Thursday, August 30, 2012

Feeling the pressure

I've been pushing myself so hard these last few weeks, trying to get everything ready for winter, for our trip, trying to keep up at work and with the garden, as well as dealing with a few big issues (more about those later). Talking with your husband long-distance about the Big Things in life, even if they might seem relatively small to others (after all, there's nothing too life-changing about these particular things), is tough. How to bring them up? Sending an email or chatting over Skype seems a bit impersonal. But at the same time, I don't want to ambush him when he gets home. The Big Things deserve a lot of time and attention, but many of them do have a bit of urgency as well. So what to do? I ended up writing him a long letter the other day about one thing that's been on my mind lately, so that he can mull it over and we can discuss it when he gets home. Hopefully. If other things don't get in the way first. :)
Which they have a tendency of doing. One of the things we've been dealing with is a (relatively minor, and not exactly bad) family issue. My younger brother is coming up here for school again, but doesn't have a dorm room. Apparently, Res Life changed their policy for this year. He bought a ticket to PAX quite a long time ago, not realizing that this year school would be starting before the convention. (PAX is this weekend, but school started today.) When he applied for a dorm room he was told that since he won't be here on the first day, they won't hold one for him. He's been wait-listed. So he was looking at arriving Monday night and having nowhere to stay. Except that we are here and could he live with us? He dropped this bomb on us about two weeks ago and we haven't had a private moment to discuss it. (The whole trip, including the drives down and back, had other people. The few moments we had alone together, we were discussing other personal things.) We finally talked last night and agreed that it will be best all around for him to stay with us this semester. For one thing, the pets I will be less lonely. I will feel less guilty when I'm busy, having someone else around, because I won't feel like the animals are being neglected. And we'll get to save up a bit more money since we'll be sharing rent.
However, there are reasons we kicked him out last time he lived with us. Valid reasons. We had to discuss those, come up with solutions, and work out what the ground rules will be. Like, I will help him get a job, but he has to get a job this semester. And he has to go to every class unless he's genuinely sick. Reminding your sibling that they are coming into your household and need to play by your rules isn't easy. But I think it's for the best in this case. (There are existential issues the Boy is going through right now, too--"Why am I going to school? Am I wasting my time?"--so the ground rules are also set up to help him as much as we can.)
We're also looking into buying a car. We've agreed on the make and model, but that's about it. Well, we both love manual transmissions too. But other than that it's up in the air. I love the idea of getting a newer used car, and Shane has agreed if we can find what we want. But these cars are highly in demand in our area so it's doubtful. However, I feel less bad about that because this car is an investment. Not because of resale value or anything, but because this will hopefully be the car we own for the next 20+ years. We're trying for the perfect vehicle so that we don't have to worry about whether or not it will suit our needs two or ten years down the line, we know it will.
So we went onto the company's website the other night while we were on Skype to each design what we wanted, then sent the link to each other. No surprise, he wanted the bigger engine and I wanted more fuel efficiency. I pointed out, too, that mine is cheaper by several thousand dollars. But we weren't going to come to an agreement over Skype (though we spent almost 2 hours discussing it--ah, that's where all my time goes!) so we'll test drive both next time Shane is home.
As if these things weren't big enough, we also have our anniversary coming up. Shane's gone on the actual day, but we had set aside another night to celebrate it. Then I got the rehearsal schedule for "The Wizard of Oz" and--surprise!--I have rehearsal that night. So we had to pick a different night. And I had to figure out something else fun to do for Shane's homecoming when I won't be home. (Thai food. Always a good choice!)
It doesn't seem like a lot, but when you add it all up it is. In the first week Shane's home we'll have to adjust to our roommate, I start rehearsals (which are fun, but very time consuming), and we'll try to pick out the vehicle we'll want for the next couple of decades. No big deal. All of this and we're still pushing off some big decisions. Like our vacation at Christmas, which my boss has been almost nagging me about figuring out for three weeks now. (Shane has to figure out his vacation time stuff.)
As if all of the Big Things in life being piled onto now wasn't bad enough, there's still the regular grind of daily life (I haven't seen my sink for more than ten minutes in about a month) and my self-imposed daily ritual of preparing for winter. Monday it was putting up everything that had grown (or overgrown) in the garden, Tuesday was canning rhubarb (8 quarts!) and Wednesday was...nothing. Not a damn thing. I so needed that. Instead of putting up produce or re-doing my (syrupy and not-set) fireweed jelly, I played softball with friends, exercised while re-watching an episode of a clever TV show, and took the dog for a short walk. I read. I called my dad to say, "Happy birthday!" It was beautiful to give myself that time off. I didn't even cook dinner, just ate something I'd made for breakfasts this week. (I suggest this, btw, it's lovely--I made it with strawberries and peaches instead of raspberries and bananas--and didn't take long at all; thanks, Pinterest!) About the only thing I did, chore-wise, was to quickly set up a Crockpot meal for today and the no-knead bread. Dinner tonight will be ridiculously simple but still healthy and, most importantly, incredibly delicious. The next couple of days will be even easier, since there will be plenty of food that I won't have to cook.
My kitchen looks like a war zone. I can't see my dining table because of all the things which have been piled on it (including an empty pizza box from the Moose's Tooth which I haven't gotten around to taking out to the garbage) and my bathroom still has mud from Shane's hunting gear splattered everywhere except the bathtub (because that got cleaned when I took a shower). The garbage in the garage needs to be taken out to the big garbage cans. I have one basket of laundry waiting to be washed and a load's worth waiting to be folded and put away. I have more food which needs to be preserved. But you know what? I think I'll take tonight off, too. :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More homecoming

One of the first things I did when we got home, of course, was to check on my garden. It's very much autumn around here, so things are starting to die back. I need to dig up my potatoes, probably as soon as this weekend, since the stalks are starting to wither and fall over. Some of my peas are dying off, although a few are still going strong. Before we left I pulled up and pickled a bunch of my carrots, so what's left are the smaller ones and they have more room to grow. I'll leave them out until they absolutely need to be pulled. And the tomatoes are really ripening now. I have a couple of my Cassady's Folly just about ready to be picked, and I couldn't stop the cherry tomatoes from ripening if I tried.
My haul Sunday night, after we got home, was about three cups of peas (in their shells), one large zucchini, and a couple branches of cherry tomatoes. I have a couple more zucchinis growing out there, getting bigger, and my pumpkins are doing quite well. The biggest one is even starting to turn a lighter green. I'll leave them out as long as I can, though. They're New England pie pumpkins, so they should be hearty enough to withstand our autumn chill.
It's sad to see my garden dying off. I can't say that I worked *too* hard out there this summer (as evidenced by the weeds) but I did put a decent amount of hard work into it. This is also our last chance to get as much as possible put away for winter. Eek! Shane started munching on the peas I collected the other day and when I freaked out he said, "Wow, chill. The peas are better fresh anyway." Ok, I can agree to that. So I gave him about half of them to eat fresh and kept the other half to freeze. Any that I opened up which still had rather small peas were eaten fresh by me. And now I have about a pint of homegrown, shelled peas in my freezer.
On the food front, our trip down south wasn't a total loss. I never did get to go berry picking (if there are blueberries in those hills, my MIL doesn't know where) but I did get some rhubarb from a family friend when it would otherwise have gone to waste. Now I can start canning, since I should have a bunch of rhubarb.
There's another family friend there whose father plants an acre of peas every year, far more than they can eat, so my MIL gets to go pick buckets full. She talked to her friend to see if the peas were ready, but they weren't. Darn! That would have seriously added to our cache of frozen peas. Oh well. Maybe next year?
The biggest change from when we left to when we returned has simply been in the weather. Other places it might be strange to have such a rapid change of weather, but I expected this. It's now definitely autumn here, with the days staying chilly rather than getting hot and merely having cool nights. I've still got a couple of windows cracked at home, for the air flow, but I'm also thinking about pulling out our big down comforter.
The trees are becoming yellow, more than just a splash of color here and there. The birds are flying south quickly. This morning when I let the dog out I heard a gaggle of cranes overhead, in classic V-formation, heading out of town. And so we head into winter once again.

Monday, August 27, 2012

No moose this far

First of all, as a hunting trip this one sort of sucked. Not one of us ever saw a bull moose. Not even a young one. The regulations for which moose could be hunted were pretty strict this year, as they were last year too. To be legal, a moose had to have antlers that were at least 50 inches OR had four brow tines on each side. Those are big old moose, and usually the old ones are smarter because, well, you don't get to be old in the wilds of Alaska unless you are smart. So everyone expected to see lots of young males running around, since this is the second year when they can't be hunted. But no. Lots of cows and calves (even I got to see a couple), but not a single bull. The only explanation that anyone could come up with for this is that it still hadn't gotten cold enough to force the males out of the high country. The mamas with their babies come out earlier, while the males hang back until it starts to get quite chilly. The guys did try to get up into the high country one night, but it was so rainy and miserable that they just ended up getting stuck in the mud a whole bunch. The actual hunting time that day was about 45 minutes, rather than the several hours they usually spent each evening. (Dawn and dusk are the best times to hunt moose. We were staying up past midnight each night. So...guess which end of that timeline never got hunted?) The guys have decided that they might try to see what the regulations are in our area and perhaps go north a bit the next time Shane is home. We'll see. I'm guessing it won't happen, but it might.
As a vacation, this trip was really fun though. We had rainy, windy weather some days, but other days were lovely and sunny. I took the dog for long rambling walks around the hills when the guys went hunting. She loved all the off-leash time, and she was wonderful. Her instincts said, "Run in the long grass!" but her spaniel loyalty said, "Stick close to Mom." So she'd run into the grass a few feet and then back out onto the trail, tongue hanging out and stub tail wagging. I find it hilarious that my dog thinks she knows the way, and that she'll protect me. Every walk, I think she covered about 3 times the distance I did, so she slept VERY well every night.
There's still a lot of evidence of the fire from five years ago. That was the first summer when Shane and I were dating. The first time I visited his family, I came up from Seattle for about a week. It happened to be the week right after they finally let people back into the hills to check on their property. So my first visit out there, the cabin had scorch marks and the outhouse had a hole burned through the back. The only thing which saved the whole place from going up in flames was that they keep the land immediately around the cabin, outhouse, and generator shed fairly cleared. Good thing, too. But seeing how dramatic the evidence of that fire still is brought back a lot of memories.

Yes, there is a phone booth in the middle of nowhere. It doesn't work, but it does make a nice marker so I didn't get lost!
We saw fresh moose tracks on one of our walks and I thought about following them, but I didn't have a rifle with me nor did I get a hunting license. So even if it had been a legal bull there wasn't anything I could have done about it. Still fun to see, though. I could see just where it had gone through the long grass.

Other than the walks, this trip was all about lots of time together. Watching my in-laws' dog chase moths was the highlight of two evenings. The stupid creature didn't realize that there was glass between him and the light-seeking moths, so after throwing himself at the window a bunch he resorted to licking it. Apparently, moths are quite tasty to him. We played games (Dominoes are always a favorite), read, watched a few movies (the cabin has a generator), and I got some knitting done. Those socks I've been trying to make for a while? One is finished! I just need to sew up the toe part (which means I need to buy a yarn needle, since I can't find the ones I have). But it fits my foot very well (having small feet, that's often a problem for me) and it will be super warm this winter.
I'm pleased. I started the second sock, but I need the needles that are still in the first one so I couldn't get very far. Now that I know I can actually make these socks, it's motivation to get the second one done more quickly. (Like, I'm shooting for less than 8 months this time.) And then I can move on to challenging myself with other things. There's a sweater I really wanted to try making....

Notice the cat? He was trying to swipe at my leg as I put the sock on.

We didn't get showers the whole time we were at the cabin. Blech. I did get fed up and gave myself basically a sponge bath one night, but that's not a good replacement for submersing yourself in hot water. You can imagine how lovely it was to take a shower when we got back to my in-laws' house. Washing my hair (twice) and, oh, that moment when you go from bear legs to bare legs? Lovely.
One other very exciting thing happened. There was much excitement about the new baby in the family. My brother-in-law and his girlfriend got a puppy! They've been wanting to get a dog for a long time, and Megan's had the specific breed she wants picked out for over a year. So they have an as yet unnamed Wheaton terrier. The poor little guy was super nervous around so many strange people, but he was very excited by the presence of the other dogs. Unfortunately, my parents-in-law's dog, who's sort of hit-or-miss around other dogs anyway, didn't like him. He kept almost nipping the puppy and growled at him sometimes.
It was nice that my dog, who is rather ambivalent about other dogs, wagged her tail at the puppy, they went through the whole sniffing thing, and then she mostly ignored him. Shane and I were very careful, too. When one of us was playing with the puppy, the other was paying lots of attention to our girl. So she never got jealous. (It would have been totally misplaced jealousy anyway. As much as I love puppies and kittens, we're not in the market for either and won't be for quite some time.)

As much as I hate being back to work, and having Shane off at work again, it is nice to be home. Our cat was extremely mad at us. He even swiped at me several times last night, which he hasn't done in a long time. Not even when he was injured. But hurt feelings apparently count for more. He wanted to be petted, but he also wanted to show how mad at us he was. So he'd let us pet him for a few minutes, then he'd swipe at us or just get up and stalk away. Shane stayed up just a bit later than I did and he said that as soon as I fell asleep the cat was crawling all over me and snuggling in close.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Can someone please tell me the point

of grass if you're not even allowed to walk on it? I just don't get it.
I'm serious. I thought the appeal of grass is that it's easy and comfy to walk on or play on, that you can have picnics and such. So what the hell is the point of putting all that work (and all those fossil fuels) into maintaining grass that no one gets to enjoy?

End of summer

The light has changed. It's actually getting dark at night now, during hours when I'm awake. The leaves have started changing. (See the yellow?)
While the days are still hot (in the 70s and even low 80s) the nights are chilly. All the growing things are winding down while we people are frantically scrambling to get the last of all that is good about summer. Ice cream, bike rides, berries, garden produce....
My evenings have been busier than ever as I scramble to do the same. With our trip next week, and with Shane being gone until right before we leave, I have extra things to do. It's not just my "one thing per day" anymore, it's "how many things can I get done each night". My to-do lists are long. Last night, I didn't sit down until after 10:00. The fact that I was so productive made it all worth it. I grocery shopped, I made dinner and lunch for myself, I took the dog for a run, I watered and fertilized the garden boxes (although holding off on watering the actual garden paid off--it rained last night!), I bottled the hard cider Shane made (by myself, which probably doesn't seem all that impressive unless you've actually bottled homebrew yourself--lots of running around), I did the dishes, I blanched and froze a pound of farmer's market green beans, I cleaned the cat box.... I tried calling my brother while doing all of this, too, since I've been so busy that I've neglected my family a bit. (This time, he was too busy to talk!) My list for this evening is just as long. I'm running myself ragged and the only thought that keeps me going is how much fun I'm going to have next week. And how relaxing it will be.
But it's not all hard work. With summer ending I'm really taking the time to notice the beauty all around me. Like this edible landscaping at the University:
It's a wonderful example of how food plants can be remarkably pretty. In that picture are: corn, squash, sunflowers, and nasturtiums. Probably even a few other things I didn't notice or know. Incorporated with the flowers, it's a beautiful planter box. Behind it are picnic tables where many people eat their lunches. It's a relaxing spot and I'll miss it after the snow flies.
All of these are good things. I ate one of my homegrown carrots last night and it was delicious! I have yummy cherry tomatoes ripening like crazy. I finally have a large zucchini growing (which I need to find time to pick and shred and freeze....). And I've found a few minutes to daydream about the Christmas presents I want to start. I have a few small things in mind, and on my list is a trip to the craft store so that I can buy the materials. I can make some of them on our trip. In fact, a couple of them I need to do away from the house, or I'll get my cat over-excited. Whenever I pull out yarn now, he expects me to make a catnip toy! :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Coming Along

The last few days, looking at my shelves and peering into my freezers, has shown me that I've done a lot so far. 1 gallon of local broccoli for winter, over 3 gallons of pitted and frozen cherries, plus five cans of cherry preserves. 8 jars of cucumber pickles, 9 small jars of fireweed jelly (sort of), a gallon and a third of blueberries, 1 quart of raspberries, a pint-ish of cranberries, half a pint of my own peas, 2 cups of zucchini, some grapes and peaches.... All this, of course, it just "so far". I haven't even started preserving carrots, celery, or anything like that. I do still want to can more things. I haven't started preserving tomatoes at all. Or the rhubarb. I've been freezing it just until the weather turned a bit cooler and was more favorable for standing over a hot pot of boiling water. That time is rapidly approaching.
It's still quite hot in the evenings and everyone's been talking about how inverted the summer was. Usually July is our hottest month and August starts off rainy and ends chilly. Well, this year it was July that was cold and wet but August is turning out the be gorgeous. Chilly at night and in the mornings (I left the windows in my bedroom open last night and that was a mistake--I didn't want to get out of bed this morning because it was so chilly!) but the days and evenings have been pleasantly hot. I hope that this last bit of summer really pushes my garden into overdrive. My cherry tomatoes have started ripening (I have a recipe in mind for some of them!) and I've got another couple of zucchinis growing. My pumpkins are getting bigger, and I've been collecting some nice fat peas every couple of days. I'm still holding off on digging up my potatoes, giving them as long in the ground as possible to grow big. The herbs need to come inside, though, and I've been trying to remember to cloche the celery at night.
This week is turning out to be crazy, though. Softball ended last night and I only went to one of the two games because I had to get other things done. (Glad I went, though, because it was fun!) Trying to organize berry picking trips, and taking care of the cat (his antibiotics finished last night, but he's still limping from his injury), normal household chores (I had to water all of my garden buckets last night and as the watering can was filling up I was frantically running around to put the clean dishes away then load up the empty dishwasher again, rushing outside to water and fertilize in between--I sat down for a grand total of ten minutes, to eat dinner, from just after lunchtime until 10:00 at night) and trying to get everything organized for our trip on Sunday. As if all this wasn't enough, two good friends are having birthdays this week so two evenings will be spent celebrating them, and I need to get gifts. (My best friend's birthday was two weeks ago and, as we both always do, I still haven't ordered her present. It's ok. Last year I got my birthday gift from her when she came up for my wedding...six months after my birthday. It's how we roll.) Don't worry, any gifts I get will totally fit with my principles. ;) And these are happy things. Busy, but I wouldn't miss out on them for the world.
You'd think I'd be more organized, with so much going on, but no. I keep thinking, "And on this night, I'll get such and such chore done!" but either it doesn't get done, or I realize I have something else going on that night.
Not that this is a complaint, mind you. I love being this busy. I love getting to see my friends this much, and knowing that I'm going on vacation next week gives me that little push to fight against my natural lazy tendencies.
Even if I wanted to complain, Shane worked a 17 hour day yesterday, and will probably be working about the same today. With that comparison, I feel decadently lazy. Poor guy! All this on top of being sick, too. But water samples wait for no man, I take it. He called me at about 10:30 last night from his office phone, and he still wasn't done with work. When I said how much it sucks he shrugged it off and said, "At least I get paid for all this time." And for him, too, having the trip to look forward to, and knowing that he gets to come home in time to celebrate our friend's birthday on Saturday (a friend who has been out of town all summer) helps immeasurably.
It seems like I've done so much, but there's much, much more I need/want to do. As impossible as it seemed last year, I need more canning jars. I have plenty pint size jars (I think--there should be more out in the garage) but I could use more half-pints and quarts. I knew I had more quart jars but couldn't find more than a couple. Well, last night I got out a bunch of stuff to make scones (I tried a new flavor--walnut & chocolate chip, AMAZING!) and realized that I've been using them to store things in. Like my chocolate chips. When I looked in the cupboard I found one more holding some dried fruit way in the back, and one more holding some pasta. Ah-ha! I've transferred those dry goods to other, non-canning jars. (On the rare occasions I buy juice, I buy the organic stuff in glass jars and save the jars. They're super handy for holding dry goods from the bulk section and with the labels ripped off it's easy to see when I'm running low on something.) I figure the quart ones will be best for most of the rhubarb, since what I tend to make rhubarb into is either pie or crisp, and that requires a lot of rhubarb. For just the two of us, I use pint jars for tomato sauce. I'm hoping to can at least 15 jars of tomato sauce this year. Six last year got us halfway through winter, and that far only because we rationed them. If I do get 15, I'll probably end up wishing I'd put up more like 20-25!
I did discover something forehead-slappingly simple, though. I thought I needed to get a food mill for ease of making tomato sauce when I saw online someone mentioned using a blender, then straining the tomatoes to get out the seeds and skins. Wow! Why didn't I think of that before? I know, I know, blenders use electricity and food mills don't. I'm sure I'll get a food mill at some point, but I was dreading trying to find someplace to put it in our tiny and already overstuffed kitchen. Besides which, I'll be canning tomato sauce with a friend so it will be efficient in that way. We're going to wait until after the hunting trip, hoping and praying that my tomatoes ripen before then so that we can use them as much as possible and supplement with the (expensive) farmer's market tomatoes.
Finally, I want to organize the freezers better. I'm hoping that I can make the fridge-freezer for produce, and have the other one mostly open for meat and fish. This depends on whether or not we get a moose, of course. It might end up being a moot point. But even if we come back empty-handed, we still need to figure out what exactly we have in the depths of our freezers, and eat it. I found some caribou jerky the other night that I didn't realize we have. (I'll probably dig it out to bring on the road trip.) What else might we find back there? So that is one of my projects, most likely for after we get home.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The terrible costs of being a woman

Sadly, pretty much everyone in this country knows that women still earn less than men. It's shameful. But the hidden side of this, what's equally shameful but which most people don't know or think about, is that it simply costs more to be a woman. Jezebel has a pretty decent list about what it costs to have a vagina. I say "pretty decent" because, let's face it, you don't need all the things on that list all the time. When's the last time you bought condoms and birth control? UTI's suck, but it's not like we get them constantly. So yes, these are often costs which women deal with waaaaaaaay more often than men, but not constantly.
However, that's just one part of your anatomy. Styling products, makeup, hair accessories, body lotion, hair dryers and straighteners.... There are so many products which we're told we "need". What do men buy? Shaving foam or lotion, razors, deodorant, soap, and shampoo. And all of those products are cheaper simply because they're marketed to men! Not only that, but men's razors are often sharper than women's because beard stubble is tougher than leg hair. I switched over to men's razors years ago and I figure I've probably saved at least $50-$100 over that time. It doesn't seem like much, but that adds up. When you factor in that I've stopped buying most of the other crap which gets sold to us ladies, that's a lot of money to be saved. No hair gel, hair spray, no electricity use for a blow dryer and/or hair straightener. I've pared down my list of what products I buy to clean myself up or slather on to this: soap, shampoo, some body lotion, and the stuff to mix up my own face moisturizer. That's all I really need.
As far as deodorant goes, yes it is more expensive to buy women's deodorant. I just solve that problem by not buying it at all. There are all sorts of recipes online for making your own using baking soda. I don't do anything complicated, I simply get the tips of two fingers on each hand wet, dip them in the baking soda, and apply to my underarms. Not only does it last all day (even when I'm biking hard or running) but I don't have any of that icky flowery smell that proclaims "I'm sweating so now you get to smell my deodorant".
Yep, I've stopped buying tampons and pads. The Diva Cup is amazing, and I'm trying to make converts of pretty much every woman I know. It's hard, because this topic doesn't usually come up in conversation. But I've told several people about them. I thought it would be super gross to deal with, but it's not. And it took me less than one full cycle before I got used to it. They say you're supposed to replace it every year, but I think that was some sort of health and safety something something. They're fine. I know people out there have been using them for over a decade.
These are all things simply to do with being a woman. But there are so many other products which are, at their root, gender neutral but which women are charged more for. For instance, here are the clothes you buy to cover yourself, which are almost always pricier than men's clothing and often not as durable. If I had smaller boobs, I'd probably stuff myself into men's plain black or white t-shirts. *Sigh* All you small-chested ladies, go for it! I've found that avoiding the women's section for socks brings some amazing finds. I have small feet, size 5.5. Women's socks are supposedly size 6-10, which means that they're really made for women with average sized feet and they're always too big for me. I thought that little girls' socks would be too small but I realized long ago that boys' socks are both cheaper than women's socks, and they're far more durable. Plus, they actually fit my feet! Total score.
If you have daughters and they're willing to go for it, you can buy them clothing made for boys. Little girls and little boys are effectively shaped the same until puberty. Why pay more for less durable clothing? Plus, you avoid all the overly-sexualized or materialistic girly clothing. (Seriously, they market short-shorts with things like "Sweetie" across the butt. To four-year-olds! Who buys that shit?)
I've found it particularly interesting that some things at the grocery store are being marketed specifically to women. Yogurt, anyone? Why is food suddenly a gendered item? Does everything really have to be specific to women or to men? The answer, really, is no. Marketers do this because they can make a lot of money. If it wasn't so prevalent, and if it didn't work so well, I'd just find it all sad. As it is, it pisses me off that women are so taken advantage of. I understand a lot of marketing tricks, but I know I'm not immune to them. I simply try to avoid marketing when I can, and to limit my exposure when I can't. That way my decisions about what to buy are based on what I actually want or feel I need rather than what I'm *supposed* to want or "need".

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Raspberries, cranberries, and blueberries, oh my!

Friday, August 10, 2012

The plan

Apparently, it's not just me. This really does seem like the end of summer, and there was an article in the Daily News-Miner about it. It hasn't frosted in my area yet, but it's certainly been quite chilly in the mornings with the sense that frost is right around the corner. I've stopped wearing shorts to bike to work in and have instead been pulling on long pants and my fleece. Without gloves, my fingers have been getting red with the chill. So now is not only the time to enjoy the last of summer activities, it's the point when it really hits home that summer will not last forever. Snowy days are approaching, and fast.
I'm trying to do one thing every day to get ready for winter, now. Even something as small as freezing a few peas. Really, all I've gotten put away so far can be classified as "a few peas". This is my biggest single-day haul yet:
All those peas doubled what I'd already had. Meaning that I now have one serving of (shelled) peas stored by for winter. We have been eating some fresh (especially Shane) but I see now how naive I was to think that I could get gallons of peas from so few plants. There are still plenty of small and unripe peas out there (less than I should have, since something has been out there eating them!) but if I fill one quart-size bag I'll be happily surprised. That amount of peas would last us, oh, a month or so. I could have planted my entire garden space full of nothing but peas and still not gotten enough for winter! I'm going to need to seriously think about this for future garden planning.
No problem with the varieties, however. I wish I'd marked better which ones were snap peas and which weren't, but I'm figuring it out. Only one of the three types of peas I bought does't have edible pods. I mean, all the pods are technically edible but you need to peel the inner flesh out from the Lincoln pods. The Alaska peas and the snap peas are both edible, and those are the ones Shane prefers to munch on. I'm liking the AK peas for their all-around utility. Edible pods, nice fat peas. But the Lincoln peas have much larger pods and, therefore, more peas. So I'm glad I got both of the varieties.
In the picture, you can also see three zucchinis. Small ones. Those are the only zucchinis I've yet harvested. Ugh. I've got at least one more (even smaller!) growing outside. But this is my most pathetic return on zucchinis ever. It must be something about this summer. Too wet and rainy, perhaps, although that wouldn't explain why some people around here are having great squash summers. Not enough sunlight where I've placed my zukes? Or something. Oh well. We'll just have to eat something else for the winter. I shredded those three zucchinis and froze them, which yielded about two 1 cup servings. Enough for two batches of zucchini pancakes, so I'll save those for a morning when I need a pick-me-up.
I do have some nice fat winter squashes growing. I think they're pumpkins, but I'm not certain because of course I forgot to label them. They're getting bigger than tennis balls, though, and I've been trimming off small ones to ensure the biggest ones will have enough nutrients to ripen. If I get three large-ish pumpkins (this variety is supposed to be about 7-9 inches long, I think) I'll be very happy!
I got two more beans (yes, I've been harvesting them in ones and twos) and these might very well be my last ones. My bean plants (all three of them) didn't do very well. Oh well. Buying beans won't be the worst thing in the world.
And I think I'm going to need to ask my mother-in-law for more rhubarb this year. Not that that will be a problem, I think. Unless she needs it all for more rhubarb wine. :) (It's tasty stuff.) When I got to L's house this weekend we'll see if we can harvest some more of her neighbor's rhubarb. I cut some stalks from my plants last night so I have a full quart-size freezer bag just from my own garden. (And since my plants are so young, I'm very pleased with that.)
All of the plants which are doing well in my garden this summer, with the exception of my tomatoes, are winter hardy ones. While the rest of the country is dry and baking, we're getting rain and cold. So much for beautiful Alaskan summers. I put a big clear plastic garbage bag over some of my tomatoes last night, but only some. Should I actually cut the bag open to lay over the whole plants, or should I leave it as-is so that it's still usable as a garbage bag later? I'm leaning toward cut it open.
My peas and squashes should keep going until it gets very chilly. Hopefully I've got about a month and a half for them to keep growing. My cabbages, too. I'll dig up the potatoes as soon as the plants start succumbing to the cold, and if I have to I'll find a place to bring my tomatoes inside and figure out what techniques I can use to ripen them. My celery is, amazingly, not doing too badly. I covered several of the plants in those milk-jug-cloches I made, so they're sort of topped with mini-greenhouses. They are NOT a fast-growing plant, so I'm really hoping that I can get another month or so of growing time out of them.
So what, besides gardening, am I doing to get ready for winter? Well, there's the foraging. I still haven't posted about the fireweed jelly I made, but there's lots of it. I already wrote about blueberry picking, and I have more blueberry picking trips planned. I haven't picked any raspberries so far this year, and it's getting toward the end of the season. The plants I saw didn't have that many anyway, and this week when I might have convinced myself to go out, it was miserably rainy.
I've got plans with a friend to make gallons of tomato sauce to can, and I keep putting by cherries whenever I can. I got bunches of basil from the farmer's market which I made into pesto and froze for quick and easy winter meals. It was tasty enough that I'm going to buy more basil this weekend, and finally use up what I've grown on my porch.
I've been airing out the apartment, but I haven't yet hauled out our winter things or the winter blankets. Those aren't needed quite yet. But when the door is open, if I'm sitting and reading I've found that having a light blanket over myself is lovely. And I've been wearing my nice warm slippers in the evenings. The fan, sitting in the hallway, seems like a bit of a joke now.
And there's always more to do. I'm trying to hold back the fear that I'm simply not doing enough to prepare for winter. I won't get it all done, I know, but I also know it won't be the end of the world.
If it seems like I'm focusing so much on food, I am. I suspect that this winter I won't be able to get to the store all that often. Shane will need the truck for commuting to and from work, so when he's gone I'll most likely be left vehicle-less. The more food I have stored away, the less of a disaster it will be if I can't get to the store for a while. And yes, I do have wonderful friends whom I could call on to give me a ride. But I don't want to be a burden to other people, either. Walking to the store wouldn't be horrible some days, but once it dips below zero I'm not going to want to do that terribly often.
I would like to see about cutting out the grocery store almost entirely. HG Market has veggie boxes all winter, sort of like a CSA only not from one specific farm. They try to get things as locally and organically as possible, which I like. (And yes, even in winter here there's some local food. Chena Hot Springs uses geothermal power and heat for their greenhouses, and there are several hydroponic "farms".) Shane mentioned a while ago that he wouldn't be opposed to ordering the veggie boxes for the winter, but we haven't actually sat down to talk about it. I'm hoping that we could do that, and then it would reduce my trips to the actual chain grocery stores to (I think) about once a month for grains and such. Or most likely, once every three weeks when Shane is home.
Little by little, I am managing to extricate myself from most of the conventional food system.
There is one week coming up which will sort of be an exception to my "one thing every day" goal. We're going moose hunting on Shane's next off-week, in two weeks. We'll be going down to the Kenai Peninsula with a friend, then out to Shane's family's cabin. Cross your fingers that we actually get something this year! We're running quite low on moose meat, and I am not looking forward to having to buy beef.
I will not be hunting, by the way. I'm going to visit with the family, and hopefully do some berry picking.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Unexpected expenses

Do you budget for unexpected expenses? I have to admit, I'm rather bad about that. I mean, it is the very nature of unexpected expenses that you don't expect them. But it seems like they come up every month and yet I don't leave much padding in our budget for them. It's silly.
This month we've had several things already. It's only been a week! Shane's bicycle tire blew out on one of his rides so he needs a whole new one. He forgot to go this week to get a new one, so either I'm going to ride out there to buy a new one or he'll have to get it two off-shifts from now. His next off-shift, we'll be out of town. So it might end up being an expense for next month, but it's still "unexpected".
As if replacing one tire wasn't bad enough, Shane bought some things to make a minor repair to his motorcycle and then discovered that his back tire is getting stripped. The threads are visible in the middle where the rubber has been completely worn away. He checked, and getting a new tire is $250. Ouch. We're trying to decide what to do, since winter is coming up so soon. But driving the truck to and from work is so expensive. Would it be worth spending $250 on a tire to save roughly the same amount of money on gas for the month of September? If he even gets that long. I definitely don't want him to ride it up there if there's even a minor chance that it will snow before he comes home. So that's going to take some discussion.
We did get the truck running, sort of. We didn't actually have someone look at it. We bought some Heet (a product which helps with bad fuel) and put it into one of the gas tanks. Shane started off with one tank, then switched to the other tank (the one he'd put the Heet in) and the problems stopped almost immediately. Phew! It sounds like bad gas was the culprit. (No giggling at that sentence!)
As if all of this wasn't enough, I stayed home sick from work on Monday. I was actually grateful that I did, not just because I needed it, but because I saw the cat limping around the house. He was seriously favoring his back left leg and as I watched him I noticed that he wasn't putting any weight on it when he could help it. When he stood still it stayed out back so that there was no pressure on that leg. And then I saw that when he was lying down, he wasn't moving. His eyes were open so he was awake, but not even his tail was twitching. Cats never do that. They're never completely still unless they're totally asleep. Or in this case, very ill.
I tried calling the vet but his message said that he was alone at the clinic for the afternoon so he never called me back. Usually he doesn't take walk-ins, but I was hoping since this seemed like a bit of an emergency he'd be all right with it. (By the way, I love our vet, who is a family friend.) I called L and arranged for her to bring over one of her cat carriers and pick us up and we drove to the vet's. (So much unhappiness about the cat carrier! But we have a gentle cat, and he loves me, so he didn't once try to claw my face off.)
There was no problem with the walk-in, thankfully. (Seriously, Ballaine Vet Clinic. Check it out.) And it was a fairly easy thing. Zap's hair is super thick so we never found the actual site of the wound, but the vet said that the most common problem he sees cats for is when they've been bitten by something and it gets infected. I was wondering if, on one of the nights when he's been out, Zap got into a fight with another neighborhood cat. So he got two shots and we were given some oral antibiotics. (Again, I love my cat. He didn't even try to claw me when I was squirting nasty medicine into his mouth!) $92 and 12 hours later, he was already looking a bit better by yesterday morning. At least he was sitting upright to eat, rather than doing this:
Yes, that is a picture of my cat mashing his face into his food bowl while lying down. For once, his laziness was justified.
Last night he felt well enough to pick a fight with another cat. The upstairs neighbors' cat, who isn't supposed to go outside, escaped. Zap cornered him under the porch and made himself sound threatening. They didn't actually fight, thankfully.
And this morning he was well enough to fight me when I gave him his medicine. He still didn't claw me, but he kept moving his face away. It's very hard to gently hold a cat with one hand and try to squirt medicine into its mouth with a syringe while said cat is squirming so much. But at least he's getting back to his feisty self. Money well spent. :)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bears and Blueberries

I can't find the story online, but apparently there was a woman who was hiking Angel Rocks with her nieces when they were attacked by a bear. (In my search, I found another article about a teenager who was dragged out of his tent by a bear near Angel Rocks. Other than some scrapes he was unhurt.) Bear attacks like this are unusual, since bears generally don't pick fights. Whether the people accidentally did something which frightened or threatened the bear, I don't know. But there is, apparently, a hunt going for this bear. If it's going to be attacking people then general wisdom is that it has forfeited its life.
I say all this to explain, a little bit, some of the prep that we went through on Saturday to go berry picking. I went with L and Fiona, and just this one little trip took several days of planning. Not only did we each need boots and warm socks (our proposed picking area required crossing a stream) and all of the normal gear one thinks of for berrying on a rainy, chilly day. We also had two canisters of bear spray (think super powerful pepper spray--apparently it's generally more effective than guns, in terms of everyone being safe, if a bear actually attacks) and a shotgun. L and I thought about bringing Shane's shotgun, but it's got an extended barrel which makes it awkward for us ladies. Standing on its butt, it's about four feet tall. The last time I tried to shoot it I had to lean way back to hold it out. I picked it up when we were talking about bringing a gun, just to see, and did manage to stand upright while holding it straight and steady out in front of me. Of course, even knowing that it was unloaded, and not pointing it at anything but the wall, I didn't want my hands near the trigger or the pump. (One of my friends, a teacher, had been talking just the weekend before about going to the funeral for the little boy who was accidentally shot by his friend, and I couldn't get that out of my head.) J and Shane saw me and both started saying, "You're holding it all wrong!" I was so offended by that. Do they honestly think I don't remember how to hold a gun? I said, "We're in the freaking house! Of course I'm not holding it properly!" and explained that I just wanted to see how well I could hold it up.
Well, we didn't take it anyway. We would have had to buy bullets, for one thing, and it's heavy, with no convenient strap. We borrowed one from J's parents, with a shorter barrel and actual bullets. This fell into the category of "just in case". Thankfully the area near our chosen patch was pretty busy. People were camping and we talked loudly so we didn't see any bears. I'm still glad we didn't leave anything up to chance.
Who takes a shotgun berry picking? These ladies do.
The drive out there was longer than we actually spent picking, but it was well worth it. Even the numb hands we all got were merely a sign of a good afternoon spent picking. I thought from the size of my bucket that I'd maybe gotten a gallon and a half of berries, but it turns out I only got just under a gallon. :( Oh well. We're planning several more berry picking trips. Probably not out so far again, but more berries are definitely in my future.
In case you're wondering, a gallon of wild Alaska blueberries sells for about $30. Obviously I won't be selling these, but that's how much it would cost me to buy an equivalent amount. This trip wasn't free--Fi and I paid for the gas since we took L's car--but it was much, much cheaper than $30. It was probably about the price of what I could get an equal amount of non-organic, non-local berries for. But wild berries are actually healthier (more nutrients) and I prefer the taste. Cultivated berries are bigger and sweeter, but I love the tart/sweet of the wild berries.
Wild Alaska blueberries also have an acid which is unique only to them. Whether this makes them healthier or not I have no idea, but I think it's neat that through friends we know of the post-doc researcher who discovered it. He wanted to name it "pain-in-the-acid", but the chemical society which vets new chemicals and their names said no. So that is its unofficial name, and now you know it too.
Aside from the picking itself, it was also nice to have an afternoon with the girls. We all had things we wanted or needed to discuss, either about our significant others or just life in general. Things which only another woman could truly sympathize with, or give advice on. I admit, I'm bad about making "girl time" like this in my life, and it's so necessary. We were out of cell phone range (not all that hard to do, here) so the guys couldn't even contact us until we were already heading home. Shane called me on the ride (J, home alone with Baby, had called him, concerned) and I assured him we were fine and coming home, then the phone cut out as we entered another valley. We started laughing about how we should have answered the phone with screaming in the background and me saying, "Hold on--SHOOT IT! RUN!" and then the phone cutting out. It might sound stupid now, but it sure gave us a good laugh at the time. (And we might have had one or two reasons why we weren't feeling all that charitable at the time.) I don't think he would actually have believed we were in danger, but it might have made him think twice. Mean, right? Which is why we only laughed about it and didn't do it.
What's that you're asking? Where did we go picking? Don't you know you never ask that question around here? :P (BTW, I'm only linking to that story because he doesn't give away our spot.)