric doll loved and adored by my granddaughter, Taylor. They were inseparable, sharing the joys of life as well as fears and tears until the day she was inadvertently left behind at her dad's house where the family dog, believing she was a puppy toy, grabbed her. She chewed and thrashed Rosalina back and forth until the doll's tiny arms and legs were nothing but mangled stubs.

Knowing Taylor would be devastated, her father said that Rosalina was simply misplaced, managing to put Taylor's inquiries off for almost a year. He didn't try to repair her or even think of throwing the doll away; rather, he put it in the back of a closet where she remained hidden until last week when Taylor's world was shaken as she discovered Rosalina's brutalized body and realized the deception that had transpired. You might think that a six year old would not have enough worldly experience to understand betrayal, but as she recounted the story to me she expressed this in a very adult like manner. To make matters worse, she knew her mother was aware of what happened.

Taylor told us that Rosalina was back at her apartment so I asked her mom, my daughter, to bring the doll to us. We would find a way to repair the doll come Hell or high water. Taylor said she wanted only Rosalina, not a new replacement. If we couldn't repair her, Taylor would keep the damaged one.

My husband, Pops to Taylor, spent several hours on various doll part sites. At one point he took a break and called me at work. "If I get any more womanized I think I'm going to shoot myself," he cried. "I can almost smell the potpourri in the air!" No luck on the sites. Taylor remembers every detail about this doll, even how the hands were positioned. He'll have to check for a similar doll at the stores.

By the time I returned from work my husband had purchased a suitable replacement that was only slightly different in the body and head - which we did not need. I put on my nurses outfit and prepared the doll for surgery. Dr. Pops had already carefully removed both arms and legs from the donor doll. Now it was time to remove the damaged limbs from Rosalina, much more difficult than expected requiring scissors, pliers and brute strength. Soon I was ripping seams and inserting the snap ties that the manufacturer used to secure the limbs. Dr. Pops expertly fastened and tightened until the patient was ready to be wheeled into recovery and fancied up in a new pink outfit.

I took a photo and Pops called Taylor asking her to have Mommy check her e-mail. Much to her delight here was Rosalina good as new. Pops spoke to Taylor on the phone relaying a message from Rosalina who mentioned that dogs make her nervous now so she wanted to stay only at Taylor's place, or ours.

Dr. Pops is magic to Taylor. He is her hero. Mine too.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Get Ready for the Big Stack

It's getting close- almost there. Get ready for that tap, tap, tap when the sap starts running, drip by drip into the collection buckets. Then it's hours and hours of boiling until the sap becomes thicker, watching carefully so it's just this side of sugar, unless sugar is your goal. A 40 to 1 ratio, you need a lot of sap to make a gallon. We collected a little already but the temperature dropped too low so we are back on stand by.
The tap is inserted into the tree using a drill to prepare the hole. This allows sap to flow into the covered collection buckets that hang from the tap. We will transfer the sap from those smaller buckets into larger containers and then set up the boiling area to evaporate the water that is in the sap.

My husband designed a fire pit to boil the sap with added grates for cooking on the side. Most times it's eggs for breakfast and brats for lunch due to the hours sitting- truly watching a pot boil.

In the end you have some nice, freshly made syrup without any chemical additives, all for the one time price of a bucket and metal tapper. You can do this in your own backyard. Just find a nice maple, at least 12 inches in diameter and wait until daytime temps are above freezing while nighttime temps are below freezing.

See Tap My Trees for detailed information.

I froze some of it from last year only to discover that it does not freeze solid but separates the ultra sweet syrupy goodness from the little water that was left. If you spoon down to the bottom you get the sweetest of the sweet! I had the great idea to drizzle some of it over ice cream.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Click Your Heels Three Times

Click your heels three times and imagine your perfect home. No, the slippers don't have to be silver or ruby- maybe just some comfortably worn fuzzy things you got for Christmas one year. Money and locale would make no difference - just one fleeting, completely over the top image of what you think your ideal home would be.

I know that some might choose a villa in Italy or perhaps a castle in Bavaria where the ladies would wear tiaras and flowing gowns waltzing round and round with a handsome prince. Maybe it would be a New York high rise- the penthouse view complete with doormen and chauffeurs- there is something to do all the time donned in the latest fashions from Paris where, of course, you jetted to make the purchase.

Mine would be something a little more subdued. I love my house, it's almost perfect but lacking pasture land that would make it the ideal home. It is too big for us now that everyone is grown and on their own; however, never say never- they often return to the nest.

The home pictured here is real. It is just up the county road from us, a small farm that boards horses, throwing in a few head of cattle into the mixture. I took the photo in black and white because there is hardly anything that dates it. It could well have been 40 years ago. This is where my heart would be. A place to grow our own crops, raise a few chicks, a cow named Daisy that would give us fresh milk to drink and for cheese, a goat or two that would provide fiber for spinning, milk for a little feta, maybe a couple of pretty lambs and at least two or three llamas to guard against coyotes. I'd have my husband make a pretty little cart that the goats could pull. A couple of horses with a buggy would be just peachy! It's a common site in my grandmother's town of Bethany, MO where there is a large Amish population.

We would sit on the porch at night and listen to the sound of the night creatures: the chirping crickets, the deep grunting of the bullfrogs or the shrill tweet of tree frogs as they make their nightly rounds. We would enjoy our freshly made ice cream, compliments of Daisy, perhaps topped with a few of our plump strawberries, assuming our granddaughter, Taylor, didn't find them first!

I think this is what God had in mind, at least for us. Something simple, where you had respect for the land that returned your labors with a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in natural materials without chemical additives and were not genetically modified. Where neighbors have respect for each other, sharing workload for the common good.

As you know, I am learning these skills from the past: sewing, crochet, quilting, gardening, processing our own meat and cheese, waiting for the time when they might be needed. When all the modern conveniences on which we have become dependent don't exist, whether it is a time where God says "Enough" (there's a reason why they say idle hand are the devil's workshop) or our economy collapses and prices for them become much too dear. I am hoping against hope that this does not happen because I love most of my modern appliances, but just in case . . . .

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Did the Neighbors See What I Did?

It happened in a split second and I was completely disoriented. "I can't stand up" is my first thought. My next thoughts are,"Why am I all wet? and Oh my, why am I in the pond?" I finally get a grip on the situation, leap up and check to see if any neighbors are outside rolling on their lawn in fits of laughter. You don't have to be texting to take a wrong step!

I had been cutting the grass at our old house that was located in a subdivision where homes are fairly close together, many with backyard decks offering a nice view of the sloping landscape that led past our house and down to the ball field, just past the cul-de-sac. I'm not much of a sun lover and our back yard faced west. My solution was to bury the back yard in trees which was great for lounging in comfort on the deck. On the other hand, you had to maneuver around all the tree trunks when cutting the grass, which means many back and forth cuts.

We had just installed a small backyard pond using a tough plastic liner, hiding the edges with pretty stones gathered along the highway. We made a little grotto like structure where water would trickle down to to the main body that provided a home for frogs, various fish and some wonderful giant snails, until the raccoons chose to dine on escargot.

I guess I forgot about the pond. I was cutting around one of the maples, taking a few steps backwards to reposition the mower and the next thing you know - Plop - right into the pond, backwards. Fortunately, the mower did not follow and the neighbors were not outside.

It still makes me laugh to think about that day and how funny it must have looked. If my husband had footage of the event I guarantee that it would be posted on YouTube, Facebook, our local news stations and probably America's Funniest Videos! Too Funny.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Red Eyed Scary Lady

eye Pictures, Images and Photos

I look absolutely horrendous, terrifying in fact. It was a normal night, nothing special, but when I looked in the mirror the next day there it was staring back at me- big, red and ugly! It's a gigantic, terrible, scary broken blood vessel in my left eye and I have to go to church! I'm in luck though, it's pretty high up, almost in line with the eye lid so I might be able to pull it off, which I did but only by a hair.

Later that day I walked by the mirror and caught a glimpse of my eye. Aaaaaahhhhh ! It's spreading and spreading and spreading. There's a purple bump under my eye lid, that's where the vessel is broken. Now the entire half of my eye is blazing red and I'm looking like something you don't want to see in a dark alley not to mention a brightly lit room. I'm afraid I'll scare small children so I keep my eyes slightly lowered appearing as if I am searching for a lost contact lens-for hours at a time.

At work they give me the third degree: Do you have Pink Eye? Are you sick? Did your husband hit you? No, no, and of course not. I'm trying out for a part in The Terminator 5, what do you think! I have a broken blood vessel and I hate it. It's a bit sore too, not painful, more like swollen and a bit gritty.

I called the eye doctor, even though I scoured the internet and found out that there isn't a thing in the world they can do for it except wait it out. I spoke to the technician who was so encouraging. "Oh, it may get a lot worse before it gets better," he tells me. "Not to worry," he adds, "it will be better in a couple of weeks." Great, don't worry. He doesn't have to wear this blazing beacon and lead training sessions as I transition out of my old position, handing off my accounts to several others.

My husband tried to cheer me up. He e-mails me suggesting I wear a patch over my eye and tell children that I am Mrs. Crabs (SpongeBob SquarePants). "Ha, ha, ha," I e-mail back, "you're so funny." I think I'll stick with the Terminator thing. That being said . . . . I'll be back.

eye photos

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Check out this Blog- Delicious

Take a stroll on over to Ipsy Bipsy Bake Shop and take a look at these adorable pea pod baby cupcakes. Don't forget to check out the other entries: zebra cakes and coordinating cupcakes as well as her 2010 entries- a complete turkey dinner-really, it looks like a real turkey dinner with all the roasted vegetables and stuffing- an ICarley laptop computer cake, and it goes on and on. She does this for friends and family but even if you can't eat them they sure are nice to look at! If you like it, she'd probably be pleased as punch if you followed her!

Oh, there's a connection I should mention. She's my sister-in-law's sister. We're not so sure of the technical relationship, but it's family and that is all that counts. Check it out!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I Do So Love Green Eggs and Spam

How I love Green Eggs and Spam. Thinly sliced Spam lined up as little cakes in the skillet and fried just this side of crispy. Gone is the Ooey, Gooey, Gloppy Stuff that used to reside between can and meat- definitely one point in its favor, and if you start with a bit of saved bacon grease, it becomes even better. Pair it with a cup of coffee and some fresh eggs and you’ve discovered a little slice of heaven.

Green Eggs? Our chickens are araucanas, a gentle variety that lays green/ blue eggs. They aren’t as prolific as other types of chickens but cute as a button with their puffy cheeks and lack of wattles. Initially a part of our journey to self-sufficiency, they have become more of my husband’s pets as well as his hobby. A couple of them enjoy being held and don’t seem to mind our outdoor cats at all. Taylor loves to bring them treats from the kitchen: a few lettuce leaves, carrots, peppers and their favorite cucumbers. They rush from the coop feathers flying and clucking like the dickens. They slip slide down their planked walkway and the race is on to see who gets what.

I never had Spam growing up. I suspect that it was not allowed in our house judging by my mom’s reaction when we visited her hometown. I was chatting with one of my grandmother’s acquaintances and happened to mention that I loved Spam. Mom tried to hush me up very quickly but I’m not quite certain why. I know some veterans who vowed to never eat it again, which is quite understandable assuming they had their fill years ago. I’d always thought that it must be gross- remember the goo? So, not long after we married, my husband literally forced me to taste it and it was love at first bite.

If you haven’t tried it in awhile, fry a little up. Sprinkle some of it like bacon crumbles on pizza, add some cheese and create a grilled cheese Spamwich, dip it in a little tangy mustard for a bit of zing. Delicious hammy goodness. You’re gonna love it.

blue araucana egg vs white and brown eggpict

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Getting Crafty

Place a chair in front of a warm wood stove, add some weather conditions: snow, wind and ice. Shake it all up and you get a lot of down time. Well, there really is a lot to do, cleaning and the like; however, that's not what I did. I worked on knitting a scarf - because I can only knit strait lines scarves work out well. When Mom was here for Christmas she showed me a little stitch where you wrap the yarn over the needle twice on one row which leaves a "not stitch ???" every other loop on the next row. It makes a nice pattern. Taylor liked it and wanted one for herself out of some variegated yarn, containing pink of course.

Then I have been working on the rug kit which I am not pleased with. My loops may not be perfect but that's not the issue with me, I'm not trying for anything near perfection. I don't like the colors that the kit contained. Everything is muddy without any "pop" color. The photo that came with it is only representative of the contents but this is a pretty big departure. The flag colors are described as red and tan. Tan??? The red is not a bright red but rather a mixture of red, black and a bit of tan- maybe from an old jacket or skirt. Truly not an American Flag red. The sheep's head in the photo is backed by a lot of bright red but the pattern, which is hand drawn, places it in the middle of the darker red and the mottled dark blue of the flag, again not a good color. To top it off, the lamb color is called cream, not white, but their cream fabric is a very light tan with periodic tan lines. All very muddy.

When I add the dark blue background, you won't be able to see anything. I think I will take a trip to the store with my kit, which they selected the colors for, and see what they say. I would like to trade out some of these colors.

If it doesn't work out that's ok because the whole point of the exercise was to learn to do it, even if it isn't exactly what I expected. I'll be better when selecting kits in the future. I'll think of it as a bonus- two lessons learned.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Learning the Art of Hooking

My floors are bare, every one of them. There’s not a rug or carpet to be found with the exception of a couple of bath mats and only by necessity. We made this decision after years of indoor cats and dogs that seemed to have a 12 month molting season plus two cockers with bladders the size of atoms. Today we’re down to one indoor cat and one super fabulous gotta –have- it Furminator deshedding tool, the most miraculous invention since the toaster.

In my quest to learn the Old Ways, I decided that I needed to learn rug making. A braided rug requires more wool than I have on hand; however, I discovered a small rug hooking kit at a woolen shop during an annual German festival in Marthasville. This is not a latch hook kit although the techniques are similar in some ways. This uses strips of wool along with burlap on which a primitive picture has been drawn- very similar to a coloring book picture. The burlap is stretched on a frame, or in my case a hoop due to its small size. The tiny hook is held like a pencil on about a 45 degree angle. You insert it into a hole in the burlap reaching for the strip of wool held beneath the frame by your other hand which slightly wraps the fabric around the hook. The hook is then pulled up through the same hole leaving a small loop. You outline the area to be completed and then fill in the middle. Not every hole in the burlap will have material in it, just enough to adequately fill in the area so no burlap is visible. The picture of the project will be similar but not necessarily the same as the completed project since it is hand drawn and the woolen strips vary by availability.

It takes a few tries to be successful, not grabbing the burlap strands with the hook. I’ve only completed the sheep’s face but so far, so good. There are some lovely rugs produced using this method, some combining wool, yarns and other fibers to create various textures. I’ll work on this between quilt squares but I’m not certain what I will do with it when I’m finished. Maybe I can incorporate it into a larger piece at some time.

Patriotic Sheep

Saturday, January 8, 2011

It Burns My Bulbs

Starting now, January 2011, California is banning certain incandescent light bulbs if they use more than 72 watts, a year earlier than the rest of the US. This will be followed by a phase out of all others by 2014. In its place we will be required to use bulbs such as the mercury filled compact fluorescents which boast energy savings.

Haz Mat Suit Link

A couple of months ago I purchased a lamp on-line which arrived complete with a three way fluorescent bulb, smashed to pieces within it's own interior, poorly packaged box. The outer packaging did not show signs of any visible damage; however, upon opening I discovered tiny pieces of this bulb sprinkled throughout the entire package and subsequently all over me and the floor. Accompanied by an EPA warning, I checked out the proper cleaning procedures. By the way, when I called the manufacturer to request a replacement bulb (they are very expensive) they were not at all concerned but were happy to send the replacement.

It's really up to you but if these warnings ring true, do you want this in your house,at any energy savings? Oh, and how many of you know where your local recycling facility accepting "universal waste" is? I know ours accepts more than most- and it is a 30 minute drive- but they do not accept broken light bulbs.

"The lamp contains a small amount of mercury, but you can clean this up yourself if you do the following:

Do not use a vacuum cleaner to clean up the breakage. This will spread the mercury vapor and dust throughout the area and could potentially contaminate the vacuum.

Keep people and pets away from the breakage area until the cleanup is complete.

Ventilate the area by opening windows, and leave the area for 15 minutes before returning to begin the cleanup. Mercury vapor levels will be lower by then.

For maximum protection and if you have them, wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the sharp glass.

Carefully remove the larger pieces and place them in a secure closed container, preferably a glass container with a metal screw top lid and seal like a canning jar.

1 A glass jar with a good seal works best to contain any mercury vapors inside.

2 Next, begin collecting the smaller pieces and dust. You can use two stiff pieces of paper such as index cards or playing cards to scoop up pieces.

Pat the area with the sticky side of duct tape, packing tape or masking tape to pick up fine particles.

Wipe the area with a wet wipe or damp paper towel to pick up even finer particles.

Put all waste and materials into the glass container, including all material used in the cleanup that may have been contaminated with mercury. Label the container as “Universal Waste - broken lamp.”

Remove the container with the breakage and cleanup materials from your home. This is particularly important if you do not have a glass container.

Continue ventilating the room for several hours.

Wash your hands and face.

Take the glass container with the waste material to a facility that accepts “universal waste” for recycling. To determine where your municipality has made arrangements for recycling of this type of waste, call your municipal office or find your town in this list municipal collection sites (MS Excel format) (pdf format).

When a break happens on carpeting, homeowners may consider removing throw rugs or the area of carpet where the breakage occurred as a precaution, particularly if the rug is in an area frequented by infants, small children or pregnant women.

Finally, if the carpet is not removed, open the window to the room during the next several times you vacuum the carpet to provide good ventilation.

The next time you replace a lamp, consider putting a drop cloth on the floor so that any accidental breakage can be easily cleaned up.

If consumers remain concerned regarding safety, they may consider not utilizing fluorescent lamps in situations where they could easily be broken. Consumers may also consider avoiding CFL usage in bedrooms or carpeted areas frequented by infants, small children, or pregnant women. Finally, consider not storing too many used/spent lamps before recycling as that may increase your chances of breakage. Don’t forget to properly recycle your used fluorescent bulbs so they don’t break and put mercury into our environment."
breaking bulbs information link

Thank goodness our government is trying to save energy. I feel so much better.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tell Me Again, Mama

“Tell me again, Mama.” she said snuggling down into the old quilts her great grandma had made so many years ago. “What it was like when you were a little girl? I want to hear it again” she pleaded.

“I only remember a little bit of it, darling, I was a little girl just like you when everything changed but I recall it being wonderful, at least for awhile. We lived in a little apartment, barely big enough for two small bedrooms and a place for the sofa but it was ours and we loved it. I had my own room where I kept books, toys and all the dolls that I would dress in pretty clothes. We were never cold. It had a heater that we could set to whatever temperature we wanted, as hot as we could stand, all without having to put wood in the fireplace. And lights, we had them too, all the time- even after the sun went down. All we had to do was flip a switch on the wall and it was just like daylight. Sometimes we kept them on all night long and they never ran out.” she explained.

"We would go to the park and play on the slides that curled round and round before sending you off the end as fast as you can imagine where you might slide into the gravel and get covered in dust. We would laugh, brush ourselves off and then do it all over again."

"I also remember that there were places called Malls. Everyone had a car and we could drive far away without worrying if there was enough gas. It was so big it must have held hundreds of stores. They were like indoor towns where it never rained, the air was always cool and music played the whole time. It was stuffed with all sorts of shops that were filled with the most lovely outfits, probably a thousand shoes and shops with candles in every shape and color. In the middle there was a place where people cooked and sold food in little booths. There would be pizza, hamburgers and chicken. You could buy cookies and ice cream or coffee that was mixed up with all sorts of sugars and topped with fluffy whipped cream. You paid for it by putting a card into a little machine. Everything was pretty and nice,” she recollected.

“But what happened, Mama?”

“Now, we have talked about this, remember? About the people who wanted too much, much more than anyone needed? They would do anything to get more and more so they took it from other people and called it fair. Nobody wanted to give anything up to fix it so it got worse. They forgot about God. They did lots of things they were not supposed to”

“Pretty soon things were so expensive that you didn’t have enough money to buy anything. When the big companies couldn’t sell what they made, more people lost their jobs. Finally, it got so bad that everything just stopped. Just like that. There are no more malls; they are just old buildings that are falling apart. I think birds live in them now. No more air-conditioning or heat or driving in cars. No internet or listening to music on IPods” she explained.

We’ll be ok though, don’t worry,” her mom reminded her. “We have our little garden, we know how to save our food for the winter, how to spin thread and weave it into fabric so I can sew your pretty little dresses.”

“But Mama, can’t we make it all over again, just like it used to be?” she questioned.

“I hope not sweetie. I hope we get it right this time.”

Monday, January 3, 2011

Harvest Time at the Ole Marshmallow Farm

“Tom, Dan,” their Dad yelled, excited as a kid on Christmas. “ Hurry, you have to see this!” The teens stampeded down the hall, around the corner, sliding into the family room with anticipation. Television’s Aaron Mermelstein is reporting from a marshmallow farm during the spring harvest, the tiny puffs dangling from bushy branches awaiting a little pluck before being transformed into packets of sweet treats.

“I always wondered where marshmallows came from,” he says wide eyed and full of awe. The two boys just stare at their dad, shaking their heads with that “You Gotta Be Kidding Me” look. “Dad,” one of the boys says, “It’s April 1. April Fools Day. You know that, right?” Right. One of the best April Fools Day pranks compliments of St. Louis television sometime in the seventies.

This may not be an exact recreation of the event but it conveys the flavor; however, as it turns out, the joke may be on us. The herb, Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis), similar to a holly hock, was used to create a sweet Middle Eastern treat, the precursor to the modern marshmallow. The roots and leaves can be consumed as vegetables in addition to reported medicinal qualities of the flowers, stem and roots aiding the kidney and colon.

There are many plants that are essential to survival. These are plants that grow wild, native to the area, the ones that medicine women would have gathered for their healing qualities or that would first poke their heads above ground in the early spring saving settlers from starvation. They are also the ones you should have in your garden, if you live in the country, city or even an urban high rise. There is always a way to grow a little something be it peppers, tomatoes or just a few herbs on the window ledge. As prices soar every little bit you can put away will help.

We’re planning our garden now, scanning the seed catalogs in print or on line. We purchased a Victory Garden seed collection a couple of years ago,open pollinated seeds not subjected to genetic engineering and hoped to avoid cross pollination with a neighbor’s. My picks are:

Tomatoes- heirloom. We plant as many as space allows. Some are for eating fresh, some for saving. We have dried them into beautifully opaque wagon wheel crisps but most are canned into sauces or salsa. Tomatoes provide vitamin C when other fruits and vegetables are not available. It can prevent Scurvey- yes, I know we don’t get this anymore here in the USA, at least not today. But you never know about tomorrow. Just file the info away, it might make a great trivia question one day.

Green Peppers- same as tomatoes. Chocked full of vitamin C. Chop them into salads, eat them sliced with a little Ranch dressing, pop them in the oven filled with meat and spices. Dry them or freeze them.

Greens: collard, turnip, spinach and mustard. So many vitamins and so good for you. Mix them with tomatoes, add a little bacon or drizzle with vinegar. These are both early and late season crops but some varieties do well in heat.

Beans- bush varieties when space is limited, great for planting in a large pot on the deck. Boil them for a quick side dish or just snap them in small pieces and add to your salad for an extra added crunch.

Tobacco plants are amazingly pretty with flowers as beautiful as an orchid. We grew two varieties both grown in Missouri at one time. We don’t smoke so we never dried it --despite the pleas of my brother-in-law. It is large and must be hung to dry out of the elements which would require some type of shed. It grew well and one never knows when it would come in handy.

Herbs: my top picks would be basil, sage, rosemary, thyme and chives. Here is one you probably didn’t expect: Don’t kill the dandelions- make sure it is a true dandelion- with one single yellow head on the stalk. They are one the earliest greens, tender and fine for salads. My first introduction to dandelions as something other than a weed was back in my old journalism days. An elderly lady, Mrs. Hosenfelt, offered us her homemade dandelion wine as Tom and I were sitting in her log cabin discussing the history of her farm. I also found a recipe for an interesting dandelion pasta that I may try next spring.

There are other medicinal herbs that I will stock, although I have not experimented with them. We have books that explain processes and a chemist friend to help us if it ever came to that but some of them can be dangerous if not handled properly. That doesn’t mean I won’t grow them and save the seeds, just in case. Many are decorative and will look beautiful in the flower garden. Someday I would like to make a dedicated Biblical herb garden when I have a separate area. This would include plants such as chicory, mint, oregano, mustard, bay, coriander and hyssop.

Oh, the marsh mallows, I’m thinking about sneaking some seeds into my father-in-law’s planter bed this year. Keep it our secret!

photo credit

Safe Seed Pledge

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Soup's On: French Onion with Paprika, Pepper and Swiss

This is not one of my cooking disasters, in fact, I make this quite well. Famous-Barr used to serve this in their restaurant and you would always make certain to shop during the lunch hour. This is a scaled down version which we will be having tonight.

Swiss Cheese Slices - quantities will be as desired (LOTS!)
French Bread cut into thin slices or torn into chunks
1 lb 6 oz white onions- sliced 1/8 inch thick with the grain to make strands
3 oz butter
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon Spanish Paprika
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup flour
1 1/2 quarts beef bouillon (6 cups)

Make 6 cups of hot beef bouillon in a soup pot.

Cut onions in half with the grain about 1/8 inch thick.
Melt butter in a skillet and add the sliced onions.
Saute slowly, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add paprika, pepper, salt & bay while stirring.
Slowly add the flour and mix until well coated.
Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring continually.

Gradually add a little of the hot bouillon into the onion mixture,slowly to temper it. You cannot add the hot onion mixture to hot bouillon. Keep adding the bouillon until the mixture is well diluted.

Transfer the onion mixture a little at a time to the hot bouillon and stir well.

Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

****** REMOVE BAY LEAVES ********

Place soup in individual bowls, oven proof is best or you can use the microwave.
Place a slice of french bread on top or add torn pieces randomly into the bowl.
Top with swiss cheese.
Place in oven until the swiss is melted (or microwave)

You will end up with a onion-peppery mixture that is nicely spiced and full of cheesy goodness.

Onion Slicing Tip:
There are a lot of onions to slice and they can really get to your eyes. I cut the ends off of the onion one at a time using a large, sharp knife and a wooden cutting board. Then I peeled off the onion paper, sliced it in half and cut with the grain. Then I put the pieces in a bowl and rinsed both the knife and board which diluted the powerful onion fumes. I did this with each onion.

soup photo credit