Monday, August 29, 2016

Peter Rabbit

I'm purposefully on a mission as of late to check out classic children's books from our library to share with little Abe. They are especially fun since many of them I've either never read myself or haven't read since I was young.

Today we came home from the library with a wonderful stack of books. His favorite song right now (apart from the Star Wars theme song that he hums non-stop) is the Ittsy bittsy spider. We brought home a book today that taught us both an additional, I think it is, six more verses. What a delight!

We also brought home the VERY classic Peter Rabbit. This is a story I haven't read in decades but remember vividly. It's rather official that I think he has received it the same as I did. The copy is so small. I held it in my hands as he sat on my lap and he leaned over it the entire time I read to look at the illustrations more closely. He was in such suspense about what would happen to the little naughty rabbit that he just kept asking me question after question. He'd hardly let me go on. His attention was peaked, completely drawn in and hooked. He just needed to know if the rabbit would escape or if the farmer would kill him.

Since I've recently taken up gardening, only three years in now, and little Abe is my garden helper, and might I add our yard is over run with rabbits the story was really very relate-able for a little boy who certainly finds a bit of a thrill in trying to work around not doing certain things his mother has asked of him and a little boy who has a backyard garden of his own. I can't do this post justice in explaining what sheer joy came for both of us sharing in that story together tonight but I thought I'd attempt to make a note of it anyhow.

Ah, the little things!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

It was a double layer yellow cake that I'm pretty sure I overbaked

Sometimes (maybe often times) I feel as though I've grown old way before my time. Or I'm actually much older then I allow myself to realize. Possibly I was born in the wrong era, or maybe I'm just crazy? I truly love doing things the more difficult way, taking the longer route, the opposite of saving time. In my kitchen I have the most basic utensils. I don't have a food processor or a stand mixer. I don't have a bread maker or a coffee maker (I use a coffee press) or even a microwave. And I practically adore baking and cooking from scratch. I love the feel of fresh dough in my hands. I'm giddy at watching a few basic ingredients come together to make something spectacular. There's a sense of accomplishment so great when pulling a hot dish from the oven, knowing exactly what went into every component, realizing how much time and how many steps that I personally poured into it, and then getting to enjoy the final product, flaws and all.

Little Abe and I were reading books the other day. We came across one we've read many, MANY times because we've had it all his life and it's a really simple book, easily keeps the attention of babies and toddlers. It's called "It's My Birthday" (Helen Oxenbury). A little boy discretely asks all of his animal friends to bake a cake with him for his birthday and in the end they all eat it together. The last page of the book has a recipe for a birthday cake. Little Abe didn't even realize the recipe was there. But as we finished the book I showed him the recipe and asked if he wanted to bake a cake.

He's been baking with me since he was little. Just recently I've been letting him crack eggs all by himself. And instead of me filling each measuring cup and him getting to dump the ingredients in he's been able to fill the cups on his own. He's yet to make a cake "all by himself" thus he was thrilled at the suggestion. He did all of the scooping, dumping, pouring, and egg cracking by himself. He did some of the mixing and a lot of tasting. Then we waited.

It was a double layer yellow cake that I'm pretty sure I over baked. It was quite dense, quite dry, and we frosted it with a minuscule amount of glaze on top of each layer (basically it didn't have frosting). I was certain that he wouldn't like it. We paired it with ice cream (that's why I didn't frost it) and he scarfed it down. He said it was delicious and he seemed thrilled. I'm not under any delusions that he loves dense dry cake but he made it on his own. It was a work of his own hands and there is truly something delicious about that. I honestly believe that life is so much more vibrant when it's our own hands that have shaped it.

The other day a close friend and I were talking along these lines (although in no way about baking). Life is filled with heartache and hardship. Sometimes the most basic aspects of our lives are just crap, whether it's a hard patch in parenting, a bad sickness, or a crap time at work, a co-worker (or boss) you absolutely hate, or a patch in your marriage where you're not sure you even recognize your spouse let alone like them. We're living in a society that preaches happiness and comfort. I'm all for being happy but the truth is that a lot of things in life are going to be very hard and not happy and we can't get away from that. Trying to always get away would be like spending your entire life running away from home. I think more often then not we just need to dig in and power through. But it's the little things that make the crap bearable, like pulling a home made decadent (not dry) chocolate cake out of the oven and slathering it with rich chocolate mousse. Or going for an adventure around the block with your four year old. Little things like watching sunsets and letting yourself really enjoy how beautiful they are or realizing that it's the long wispy grass along the roads time of year and then smiling the entire ride home from work as you gaze at the overgrowth dancing in the wind.

Baking from scratch, taking the long route, and enduring a hard patch in something that's truly meaningful to you can seem like the crazy thing but as long as there's light along the path, bits of intense joy that you wouldn't have known if you weren't on that path to begin with, and you stop to notice all the roses among the thorns then I dare say you're just as crazy as I am and that you're really living life. Seeing my kiddo enjoying the fruits of his labor, I dare say, that will never get old!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Tomato Soup Day

We picked well over 30 pounds of tomatoes this week. They're not all pictured as I've been using them and giving them away but I couldn't resist the photo op even so. The tomatoes we picked on Tuesday alone weighed in at 22 pounds and we've picked considerably more since then.

I planned for most of the week to make a big batch of tomato soup to freeze but I had to make chicken broth for it first because my husband won't eat store bought. That was my sticking point. I finally made the broth on Wednesday. That allowed me to make a very big batch of tomato soup as well as chicken and dumplings yesterday. My kitchen is officially trashed but I'm thrilled to have accomplished my mission.

I LOVE these tomatoes. They are so juicy, so sweet, and so ugly. The tomato soup recipe I use is HERE. I really really like it. Although I don't add heavy whipping cream when ready to eat but instead use whole milk. And it says to go ahead and leave the skins on. It doesn't bother me in the least to do it this way but unless you have some sort of turbo blender the soup does end up with tiny flecks throughout it. Not as many as you might imagine but enough to notice.

Yes, we ate dino nuggets with our soup. It was a fabulous lunch!

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Ugly People

The new job is going well. I now work for one of the super-centers (grocery store with almost anything else you could ask for) that I used to work in. I was a merchandiser who traveled to several different locations previously. So it's really weird (but good) seeing my boss every single day compared to the few times a year I'm used to. It's weird being able to get to work in only a few minutes each day compared to the long commute I used to have. It's really weird having actual co-workers. I honestly haven't had co-workers for the past 12+ years.

I'm used to working in the store. I'm used to helping out customers. I actually really like helping out customers. I hate shopping (I am SUCH a tomboy (and do not like spending money)) and I love the idea that I'm making our customer's shopping experience that much easier and possibly more enjoyable. I love taking people to that elusive item they can't seem to find (most things are elusive in a giant super-center). Even the grouchy ones do not bother me all that much. I'm used to them. I don't like shopping either. I get it.

The change that I'm really struggling with is watching the way certain co-workers treat me and the customers on a daily basis. Previously I'd see a few store employees throughout each store once a week. Four times a month I'd interact with a handful of store employees.

I don't have an actual department. I work for the team that resets the store. You know, when they switch the spring toys over to the summer toys, when they change the towel set to the new towels, and when the back to school area becomes the Halloween area that then becomes the Christmas area, and so on and so forth never ending, that's my team. I don't work in sporting good's and issue fishing licences. I don't work in the electronic's area and get expensive video games out of the locked cases. I don't run a cash register or stock groceries. I do not have a designated department (except for the reset team).

All day long customer's ask for help and I happily help them when I can and then I call the department team member when I can't. I'm finding that several department team members just don't care or they're even mean (to me... hopefully not to customers). When I call a department to ask for something for a customer and the person answers, "I don't know," and then hangs up on me, or they say, "I'm busy, you figure it out," (in a really mean snotty tone) I'm first flabbergasted, then pretty mad, and then hurt. I've been finding myself for the last few months getting hurt by the way co-workers treat me and others. I work in a really big store so there are a lot of co-workers and certainly not all of them are mean but I'm shocked at how many of them are. It's been an adjustment I haven't been handling super well.

I realized when I quite my last job that the adjustment of having co-workers for the first time in over a decade would be really strange but It's strange and hard and kind of emotionally draining. Between people not saying hi when you do, making weird scowls when they have to wait for your large load in the hallway, whispering who knows what when you're around the corner, no one talking to each other in the break room, and flat out being rude and mean when you're trying to get their assistance I was starting to think the overall human race is even more unbearable then I'd already thought. I'm not a huge fan of people in general and this new experience is not helping that situation.

Someone was really mean the other day. It led to me crying on the way home from work and having a really bad evening. It led to a customer being really confused and not finding what she wanted (I don't think we had it). But the next day I realized something. I realized that all these rotten people are really miserable. I refuse to continue to take their rudeness personally. I have been. I have been hurt, angered, and wounded when co-workers have been mean but you know what, I don't think they're being mean to me. I think they're just mean. I think for whatever reason, they hate their job, or they're very unhappy at home, or they're going through something they can't handle and they're miserable. They don't want to help customers. They don't want to be nice to others. They don't even realize (probably for the most part) how big of a jerk they're being. I've always realized that there is a lot of grouchiness in this world, really rude and obnoxious people; over the past decade I've worked in over 22 stores and come in contact with thousands of people (not counting customers). But I don't think I've ever attributed it to them just being really truly unhappy.

I'm sure there will be the exception but from now on I'm not going to let them hurt me. I'm not going to let them make me unhappy too. I'm just going to sigh and feel sorry for them. Life is too short. There is a lot of hardship, a lot of mess, a lot of yuck that each of us have to walk through but letting the yuck turn you into a yucky person isn't the way to go. That's just sad and I'm not going to allow it to rub off on me. I chose to continue to see lovely in the midst of all the mess because there is always going to be ugly in the world but that doesn't mean we all have to be ugly too.

Life is beautiful!

That's the same sunflower from the last post, the one that broke two times before blooming.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Broken things can still be beautiful

Can you spot the duct tape in the midst of all those tomatoes?

That's the second break for this sunflower. The first break is hiding in the white pot. Little Abe dropped a large broom onto this plant when it was about two feet tall. It cracked right at ground level and fell to the ground. I loved my sunflower last year and was devastated at the disaster. Little Abe felt as badly as I did about the accident so we decided to try and fix it. I sliced the bottom off of a cheap pot I had in the garage (that I was given a few years ago) and slid it down over the top of the broken plant. I filled the pot with dirt and gave it a good watering. The sunflower plant continued to grow as if nothing ever happened. It was a good save.

Not too long ago I went out back to see the plant laying flat on the ground once again with a giant break in the center of it's stalk. I honestly do not know what happened. It needed water so that's possibly why it collapsed or it was hit by the neighbor kid's basketball. I wouldn't doubt the latter in the least. This break was much worse since I couldn't bury it and since the plant was so much bigger but I wasn't giving up none the less. I tied the plant to the fence and with two Popsicle sticks and a good helping of duct tape I secured the break. It did stop growing. The head stopped following the sun and the leaves would wilt anytime the soil got the least bit dry but the head kept developing so there was hope.

Today it happened. It's not six feet tall like the one last year (it's a little under five feet). The head isn't gigantic and it's not filled with hundreds of beautiful seeds but this lovely flower is proof that broken things can still be beautiful. 

I'm encouraged by it and clearly thrilled that the little guy pulled through.
Never let your wounds destroy you.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

No Spend Day Triumph

Yesterday I posted some spending goals for the month and almost instantly I wanted to spend obscene amounts of money but I pulled out a no spend day despite intense cravings and for that I'm quite proud.

We went to a parade in the morning. Everyone in the group we were with got carnival food and it looked so yummy. I really wanted to "treat" ourselves too, maybe a corn dog like one little boy had or a slice of pizza that probably would have been slightly gross, or possibly a big bag of caramel corn. There's just something about getting super expensive greasy food in one of those red and white paper trays from a portable food stand that you only find on the street a few days out of the year that makes it seems so special. I convinced myself that the free candy being tossed to the crowd from the parade was special enough and it would be just as special to enjoy the parade without all the extra treats that everyone else was having. I think I would have enjoyed myself if I'd spent the extra money but in truth my son missed out on nothing. He had just as much fun without the extra grease and I'm sure of that.

After the parade we went home for a simple lunch, a long nap, and a make shift dinner. I really wanted pizza but we neither had any nor did I want to buy some. We did have tortillas, cheese and tomatoes though. I ended up placing two tortillas on a cookie sheet. Then I sliced up a tomato from our backyard garden, really thin. I placed a single layer of tomato slices on the tortillas and then covered them with shredded mozzarella cheese and a little cheddar. I baked the "pizzas" until the tortillas were crisp and the cheese was very melty. I cut them in slices with the pizza cutter and little Abe yummed his way through dinner. They were very good.

Almost directly after dinner we were off to watch the fireworks. This was another instance where I REALLY wanted to spend extra money. I did NOT want to go to the fireworks. I cannot actually stress how much I did not want to go but I didn't take little Abe down for fourth of July and I knew how much he would enjoy going to these (this firework show is always better than fourth of July anyhow). Only it's a long walk, and the people... oh the people! Somehow I imagined that buying a special treat (same scenario as above) would make the experience more special. (My husband was at work all day)

I packed a back pack full; water, apple slices, granola bars, a bag of the parade candy, blankets, sweatshirts... As long as our usual off the beaten path spot was available I told myself, "I can handle this." Every street the entire way down was lined with parked cars and stopped cars hoping to find a parking spot (I doubt any of those people found a place), people walking down, and people wandering quite lost. Someone even stopped me to ask me for directions and then commented, "I live here, just all the people and cars have gotten me confused." Wow.

Our spot was completely open with only a few families sitting there when we finally arrived. I was elated! Honestly, I feel like it's the absolute best spot to watch the fireworks but somehow very few people know of it. We set out our blanket, got out our treats, and completely enjoyed each other as we munched on apples, watched the sun set and waited for the show. It was comfortable, quaint and very much away from the madness but completely close to the beautiful show. I'm really REALLY happy that I buckled down, powered through my reserve and brought my little guy down there. The whole day was really special and we didn't spend one penny. Even the walk back was nice. Triumph!

Now, for today I think we shall do NOTHING!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Some August Spending Goals

Almost a week ago already I posted July's numbers and commented how I need to set some reasonable spending goals for this month.

Goal #1: Get the grocery budget closer to $12 a day.
Currently at an average of $12.44 a day this year, I'm left with a total of $291.81 in the grocery category to get me back to a $12 a day average by September 1st. Generally I don't come in under $350 a month on groceries (and that's on a good month).

I'm setting the grocery spending goal this month at $325. That will get me really close to $12 a day while not diving me insane (I think).

Goal #2: Don't spend in the STUFF category.
I tend to be very frugal when it comes to buying new things. We live in a society consumed with stuff. We constantly need a new this or a better that. We're always on a mission; organizing, crafting, fixing, baking, cooking, traveling, socializing, something. And these missions, goals, plans always require more stuff. Our kids always need something new. Our spouses always need something new. Our houses always need something new... right? It seems that way but I don't buy it and I try not to buy it. I can live without A LOT no matter how much of a "necessity" it is. But for a list of reasons I've been slipping lately with this and I've been finding myself picking up the this or the that which I don't really need. It just feels like I do.

I need to be very conscious this month of impulsive stuff buys and just not make any. Granted I'm talking about items that might cost $1.50 or maybe they're $3 or $7. In the grand scheme of things they're always little buys but a little buy here and a little buy there soon become a lot of money.

Goal #3: Food out is stupid food. Just stop it.
It's the 6th today. I already have three purchases in the food out category on my spending tally. That's not okay. My goal for this category is to buckle down again and to have a talk with my husband about having ONE more food out purchase this month. So, the goal is to only have one more blue line on the spending tally for this month.

Goal #4: Other categories: Pets, Toiletries, Cleaning. Done.
Pets and toiletries are already on the spending tally for the month. I'm purposing to be done with spending in all three of these categories until September. Unless there's a great sale on dish soap or laundry detergent I don't want to spend anymore on any of these three things.

All of this leaves my spending budget for the month at a very low $478 ($15.42 a day).
Now I just need to write this brain storm out on paper so that I can focus on it and stick to the plan.
It's amazing what actual paper does for my plans, but for me putting it here first is detrimental.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Pickle Results

The sun pickles sat out for three days. It was mostly sunny all three days. The first day was pretty overcast. It was only really hot one day. I learned something strange that I would have never known otherwise: garlic often times turns blue when pickled. You might imagine that I was a bit worried when I first noticed the blue garlic cloves in my pickles jars. I was. Thanks to google I quickly learned that it's completely safe and normal. It's just a reaction between the vinegar and trace amounts of metals in the garlic.

I come to you with mixed reviews on the pickle results. I made three jars of spicy pickles by adding one halved jalapeno (that's one whole jalapeno cut in half) to each jar. My husband is the spicy pickle fan and tends to spend ridiculous amounts of money on expensive jars of them that don't have the added coloring and extra chemical ingredients. The results on the spicy pickles were a resounding, "Awesome!" And that's actually saying a lot because my husband makes a part time job out of critiquing EVERYTHING I do. I'm not a spicy pickle fan but I tasted one and It was SUPER hot just like he likes it and the flavor was great!

The two jars of regular dill got a great review from my four year old who is also an enormous pickle fan. He loves them. I however think they are WAY too salty. And if I were to bring the salt down a notch I think they'd be too garlicky as well. (there are many different recipes online with many different ratios of salt to vinegar to water so I know that I can safely alter the salt level)

Knowing the two guys that I live with these five jars will be gone really fast. I think next time I will make five jars of spicy pickles using the same recipe <- here. But I'll make a separate batch of regular garlic dill using less salt and less garlic. I'm hesitant to cut the salt or the garlic in the spicy pickles because they are pretty spot on. If I mess with possibly the first thing I have ever done that has ever received a five star review from my husband I would be a bonafied crazy person.

I do recommend trying out sun pickles for anyone who is a pickle fan. There's a little patience involved but these pickles are SUPER EASY to make, turned out just as good as any gourmet pickle I've ever tried, got great reviews from the pickle fans in my life, and cost SOOOOO much less than buying from the store. I see a lot more pickle making in my future.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tuesday Pumpkins

Gorgeous flowers on the pie pumpkin plant today.
I don't think I have to worry about whether or not this plant will get pollinated.

Monday, August 1, 2016

July Numbers are in

Average Daily Spending for July: $19.82

June and July were a whirlwind of schedule changes, job changes, changes, changes, changes, and loads of good old fashioned summer fun. I purposed to stay on top of spending in June but I completely lost track. Like, completely. I can't say that I spent an outrageous amount just that I did not have the energy, time, or attention span to stay on top of keeping track.

I've managed to scrape together a pretty accurate account of spending for July but I know there are a few purchases here and there that I don't have record of and can't remember (the one downside to paying with cash). I think we're just about used to the new jobs, new schedules, and figuring out how to get through each day with a few marbles left in the end. Most days.

I need to set some serious budget goals for August. At the top of the list is just to get back to tracking every penny that goes out. I don't really want to put in place a super strict budget but I do need to set a reasonable one and maybe shoot for specific spending categories.

I'm really not upset about where I'm at with spending for the year. The grocery average is a bit high at $12.44 a day. I'd like to come in under $12 a day for the year on that one (that puts me about $81 over budget for the year; not bad). My initial goal for the year over all is anywhere under $17 a day for total spending. Currently I'm at $18.43 a year ($260 over budget) so my under $17 is still reasonable but cutting it really close. I might have to think about revising up to under $17.50 a day.

All in all I'm pretty happy with where the spending is at. The changes in June have filled our home with considerably more joy and contentment. July was a fabulous month full of so much sunshine, fun times with friends, and summer excitement galore. I anticipate that August will be equally as wonderful; it's a time for blueberry picking, harvesting in the garden, more sunshine and warmth, hopefully some nice long walks, and ideally lots of really special time with family.

Average Daily Spending for 2016: $18.43

Groceries $432.89: that's an average of $13.96 a day
Clothes $58.47: that's an average of $1.88 a day
Gifts $35.97: that's an average of $1.16 a day

Food out $22.12: that's an average of 71 cents a day
Cleaning $18.98: that's an average of 61 cents a day
Stuff $17.65: that's an average of 60 cents a day
Toiletries $13: that's an average of 42 cents a day

Garden $15.48: avg. 49 cents a day

July 2016 Total: $614.56
Groceries $25.66    7.31
Canning jars $9.89    7.30
Groceries $16.11    7.30
Farmer's market $12    7.30
Groceries $4.49    7.29
Lunch $4.18    7.28
Laundry detergent $10.99    7.27
Shower curtain liner & spray bottle $3.77    7.27
Groceries $54.51    7.27

Clothes for Abe $13.27    7.26
Lunch $2.09    7.25

NO SPEND day 58   7.24
Shorts for Abe $6.04    7.23
Groceries $18.50 7.23
Groceries $18.43 7.22
Ice cream $7    7.22
Gift $35.97    7.22
Food at work $6.20    7.21
Groceries $6.22 7.21
Groceries $8.81 7.20
Lighter fluid $4.85 7.20
Canning jars and tool $15.48    7.19
Groceries $18.41 7.19
Dog pee spray $7.99    7.18
Groceries $26.03 7.18
NO SPEND day 57   7.17
Shirt for me $24    7.16
Apples $1.85     7.16
Groceries $26.09     7.15
Groceries $28.31    7.14
NO SPEND day 56    7.13
Groceries $6.28     7.12
Groceries $10.45     7.11
Toy for Abe $3.99    7.10
Groceries $60.14     7.10
Soap $13    7.10

Groceries $11.77     7.9
NO SPEND day 55    7.8
Groceries $49.96     7.7
NO SPEND day 54    7.6

NO SPEND day 53    7.5
Groceries $17.21    7.4
Starbucks $2.65    7.4
Clothes for Abe $15.16    7.3

Groceries $6.81     7.3
NO SPEND day 53    7.2
NO SPEND day 52    7.1