Living A Simplified Life!

Friday, November 11, 2011

An American Made Christmas

As the holidays approach, as Americans we can give gifts that really are produced by American hands. There really are American made products that you can locate at various stores in your city and I am speaking of frequenting some of the smaller local boutiques and shops rather than the big stores such as WalMart and Target. Support your little local business owner and the products that they carry that are American made.

At this time of year, many churches and cities will have craft fairs where local artisans will have their wares for sale. You can probably do all of your Christmas shopping right there and not have to run all over town shopping. You can find almost any type of gift available for the men, women and children on your list.

Let's use our ingenuity and think of things that are truly different and unique.  How about thinking of services that we can give to some one else? How about gift certificates that lets someone you love be pampered for the day? Perhaps to a local spa, where they can also get a manicure and a pedicure? Or getting a haircut from a local hair salon or barber? With everyone concerned about their health, consider a gym membership, which is good for any age group.

For someone who doesn't have time to wash their car, how about several gift certificates to a locally owned detail shop and car wash. Or how about an oil change for their vehicle, or getting their tires rotated for them?

As a person who doesn't have the time or energy to care for their yard the way they  would like to, perhaps they would really appreciate having their lawn mowed for the summer, or driveway plowed during the winter.

For the golfer in the family, how about some certificates for some rounds of golf at the local golf course. For the younger set, a chance to race go-carts, go horseback riding, or perhaps swimming lessons offered through the local YMCA.

There are a many owner-run restaurants, all offering gift certificates.  Remember, folks this isn't about big National chains, we are talking about the small locally owned restaurants here. This is about supporting your home town Americans helping to keep their doors open.

Could Mom use some help cleaning the house? How about the services of a local cleaning lady for a day or more throughout the coming year.

It really doesn’t have to be a big gift, just let others know that they are appreciated.  Leave the mailman, the trash guy or your babysitter something a little extra like a tip or even a small homemade gift such as a gift basket filled with homemade cookies and candy.

Stop  draining American pockets by buying foreign made products. Keep our money here at home and support our local American businesses so they can continue to keep their doors open and afford to hire more employees. When we care about other Americans, we care about our communities, and the benefits come back to us in the form of local community growth, more jobs for those in our community and also the feeling of unity which is priceless.

So this Christmas, as so many of our local businesses are struggling during this economical depression, lets each of us do our best to BUY LOCAL and BUY AMERICAN.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Big Changes Are Coming!

What a challenge I am facing. Downsizing a 1250 sq ft home with 14 years of accumulated “stuff” to fit into an approximately 600 sq ft apartment. No easy chore but one that has to be done.

Getting rid of things and clearing out things has been good for the soul. I’ve been able to send some things off to people who can really use certain items and others have been donated to my favorite charity, The Salvation Army.

I’ve already been able to pack away many items and have them in boxes, neatly labeled with their contents, stacked in the spare bedroom closet.
As I get closer to moving time I will have even more things to get rid of and may even need to reevaluate the items that I have packed and plan to take with me.

It is a good thing that I have always been a believer in using furniture that can store items or serve multiple purposes. I’ve got many bookcases which are going to come in very handy not only for all my books but for my nick-knacks as well.

I do need to be sure that the apartment complex will not object to hanging my artwork on the walls and putting up curtains and rods in addition to the Venetian blinds that are currently on the windows. I do worry about having enough closet space for storing linens and out of season or seldom used items. Let’s just hope it all fits!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Texas is on Fire

If you have been watching the news at all, not only is the East Coast being hammered with tropical storms and hurricanes, but Oklahoma and Texas are having their share of wildfires which are ravaging many acres of farm land and destroying everything in their paths.

Texas is being hit extremely hard and there are many fires that still have not been extinguished, much less even brought under control and contained. They are continuing to march across the hill country area of Bastrop, which is located outside of Austin and there is a lot of open dry pasture land and pine trees in the area.

Presently even the National Forestry Service is assisting in hopes of finally giving some of the local firefighters some much relief  and lots of air assistance.

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in the area. Please stay safe and I pray that when you are finally able to go back home that your homes are intact and your livestock is safe.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recycling 2lb Coffee Cans

What could you do with a 2 lb coffee can? That is besides just throw it in the dumpster!  After removing the labels to where you have just silver can you try doing some of the following:

1.  Make an outdoor patio candle: Poke holes about ½ down from the top rim.  Affix a hanger to the top rim by punching two holes, inserting a wire hanger (a wire coat hanger works great, use the hook to hang from a nail)
Then fill the bottom part of the can with candle wax and a wick. Add citronella if you want to deter bugs.

2. Make a hanging lamp: Paint the can to complement your décor. Cut out a medium sized hole in the bottom of the can to where you can slip through a light making kit cord. Use the cord from the lamp kit to loop through hooks in your ceiling to hang the lamp or you could use ribbon, twisted twine, or macramé.

3. Make a can up light:  Paint can whatever color you want. Make a hole in the bottom of the can large enough to put the cord of a lamp making kit through. Glue 3-4 felt furniture protector dots to the bottom of the can to lift it up from the floor a little bit so that the can will not rock or glue on some little wooden “feet.” Insert a 40-watt light bulb and place near a tree in the corner of your room to shine interesting patterns on the wall.

4. A towel tower: This will require at least 10 coffee cans. , a board the width of four coffee cans wide and some glue made to stick metal surfaces together.
Use small nails to nail four cans to the board, side-by-side, and edges touching one another. The next row will be three cans, centered over the four cans. Glue the sides of these cans together and then glue them t the bottom cans. Repeat this process with two additional cans for the next row and then one can on top. When finished, spray paint the unit inside and out. Place on top of you toilet tank and put rolled towels and wash cloths in it.

5. Make planter pots: Use them as planters for your garden plants. Poke holes in the bottom, add some crushed rock or pieces of old clay pots, dump in planting soil, add your seeds and have a nice container. You could even paint the outside if you wanted to.

6. Hardware storage:  Do you have many home repair items lying around, like screws, nuts, bolts, nails, etc. that end up in the bottom of a toolbox or in a drawer somewhere? They work great to store these types of “handyman” items. Write the contents either on the outside of the can or on the plastic lid.

7. Camping trips: You can store things from food items to paper goods in them to keep animals out of foodstuffs and moisture out of paper goods.

8. Knitting canister: punch a hole in the lid, insert your skein of yarn and you will not have to worry about tangles ever again.

9. Kids toy storage: Do they have blocks, small cars, army men, etc that are always getting lost? For all those little items that kids love to scatter about that end up in the bottom of the toy box and they never can find.

10. Cat Food or Dog Food: traveling with your four footed friends and do not want to carry along a bag of food that can be ripped our tipped over and have food all over your car? Throw their food into a coffee can for easy and convenient feeding.

These are my ideas now what are yours?  I would love to hear how you would recycle your coffee cans.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cottage Garage Apartment

Many people are now finding it very advantageous to have more than one family living together, whether it is because of the declining economy or the declining health of parents who now need to be closer for assistance or even a young family member who is starting out that needs some help.

For this reason, many are looking at parcels of land that doesn’t have restrictions as to how many residences can be placed on that piece of land. Rural areas of course offer you those options much more so than city dwelling does.

Here is a great little house plan that will work for any age group that needs a starter or retirement home from The House Plan Shop.

This little dwelling is 582 sq ft and has one bedroom and one bath plus a two car garage, which is 426 sq ft and has laundry facilities tucked in it. You can call it a garage apartment or a carriage house, but it is designed to give freedom and independence to senior members of your family, a young single adult or a married couple the privacy that they deserve and want.

There is a welcoming front porch to enjoy cool summer breezes and company of family and neighbors. The bay windowed dining area not only brings in sunlight and views from the outdoors but creates architectural interest and a feeling of spaciousness. There is a serving bar between the kitchen and dining area, providing additional room for seating or buffet serving for a get-together.  The open flow floor plan, linking the living room, dining room and kitchen together also creates a feeling of spaciousness and is extremely functional, especially if someone has some disabilities.

The bathroom is tucked in the short hallway, adjacent to the kitchen and next to the spacious bedroom.  With the floor plan of this house, it would be very easy to create two nice sized bedrooms out of the garage area for someone who might have a family.

With the layout of this home and it’s size, it would be very reasonable to heat and cool. You could actually even use a small portable solar panel system to supply all the electricity that you would need and not be dependent upon the utility company. If there is a well on the property, that could also be used to bring water to the home and basically take the structure totally off the grid system. I would certainly install ceiling fans in both the bedroom and the living room to assist the air conditioner and the cost of cooling. For winter heating, I would be sure to have a small pot-bellied stove fireplace put into the living room area so in case of power failure, there would be a way to heat the house and to cook.

I could see myself living in this little house very comfortably either exactly as it is or with slight modifications. I might be inclined to convert half of the garage into additional living space, so that I could have a little more room for a home office and my large collection of books and still have a one car garage for my vehicle.

Monday, July 25, 2011

How To Keep The Lights On - Saving Electricity

As temperatures in Oklahoma go on the 32nd day of over 100 degrees of heat, with heat indexes pushing at least 113 degrees and even higher in certain parts of the state, all of us are wondering how we can conserve on our electrical usage.

Trying to stay comfortable and still not break the household budget is a real chore for many of us. When you go from $42 a month bill to $94 and now looking at a projection of $107 this coming billing cycle, I am really wondering what else I can do to keep costs down, especially when I am far more conservative than others that I am compared to in my neighborhood.

We are on Smart Meters here in Norman and you can sign up with O.G.& E. and view your daily consumption hour by hour on a daily basis. You will be able to see where the peaks and valleys are in your usage. I have gotten so I check several times a day in an attempt to see what is causing these exceptionally high hours of usage. So far I’ve noticed that when the A/C runs a lot, the refrigerator kicks in, cooking (even though I do the majority by microwave), using the computer, washing in the washing machine, and of course a real electricity hog, the hot water heater.

I know that a lot of people have been trying to keep their A/C set at 78 degrees and a few are even pushing it up to 80degrees and still the unit is running almost continuously. Here are some things that I’ve done in an attempt to keep my bill lower.  I started by raising the temperature in my home in increments of 2 degrees above 80 to where you will usually find my unit set between 84 and 86 degrees depending on the humidity in the air. The less humidity, the higher I can turn the unit and be comfortable.

I try to dress as cool as possible, in shorts, bare feet and tank tops or T shirts. There are days when even a T shirt is too warm and by baring my arms I feel cooler. I will also wet a hand towel and drape it around my neck to help cool me off. Another trick that my grandmother taught me is to make a large pan full of cool water and stick your feet in it!

There are ceiling fans in several rooms in my home and I also use a box fan all set at the highest settings possible in order to help circulate the air. Moving air cools you better than just letting the A/C unit do all the work.

Some people swear that using a window unit A/C helps them lower their utility costs. Since I do not own one myself, I have to rely the advise of others. The consensus seems to be that the newer units that have the Energy Seal of Approval are worth their weight in gold and really do save you money. Some people use them in specific rooms and only during certain hours of the day. The room of choice seems to be in the bedroom, when you are ready to retire and needing to have a cool sleeping environment is important.

Taking a cool shower at night or in the morning, rather than a hot one, will also help cool your core body temperature down. Drinking lots of cold water during the day will also help keep you cool as well as keep you hydrated.

Close doors to room that don’t have an A/C vent, such as you bathroom or laundry room, there is no need to cool them on a continual basis.

Keep Curtains closed during the heat of the day.  As the temperature rises outside, close off the windows to keep the sunlight out which will heat your rooms quickly, especially rooms that have West facing windows.

Many surfaces in your home gather heat, whether you realize it or not, from upholstered furniture and  bedding to carpeting, as well as clothes inside your closets. Keep closet doors closed and it will help a lot.

Everyone will tell you that it is important to turn off the lights when you leave a room. Another thing you can do is lower the wattage of the light bulbs you are using in your fixtures. Even try installing a night light in rooms that you only occasionally enter during evening hours rather than having to flip on a switch and heat up a 100 watt bulb.

Use power strips for those things that steal electricity even when you aren’t using them. A good way to know what those items are, is look for the LED light that says it is on. I know that I have to leave my clock on even though I do have a battery backup, but I have my TV and converter box on a power strip and I turn it off and on from there. My computer and modem are also on a power strip and after powering down my unit, I turn off the power strip and in adverse weather, actually even pull that plug from the wall as well as the Ethernet cord which goes from the phone line at the wall to the computer. I learned a lesson the hard way, if that Ethernet cord is not removed from the wall, even though you have turned off your computer and even disconnected it from the wall, lightening can strike and fry parts of your computer, just like it can travel inside your house on just a regular land-line phone line. The microwave’s plug is also pulled from the wall when not in use.

Try rearranging your schedule so that you do many of your household chores in off peak electricity usage hours. Many suppliers charge you less per kilowatt hour during non-peak hours. Wait until after 8PM to run your dishwasher or do a load of laundry, or do them early in the morning. Rather than use your dryer, hang things out on the line to dry. If you insist on having fluffy towels and wash cloths and softer sheets and pillow cases, toss them into your dryer on the air only cycle for a few minutes after they have line dried them.

You will find that your refrigerator will cycle less often if you keep the freezer section at least full and take up the vacant space. If you don’t have enough food in there to do so, fill some pitchers full of water, about 3/4th’s full allowing room for expansion, and let them freeze. This will help keep that part cold and cut down on the cycling process.

On your water heater, many are set at 140-145 degrees and they can actually be lowered to around 120-125 degrees and still give you plenty of hot sanitary water for dish washing either by machine or hand and for cleaning and bathing.

If you really want to try and be conservative, why not shut off the TV, all the video games that the kids play, and the computer and at sunset go out onto your porch or patio and light some citronella candles to keep the bugs away, sit back and relax and enjoy the beauty of the sun going down and the peaceful feeling that you will have with no outside distractions. Take an hour away from using electricity and feed your inner soul.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Water - Waste Not Want Not

Right now Oklahoma is going through one of the worst heat spells that it has had in many years. For over the last 40 days we have had at least 99 degree temperatures to an actual 108 (in some parts even higher) along with heat indexes of well over 100 degrees. This is causing many cities to now ration water, as the lakes that supply our cities are extremely low. Right now they have gone to Odd/Even watering days for your lawns and gardens. The next step will be asking us to try and lower our indoor water consumption. Once you read this you may be astounded at how much water we use on a daily and monthly basis and will want to put some of these ideas into practice, if only to cut down your water bill.

First of all did you know that most water heaters are set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit?
For each 10 degrees that you reduce the water temperature, you can save between 3%–5% in energy costs. Most households only require a water heater set at 120degrees.If you have a dishwasher, without a booster heater, it may require water temperature within a range of 130 degrees to 140 degrees for optimum cleaning. By reducing the water temperature down to 120 degrees you will also slow down mineral buildup and corrosion in the water heater itself as well as pipes.  By reducing the heat inside the tank itself, you will soon learn that you don't have to run the hot water faucet until scalding hot water comes out and then turn on the cold water to bring the temperature down. This will save on the amount of water you use in the first place.

You can also reduce the water that goes to waste when you use your washer, by setting up a "gray water system" with a hose out the drain that goes outside and puts the water out on your lawn. The detergent (most are bio-degradable nowadays) will not hurt your lawn but feed it.  The average washing machine will use between 21gallons for a front loader to 37 gallons for a conventional top loading machine. If you have a large family and do several loads a day, think of all the water that is just going down the drain into the sewer that could be utilized elsewhere.

Add low flow fixtures to your faucets and shower heads and cut water consumption. With shower heads you can go from 3 gallons per use down to 2 1/2 gallons and on shower heads from 5 gallons to2 1/2 gallons.

Chill your drinking water. Fill pitchers of water and place them in your refrigerator rather than letting water run from the faucet until it gets nice and cold. Also put closed pitchers into the freezer (fill about 3/4ths full) and let the water freeze. If you have a freezer that isn't full of food, this will also help keep the freezer from running all the time once it is frozen and help cut down the electric bill as well.

When brewing your morning coffee, only make enough for the amount you usually consume, not a full pot and then throw half of it away!  Or if you feel you must make a full pot, put it into a container in the refrigerator and either reheat it in the microwave or enjoy a cup of iced coffee on a hot day.

 Instead of washing dishes after each meal, place a pan of water with some dish detergent in it in the sink, or if you have a double sink, just use one side and put some water in it. After eating, take your dishes and rinse them off in the sudsy water. Either stack them to wash after the final meal in the evening, or place them into the dishwasher to be washed when you have a full load. You will save both water and electricity doing this.

Most of us have cats and dogs and we put out clean water for them every day. Rather than just flush that water down the sink when you change their water daily, put it into a bucket until you have saved the amount desired and then use it to water your favorite flowers, your garden, or to fill the bird bath.

Use liquid detergent in your washing machine and wash with the "cold water only" feature. By using liquid detergent, you don't have to worry about powdered detergents not dissolving in the cold water and clinging to your clothes. If you really prefer powdered detergent, just put the amount that you would use per load into a container, add enough hot water to dissolve it well before putting it into the washing machine?

Tub bath, shower or sponge bath? Tub bathing requires a lot of water and not something you might want to do on a daily basis if there is already a water shortage. You might shower most of the time during the month, and then take a leisurely tub bath as your splurge and retreat time. Even showers can use a lot of water if you aren't careful!  The average person can usually shower in five minutes or less and that includes shampooing your hair as well. Try setting an egg timer to five minutes (especially for children who seem to lose track of time easily) and see if you can stay in that limit. Another thing that works well to save even more water is to get in and get totally wet. Turn off the water, lather yourself up from head to toe and then turn the water back on to rinse off.

Then there is the sponge bath or as my grandma used to call it, a "spit bath." Instead of getting in the tub, fill the bathroom sink with water, wet yourself well, lather up and rinse off actually using a sponge or a wash rag. Guess you could always go ahead and jump in the shower to rinse off all the soap if you still felt slick and sticky.

Oh hot humid days; some people think they need to shower more than once a day, which I guess is fine when there isn't a shortage of water. But why not just make yourself a bowl of water and periodically as you feel overly warm, dip in a wash rag, wring it out and wash down your face and arms?  You don't even have to towel dry, let it evaporate and it will help cool you off even more. You can use that same bowl of water all day long. When you are done, toss the water out on the lawn or the garden or in the birdbath.

Now this next suggestion is going to sound gross I know and I read about it on one of the conservation websites. That is don't flush the toilet every single time you use it. Their saying was "if it's yellow let it mellow, but if it's brown flush it down."  Every time you flush that toilet you are sending 5 gallons of water down to the sewer.

So for example, it is calculated that each person uses 100 gallons of water per day.  A family of three uses approximately 1303 gallons of water per month. If you have small babies and little children that like to get dirty all the time, that figure needs to be increased. These figures are calculated on just one load of dishes washed per day in a dishwasher and the washing machine being run through one cycle, which used 37 gallons per load with a conventional top loading machine.

Hopefully I've given you some ideas on how to be water conservative not only for these hot summer days where water is at a premium but all year long so that you can lower your water bill.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer Curtains

As the weather warms up, most of us like to change out our heavy winter curtains and drapes for lighter weight and colored material for our windows. There seems to be nothing that compares to wonderful breezy spring days when you can open the windows and have light weight sheer curtains fluttering in the breeze. It not only cleans the stale winter air out of the house but the sunlight and warm sunshine and breezes are good for the soul.

Now that we are in the thralls of summer and it is much hotter than normal this year, many people are thinking of ways to keep heat out of their homes which means cutting out some of the afternoon sun that enters the windows. Do you put up a different set of drapes an curtains, do you layer the ones you have and hope that you don’t make your house as dark as a dungeon?

I have a solution that I use an you may want to give it a try as well. I actually use double café curtains all year around on some of my windows. During the winter, I use heavier weight material and I line them, whereas in the summer I use very light weight semi-opaque sheer material and do not line them. One advantage to having double café curtains, is that you can open up the top set to let sunlight in and keep the bottom ones closed for privacy.

I also make  full length draperies or curtains, which I hang on top of the café curtains on a separate curtain rod. During the day, when it isn’t too hot, I pull them back and drape them loosely and secure them back using a curtain tie-back hook. When it starts getting too warm, I drop these full drapes to also cover the window and give another layer to help keep the heat from penetrating into the rooms. I also like to close them at night, to provide privacy. In the winter, this same method of double layering helps keep the cold out.

In my bedrooms, I have used floral café curtains with the long draperies, using a solid color that is predominate in the floral pattern of the café curtains. Since most people like to have the uniformity of all white or another neutral shade on all their windows from the outside looking in, you might want to line them with either inexpensive white cotton or bleached or unbleached muslin. If you do use the muslin, be sure to wash it first before using, because it is one material that will definitely shrink on you!

Café curtains are so simple to make even a beginner can master them easily. From the time you cut them out to hanging them at your window, should be less than a two hour project. If you do not want to make a placket to run a pressure rod through and gather the curtains on that, you can purchase drapery rings that just clip onto your fabric and then run those through your curtain rod. You can use the same methods for the long over draperies as well.  Gathering your curtains on a rod will give you a more country or cottage feel to your draperies. You might like to choose florals or gingham checks, and even embellish them with lace. Whereas the clip-on drapery hooks along with solid color fabric, will provide you with a more sleek modern appearance which many people prefer today. Most café curtains that you purchase in the store will not be lined and are reasonably priced. You could easily make a lining to be attached to them. Using bleached or unbleached, pre-washed muslin fabric or even use old white cotton bed sheets to cut to size and made into linings.

When it comes to making the long solid color curtains, why not use cotton flat sheets? You can use the top hem of the sheet as the top of your curtain to be run through the rod. You might want to run a line of stitching about 1/4th of an inch from the top fold to give a more professional look to your curtains. You will then run your curtain rod thru the remaining large pocket that is left below this top stitched section. Many stores sell sheets singularly rather than in packaged sets. You can hit the bulls eye by getting individual flat sheets in 200-220 thread count from $9.99 to $11.99, brand new, or check out your local thrift stores where you can often find them at just $2.00-$3.00 each.

No matter whether you decide to purchase café curtains, or make your own, I am sure you are going to find them well worth it when you see how much they help in keeping your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

You can purchase books on how to make cafe curtains here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Holding On Till Things Get Better

With today’s economy and the housing market continuing to swirl downward in a never ending spiral, one has to wonder how long it is going to take for the value of our homes to once again start heading upwards.  I read a report the other day on the financial page stating that homes had already dropped 8% of its’ value  this year over the previous year and were losing another 1% of its’ value each month and who knows when the market will hit bottom and start turning upwards again.

Several years ago, when I checked on recent homes sold in my neighborhood, $100K to $115K were the going rates and these homes were built back in 1963-1965 and they average approximately 1200-1400 square feet. When I checked this past week, my house is now only worth between $72K and $92K and my heart sank!

I, like many other senior citizens, figured that investing in your own home was like a built-in nest egg, the value would continue to increase. When we felt like we were no longer physically unable to handle the chores and maintenance, or needed the equity out of it to live comfortably, we could sell our home and have enough to help ease our financial worries for quite a few years.
Or we could rent it out and get ourselves a little apartment for less money than we’d be collecting on the rent and have some left over to put into the bank.

Wish so many people losing their homes to foreclosure and not able to purchase another home because of their poor credit now, the rental properties are at a premium and much higher than they were a year or more ago.  This indeed leaves us seniors in a quandary as to what to do. Believe me, there have been many sleepless nights lately as I toss and turn, mulling over different options in my mind.  At this point in time, I have decided all I can do is continue to play the waiting game, do what I can and hold on tight.

I have lived through some hard times in my life, but never have I been through anything as tough as this! Perhaps it is just my age finally catching up with me to where I know that I am not able to do all the things I once could and had all the options that I used to have. You used to be able to back me into a corner and I’d come out fighting but lately that hasn’t been the case.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Kit Kat Antics

At my house there are four critters, three are cats of various ages and a parrot. There are days when I wonder who owns whom! They seem to take turns at who can be the most vocal, demanding of attention or obnoxious behavior.

Of my three cats Little Bit is the youngest and sometimes the most demanding of the three. She is the one who always wants to be loved on but only when SHE wants to be loved on. I swear I chased back and forth with her for over an hour trying to hold her down to cut some mats of hair on the side of her face. She is the only longhaired cat of the three. Now forget trying to use a brush on her because all you have to do is pull out a hairbrush to even brush your own hair and she runs and hides!

Last night I got so tickled at her. ABC news had spoken about the Bald Eagle live webcam set up in Decorah Iowa and gave a link for you to watch if you wanted to,. There are two chicks in the nest and one egg still needing to hatch. I figured I would go look at it. Therefore, I opened it up,, and started watching. My cats will often come in here and sit on the hassock, my lap or the back of my chair or even curl up on the edge of my desk. The next thing I know here is Little Bit, on my desk watching the monitor!  I thought surely she is not watching that eagle but low and behold, she was!  The bird would move, or make a noise, and you could watch her eyes and her head turn to follow the movement of the bird. She sat there, watched that for about thirty minutes before the eagle finally settled down in the nest, and went to sleep. Then Little Bit decided the show was over and left.

Kitty is my old lady of the group. She must be close to fifteen years old. She is a black and white and medium length haired cat. She is getting old and frail and likes to cuddle up and keep warm, so of course her favorite spot is on my lap or on the hassock. I will often throw a lap blanket over me at night and she will come up onto the hassock and want under the blanket. I hold it up for her and does she go under headfirst and turn around as most cats would?  Oh no, she backs in as if you would do if you were backing up a car.  She gets all the way under as far as to her ears and then lays down, tucking her front paws under her so prim and proper. She is my sweetie pie and loves to be petted and her ears rubbed.

Misty is technically my son’s cat, she is Siamese. I say technically because I’ve been her “guardian” and mother for several years now. He used to travel a lot on his job and there was never any one at home to care for her and Bradley, his parrot, so he brought them to me to care for. At first, I had just Bradley because he would go on short trips for just a few days at a time or else his neighbor would care for Misty.

Misty is a real love and enjoys being cuddled and loved on. She is also a lap cat but if this space is occupied, she will get up on the back of my chair, leaning more into and on me than on the back of the chair itself.  She is also the tattletale of the group. If the food dishes gets down to just nibbles and bits instead of full morsels of food, she comes to me and paws on my leg until I get up and follow her. She will start out towards the kitchen, turn to see if I am following her. If I am moving too slow to please her, she will meow in her little Siamese voice as if to say, “Get a move on it woman!”

I’ve always been an animal lover, be they big or small. From my first loves which were dogs to horses, cats,  ducks, birds you name it, I love them all.. I have always been a “rescuer” of critters from the time I was little.

Fortunately, everyone gets along well with each other. Of course, if they were out in the same room at the same time Bradley is out of his cage it might be another story!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Waste Not Want Not

After my horrible ordeal with the Sour Dough Bread being a miserable flop again, I broke the loaf up into large hunks and tossed it out into the yard for the birds. I figured either they would eat it or if not the squirrels would surely enjoy it. If neither of them wanted to partake of this bounty, I'd give it to the dog next door!  Since she is part shepherd and part wolf, I figured she would love it! A far cry from the dog food that she normally gets.

I checked yesterday evening and the backyard was filled with birds, swooping in and pecking away at the bread. This morning not one morsel is left out there!

I did make another loaf of regular white bread in my bread machine last night. I could hardly wait for it to come out of the machine. I love the smell and taste of warm bread!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

That's It, I've Had It!

No more attempts at making Sour Dough Bread using a natural starter without any yeast!  In fact, I am going back to anything but Sour Dough from now on! I have tried and tried repeatedly and the loaf before this one came out hard as a rock  or a brick, whichever you want to compare it to!  Reminded me of the very first attempt I made at baking just plain regular old bread when I first got married!  Poor new husband, didn't know he married a woman who could barely boil water without burning it!  I do think that the first "french fried eggs" I made for him sorta gave that fact away though!  Anyway, back to the bread, I didn't start that project until late in the evening, and when it said to punch it down, put it into the bread pans and let it rise again, I didn't do that. I figured it could rise as it cooked!  Needless to say, I had two wonderful bricks in about an hour!

That is how I am feeling about this Sour Dough Bread at the moment. Now mind you, I've tried several different recipes from several different cookbooks and I really do know how to read instructions. So much for trying to be economical and make bread without having to use yeast all the time. I made an Artisan Loaf tonight, the outer crust was so hard I almost broke the bread knife trying to slice into it. Once I got it cut, the inside is gummy and gooey and it cooked for 45 minutes like the instructions said!  Oh well, back to the bread maker in the morning!

I hope the birds will eat it! 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Life's Little Pleasures

Spring has sprung! The sun is shining, spreading its warmth all over my little city. It is about 72 degrees outside and the air smells fresh and clean.I can hardly hear the noise of the traffic on the busy street which is four blocks away and I am truly enjoying the serenity and almost silence of the day. I decided to walk up to the store, just a couple of blocks away, to get a few things for dinner  and to enjoy the feel of concrete under my feet instead of the ice and snow of several weeks ago.

On the way back, my neighbor was out sitting on her porch enjoying the sunshine so I stopped to say hello and visit for awhile. It was good to see her home since she'd been in the hospital for about a week in ICU with double pneumonia. Pretty scary stuff for such a young woman of only 34! Even though she is still not 100%, some congestion still in one lung, she is on antibiotics and feeling much better. It was good to see her smiling and on the mend.

As I came around to the corner of my yard, I noticed a profusion of yellow flowers in the flower beds. There are multitudes of Jonquils/Daffodils growing. Many are in full bloom and others are still buds, waiting for another day before they spring forth into bloom. I was able to gather enough flowers, a good sized hand full, put them in a vase and set them here on the desk in my office. What a beautiful reminder that spring is here at last!

I love fresh flowers from the garden and from my own garden makes them all the more special. As many of you know from reading previous posts on my blog, I am not the world's best gardener. The things that I don't have to mess with seem to survive the best. The things that require watering I think I "over love" because my vegetable garden last year, I tended to and it died.

Now I am going to grab a fresh cup of coffee, go out and sit on the bench on my front porch and soak up some of this gorgeous sunshine.  Live is good!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Beans Beans The Musical Fruit

As some of you know from reading my blog entries from last summer, my first gardening attempt failed miserably. I was very devastated to think that just the few things I put out did not bare fruit.  I had a flat of tomatoes, that did produce a couple “itty bitty” tomatoes but then they fell of their vines or the birds got to them before they had a chance to grow big enough for me to enjoy.  The bell peppers and jalapeno peppers looked like they were going to do something. There were little flowers and then those changed to little pods and I was like an expectant mother, waiting for the birth of her child, thinking I would soon have some produce. Nothing happened, they wilted up and I got nothing!  My bright idea of trying to grow potatoes in a pillowcase (yep I read about it on the web) ended up a disaster also. The pumpkin seeds never even broke the ground! My pot of herbs withered and died. The only thing that grew was one jalapeno pepper plant where t I took a seed and shoved it into a flowerpot!  I actually got one whole pepper!

Therefore, you can imagine how excited I was today when I checked some pinto beans that I had shoved down into the dirt of three pots that are sitting on my kitchen window ledge!  I soaked the beans for a day before I planted them and then just shoved them down into the dirt. Then today, here are little green things poking up, little stems with what look like little green hats!  I hope that our cold weather will hurry up and vamoose on out of here so I can get them into the earth outside. 

I think I need to get a couple more pots loaded up with dirt and get some onions started. If I remember correctly those are another one of the veggies I need to start early.

Can you tell that I am determined to have a garden this year?  After going to the convenience store tonight to get gas, that was $3.18 a gallon on Wednesday and was $3.29 today, with rumors that it will be $4.00-$4.50 by tomorrow morning, I decided I needed to get some in the tank quickly.  Now granted, I do not drive far and I do not drive often, but I sure want some gas in the tank and not have to pay an arm and a leg for it, which I anticipate happening worse than it already has!  I totally expect us to see $5.00 a gallon by this summer.  Guess we shouldn’t gripe too much, those in foreign countries pay a lot more than we do, not only for gas but for other goods as well and I am not sure that their ratio of income to debts is any better than ours are. Therefore, I will count my blessings and hope that my garden is a success this year in order to take some of the strain off the old pocketbook.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bitten By The Spring Bug

I don't know about anyone else but I've been bitten by the "spring bug" and I've thrown open the windows to let the fresh air blow through the house. As a kid I used to laugh when I'd hear someone talk about doing their spring cleaning but I am long since over that because over the years I've come to appreciate the meaning of those words. You want to get in there and clean every nook and cranny, to  get out all the stale smells that accumulated in  your home from being closed up all winter long. The sun is shining and you want to open all the curtains and let it shine into your home,  the warm glow it creates as the beams of light come streaming across your freshly polished floor.

Many people go through an entire redecorating phase at this time of the year. Some will think about painting, be it one room or the entire house. Others will be adding light colored slipcovers to furniture, changing out throw pillows, getting out the light weight curtains and adding spring colored spreads to their beds.

Spring is a the beginning of life anew; be it the start of new grass and flowers growing, to that of the birth of farm animals, the return of the robins or domestic animals looking for a mate. We emerge from winter, wanting to shed all the extra layers of clothing and the heaviness of multiple blankets and comforters on our beds that kept us warm for the past few months. Spring is wanting to go out and dig in the dirt or run through mud puddles after a rainstorm and the clean fresh smells that the rain brought with it.

It is a good time to be cleaning out your closets and drawers, to give things to a charity, offer them to some one in need or have a garage sale and earn a few extra bucks.Now you can reorganize those closets and cabinets with ease.

I am so anxious to get busy with a paint brush it isn't funny. I have a large bookcase shelf unit that needs some repair work first and then a fresh coat of paint. Then I am bringing it indoors, putting it in my laundry room to become my pantry shelves. After that is done, I need to put a fresh coat of paint on the little country bench that sits on my front porch. 

What projects are you going to tackle?

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Last Hurrah!

Well, I truly think we now have had the last winter storm for this year.  At least I hope so! When parts of Oklahoma have the lowest low temperatures recorded in history, at 21 and 31 degrees BELOW ZERO, and two storms back to back, I certainly hope they are over.  There was just enough of a 24 hour break between where some people were brave enough to get out on slick, ice and snow covered streets to grab more supplies before the next round came through.

Now we start preparing for what could either be a rough spring with many outbreaks of tornadoes or a very quiet one with no tornadoes but lots of wildfires. Yes, I did say wildfires because even with all the snow we received the weather forecasters say we are still experiencing a drought.

With as much of the country being affected by our recent weather, not only in our country but world wide, my concern is for what has happened to all our crops. I am expecting to see food and gas prices going through the roof sky high!  Just one more reason to be sure to replenish those pantries as soon as possible.

I know that once it warms up a little bit more, probably in the next week or so, it will be time to start getting those early garden plants into the ground. It will also be time to do any repairs on my storm shelter so that it is ready to go once our spring tornado season is upon us. I am not going to be waiting until the last minute.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It's Not Over Yet!

Well, I can tell you one thing, this last storm here in Oklahoma was enough to really test you on your preparedness for any and all conditions and make you aware that even though you think you have covered all your bases, you may not have done so!

We ended up with the worst blizzard I have seen since I moved here! It by far out-shadows the storm we had back in 2009 at Christmas time in my humble opinion. Granted we had ice covered trees, some areas did lose electricity for days and even weeks, but this storm seemed to be much colder! Luckily this time around people listened to the weathermen when they forecast this storm to have blowing snow with whiteout conditions, single digit temperatures and BELOW ZERO wind chills.  We had lots of warning that this one was on its way and stores stocked up with lots of supplies to meet the needs of their customers. Schools didn't wait till the very last minute to declare snow days and people stayed off the roads as directed when told there were very hazardous conditions.

Now we are facing drizzling rain with possible light flurries again tonight and then come Tuesday and Wednesday another round of very cold weather, possibly several more inches of snow and of course slick roads. What we have already hasn't had a chance to melt off, even though we had a warm day today which allowed some of the snow packed roads and walkways to melt a little bit. Many of the main roads have been cleared by snowplows now, over and above the normal snow route clearings but the subdivisions within many of the cities are still blanketed with hard snow and ice underneath.

People are frustrated because they can't get to work and they have lost wages and the kids are home from school and have cabin fever.  But I am so very thankful that everyone is using common sense and realizing that no job is worth losing your life over and it is better to have your children home and not out on slick icy roads!

So put on another pot of beans or more homemade chili, grab the movies and video games again and as we say here in Oklahoma "hunker down" for what we can only hope is the last hurrah's of winter and just know that spring is right around the corner.  Then we can all start complaining about tornado season.... what can I say, can't keep us "Okies" happy can you?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Grandma’s Cast Iron Skillet

Oh how I miss having grandma’s cast iron skillet. Not only because it was the very best skillet I ever owned for creating evenly cooked, delicious foods but because of the memories I had of her using it before I inherited it.  I cried when it finally met it’s demise!  I’ve had a variety of skillets since then and none have cooked as well as that one did.  I have tried some of the new non-stick surface skillets as well as some stainless steel ones, but nothing cooked as well as grandma’s cast iron one. I am not sure if they just aren’t as good as the old fashioned cast iron ones, or if it is because they don’t conjure up all the wonderful memories of watching grandma cook.

I could cook everything from “johnny cake” and biscuits to fried chicken in there!  Not a day went by that I didn’t use it. In the morning it would get used for cooking fried eggs, beautiful sunny side up ones with just a smattering film over the top from splashing hot grease from the pan over them. At lunch time I would use it to make bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches or grilled cheese sandwiches. For dinner either a big skillet of fried chicken or a skillet filled with meat balls and sauce for spaghetti.  I could put it on top of the stove or in the oven and know that everything would be cooked to perfection.

It is time to invest in another cast iron skillet. I don’t want a new one, I want one that is old and crusted on the outside, that shows it was used and enjoyed over the years. There is nothing better than one that is well seasoned .

I am off to the second hand store to see if I can find someone else’s grandma’s skillet!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Making Your Own Saltine Crackers

Awhile back I purchased some Masa  flour to make corn  tortillas.  After several failed attempts I thought what am I ever going to do with 5 lbs of this flour so I started searching for recipes where I could use it.
I happen to love Saltine Crackers and came across a recipe where you not only use regular flour but Masa so I figured I would give it a try. What a simple recipe and I was so glad that I found it.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup masa flour (corn flour)
¾ cup shortening
11/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking flour

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Combine flours, baking powder and shortening. Mix. Add milk and blend well
Make into a large round ball. Split the ball into 4 sections. Roll out a section at a time to 1/8 inch thickness.
Cut into squares using a knife, pizza cutter or pastry roller.

Sprinkle Salt (to taste) on an ungreased baking sheet.
Place dough onto sheet and prick the tops, using a fork, ½” apart.
Bake  for 14-20 minutes or until golden brown.

IF you do not have any Masa, you can substitute another cup of all purpose flour for that measurement.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Is Winter About Over?

Well according to our weatherman, we just have a couple more cold fronts that will move through Oklahoma before we can expect some spring weather.  One of those cold fronts is due to hit here tonight or overnight, bringing temperatures dropping down into the 20’s and followed by rain, sleet, ice and possibly snow to some parts of the state.  Luckily, in the middle of the state, where I am at, they say we are likely to have a “wintery mix” and possibly up to an inch of snow that should burn off sometime late on Friday.

All I know is that it is time for some comfort food!  So out comes the crock-pot and I am in the process of making some good homemade potato soup.  I love my daughter’s recipe but sorry to say I don’t have all the “extra goodies” that she puts into hers. She always adds sour cream and half and half into her soup, neither of which I have on hand at the moment. So I will substitute with a can of evaporated milk and add in a little extra butter in hopes of giving it that rich full bodied flavor.

I thought about doing some meatless chili, which I may make tomorrow or perhaps a big pan of mac and cheese, one of my all time favorites.

I am so anxious for the little buds of spring to start peaking thru the ground. I have a beautiful growth of daffodils or jonquils as some people call them, that I love to cut and bring in the house to brighten things up!

It is time to go visiting some of the gardening websites, I’m already getting emails about it being time to start some seedlings indoors in preparation for spring planting. This year, I have GOT to have a good producing garden. Last year’s was a total flop! 

I hope you are all pulling out your gardening magazines, or visiting your favorite gardening websites to get some ideas about what to plant this year.

Come on spring!