Monday, June 30, 2008

A Month of Green

Today brings an end to the month of June and also to the month that I was focusing on being more green in a few areas.

The first area I focused on was simply not using plastic bags. I had hoped not to bring one single bag into the house this month, and although I failed to meet that goal, I didn't fail miserably. We brought less than 10 plastic bags into the house this month, which was WAY less than our regular average. We managed to use reusable bags for almost all purchases. The bags that we did get will be used for purchases at our garage sale.

Which brings me to the second area I focused on - purging. I lost count of the things going out, but I can assure you that we have at least 300 items less than we started the month with.

This is just a portion of the stuff we have sifted through for our garage sale (all of the boxes are full). The garage sale will be sometime next week, and it's going to be a barn burner, that's for sure.

Finally, I vowed to really pay attention to our electricity usage and the hourly rates in an effort to reduce our energy bill. This is probably the area where we had the best success, and it certainly wasn't because of mild weather. We had a lot of very hot weather this past month and had to run our air conditioner because it was simply unbearable. I did, however, check the hourly rates before running the dishwasher and doing laundry, and it was a real eye opener. Our billing cycle runs from mid month to mid month so it's a little deceptive as to savings during the entire month of June, but nevertheless, we managed to save $48 over what the bill would have been on the flat rate plan. That was a 21% savings. It's really an accomplishment because most people are only saving a small percentage on the hourly plan and even less in the summer. Our average total savings over the last year has been $331, which was about 16% less than it would have been on the flat rate plan.

I plan to continue with the good things we started this month. I'm going to make a few more reusable bags so that it's more enticing to use them; I'll definitely be watching the hourly rates (that was a real eye opener for me), and although our garage sale may be over and done with next week, I still plan to keep a ongoing box of items for a future sale or donation.

So what's up for the month of July? I have a couple of ideas, although at least one of them is sort of a dirty little secret that I usually prefer to keep to myself. However, I may just shame myself into forward motion by sharing here. I'll have to sleep on that one, so check back on July 1 to see what the project of the month will be.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Let's Cross This Off and Call It Done

Yes, that's right. This just may be the last post about Vern's kidney boulder.

All tubes have been removed, all surgeries are done, and all that is left is one further test to give us a good idea of just how damaged his kidney is and to make sure that all possible trace of the stone is gone. (We know some remains but it is in a location that is impossible to reach without much more invasive surgery and the doctor feels that it's just better left alone.)

Vern is getting quite a collection of leftover stones that are passing, and he'll be happy to show them to you if you ask politely. Maybe even if you don't.

He's been given permission to return to work in a couple of weeks and he's working on building up his strength again. I'm assisting him in that effort by making sure he has LOTS to do around here. So much work that I am positive he'll be happy to finally get to go back to his real job.

I believe this closes the final chapter and the book of this long and drawn out drama.

I'm hoping that there isn't a sequel.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Progress in the Man Cave

The lumber rack is done.

Rumor has it that work will soon resume on my kitchen.

It darn well better or someone is going to be living in the man cave.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

It's a Bird. It's a Plane.

It's a GARAGE!

Yes, that really is my Jeep in the garage. My garage is once again a garage instead of a kitchen.

Technically, I guess it's still a kitchen since my stove is still in there, but I'm avoiding that by eating out, so in my mind. . . it's a garage.

You, My Friend, are on my List

They were doing so well. So very well.

Until someone decided they needed to be fertilized.

And in true Jesse fashion, if one fertilizer stick is good, four must be better.

Dude, you are in SO much trouble. I would avoid me if I were you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Best Medicine

Let's just say that for a fairly simple surgery, there sure was a lot of morphine handed out afterwards.

Vern's final surgery, while successful in the end, did not start out or end up too smoothly. He was so dehydrated that they simply could not get a vein for his IV. It was pretty excruciating to watch and much more so, I'm sure, for him to go through.

They wheeled him away to surgery and shuffled me off to the waiting room . . . and then played the hurry up and wait game while an emergency or two took control of the operating rooms. The surgery itself was delayed over two and a half hours.

He was moved into the intensive care unit after surgery both because of the late hour and also because of his pain level. I think there may be a nurse or two there that learned a few new words tonight, and we may owe the hospital some money for the destruction of some of their furniture. They finally got Vern under control by shooting him full of morphine. Four doses of it later and he was purring like a kitten.

And then they sent him home for me to deal with.

But the good news is that the damn stone is gone. Gone, gone, gone. Or at least as much of it is going to go. He has one final procedure to remove some hardware that will take place in the doctor's office in a couple of weeks and then he will be on the road to recovery.

It's been a rocky road, a bumpy ride, and an expensive trip.

Just like the toll roads in Illinois.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'm Not Amish, But I Can Bake Bread

I love baking bread. There's something very nurturing about turning flour, yeast, and a handful of other ingredients into something warm and nurturing for my family. Something magical about watching the dough rise. Something therapeutic about punching it down and watching it rise to life again. And then there's the smell of bread baking in the oven and the simple pleasure of a slice of bread warm from the oven covered in fresh, real butter.

I've tried a lot of different breads with varying results, but currently this is my favorite for a plain, white bread.

Amish White Bread

¼ ounce dry yeast (1 pkg)
½ cup water
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups water
2 ½ tablespoons shortening

6-7 cups all purpose or bread flour
1/8 to ¼ cup butter

Dissolve yeast in ½ cup warm water (about 110 degrees). Combine sugar, salt, 2 cups water, and shortening. Stir in yeast mixture. Gradually add flour to form a soft dough. Mix with KitchenAid for 15 minutes with dough hook (speed 2). Let rise for about 2 hours. Punch down and divide into 3 loaves. Let rise higher than pans (about 2 hours). Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and brush with melted butter.

The original recipe called for dividing the dough in half and making only 2 loaves, but each loaf was so large that it wouldn't fit in my bread keeper.

I use my KitchenAid to knead the dough, but there's no reason you can't do it by hand if you are a traditionalist. Or by bread machine if you are more modern.

Myself? I like the combination of using a stand mixer for the heavy work and my oven for baking it the traditional way.

I should note that the last time I made this bread, I wrapped two of the loaves in waxed paper and put them into the freezer (after the first rise, but before the second rise). I was then able to just take out a frozen loaf, let it thaw and complete the second rise and then bake for a fresh loaf of bread - - - straight from the freezer.

Mmmmm. That loaf should be just about cool enough to eat now. A cup of tea, warm bread, and fresh butter. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Thank You and an Offer You Can't Resist

Vern received a yummy cookie bouquet from the guys he works with at Southwest, and we want to send out a huge "thank you" to all of them.

I've been told that you are all waiting for gory pictures. Unfortunately, I don't have many gory pictures that are safe to share.

I do, however, have an offer for you.

He needs someone to hold his pee bag for him when he returns to work. Any takers?

Two more surgeries and a few more weeks, and he'll be back to work. Someone clean off the couch for him, okay?

Meanwhile, Back at the Man Cave

Work continues on the "wall o' lumber."

There was apparently a memo sent out about an official uniform.

Not everyone got the dress code memo, but Lincoln and Jackson tried to help anyway.

Loaded and ready to go.

A plywood rack still needs to be built, but I have been guaranteed that, once completed, Vern will be 100% more efficient.

Come visit the blog again when you have quit laughing about that one.

Two Wrongs Make a Right

Who doesn't have t-shirts in their closet that they don't wear for one reason or another? This one has a stain, that one is too short, there's a hole in the front of the other one. You know the drill, I'm sure.

I have a few of those shirts, and it occurred to me that I could make one good thing out of two not so good things.

Enter Exhibit A (too short) (By the way, the necklace that JoAnn is wearing isn't my taste, but it was one that I gave my mom when I was much younger. She always thought it was the coolest thing - she was a professional seamstress - so JoAnn wears it proudly in her memory.)

And Exhibit B (what was I thinking - every time I wore this I had to answer questions about what it meant and besides, I don't scrapbook anymore so it was rather irrelevant to my current life.)

I usually layered the two shirts, but the constant pulling and tugging just wasn't working for me since the white t-shirt is REALLY short.

Enter my unlimited imagination and limited sewing skills.

I cut five inches off of the bottom of the black shirt and stitched it to the bottom of the white shirt. There were a couple of ways that I could have done this, but since I am essentially lazy (just keeping it real here), I simply stitched over the double stitching at the hem of the white shirt, catching the top of the cut off section of the black shirt.

Hmmm. Good, but still not quite right. Now it just looks like I added a band of knit fabric around the bottom of a white t-shirt (imagine that!)

On to the neck. I really didn't need any extra neckline since this is actually one of the few shirts I own that don't expose my boobs to the entire world. However, I thought it would add a little bit of continuity to the layered look. I removed the tags on both necklines to reduce the bulk before stitching (again, right over the double stitching of the neckline on the white t-shirt).

Yes, much better.

But it still could be improved.

Wash, rinse, and repeat the above steps with the sleeves. That served two purposes because the sleeves on the white t-shirt were just a little too short to cover up my flabby arms for my taste anyway.

Much, much better.

There you have it - the no cost, low effort way to expanding your wardrobe and making more room in your closet.

Lazy and cheap. It fits me to a tee.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

How is This for Irony?

Vern has been off of work for three months. We spoke to the doctor and got the schedule for the final (hopefully) two surgeries that he's going to need to have as well as his recovery period. He should be off work for another month or so.

He called his work trade partner to let him know when he would most likely be returning to work.

Today, he received . . .

A notice for jury duty.

For the week he is supposed to return to work.

Honestly folks, I couldn't make this stuff up.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rack Em' Up

Since Jesse is here for a while, Vern decided to use his help to get his shop into shape. Vern can't do much heavy work right now, so having a couple of extra hands and a strong back is a big help.

Their first order of business was to build a lumber rack. They are basing it on a design found here - Lumber Rack.

They spent a couple of days drywalling and painting and then were ready to start the fun part.

Lincoln helping lay out the lumber for the framework.
(Jackson was sleeping happily inside where it is air conditioned.)

Getting the frame up on the wall.

Vern - organizing some of his shop cabinets.

Mmmm, I love a man that knows how to use a level.

Jesse - wondering what he got himself into.

Cost of materials to build lumber rack - $220

Time to build lumber rack - 1 week

Time to myself while they are in the man cave - Priceless.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Little More Housekeeping

Sorry - just a couple more changes to the blog just to confuse everyone.

I'll leave it alone now.

Unless I decide to change it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Like a Bad Penny

He's back. Like a bad penny.

Jesse stayed with us for two weeks and went on to his new home in Indiana last Wednesday.

On Sunday, he called and asked if it would be okay if he came back for a while. Apparently the flooding is so bad in southern Indiana that they were evacuating the area where he was living.

So, he returned on Monday. A mere four days after he left. We barely missed him.

Oh well - it's not like there isn't a ton of stuff he can help out with around here! Jesse isn't married, but that doesn't stop me from giving him a "Honey Do" list.

Honey, can you trim all the trees? Yes, even the really high branches.

Honey, can you put the branches you trimmed on the fire?
Honey, can you help drywall the shop? And then you can paint it.

Yes ladies - he's single. But he comes partially broken in. And with his own bucket truck.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I'm Against Rules

There must be something in my past that makes me incapable of following rules.

I mean, I read directions. I just refuse to follow them.

I don't know why I do that. The results are almost always bad, and I end up saying "I don't know why I don't follow the rules."

But, alas, I don't.

My herbs and vegetables were growing so well that I was infused with a sense of confidence overconfidence. I bought a couple of small herb planters today while I was shopping wasting time at Menards with Vern. (It was his first trip out since he got out of the hospital; I had to indulge him a little.)

The directions said to mix the dirt with water and then plant five seeds from each of the three packets of herbs included in the kit. Wait. What? FIVE seeds? Five tiny little seeds? Each packet had at least 30 seeds. I'm supposed to pick out five teeny, tiny little seeds and plant just those?

Screw that. I sprinkled the whole darn package and called it good.

I expect great things. It doesn't mean I'll get them, but I expect them.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wait, Wait! Don't Go.

You're at the right place.

I'm just doing a little housekeeping and brightening up for the summer.

Sometimes you just have to take out the trash and freshen things up a little.

Sew and Grow

First the sew.

I whipped up a couple of summer tunics from Simplicity 3624. (I made the 4th view - View D - but lengthened it by about 5".) (You can click on any of the photos for a larger view)

Other than being a little bit fussy at the shoulder seams, they were a fast and simple sew. I had the black and white fabric, which was a dream to sew with, and I picked up the stretch brown knit for $1.00 per yard at Walmart. I don't like to spend too much on fabric unless I'm making something special since I tend to wear something for one or two seasons and then pass it on. I'll be making this pattern again (maybe one of the other versions with a less fussy shoulder seam construction) because it's a flattering shape and fit.

Although can I just ask "what the heck is up with all of these super low cut shirts?" I thought it was just ready to wear, but every pattern I pick up lately definitely wants to display some serious boobage.
(JoAnn, as usual, is looking a little rounder than I would prefer. She really needs to go on a diet sometime soon.)

Now for the grow.

A big "screw you!" to all of you who had doubts in my gardening abilities or in my homemade topsy turvy planters. It was only a matter of a day or two and all of the leaves on my plants turned upwards and now they are growing happily upside down.

In fact, I have a few green peppers already getting large enough to start dreaming about how I am going to use them and tomatoes on each of my three different tomato varieties.
Green Peppers

Cherry Tomatoes

Roma Tomatoes
Beefsteak Tomatoes

So ha! I can do anything! I could probably even garden, sew, knit and balance a pizza on my head at the same time.