Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Humans Would Put Seeds in the Ground, Pour Water on Them, and They Grow Food - Like, Pizza!

Remember back in April when I planted a tomato plant in a global bucket? This was then: 
This is now: 

This gardening thing really works, people.

If you buy plain Spagnum Peat Moss and a bag of Perlite instead of the fancy pre-mixed stuff, it's much, much less expensive. We got it down to less than three dollars per global bucket.

After a few weeks of seeing our tomato plant grow, we decided to plant a few more buckets. And then a few more. And then a few more. I planted two more yellow squash plants today. Currently, we have ten global buckets, one tomato plant in a normal bucket full of backyard dirt (which is doing well) and one small normal bucket full of special dirt and herb seeds. We also have a garden that we actually planted in the ground in our backyard. Crazy, I know, but we are forward thinkers in this household.

We have Cauliflower in a Global Bucket:

and potatoes in the ground. The potatoes are doing amazingly well. I am thrilled for our potatoes.
 Our cucumber plant is also doing well in the ground. I am excited for it to grow a cucumber because I recently discovered that cucumbers can be called "cukes" and I would like to try this out.

Our row of onions:

Baby tomatoes that will one day grow into a my tomato basil soup.

Toddler tomatoes growing on our tomato plant-in-a-normal-bucket.

We also planted an avocado tree (not in a bucket) and will plant a few more trees in a few more days. I'm hoping to get some raspberry bushes in this year, but we'll see. It's a work in progress. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Uh Oh. Two Independent Thought Alarms in One Day. The Students are Overstimulated. Willie! Remove All the Colored Chalk From the Classrooms

The first time I walked through this house I found a small mystery in the laundry room.  Besides the scary carpet, broken desk, the hole in the ceiling and the trash that had been left behind, part of the wall had been boarded up. Looking behind the boards we found exposed pipes for a washing machine. Why had they covered this up? Was the piping illegal? Were they afraid it would explode? Was it a secret door to another dimension? Some questions never got answers. 

After a bad paint job, where they painted around the boards before they removed the boards, we finally took possession of the house and moved in. This was in the laundry room: 

I took that board, turned it upside down, removed the rusty nails and drug it outside: 

I washed it off and then painted it with a base coat:

And then I painted one side with chalkboard paint:

After fixing up the laundry room, I moved the board back in: 

and added some chalk! 

Ash loves it! She spent ten whole minutes today enthralled in her art. It was an easy project for me, and since the base paint (half a can found in the back of our new garage), chalkboard paint (Mandy let me use her leftovers), and chalk (after my last post I had two people give me their unwanted chalk!)  was all free, this project only took time, not money. Plus the scary board got transformed into something useful instead of ending up in a landfill! Those are the best kind of projects.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Daddy Says It's Only For Emergencies. This is Definitely an Emergency

It's May 23! Thus ends my self-imposed non-consumer store/shopping ban.

Last month I decided to celebrate Earth Day by saying that for one month, I could not buy anything new (besides food) from a store. The point was to take a stand against our out of control spending culture, help the earth, save money, and really try to value the things I buy. If I don't value it, if I don't NEED it, then don't buy it!

So here is my report:

What I didn't buy: 
A clothesline. I needed one right away. Instead, I did this. It was awesome. It was a good choice. Happy feelings, everyone!

A couch. We don't have one. We need one. We have abundant space for one. I can justify buying a couch. I will value a couch. Alas, I couldn't buy one new and I haven't found a used one I like. Also, at the moment, there just isn't money for a couch. If I could have bought one new, it would have gone on my credit card and right now I need the money than I need the couch. I'm glad I had my shopping ban. It saved me from a not-so-great credit card debt.  I will buy one, hopefully used, when I can afford it. Patience. I don't need everything right now.

An oven. Again, I need the money more than I need the item. I'm glad I had my shopping ban. It's so much more fun this way. Not buying an oven and not having a stove paved the way for a little creativity, and re-using other appliances. In fact, today I am learning how to make an entire meal in nothing but a crock pot. Necessity is the mother of invention. And from that invention, I'm thinking I can hold off buying an oven/stove for a few years at least.

Chalk. I'm not finding used chalk anywhere. I made Ash a chalkboard, and I want chalk to go along with it. It's a valid purchase. I've made up my mind about it and can justify the cost ( I'll scrounge some coins). Now that my month is up, I will go buy some new chalk from the dollar store.

Stuff off of Amazon. This may be the first month in over a year that I haven't bought anything off Amazon, Ebay, or Half.com. Amazing!

Impulse stuff. It seems that every time I go to a store I impulse-buy something ridiculous. But, since I didn't go into the store, I didn't see anything I didn't need and I wasn't tempted to buy junk. Hooray!

What I did buy:
Food. I also bought the ingredients to make laundry soap, but I considered that part of my food shopping as I bought it in a grocery store.

Home repair stuff from Home Depot and Lowes. In my defence, I didn't buy it, Drek did. But we did make several trips and bought several things. Yes, it was cheating. Yes, I'm sure there were ways around it, but I didn't care that much and Drek really didn't care at all.

Clothes. I hit the jackpot on Saturday when I arrived (at 7am!) to a garage sale with baby clothes. The price: $1 a grocery bag and you could stuff in as much clothes into one bag as you liked. My only restriction was the amount of clothes she had available to buy. It was awesome. I only spent $2, but I got LOTS of clothes. At another garage sale I found two new dresses for me and some new shirts for Drek. $1 total. And that's why I love garage sales.

A toddler bed, a tricycle, ladders, cabinets, a garage work table,  a set of bath toy alphabet foam letters, school work books, cabinets, DVD's, horseshoes... All from yard sales. All for super, super cheap. All of them have some funny or happy story about the person I bought it from. All bring a smile to my face. Did I need all of that stuff? No. Actually, sometimes I only bought it because the price was so awesome ($1 for a  DVD! They had all the Harry Potter movies! It only cost me $6! I was going to spend that much renting them from RedBox when we had our Harry Potter movie marathon leading up to Harry Potter 7.5!) So, not so great on the "valuing what I buy" front, and terrible on the minimalism front, but I did buy them used, from a yard sale. The items are being loved and used rather than thrown in a landfill, and the money went to real people (awesome people) instead of  mean corporations. I paid in cash, so no debt was accrued, and like I said, each one was a great shopping experience.

Probably the best one was when Drek and I stopped at a yard sale a few blocks from our house. They were selling an extension ladder, which Drek had wanted to buy at Home Depot, but wasn't willing to pay the $175 for it. Drek asked how much, the guy said $50, and Drek said sold. He went home to get the cash and left me with instruction so see if I could also get the dolly (marked at $50), the horseshoes and the tricycle. I went into full haggling mode: I walked around the ladder, poked it, and said "it's really dirty. How old is it?" And the guy said "Old. It's old and dirty. Like me." And he laughed, his brother laughed and I laughed. It was pretty funny. The guy was pretty old. So we joked and haggled over the other items and by the time Drek came back it cost us $56 total for everything plus a few more things. And we had made a friend.

Lesson learned:
Not-buying things new from stores is great. It takes more time, more creativity, but it also saves money, is more rewarding and is way more fun. I'm so glad I did this. I consider it a highly successful endeavor. I strongly recommend it to everyone. Especially Americans living in America.

I want to make this a permanent part of my life. Of course, there will have to be exceptions: It's ridiculous to take little things like chalk to an extreme, but the little things add up, so there still needs to be boundaries. As Krisling pointed out in the comments last month: I will need to buy some clothes brand new. And that is fine, as long as there are still boundaries. So I'm not quite sure how it will work: Do I get a certain number of exceptions per month? Should I have a shopping ban every other month? The sustainable answer is just to be cautious and wise about what I buy, but I don't think I'm that point yet. If I hadn't had a month long ban on shopping, I would have bought a clothesline, a couch, an oven, possibly a dryer, and I would have taken a few trips to Wal Mart and made several impulse-buys. That would NOT have been ok! We absolutely cannot afford that right now! The earth cannot handle that kind of consumerism. I cannot get everything I want right now, or I will only want more things right now and be forever miserable. So I need some rules. Suggestions are appreciated!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Come, All Ye Saints of Zion, And Let us Praise the Lord

I have never considered myself a "church person". As a kid, I usually tried to get out of going to church. As a pre-teen I remember being astonished at the stories my cousin told of things she did on Sunday (you mean it's like another Saturday? You get to do whatever you want? TWO Saturdays?) As a rebellious teenager coming back to church after two years I remember thinking "Three hours? Are they crazy? I'm not sitting still for three hours after a week of classes." Three hours was hard. I squirmed, I tried to get out of it, but mostly I knew church was where I was supposed to be and I was usually dragged there by good people.

I married one of those good people. My husband is awesome. In so many ways, he makes me a better person. One of those ways is by taking me to church every Sunday. Sometimes he drags me, sometimes I'm excited to go, but he makes sure I am where I need to be.

After going to church for a long time, I started to see why church is so important. It came slowly, week by week, year by year, but I understand more and more what people mean when they say they look forward to church. They feel recharged by church, refreshed by the classes and renewed by the Sabbath. I understand more and more the yearning people have for Sunday, for a day of rest, for church and for learning the gospel. The more I went to church, the more I understood why I went to church.

Today I am sick. So is my daughter and my husband. So we stayed home, fearing we would spread our sickness to the entire congregation. At first I was excited, even a little giddy: "Hooray! A we get to stay home today! Drek is letting me stay home!" But then I was sad, and, startlingly, I even missed church. I find myself yearning for that spiritual renewal. I know church with a toddler is ridiculous and I'm either in the halls or in nursery anyway, but even still, there is a peace there that builds me up. It recharges me for the week. It gives my hope. It keeps me going. It has taken me a long time to find that peace, to recognize it, but I am so glad I did. I'm so glad I have church. I can't wait to go next week.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dude, You've Got Some Artz on You

The oven/stove range that came with the house was very scary when we moved into this house. It looked like it hadn't been cleaned in, well, ever. The bottom drawer was filled with spiderwebs and dead bugs and the outside had a thick coat of grime that proved very difficult to remove.

When we had the gas company come out to turn on our gas, the guy came inside to inspect the gas oven/stove. He informed me that two of the burners had broken igniters. He also commented that the stove/oven was very old and I should think about replacing it. 

I did think about replacing it. I thought about it a lot. After the gas guy left, I did two things: One, I put a lighter by the stove so I could manually light the burners (works great!) and two, I called the home warranty company to see if out oven/stove was under warranty. It was! So we payed the fifty-five dollars to have a repairman come look at it. 

While we waited, I discovered that the oven never reaches the programmed temperature. It also makes the house smell very strongly of gas when we turn on the oven, and anything we cook it the oven, tastes like gas. This made the safety of the oven highly suspect and I decided to exclusively use my small, counter-top, electric toaster-oven. It bakes, it toasts, it broils, it even turns off after the timer dings (meaning I can leave the house while something is cooking). I can't bake a whole loaf of bread, but I can bake mini ones. I can't fit in a whole cookie sheet, but I can do several batches. It works out just fine. 

The oven repairman discovered: One, the stove/oven is filthy. Two: the oven is broken. Three, two of the burners had broken igniters. Four, the stove is so old and rusted that in order to repair anything, the whole stove has to be replaced. Five: mice has chewed through several of the wires. He recommended I get a new stove/oven. I told him I agreed and he should make sure he passes that recommendation along to the warranty company. 

While I waited for an answer, I continued to cook on my stove by manually lighting the burners, and bake in my little toaster oven. 

The answer was no. One tiny bite mark one any wire automatically disqualifies the entire stove/oven from warranty. 

So I decided to finally clean my stove/oven. It took several hours, and some scratches and stains couldn't be fixed, but it looks much, much better. I got used to the idea that my stove/oven has personality, if not functionality. I decided I would replace my stove/oven, it would just take a few years. 

A few days ago I decided to call up the repairman and ask how much he would charge to come out and fix just the stove part. He nearly had a heart attack: "WHAT?! You are still using that death trap? It's dangerous! It CANNOT be repaired! Don't you realize that every time you manually light the stove you are playing with your LIFE? IT COULD EXPLODE! You are lucky it hasn't already exploded! It will explode your kitchen! It will explode your house! It will explode YOU! You cannot ever, EVER use it again! 

Oh. Good to know. 

But I cook. A lot. And even though I enjoy cooking, I don't really enjoy gambling with my life every time I cook. Although I can see the draw: EXTREME COOKING: Feel the heat. I could start my own reality cooking show. Learn new techniques, get new recipes and watch the contestants explode! Last cook not-on-fire wins! 

We can't afford to buy a new stove/oven right now (or anytime soon) but I can't NOT use a stove (maybe now is a good time to go RAW? Is the universe trying to force me into a new life choice?)  Thankfully, my mom had it covered. She shipped me a "Space Saving Buffet Warming Electric Double Burner" which is basically two stove burners that you but on your counter and they act just like a stove. 

So now I have an electric counter-top stove, and an electric counter-top oven.  It's a good thing my new kitchen has plenty of counter space. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ok, my faithful blog readers, you may want to sit down (but, really, who surfs the Internet standing up?).

Acouchi is missing. Presumed dead. Presumed eaten by a coyote. She's been gone for over a week.

I'm sure she's much happier now than she was here. At least she's not sick anymore. And in some ways, I think becoming prey is a better way for an animal to die than to die slowly of kidney or heart failure.

And I assume she had a good, long life. I had for almost seven years, and she was full-grown when we got her, so I'm assuming she was old.

No, I will not be getting another cat. Acouhi is one-of-a-kind and I will not even attempt to replace her.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Whoa. Talk About Your Fixer-Upper

This weekend has been very productive. Drek's dad came to stay with us for a few days to help fix up our house. I'm astonished at how much he did. On Thursday the missionaries came over to help us in our yard. Drek's brothers also helped us with some stuff, and Drek completed quite a few projects. I think it's safe to say that our fixer-upper home has been turned into a fixed-up home! We still have projects that need done, but all those projects are optional. Our house doesn't repairs anymore, now it just needs improvements!

Well, besides our yard. Our "lawn" is made out of weeds in the front yard, and dead straw in the backyard. We do have landscaping plans to make our yard beautiful, but those will have to wait a few months. Maybe a year. Maybe two years. Ok, probably two years at least. But we'll get there.

After a month and a half of living in this house, we are officially moved-in and fixed-up! Now for the parties...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It Wouldn't Be an Irrational Fear of Bees If I Could Just Pull Myself Together, Would It?

I have a very vivid childhood memory of going to a playground with my sister and seeing a daddy long leg spider. My sister told me that daddy long leg spider's mouths are too small to bite humans, so we found a few more and let them crawl all over us. I remember thinking it was fun to watch the spider move and to look at it up close.

A few years later (still a young child, I'm thinking maybe ten?) I was playing a computer game in which the last level had you battling a giant spider. The game was in first-person perspective, and I remember freezing up: my heart raced, I began to shake and my thinking became fuzzy to the point where I couldn't play. I lost, and of course, tried the level again with the same results. After a few more tries and a lot of "What in the world is wrong with me?" I realized I just might have arachnophobia.

I don't know where it came from, although after reading a few books on childhood phobias I could hazard a guess. But ever since then I have an irrational fear of spiders. It's a very physical response: I immediately jump into fight-or-flight mode. But from repeated nightmares about spiders, I've also developed a metal response: AHHH! SPIDER! Run away before my body has time to physically react and/or I have a nightmare about it tonight!

Sometimes I wonder if it's become an all-mental thing. A few times as a teenager I tried to touch a spider; to let a daddy long leg spider crawl over me like I did in the park with my sister. I'll take a deep breathe and tell myself that it's fine, but the anxiety hits, I'll start shaking, my heart will race and my vision will become blurred. It's really weird.

If anything can cure me of my arachnophobia, it's this new house: There are spiders everywhere. When we first looked at this house: I walked into the guest bathroom and a huge spider came down from the ceiling right in front of my face. I did not go back into that bathroom until we had lived here for over a month.

In one twenty-four hour period, I killed five spiders, most of them outside. In another twenty-four hour period, I saw four spiders inside the house. Besides the spider in the bathroom, I've been handling it well: I kill them quickly with no physical response or I yell for Drek to come take care of it. I started, once again, to wonder if I was getting over my arachnophobia.

Today I was brushing my hair when I felt something tickle my arm. I looked down and there was a giant black spider crawling up my arm to my shoulder. The response was immediate and automatic. There was no thinking involved: I screamed louder than I have ever screamed before, brushed the spider off my arm and jumped up onto the bathtub in one fast motion. Drek came running in to save me.

Afterward, it took me a long time to calm down. It's been a few hours and I still jump every time I fell the smallest tickle.

So, still working on it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Because a Cat's the Only Cat Who Knows Where It's At

I'm a cat person. It's not that I don't like dogs; I do, I think dogs are great and I love to play with them, but there is something about a cat that is mesmerizing. I love how they walk, I love how they purr, I love their eyes and their claws; I just love cats. Especially big cats.

That made our trip to the zoo yesterday even more exciting: we were finally going to go see the big cats:

I'm glad the camera was pointed at the Jaguar, because I wasn't looking. I was transfixed on this amazing animal four feet away from my face. It actually stopped and looked me in the eyes. It was amazing. 

Right after the leopard, we we spotted a squirrel up in a tree. The squirrel isn't an exhibit at the zoo, but it was fun to see him anyway: 

Sunday, May 08, 2011

You Need a Mother Very, Very Badly!

Drek got me flowers for Mother's Day: 

And chocolate: 

and a homemade card. And he made me breakfast. Best husband ever.

At church today they gave me a king-size Symphony Bar. It was awesome.

Also at church the Relief Society president said something I wanted to share: She said that Eve was called "the mother of all living" before she ever bore a child. All women have this sacred calling from God, whether or not they have children in this life. God has given all women gifts of empathy, selflessness,  and a nurturing spirit. So even if a women isn't nurturing her children, she is nurturing God's children, and that makes her a mother.  So Happy Mother's Day to all women everywhere.

Here is a great article on Mothers. 

And Happy Mother's Day to my wonderful mother, grandmothers, and mother-in-law.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

But, Honest! He Said Just to Mention His Name. So, Start Mentioning Name, Rodent

Our backyard is home to all sorts of creatures. We found a sparrow's nest with newly hatched baby chicks, there is a lone chicken than wanders in and out, and there all a lot of these really ugly things Drek calls ground squirrels. Acouchi loves ground squirrels:

Thursday, May 05, 2011

¡Ven Conmigo! ¡Te MostrarĂ© las Maravillas de la Galaxia, y Juntos Lucharemos Contra el Despiadado Zurg!

My romance with minimalism has lead me to spend a lot of time thinking about my kitchen; the stuff the occupies it, how often I am in it, the time I spend preparing meals and what I get out of it.

I think I spend a lot of time cooking. My average dinner takes about an hour of hands-on work, and several hours of "let dough rest" or "soak beans" or "allow to rise" or "marinate" and such. I usually start making dinner around noon. Is it worth it? I love to cook, but I do I love it that much?

I do love the results: delicious, healthy meals and a feeling of a job well done. But can I get those same results with less effort? With less time?

I decided to try: I've been browsing the Internet for vegetarian crock-pot recipes and asking friends for their easiest vegetarian recipe. I've made a list of "half an hour or less" meals and started thinking about freezing meals (something I have never done before. I don't even know how). I also asked a few close friends if they wanted to try a dinner swap once a month.

Tonight was the first attempt at a dinner swap. Instead of just exchanging a dinner, we decided that we wanted the social aspect as well; we'll have them over for dinner and the next week they'll have us over for dinner. Tonight they came over to our house. Since it also happened to be Cinco De Mayo, I decided to try something Mexican.

My wonderful grandmother recently gifted me tortilla bowl pans: just place your tortilla in the bowl and bake for a few minutes. I decided to make those:
They turned out great! I filled our taco bowls with sauteed onions and green peppers, black and pinto beans, brown rice, taco TVP (YUM!) fresh lettuce, fresh tomatoes, fresh avocados, and topped with Greek yogurt (my new substitute for sour cream. I can't taste a difference so it works great) and cilantro dressing.
Made-from-scratch virgin margaritas:
and for dessert, my best tres leche cake yet with whipping cream and fresh organic strawberries.

So far so good.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Bang Head Here

Several months ago I ran a red light. I was turning right at a three-way intersection with a traffic cam. I stopped, but didn't come to a COMPLETE stop. A few weeks later Drek received a letter that said his car had run a red light and the fine was $500. The letter also said the date he needed to appear in court, that another letter would be coming with all the information needed to pay the fine, and that if he wasn't the driver, he should fill out the form and mail it back.

There was no phone number to call with questions in that letter, so I looked up a phone number on line. I called and informed them they had the correct car, just the wrong owner. They told me to fill out the form and mail it in. I told them it was the same address, same phone number, same last name, it was just me and not Drek. I asked if I could pay the fine then. They said to fill out the form and mail it in. So I did.

A few weeks later Drek got the second letter in the mail, giving him his citation number and a special phone number to an automated system to pay his fine. Once again, there was no other phone number listed. So once I again I went online, found a number and called. After spending fifty-eight minutes on hold I finally got through to a guy who told me I had the wrong branch. He gave me another number to call. After spending and hour and five minutes on hold, I asked the guy if they got the form I had mailed in. He said he didn't know and couldn't find out. He looked up the citation and said something had heppened, but he didn't know if that something was the fine was paid, the ticket was cancelled, there was a warrant issued, or my form was recieved. He said I would just have to wait to see if I got a letter in my name. I asked if I could just pay the fine. He said no.

A few weeks later I did get my letter. It told me my court date was April 8th (my birthday) and that I would get another letter with more instructions. I never got that letter. Granted, I was movng at the time, so I could have lost it, but regardless; I woke up on my birthday realizing I never paid the fine. I called a number I found on the internet and talked with a man in the warrant department. He said there was, in fact, a warrent our for my arrest and that I needed to take of this right away. I asked him if I could pay the fine. he said I couldn't pay him, but he did give me my citation number and a phone number for an automated system. He also told me I would probably have to go down to the court house to take of it, and that the court closed at five. He advised me to pay the fine that day, not to wait over the weekend. He said it takes the system a while to process and if I wait until after the weekend, it could be too late.

At three twenty I arrived at the court house to find that they close at three thirty. The girl at the door said they were already closed, she didn't care about my case, she hated her job, her life, and me. I informed her I had cash, a checkbook, a credit card and a debit card; I just needed to pay the fine. She told me they were closed and to get lost.

I walked across the street to the actual court house (not the traffic division) and walked through he front door. Next to the metal detector was two security guards. I informed them I really, really needed to pay a fine. They said to come back on Monday. I told them I had a warrant out for my arrest and just needed to pay a fine. The security guard said if he let me in he would arrest me and take my baby to foster care.

And that's why it was the worst birthday ever.

I left, went home, and decided to call the automated number. The mechanical person told me I could pay my fine. I gave it my credit card number, the expiration date, the security code, and then the recording started over. I wasn't sure if it had worked or not and I didn't have a confirmation code, but there was no one I could call and had no way to check. So I hung up.

Today I got a letter informing me my account had gone to collections, and I now owed a $300 late fee on top of my fine. After spending another forty six minutes on hold, I spoke to a women who said that only way to get the charge reversed was to go to court.

To recap: I was begging them to take my cash, check, or card. I gave them my credit card number, my security code and my expiration date, and they still couldn't figure out to get the money. And people wonder why this state is bankrupt.