A blog about "nothing"!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Not so great memories of Christmas past...

Everyone always gets nostalgic around the holidays, talking about fun things that they remember from Christmases before.  However, one subject is usually forgotten.  Those Christmases where someone (or everyone) got sick.  Coming from a large family we've had our fair share, but not a ton.

I had a bad go round of illness when I was younger due to the fact that I'm allergic to eggs and was unable to be vaccinated for many of the childhood illnesses.  So I had the no-so fun experience of getting them all--measles, mumps, rubella.  The only one I missed was chicken pox and I waited until I was in my late 30's to get that--ugh!  The good part was that I had all of the rest fairly close together, and while I missed a lot of 1st grade and remember very little of the holiday, by the time 2nd grade rolled around, I was past the worst of it and if I did get sick, it was usually something related to my throat.  I really don't remember much of any of it either, one advantage of getting it all over with by the age of 6.

The first Christmas I can distinctly remember being sick over was when I was in 5th grade.  It was a bummer of a Christmas for me to begin with because my one sister wasn't going to be home for it, she and her husband were living in Turkey at the time.  Then I got the flu.  I don't know about the rest of you, but getting sick tends to taint the rest of what goes along with that holiday.  I remember distinctly two of the things I got as gifts that year--a Donny Osmond album and a Barbie GMC travel van.  But truthfully I didn't feel much like playing with them and even months later, I would look at that van and kind of get queasy to my stomach!  It got worse as the holiday progressed too, I remember watching TV all by myself over Christmas break because even though I was better, everyone else had gotten it and they were in bed.  Not fun.  That was definitely a year where I was glad when school started again.

I don't remember having much more trouble over the holidays until I was an adult.  And usually it was something I picked up from someone else during some sort of Christmas celebration, so I wasn't usually sick until right around the New Year.  One year I got sick while we were hosting a New Year's Eve party, I just felt worse as the night progressed.  Then I worried about everyone else getting it, luckily they didn't.  But the funny part of the whole thing was on New Years Day.  One of the TV stations was running the 1970's mini-series "Holocaust" and I wanted to watch it.  I remembered some things about it, but not all of it.  There I was with my fever, all bundled up in front of the TV, watching and shivering away, when with just the last episode left to run, the power went out.  And it was out all night.  So I still don't remember what happened to some of the characters!

The best (if you want to call it that) sick memory didn't happen to me personally.  But it did involve family members.  My sister and her sons were both sick several days before Christmas and my mom was trying to figure out a nice way to "un-invite" them, she didn't think we all needed to be exposed to whatever they had.  She agonized about it all week, then decided she would have to just suck it up and hope for the best.  As fate would have it, Christmas morning, my brother called.  His family were all sick and they weren't coming!   A Christmas Miracle!  Right then and there my mom decided that Christmas would be postponed until the upcoming weekend when everyone would be better.  She got her wish.

It did present a different problem though--we didn't really want to cook the big dinner we had planned for just 3 people.  There aren't many restaurants open on Christmas day, so we ended up at a nearby truck stop.  I was actually surprised at how busy it was, but I imagine since they were one of the few places open, that helped.  We had a good meal, and chatted with the waitress.  We told her what had happened and she jokingly said "oh, I hope you weren't having cheesecake!", and she said that it was one of her favorite things.  We laughed because we had planned on that for dessert, my mom had made one from scratch.  At that point the wheels started turning in my head.  We quickly drove home, my mom cut a piece of the cheesecake and packaged it up, and I ran it back out to the truck stop to give to the waitress.  She was so excited, she told me she got off work in about a half and hour and she was going to eat it then.  Merry Christmas to her.

There is a bit of irony in the story.  We did have our celebration over the coming weekend as planned.  But we didn't have ANY cheesecake.  Because between Christmas day (which I am thinking was a Monday that year) and the Saturday we actually had Christmas, it molded!!!  So the waitress was the only person who got to enjoy any of it.  I hope it was good!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Different Approach to Holiday Decorating

I used to love the decorate for the holidays.  Any holiday, not just Christmas.  As I've gotten older though, I find it less enjoyable with every year.  And then there is the whole job of taking it all down too.  Yuck.

I think part of the problem is that our family and celebrations have changed over the years, and we now have very few "little persons" who come to our home for any holidays.  The majority of them have grown up and moved on, with a few of them having kids of their own.  I've discussed this with friends, and they agree that part of the fun of decorating is seeing the look on a kids face.  Time marches on.

I've weeded out quite a few of my Christmas decorations, and I intend to weed some more.  My plan is on Tuesday of next week to take a box to be donated.  I'm much more selective about what I put up.  But it still hasn't eliminated the dread of doing it all.

Last year I came up with a plan, and it worked very well.  I decided to have my own "12 days of Christmas", starting December 1st.  Each day I had to put up a decoration (or group of decorations like stockings, wreaths, etc).  On December 13th (my hubby's birthday) I do the last decoration which is the tree.  We don't have a big tree, so it's not as bad as in previous years, and it's sort of like saving the best for last.  The nicest part is when I was done, I wasn't annoyed or tired, and the house looked nice.  When the season was over, I just did the reverse, took down one or two decorations each day and put them away.  I do have to say that the way we have our decorations stored at this house makes this a much easier thing to do as well.

I have to admit that I'm already behind though.  First off, the date got away from me and I didn't realize December 1st had come and gone!  Wednesday I had a lot going on so it didn't get done that day either.  So yesterday I did a half catchup and put up two different things, and will do the same tomorrow.  Easy enough.

Does anyone else hate holiday decorating?  I think the other contributing factor to my dislike is that retailers have Christmas stuff out for sale earlier and earlier, and by the time it comes time to put them up, you are already suffering from overexposure. 

Now if I can just find a painless way to do Christmas cards and gift wrapping...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Goble, goble?!?!

One of my favorite websites when I want a good laugh is Cakewrecks.  The website focuses primarily on cakes that have glaring issues--sometimes spelling issues, others with imagery that has problems and a variety of other hilarious screw ups.  I actually had to quit reading it on a regular basis because I would get to laughing so hard, I could hardly breathe.  They do sometimes have some awesome cakes on there too, but the basic idea is a good laugh at cake disasters.  Thus the name.
 
I've seen a few poorly done cakes, but nothing worthy of the website until recently.  My husband and I were at a nearby mall last weekend, minding our own business, when all of a sudden he started laughing.  When I asked him what was so funny, he told me.  I had to go back and check it out for myself.  And of course, I took a picture:
 
 
Wow.  Not only is that one sad looking turkey, but seriously, goble goble?????  Thanksgiving is a HUGE deal in the United States and at an early age we are exposed to Thanksgiving culture, learning about pilgrims, their interactions with the Native Americans and that first dinner of thanks.  And turkeys--they are almost as American at this time of year as apple pie.  Ben Franklin wanted to make it the national bird.  As kids we are all taught that the sound that a turkey makes is "gobble, gobble".   I guess this place that shall remain unnamed, that makes those giant cookies you can use as dessert, doesn't require it's employees to have a basic knowledge of spelling.  Yowsa.
 
Needless to say, this has been a source of much laughter in our house, my husband and I have said "goble, goble!" to each other many times since last weekend.  I can't help but wonder if anyone actually bought the giant cookie! 
 
So, in this week of thanks, from our home to yours:
GOBLE, GOBLE!!!  And Happy Thanksgiving too!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

One of my favorite things to make in a slow cooker

I've owned a slow cooker since I got married, and I've used it to cook a lot of different things.  For years I mostly used it to make sauerkraut with hot dogs, always for the new year.  Then I decided to venture out into some other recipes, most things have been hits, I can only think of one true miss.  A couple of years ago I came across something that I wish I'd discovered ages ago.

I mentioned in my post about Aldi's that they sell very good fresh chickens.  They aren't really big, usually somewhere between 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 pounds.  These fit very well into my medium sized slow cooker which is a 5 quart oval shaped one.  And talk about super easy!  Plus with just two of us, we can get 3 - 4 different meals from just that one chicken.  Doesn't get any better than that!

It's really very easy to do, I'm going to explain it here.  You can also do this with a frozen chicken, just make sure it's thawed completely first.  I start out by putting some cut up onions and celery in the bottom of the crock pot, usually a small onion cut into fairly large pieces and a stalk or two of celery is all you need.  If you have some carrots around, cut one of those into a couple of pieces and add it.  Remove the chicken from the package, make sure you check to see if there is anything stuffed inside.  Once in a while you may find a little package containing the giblets.  I usually just toss that out, not a fan.  Place the chicken in the crock pot on top of the vegetables, then season liberally with seasoned salt and Mrs. Dash in your favorite flavor.  (If Mrs. Dash isn't available where you are, use pepper, oregano, basil, rosemary and a bit of garlic salt, or any combination of some of your favorite spices)

Now is the trickest part--how long to cook?!  If you have one of the newer slow cookers, you will probably only need to cook it about 6 hours on the low setting.  If yours is older, 8 - 10 hours on low.  Why the difference?  Because "someone" (I suspect in the legal department) decided that slow cookers cooked at too low of a temperature to be safe.  So they jacked up the temperatures on them.  This annoys me to no end because A)when have you ever heard of someone getting sick from something cooked in a slow cooker  B)it screws up a lot of recipes that people have been using for years, and lastly C)it defeats the idea for the working person to throw their meal in their crockpot, go to work and come home to a yummy meal.  If you tried that with some of the recipes I have now, you'd come home to burnt offerings or worse yet, your house burnt to the ground.  As William Shakespeare said "kill all the lawyers!"  In this case, I couldn't agree more.

Okay, so your chicken is done and you're scratching your head--now what?  Here's what I do with mine.  I get a large baking pan/dish out, and carefully lift the chicken out with some tongs.  Don't be surprised if it falls apart a bit, cooking in the slow cooker does cook it thoroughly.  I then cut some of the meat away and we eat that the first night with some sides--potatoes, a veggie, onion rings, whatever.  What to do with the rest?  First thing I do is drain the juices through a strainer into a storage container and stick it in the refrigerator, tossing the veggies.  After it has been in the refrigerator for a while, the grease will separate and rise to the top, as well as harden.  You can then pop that off and into the trash, leaving you some wonderful, low fat chicken broth!  The rest of the chicken I pull apart into small pieces and with that I can make several different things:

Chicken gravy with chicken chunks over biscuits (using the wonderful broth I just described!)
Chicken Tacos
Chicken Quesadillas
Chicken Soup (also using the broth)
Chicken chunks on a tossed salad
Chicken salad
 
Yummy!!!
Those are our personal favorites.  I love the fact that these chickens cost about $5 and I can get such a variety of meals this way.  Other than the bones and the skin, there is very little waste.  And it's sooooooooo yummy!  A little tip I will give you is to refrigerate the cooked chicken overnight before pulling it apart, it comes apart much easier that way.  The nice part about this too is that the broth as well as the chicken you have pulled apart can all be frozen if you don't want to use it right away.  I almost always have a container of chicken broth in my freezer for something further down the line. 

Slow cookers are a wonderful tool that I think every cook should have and learn to use.  It's a great appliance for making a home cooked meal on those days when you don't want to be in the kitchen for an extended period of time.  I use mine quite a bit during the summer months, it's a nice way to cook a dinner without adding heat to the kitchen.  Plus I can be off doing other things, most recipes don't require much attention once you have the ingredients together. 

Do you have a slow cooker?  And what is one of your favorite things to make in it if you do?  I already shared my spaghetti sauce recipe and I'll be sharing more of my crock pot favorites in the months to come. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Aldi...

Do you shop at Aldi?  If you don't, why not???  I do understand that there are still areas in the US where Aldi doesn't have stores, and let me just say, I feel bad for those people.  But if you live near one, and you don't shop there, you really should.
 
Not familiar with Aldi?  It is a grocery store chain that is classified as a "deep discount" chain, originally started in Germany, but now with locations around Europe, the US and Australia.  Aldi's basic idea is that they carry primarily their own brand instead of numerous name brands, reducing square footage which in turn, reduces expenses and overhead.  Their prices are significantly lower than most grocery stores and when they do have name brand merchandise, it is generally at a discount price as well.
 
I first discovered Aldi about 16 years ago.  They had stores popping up here and there in our area, and I wasn't at all familiar with them, I assumed (quite wrongly) that it was just another regular grocery store chain.  It wasn't until part of my photography club met up at the home of one of our members that had recently relocated.  Aldi was close to his new home and he was telling us all about it and how much money he was saving.  I decided it was worth checking out. 
 
I started out by buying 10 items we used a lot of.  Don't ask me what they were exactly, I do remember buying a can of corn.  My thinking was that 10 items wouldn't break the bank and I could try a variety of items in different categories.  I was very impressed with what I bought and the next time I went, I bought more different items.  As the months progressed, we had tried just about everything we would use regularly, and for the most part, everything was good.  The only thing I ever remember being so bad that I wouldn't buy it again was a spaghetti sauce.  At the time, they had two different ones, this was the cheaper of the two.  Luckily we'd only bought one jar, it wasn't good at all and they no longer sell it, so I guess we weren't alone in thinking it didn't taste good!  I've since bought it there (under another label) and it is good, I used to use it all the time when I made lasagna.  Now that I make my own, it's no longer something I purchased in a jar.
 
Aldi is a fantastic place to buy staple items like flour, sugar, etc.  A friend of mine for whom money was no object always went to Aldi to buy baking supplies for doing all of her holiday cookie and pie making.  Since I do the bulk of my cooking from scratch, I regularly stock up on basic items.  Their spices are good, we've gotten so we prefer a lot of their condiments and pickles, and their cheeses are terrific, always consistent in taste and quality.  We live in a state where dairy prices are highly regulated and Aldi is the one place we can get these items at the best price.
 
Items we aren't fond of:  butter (it doesn't melt well), bread (not as fresh as my hubby likes) cereal (tastes fine, but the boxes are puny).
 
Items I highly recommend:  all of the dairy items (except butter), tea mixes, tortilla chips, rice chips, storage bags, frozen thin green beans.
 
Everything else I have bought there has been good to very good.  Produce overall is very good, but I will warn you, it does tend to go bad rather quickly.  I'm not sure if it's because of how it's stored, or some other reason.  If you are cooking for a large family this is probably not going to be an issue, but with just two of us, sometimes I end up throwing things out before I can use them up.  Price depending, this still might not be a deal breaker though.  You just have to know what these items are selling for at the competition in your area.
 
Meat was something that was just okay for a long time at Aldi, but in recent years, some of the stores have added an actual meat counter instead of selling everything frozen.  I regularly buy pork chops and/or loins, ground beef and chicken this way, and I have absolutely no complaints, many times it's better than what I'd been buying at local grocery stores.  I started out buying frozen whole chickens there a couple of years ago and just in the past year they have gone to selling fresh chickens, they are fantastic. 
 
Aldi has a few interesting "quirks" that help them keep prices lower.  You have to insert a quarter to get your shopping cart, but you do get that back when you return it. This eliminates the need to pay someone to regularly retrieve carts from the parking areas and cars are less likely to get damaged.  You have to pay for the grocery bags, but they welcome you to bring your own.  This is probably one of my favorite things about Aldi (besides saving money) because I have a real problem with the number of bags thrown out and/or wasted.  In the US they don't take credit cards or checks, but you can use a debit card.  Cash is always welcome.
 
Another thing that I love about Aldi is the fact that the store is smaller.  Since they aren't carrying 5 varieties of the same item, they need significantly less floor space.  It makes shopping far less stressful and I can be in and out in no time. 
 
The drawback is that Aldi doesn't carry everything.  If you are cooking something that needs an unusual ingredient, you are probably going to have to make a stop at a bigger grocery store.  I've gotten in the habit of going to Aldi first, then filling in at another grocery store with the items I couldn't get there.  I still buy the bulk of my groceries at Aldi though. 
 
So how much money do you save?  Depending on where you live and the prices at the competition, the savings can be anywhere from 30% - 50% off.  About a year after I started shopping at Aldi's on a regular basis, I had no choice one day but to stop and pick up a few things at another store (it was a Sunday and at that time, Aldi stores in the US weren't open on Sundays).  I was floored to see how much money I had been wasting for all of those years by shopping at a larger store. 
 
Now, I will tell you about one caveat with shopping at Aldi:  quality changes.  In order to get the good prices that they can pass on to consumers, Aldi buys their products from a variety of manufacturers.  I'm sure it's probably on a contract basis.  The problem with that is when the contract runs out, they may continue selling an item, but it's now being made by a different company.  This can cause anything from a minor change in taste to a huge change.  The good part though is everything Aldi sells is covered by a "Double Guarantee":  "If, for any reason, you are not 100 percent satisfied with any product, we will offer a Double Guarantee where we will gladly replace the product AND refund your money."  How can you beat that? 
 
Get that shopping list ready!  Give Aldi a try!  Even if you do it the way I did by starting out with a handful of items, I think you will be pleased.  And that's all I have to say about it, I'm getting ready to head out the door to Aldi myself. 
www.aldi.com
 
 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Evil Potato

Most of us know that potatoes can be healthy and bad for you at the same time.  They have lots of good nutrients, but they are also full of starch which isn't so good. I've since discovered another reason I have to eat them with caution.  Potatoes (and other nightshade family plants) have large quantites of alkaloids, which for some people are no problem, but for others can be a pain--literally.
 
I started researching this recently after having repeated issues whenever I ate baked potatoes.  With potatoes in other forms the reaction wasn't quite as bad, sometimes not at all.  It usually involved gut pain/bloating, and could be very annoying.  Several years ago I mentioned it to my mom who told me that my dad used to have terrible issues with IBS and that potatoes seemed to aggravate it more than anything, particularly baked potatoes.  Hmmm...

I discovered that while all nightshade plants contain alkaloids, potatoes have the highest level.  You also have to beware of potatoes that are "growing" or have green spots on them as those have an even higher level in them (and to some people can be toxic).  What I found even more interesting was that how you cooked them also affected the level of reaction.  Boiling them or deep frying seemed to do a much better job of reducing the alkaloid levels, which explained why mashed potatoes have never bothered me.  The fact that potatoes have the highest level also explained why other nightshades (peppers, tomatoes) didn't seem to affect me. 

Something else I discovered was that high levels of alkaloids can affect pain levels in people who suffer from various forms of arthritis and gout.  I couldn't help but think that it might explain some of my arthritis flare ups.  I recently had a very bad week all around and I think I can trace it directly to some potatoes I baked. 

So what does this all mean?  Well, for me, potatoes are going to be one of those things that I eat very cautiously.  Most of the things I read suggested eliminating them for a while and then reintroducing them to see if you get a similar reaction.  Since I've had this reaction multiple times, I think I can pretty much say for certain that it's part of the problem.  In the meantime, if I do choose to eat a potato type item, I'll be much more particular as to how it is cooked.  Baked won't be on of those options.  You have no idea how sad that makes me because that is one of my favorite ways to have a potato and it's super easy to prepare.  Just my luck.  But, I'd rather not eat that and feel good than to deal with pain on multi-levels.  In some people it can cause other problems as well.  No thanks!

Now if I can just figure out why cucumbers hate me so much...

I'm going to miss you...



Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Meal Planning

I'm just going to say that meal planning is one of the best habits I've gotten into EVER.  I used to think that people who did this were obsessive compulsive.  Some are, but for the most part, it is a handy tool that can help you to eat healthier, eat a better variety of foods and save money.  It's not hard either.

My foray into meal planning started because I was tired of eating the same things over and over, annoyed that I would get to the end of the groceries I had in my refrigerator/freezer/cupboard and not have much of a variety.  We were throwing out too much.  Plus we were eating out far too often.  Usually that happened because I hadn't thought ahead about what I wanted to cook and neglected to get anything out to thaw and didn't have anything simple to make.  I'd had enough.

The truth is, you can make meal planning as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.  I know people who plan down to every detail what they are going to cook and do their grocery shopping accordingly.  I chose a much simpler approach instead.  I go buy groceries and plan from that.  A huge plus is that I can take advantage of what is on sale at that particular time instead of having to stick solely to my list. 

Here's what I do.  I make a list of things I know we are out of.  I buy primarily staple items such as chicken, pork, hamburger, potatoes, lettuce, frozen veggies, etc.  I'm going to tell you right up front that we eat very little that comes out of a box.  At present, the only boxed foods in our pantry are white rice, taco shells and some ramen noodles, in our freezer some minute steaks and 2 pizzas.  That's it.  Everything else I cook from scratch, so I make a point of keeping basics on hand at all times along with a nice variety of spices. 

Once I come home from the grocery store, I make a list of what main course items I bought and add to it what I may still have in my kitchen.  It might look something like this:

Pizza
Chicken
Chicken
Burger
Burger
Pork Chops
Steak
Spaghetti Sauce
Bacon

Then I write down the days of the week and figure out what we are going to have as the main course for each of those days.  If we are going out to eat on a specific day, I write "Out" in that spot.  We try very hard to limit our dining out to two times a week. 

M--chicken
Tu--out
W--spaghetti
Th--pork chops
F--pizza
S--out
Su--burgers

The nice part of this is it eliminates possibly eating the same thing two days in a row.  Plus we try not to eat red meat two days in a row, or starchy items like potatoes too often.  At this point if you wanted to, you could then write in what you want as sides to go with each of these items, going from what you just purchased and already have. That's up to you, I don't unless it's something very specific that I know I need to do some advance prep on or I want to use up. And you have at a glance a list that tells you each night as you prepare dinner, what you may need to get out of the freezer to thaw for the next day! As we use up each main course item, I cross that off my list.  It makes it simple to know what I have left for my next meal planning session, as well as what I may need to buy.   As soon as we run completely out of an item, I start my shopping list for my next trip to the store.

At any given time, I may have anywhere from a week to 10 days worth of meals planned out.  I've also gotten into a habit of planning specific items that I know will yield a decent amount of leftovers towards the end of the week so that we have easy lunches for the weekend.  It has taken a bit of practice, but the end results have made me a very happy person.  We throw out far less food, we eat a much bigger variety and I've actually gotten down to doing one big grocery shopping trip a month!  I still have to go pick up perishables such as milk, bread and fresh vegetables/fruit here and there, but overall I find myself using what I have in stock much more efficiently by shopping this way.  It eliminates all those awful temptations to just throw things in the cart. 

Twice a year I do what I call a grocery "purge".  We eat down to the point where there isn't much left in the house.  I do it in the spring because we eat different things in the warmer months, plus I don't like to have as much in my refrigerator/freezer during the spring/early summer as we live in an area where the weather can change at a moments notice and we might find ourselves without electricity.  It doesn't happen nearly as much since we have moved, but it still happens.  My other purge is usually in October, more as a space maker since I know I'm going to have a frozen turkey to store (sometimes two) as well as other holiday foods.  Once the holiday/storm season is over with, I restock and go back to my usual game plan until the next purge.  This also eliminates things getting lost in the pile and going bad.  I HATE that!!!  We might have a few "interesting" meals towards the end of the purge, but that's okay, to me it's worth it.

Getting started is probably the hardest part.  You need to do an inventory of what you have and either use it up, or shop for items to go with it so you can use it up.  Groceries are one of those things that are a constantly revolving item in your home, that you can't change.  But you CAN change how you shop and how you cook so that you use them more efficiently and find yourself far less stressed when it comes to cooking.  Meal planning is a tremendous help in these areas.  It also saves time. 

I've been meal planning for about 4 years and I say that if I can do it, anyone can do it.  Now I can't imagine not meal planning.  Start small and simple by doing 4 - 7 days worth. I know some people who plan an entire month at once.  Everyone is going to have different ways of doing it based on the size of their family, availability of groceries and the amount of storage space you have.  Regardless of all of those factors, even if you are someone who shops more than once a week, you will find that it truly helps.  When I started out I was a once a week shopper, it took me a while to fine tune it to the point I am now, but I know that I dread cooking dinner far less.  Just that factor or alone makes it worth it.  All the rest is just icing on the cake!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Yowza!!!

Several posts ago I mentioned about cleaning out some stuff in our house.  I've been putting things in the "thrift store" pile since then, and I took a bunch of clothing to another donation center.  Today I decided to tackle my craft room.  Oh dear.

It's the only room that I haven't already done a bit of purging in, and boy does it need it.  I have a bunch of stuff to go to the thrift store, a box of stuff I'm saving for my sister for a sale an organization she is in is having and another box for a friend.  And I'm not even part way done.  In fact, if you were to look in the room right at the moment, you might say "what did she do?"  Truth is I did quite a bit, but there is a long way to go!

I am definitely looking at things with a different eye.  Partially because my interests have changed.  Had I done this a few years ago, I probably wouldn't have gotten rid of nearly as much.  But I realize that some of this needs to go now, and I don't think I will miss it.  And as embarrassing as it is to admit, there have been a few things I've come across and thought "I didn't know that I had that!"

One rule I'm making from here on is this:  no more buying things for a craft project unless I am planning on sitting down and doing it within several days.  Also, no more hanging on to items I would otherwise throw in the trash because "I might be able to make something out of that."  Not that either of these things were horribly out of hand, but they could easily get that way. 

An area where I'm having a bit of a dilemma is photography stuff, primarily negatives.  Since I did a ton of photography for a number of years, I have literally boxes and boxes of negatives.  The slides won't be quite as difficult, I will run them through a viewer and I will know quickly if it's worth keeping or one to toss.  Not quite as simple with negatives.  But the other side to this is what are the chances I will EVER need them again.  I need to think on this, I may save that cupboard for last.

Have you ever tackled a huge cleaning project?  What "rules" did you set in place before, during and after to keep from having things get out of hand again?  Would love to hear what others have done!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Perhaps I spoke too soon???

A few weeks ago I was lamenting the sad state of my veggies.  It seemed as though nothing was going to do very well.  I was right about the onions and the lettuce.  The lettuce we've managed to get two pickings off of and it looks dreadful already, I'm not holding out hope.  The onions I haven't totally given up on.  The tomatoes have done about what I expected, I've had enough so far to make two batches of fresh salsa and I see two more coming up over the next days into the weekend as a bunch of them are turning.  I'm not sure I'll get much more beyond that though, the plants themselves look dreadful and we aren't getting any new blossoms.  Oh well.

The real surprise has been our banana peppers.  We got these in so late that I didn't expect much to begin with, and then the weather certainly didn't help matters.  3 of the plants struggled along for a while and then all of a sudden everything took off.  We had tons of blooms and peppers started to appear.  The first few peppers were small though, but big enough for my salsa recipe.  However, over the past week or so, a bunch of these have taken off, and today I managed to make a decent harvest!

Yes, I managed to pick 10 today!  Now, I have to say that I have 6 plants this year instead of my usual 2, but 4 of these peppers all came off one plant.  The funny part is that the plant that seems to be producing the nicest ones is the plant that I fully expected to die!  Just goes to show that you can never tell.  We should have a few more pickings too, there is plenty of activity going on.  I guess I will be heading to the grocery store tomorrow morning for the ingredients to make sausage stuffed peppers--yummy!!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The best things I've ever bought from QVC

I've been a QVC shopper for a number of years, in fact, since not long after I got married.  I've bought a decent amount of stuff from them--I'm far from a QVC addict, but they've gotten their fair share of money from me.  Some things have been flops, most things have been good, but a few things have stood head and shoulders above the rest.  I'm going to share those 3 things with you so that you can try them too if you are interested.  Keep in mind, I'm getting NO compensation from QVC for this post, this is just me raving about 3 products I love!!!

3)  Hookless Shower Curtain  I'd seen them demonstrate how these worked many times, but it wasn't until I'd seen one up close in a hotel we stayed at that I decided to buy one.  WOW!  No more shower curtain hooks for this girl.  It goes on super easy, washes up nicely and wasn't anymore expensive than a traditional shower curtain.  Did I mention no more hooks?? LOL  I didn't keep much from my old bathroom when we remodeled, this was one of the few things that survived.  I need to order another.


2) Ninja Master Prep Pro and Drink Mixer  Another thing I'd watched them demonstrate a few times, hubby happened to be home one day when it was on and said "order it"!  Don't laugh, it was our Valentine's Day gift that year.  I LOVE it!  Great for making drinks, chopping veggies fine, I even make salsa with it.  I recommended it to a friend when she was wanting a new chopper and she loves hers too, she says she has "Ninja Power"!  I've seen these other places as well, but QVC had them first.
 
 
1) Emjoi Micro-Pedi Battery Operated Callous Remover  I have to give the hubby full credit for this find, he thought it looked neat, it was highly rated, and he wanted it, so I ordered it for him.  Of course, I had to try it out after he raved about it.  OMG, it is the best!  My feet never looked so good.  I ended up ordering one for myself so now we have "His and Hers".  As of this writing, this product has over 6300 reviews and over 6000 of those are 5 stars, you don't see that very often.  Worth every penny, I would buy it again in a heartbeat. 


That's it, my 3 favorite things from QVC!  If you happen to try any of these or already have them, I'd love to hear what you think about them.  Have a great day!

You can find these products at www.qvc.com  (in case you didn't already know!)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Living with less...a lot less!

One of the new fads I've noticed that is getting a lot of attention is the concept of a "capsule wardrobe".  I have to admit that I think it's a neat idea, but not something I think that everyone could do.  I first learned about this idea at this website:  http://theproject333.com/about/

The basic idea is to use only key pieces in your wardrobe and mix and match them.  With this particular site they tell you to work with 33 items for 3 months (hence the 333), then change it out at the end of the 3 months.  Options vary according to where you live, climate, work conditions, etc.  I don't know that I could do it to this extreme, but I did like the idea of just paring things down, taking up less space and having fewer decisions to make when deciding what to wear every day. 

Instead I just decided to quit buying clothing for a while and get rid of things on a regular basis.  It has actually worked pretty well, just this morning I did a large clean out of things that I'm just not that wild about, I got rid of 16 clothing pieces and 5 pairs of shoes.  They may be things that I'm tired of, don't fit or just decided after I wore them for a while I didn't like them anymore.  The simple fact is that if I haven't worn them for a while, chances are I'm not going to anytime soon either.  The best part is that out of those 16 pieces, only 3 were items that I had purchased at regular retail, the rest were all thrift store purchases.  As far as buying new (or new to me) clothing--I have pretty much stuck to limiting that, I bought a pair of jeans in the spring, two pair of shorts at the beginning of the summer and the sweater set I picked up at a thrift store a few weeks ago.  I did buy a new pair of sandals at the beginning of the season, but they were to replace a pair.  I think I've done well, and I hope to continue to weed out and get rid of.

I may at some point impose the "nothing comes in unless something goes out" rule too, I did that one time before and it really does make you think before making that impulse purchase.  My goal at the end of the summer is to have only one container with spring and summer clothing to store, primarily with shorts in it.  That's it.  Come next spring I'll buy a couple of new tops to replace the ones I got rid of.  In this day and age, you truthfully only need a weeks worth of clothing, if even that.  It's not like the old days when you had to drag your stuff down to the river to wash it!

This morning I was faced with a sort of dilemma that made me think about other things in your life that you could do this with.  Our dishwasher is in the process of crapping out.  It's over 10 years old and I quite honestly don't feel like spending the money on a repair, I'd rather put it towards a new one.  But then the other side is, do we really need a dishwasher?  My first thought was yes, but the more I thought about it, I started to question the necessity.  Part of the issue is that we have a small kitchen and without the dishwasher I can't put all of the drinking glasses away.  But is the problem a small kitchen, or simply that we have TOO MANY drinking glasses??  And would we need as many glasses if I was washing them more often instead of waiting until the dishwasher was completely full?  Interesting, huh?  With just two of us, I'm not sure we do need a dishwasher.  Hmmm...

I have a friend who is in full out clean and purge mode at her house.  She's sick of tripping over things, not having space to put the things they do need away, and just having clutter around.  I commend her for doing this because I know it's not an easy task.  But I also know that it does feel TONS better after you have done it.  I've been working on mine a little bit at a time, but there is a part of me that just wants to be done with it and it's so tempting to do what she's been doing.  I love her philosophy with it too.  There is no point in keeping something because you think you might need it.  Get rid of it if it falls into that category.  In this day and age, if it turns out that later on you do need it, then you can go buy a replacement for it.  Chances are you won't need it and in the meantime, think of the space you gained! 

I can think of so many things that this would work with in our house.  We have bicycles that haven't been used in years, odds and ends tools, we even have a lawn mower in our garage that has been there since 2012 (when we sold our other house) that we need to make a decision on.  Over the next few weeks I hope to start some more serious cleaning around here, doing a room each week, and I'm hoping that when I'm done, we will have a few less items.  Maybe even a lot less items. 

I do know that part of the reason that I'm thinking more about this is because over the past few months, I've hurt my back twice, moving furniture around.  As a result, I haven't been able to keep up with the cleaning and such around here.  Part of it is simply because my movement was limited during the recovery process.  But the other reason is because there is just too much to clean around.  I can't help but think about how much easier everything would be if we didn't have some of this stuff about.  And I've also had time to think about what I'm actually using and how my interests have changed.  There are things that 5 years ago I wouldn't have thought about getting rid of, but now that some time has passed, I have come to realize that some of those items no longer have the same use or meaning as they used to have.  I've mentioned several times here on the blog about trying to clean out the stuff that we didn't need or use, but now it has even more validity to me as I am truly trying to simplify things around here.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Garden Report: I surrender! (waving the white flag)

Two years ago I decided that I was going to have a garden, one way or another.  Not a big one, just enough so that my husband and I could enjoy a few of our favorite things.  We had already had a bad experience with the wildlife in our new neighborhood eating our plants, so I came to the conclusion that container gardening was the way to go, planting the "hot" plants in the built ins and the things that would be attractive to deer and other vermin in planters that could be easily moved.  We had a great gardening season and other than fighting off the crows for the green beans, we enjoyed a nice variety of home grown veggies from June until September.

Last year was just okay.  We had issues with our lettuce rotting, and a tomato plant that completely took over the one planter, keeping anything else from growing.  But we had plenty of peppers and tomatoes to keep us and a friend or two happy.  As long as I could make fresh salsa, I was a happy camper.

This year has been a complete and total disaster.  First we had the winter that didn't seem to want to end, and as a result we were very late in getting some of our stuff planted.  The tomatoes were doing very well, I was incredibly proud of them as I had started this batch from seed instead of buying plants from the nursery.  I had done the same with my peppers, but unfortunately because of where they were going to be transplanted to, we got them in even later than the tomatoes.  We are just now starting to see blooms on them, previously we would have already had one or two pickings off of them.  The tomato plants are full of little tomatoes, just waiting for them to start turning red, but I have a feeling we are not going to get much of a season as the plants are looking horrible now thanks to weather extremes.  And something has been eating at the leaves on one of the pepper plants, I'm tempted just to yank it out to prevent further infestations to the other plants.

Lettuce--what's that???  If we get a bowlful of lettuce, I'll be surprised.  Same problem as last year, too much rain.  And we even watched it like a hawk, moving the planter to safety as needed.  June was the third wettest in the history of this region, we had almost 10 inches!  And my poor onions, they were barely hanging on and this morning my husband discovered that something bit off all the tops but 3, not sure if they are going to bounce back or not.  Bad enough that we had all of that rain, but then when it finally did quit, we had horrible heat, and now we're getting no rain.  It's either feast or famine. 

I'm so disappointed and discouraged.  Not just at seeing my poor plants destroyed and not doing well but I also think of how much money I have invested in this projected.  I had to buy some new planters this year, we needed some new soil and some other stuff--I'm probably out close to $30 or more and I'm going to be lucky if I get $10 worth of veggies.  We won't even talk about the time invested.  I've decided that I'm taking next year off.  Mother Nature is being such a bitch about things and I'm tired of trying to beat her at her own game.  I'll go visit my Amish buddy instead and pay him for his trouble.  I give up. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Let's put a stop to this!

If you live in the US (and some other countries) I'm sure you've received a scam phone call or two.  These are usually what you would call "phishing" expeditions where the scammers are hoping that the person they call will be gullible enough to give them information that they can then use illegally.  These calls annoy me to no end, and come in a number of forms:

Windows Support
Bridget (or Rachel or Carmen) from Cardmember services
Someone trying to sell me insurance.

The calls I get from someone trying to sell me insurance usually aren't from the same outfit, and usually very polite, but the other two are persistent little bastards.  You can report them, but most of the time these calls are originating from outside of the US, so it doesn't do much good.  Plus, the FTC and other law enforcement are inundated with reports, so not much is being done.  Hanging up or letting the call go to an answering machine doesn't do any good either, they call back again and again.  So, I've decided to flip the table.  If they are going to waste my time, then I certainly have no problem with wasting theirs!  I figure the time they are stuck on the phone with me is that many fewer people they are pestering too.  I got this idea from a friend of mine.  She used to work in an office where they were constantly getting calls from someone trying to sell something.  She said it was getting to be completely annoying and time wasting, so she decided to fight fire with fire.  When someone would call, she would tell them that "Harold" took care of that, and that he was on the other line, could they hold?  Then she would put them on hold--indefinitely!  Eventually they would hang up.  The best part--these idiots were so stupid, that they started calling and asking for Harold!!!!  Of course, that was immediately a red flag and those people always got put on hold.  I loved it!  She said after doing this for a while she did notice fewer calls.

I used to just hang up on these people, but they kept calling back!  Even one that said "press 8 if you no longer wish to receive these calls" didn't work, I still got calls.  Now, I press whatever number it says to hit if you wish to speak to a representative.  Then I let them have it!  I use every bit of foul language I have learned in my life, call them losers, you name it.  Guess what?  I'm getting fewer phone calls!  Even scammers don't want to be called nasty names I guess.  They usually hang up on me, but I have released some steam and let them know that I am aware that they are nothing but con artists.  I used to get several of these calls each week, sometimes several in a day.  The Windows Support calls have completely stopped and I'm getting very few from "Cardmember services".  When I do I let them have it.  I've noticed that there is a definite cycle to it too.

Another thing I've started doing with people calling and begging for money--I simply tell them that because of the high rates of fraud, I no longer accept ANY solicitations over the phone.  I worked for a small business that told people that.  I also had someone call me begging for money and had them mail me paperwork to send in my donation.  I simply didn't send it in.  I know that probably doesn't sound very nice, but it put an end to phone calls from that group along with a number of others.  They sell lists of names of people who donate to other organizations but apparently don't forward the names of deadbeats!

Try it!  It can't hurt anything and hopefully it will eliminate some of these annoying calls.   Just remember that the time you tie them up on the line is one less person they can call who might be gullible enough to give them the information they are looking for. 

In addition, you can also call these numbers back and harass them as well.  If you have caller ID, just jot the phone number down and return the call.  It will usually (not always) give you several options, how you want to handle it is up to you.  Just keep in mind that you can probably get away with saying whatever you want to these losers as they aren't going to report you, they are scam artists.  I'm also going to list any phone numbers I receive calls from, so feel free to take part in my fun by calling them back.  I will update it regularly!  Let me just say that not only are you doing a service by tying them up with your nonsense (just like they do to you) but eventually they will give up as they are losing money every time they have to take one of these calls.  Pass this info on to anyone you know, the more, the merrier :)  My goal is to turn this into a nationwide activity, perhaps you could call it a new "hobby"?  It's a wonderful stress-buster too.

860-237-5624
Please feel free to add any phone numbers you may be receiving calls from in the comments section as well. 

Rudeness Exemplified!

Two stories in the news recently have me just shaking my head.  Is this how far we've fallen?  At a recent Broadway production, a person in the audience went up on to the stage to plug in his cellphone.  SAY WHAT?!?!  First off, how incredibly rude, but in addition, it's a set, chances are the outlet isn't even real moron!  The second story involved actress Patti LuPone.  In a recent performance, not one, not two but FOUR cell phones went off.  At her second performance of the day, she noticed a woman texting, so she walked off the stage and down into the audience and took the woman's cell phone away.  GO PATTI!  Not only is it horribly rude, but why would you spend that much money on a ticket to a performance and not pay attention.  Tickets to Broadway shows are not cheap, even if you get them at the 1/2 off ticket booth. 

Are we that wrapped up in ourselves that we can't take a break from our phones and enjoy ourselves?  I recently posted about going to two concerts two weekends in a row.  Not only were both enjoyable, but I also noticed one major difference between the two.  The first one catered to folks my age and younger and there were a lot of people with their cell phones out, taking pictures.  I have to say that it wasn't as bad as some I've seen though.  The following weekend the act we went to see was a much older crowd and there were very few photos taken.  I was glad to see that because it was such an enjoyable evening and no one had to deal with someone continually jumping up and down to get that "perfect shot"-which by the way, chances are you aren't going to get with your iPhone, sorry folks.  If you read my post, you saw my crappy pics.  Once I saw them, I wondered why I even bothered.

As a photographer, I'm continually appalled at the rudeness displayed by people just to get that perfect selfie or photo.  Is it really that important?!  Last year I went to two different weddings, one as a guest, the other as the main photographer.  I was floored to see not just cell phones but people holding up their iPads to take photos during the ceremony.  Really?  Do you have any idea how rude and ridiculous that looks?  I've photographed a ton of weddings and even as the paid photographer, I tried to be as discreet as I could and blend in with the background whenever possible.  In fact, the day I decided to hang it up was when I was at the front of the church, taking the photos that I needed to do my job.  I turned around to get out of the way (it was a tiny church) and behind me I discovered no less than 10 guests, also taking photos.  WTF?!

This has gotten completely out of hand, and I totally applaud Patti LuPone for what she did.  Between texting, phone calls and selfies, phones have become an annoyance to so many instead of a convenience.  I think I shocked the heck out of someone one day, we were going somewhere in my car together, my purse in the back seat, and my phone started to ring.  She asked if I wanted her to get my purse so I could answer it and I responded "no, it can wait."  I mean really, stop and think about what did we did before cell phones.  We've become so used to instant gratification that we've turned into a bunch of idiots in the process.  Don't get me wrong, I think cell phones have their place, but unfortunately what started out as a good thing has turned into a bad thing.  I've had a cell phone for 20 years and it has come in handy a couple of times, and now with payphones being a thing of the past, they are almost a necessity for some people.  We just need to quit being stupid with how we handle them. 

That's it, I'm done with my rant.  GO PATTI LUPONE, KEEP TAKING THOSE DAMNED PHONES! 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Thrift store finds-yeah, it's been quite a while!

I haven't had a thrift store post here in ages, simply because I haven't found much.  What I have found has been stuff for the doll blog, and I don't like to duplicate posts between the two blogs.  Even that has been kind of poor pickings overall until recently.  Blah.

This morning I looked at the weather forecast and decided it was going to be far too gloomy for any sewing.  Or much of anything else.  We've had so much rain this month it isn't funny, they are saying it is the 3rd rainiest June in history.  I believe it.  So, given that yucky forecast, I decided it was a good day to go to Pittsburgh and check my favorite thrift stores.  The last time I was there was in April and it was really pathetic, I only bought three things, two of which were neckties for my husband.  And a doll chair!  I had my fingers crossed that my luck would be better this time--must have worked!

First--a book on how to crochet.  My grandmother crocheted a lot but I never managed to learn how.  I remember her trying to show me how, but I just wasn't into it.  I've since regretted that, and when I saw this, I thought it would be worth a try. 

Then I found a tray for 95 cents.  Just a few days earlier I had mentioned to my husband that we needed a second plastic tray and I would have to keep my eyes out for one.  Perfect for what we need it for!

 
Two more neckties for my hubby!  He didn't have to wear a tie for work until this year when the company he is employed by changed ownership.  He loves having a variety of ties, and thrift stores are the perfect place to buy them at, so many of them appear to be brand new and many times you can get one for as little as 95 cents.  These were a little bit more because they are popular themes, but at $2.95 and $3.95 they were a steal. The one on the right is a Jerry Garcia tie, and they can cost brand new anywhere from $16 - $40.  He was thrilled with both of them.  He will be the first to admit that he hates to shop too, so it was a win/win.


For me--a matched set of Lands End sweaters, brand new!!!!!  I LOVE Lands End clothing, I buy a lot of it from them, and I'm always thrilled when I find pieces like this in thrift stores.  I got both pieces for $7.95, if I were to buy these from the website they would have cost me over $100!  They aren't even selling this particular shade of red at the moment either, but I have a real weakness for red clothing (if you hadn't already figured that out) and I couldn't put these into my cart fast enough.  I like sweater sets like this as they can be worn year around and can be dressy or casual. 

The rest of what I found is all doll related, if you want to see it, you can check it out on the doll blog Friday, I won't be posting it until then.  I'm hopeful that these great finds means there will continue to be some good thrift store shopping in the months to come.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Busy as a bee?beaver?one legged man in an a** kicking contest?

After enduring the winter that never seemed to end, we've spent a lot of time just getting caught up on things.  The past few weeks we've had some fun things to do as well.  When we bought tickets for two of these events back in February it seemed like forever away.  Both were a whole lot of fun though, and well worth the wait.

On May 31st we went to see Weird Al Yankovic.  We LOVE Weird Al, this is either the 6th or 7th time we've seen him (we lost track!) and we'll probably go again.  This is where we were heading the day of the little tornado that I mentioned before.  (I apologize in advance for the poor photo quality on some of these, I was more concerned with actually enjoying the show instead of taking photos and was just using my iPod!)

 
He puts on a heck of a show, I wish I had a fraction of the energy he has.  If you are a Weird Al fan and he's going to be performing near you, I highly recommend going.
 
 
On June 6th I got to fulfill something that I guess you'd call a "bucket list" kind of thing.  I've been a fan of Prairie Home Companion since the mid 90's and I always thought it would be fun to go see one of their live performances.  Our original plan had been to go see them in New York City this past spring while visiting family, but the hubby's job changed killed that.  One day I was looking on the website to see where they were going to be, and I was so exited to see that they were going to be in the Rochester, NY area.  It's not like right in our backyard, but closer than NYC, and definitely closer than their home base in Minnesota!  I ordered the tickets the day they went on sale, we had great seats and it was everything I expected it to be and more. 
 
Before the show, Garrison Keillor and guest singer Heather Masse warmed up the audience with a sing along:

What was really cool is that they wandered into the audience while they sang, the bottom picture I took when they walked past us, at one point I was within several feet of them.  Then they walked down to the stage to get ready to start the show.
The show was very good, my husband asked me later if I thought it was just an exceptionally good show or it seemed like it was because we were there.  I think it was the first, but perhaps I was biased!  I would definitely go again if they were nearby, I'm still hoping they might be in NYC this fall.  I'm just glad that we got to do this because Garrison Keillor is in his 70's and keeps hinting at retiring.  I don't think the show would be the same without him.
 
Last week I ventured out on a field trip to meet up with one of my fellow doll bloggers.  She and her husband are actively involved with a place called the Coolspring Power Museum, and this past week was one of their big shows of the year.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I thought it was very interesting!  We wandered around the various parts of the museum and she knew a lot about some of the engines and their history, it was nice to have a personal guide.


 
Again, I apologize for the small size of these photos.  This time it's not an issue with the quality of the camera, but for some reason Blogger won't let me resize them, argh!!!!  What's up with that??  If you would like to see them larger, you can click on them and they will open up, but I don't like this, grrr...
 
We finally got the last of my plants into their outdoor beds and the seeds for the onions and lettuce in as well.  We've had torrential rains for the past week (or longer) and I was hesitant to move the pepper plants outdoors for fear of them drowning or getting damaged by wind.  Crazy darned weather!  I'll share the progress next week on some of that, I can't wait to show you the tomato plants!
 
What's new in your world?  After this flurry of activity here, it's now back to normal, day to day stuff.  There are all sorts of things happening locally in the weeks to come, hopefully we will get to enjoy a couple of the festivals and events.  Summer flies by too quickly!
 


Friday, June 5, 2015

A strange coincidence...

Earlier this week I posted about the tornadoes that ravaged this area back in 1985 and how it was the 30th anniversary this year.  What's that saying--"lightning doesn't strike the same place twice"?  Apparently it doesn't apply to tornadoes!!!

They were forecasting some bad weather on Sunday, mostly just thunder and lightning storms, so we didn't think anything of it.  We got some very heavy rain and what we thought was a typical spring/summer thunder storm, nothing any worse than we've had before.  The dog was upset, but she doesn't deal with storms and loud noises well to begin with, so we really didn't pay any attention.  No warnings went up either on any of the channels for anything beyond a severe thunder storm.  We didn't even have any hail.

We left the house at 5 PM to head towards Pittsburgh, we had tickets for a concert there.  We encountered some really nasty weather on the way, some of the heaviest rain I can remember driving through in a very long time, but there wasn't a lot of thunder and lightning with it either.  I was just glad when we finally drove out of it, visibility was just about non-existent. Still didn't think anything of it.

Not long after we got out of that, I got a text message from my nephew.  "Are you guys okay over there?" (he lives on the other side of the county so we frequently refer to where the other lives as "over there")  I texted him back that we hadn't been home since 5, but last we knew everything was fine.  "Why do you ask?" I texted to him.  He had been watching the news and saw where there was some serious damage to the gas station not far from our house, and that the winds had been so strong, it had flipped a vehicle onto it's side!  We had left going a different way, so we missed seeing the damage, but we saw it when we got home.  Once again, didn't think anything of it. 

You can imagine how shocked we were when we watched the news the next morning and it was officially confirmed that a small tornado had been responsible for the damage.  Of course the significance of the date wasn't missed by anyone.  Our neighborhood was fine, fortunately the area it damaged was very isolated.  I texted my niece later on because it wasn't far from her house.  All either of us had to report was some water in the basement, nothing exciting.  We were lucky!

I think next year when May 31 comes around, I'm going to wrap myself in bubble wrap just to be safe.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

30 Years Ago Today...

May 31, 1985 is a day that I will never forget, and I know many others who live in Eastern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, Southwestern NY and parts of Canada won't either.  The significance of that date:  the 1985 United-States-Canada tornado outbreak. 

Tornadoes aren't particularly common in this area.  We have one here and there, but not very often, primarily because of the hilly terrain.  They don't seem to get much momentum before they dissipate, and usually the damage is minimal.  That's partially why this particular outbreak killed and injured so many people.  Not only were those at the National Weather Service hesitant to post watches and warnings too soon, but when they did, they were somewhat ignored.  There had been so many watches and warnings that never turned into anything over the years that most everyone just dismissed it, a classic case of "boy who cried wolf".  Unfortunately, this was no wolf.  This was so much worse.

I worked in a discount retail store at the time running the front desk.  It was a weird day, sunny, but very humid, I remember feeling like I was going to melt.  As the evening progressed, the weather turned bad, but all I could see were some typical spring thunderstorms from where I was at.  We all went through our normal activities within the store.  I was somewhat engrossed in counting out drawers and doing my usual steps leading up to closing, so I wasn't paying close attention to the crowd of people collecting around the television recently put at the front of the store for display.  When I finally did look up, not only was I shocked at all of these people, but when I looked at the TV screen, I was concerned.  It was a weather map unlike anything I had ever seen before.  Not long after that, the phone rang, it was my mom.  I knew something was seriously wrong because she rarely ever called me at work, we had a "no personal calls" policy and she didn't want to jeopardize my job.  She told me to be careful on my way home because there was a lot of debris scattered and so forth.  I certainly wasn't prepared for what I was going to see.

One of the girls who worked with me needed a ride home, so I offered to take her.  When we pulled into the driveway of her apartment, we both noticed the smashed car next door to her, and we were immediately concerned because we both knew the owner.  We wondered if perhaps it was related to the storms.  At this point neither of us knew the gravity of what all had been going on in the areas around us.  After dropping her off, I headed home.  I saw a lot of tree branches down, pine needles, etc, but nothing alarming.  Until I pulled into my driveway.  There, lying in our front yard was a huge hunk of someone's roof. 

The next morning the news reports had started to come out-major devastation all over the county and this whole section of the state as well as Eastern Ohio, Southwestern New York and Ontario, Canada.  We were actually quite fortunate.  Our biggest issue was debris dumped all over the neighborhood.  I decided to venture out to see what I could find.  I found mostly pieces of pink insulation, some vinyl and aluminum siding, and a bunch of those plastic pots that nurseries put plants in.  The neighbor kids found a bunch of cancelled checks from someone in Ohio and a pair of pants still on a hanger.  As I drove to work that morning, I was stunned at how much building debris was scattered everywhere the whole way to work and I had a 7 mile drive! 

After mentally recreating some of the things that occurred that day, residents where I lived realized that they were incredibly fortunate, one (or more) of the tornadoes had actually bounced over our area which is why we had all of this debris scattered in our yards.  My mom recalled looking out the window and seeing birds "falling from the sky".  More like being thrown.  At the moment it was a bit scary, but upon realization of what could have happened, it was terrifying.  I remember weeks later a story about a teddy bear that was found not far from us being reunited with it's owner from Ohio. 

As fortunate as we were, there were other areas that had experienced complete devastation.  Newton Falls, Hubbard  and Niles, Ohio and Wheatland, PA were the worst as the tornado that swept through there was an F5, the highest rating on the scale.  I suspect that some of the debris we had in our neighborhood may have been from that particular twister, years later I met someone from Newton Falls and he told me that one of the businesses that was destroyed was a gardening center!  That tornado still holds the record as the only F5 to ever touch down in the state of Pennsylvania.  The area hit in Wheatland was almost completely destroyed.   

So many areas were affected with severe injuries, loss of life and homes and businesses destroyed in counties north, south and east of here.  For days the radio and television reported on where to go for help, lists of missing persons, emergency information, etc.  There was nothing else on the TV to watch, all efforts went to getting through this crisis.  Phone service was sporadic in many areas due to damage and destruction of poles, ham radio operators and cb users assisted in communications.  Thinking back on it, it was quite impressive to see how so many people came together to get through this awful time. 

As for the friend with the damaged car:  he was fine, but the car was totaled.  He had been in Hermitage, PA shopping and was heading home when he saw the storm heading towards him.  He tried to outrun it and darned near succeeded.  He didn't get caught up in the tornado itself but in one of the side winds which threw his car onto it's roof.  The crazy part is right after it happened, my niece, her boyfriend and several of their friends came upon the car and recognized it, scared half to death at what they were going to find. 

There were so many stories of what went on that night, I could write forever, but this blog isn't big enough for that.  Instead, I will tell you the story of the one person that made the biggest impression on me.  That night there was a little league baseball game going on in Wheatland.  As the game ended, the umpire, Dave Kostka realized that they were all in danger, and urged everyone to go to their cars or the dugout and get out of the area.  Two kids were there alone, still waiting for their rides, so he grabbed them, put them in his car and started to drive away.  The tornado caught up to them and tossed the car in the air.  When the vehicle hit the ground, he immediately got out, taking the kids with him and headed for a ditch.  The car became airborne again as he threw the two kids into the ditch, and then he laid on them to protect them.  Unfortunately for Kosta, he was pulled out of the ditch by the storm and thrown across the road, not surviving.  But because of him, emergency workers found the kids in the ditch, dazed, but still alive. 

I can say that this series of events will always stay with me, and one that I will always find interesting as well.  About two years after these storms, an article was published in Readers Digest, documenting the events of the day leading up to all of these storms as well as stories of the personal struggles.  It was one of the best accounts of this disaster, detailing many of the stories of those who survived as well as those who perished.  It was later turned into a book called "Tornado Watch Number 211".  It's hard to find, but it is an excellent read. 

A couple of years ago after my mom had passed away, my brother and my eldest sister were going through a box of her things that we had originally thought was only photos.  You can imagine my surprise when I found a copy of the local newspaper published just after these storms had hit the area.  I kept it as it didn't mean anything to either of them as my brother lived in an area that managed to escape damage and my sister lived completely out of the area.  The following photos are shots I took from that newspaper, as well as photos I took of the two memorials not far from here, one remembering Dave Kosta and the other remembering all of the victims and the businesses that were lost to that storm in Wheatland.  While 30 years have passed since that day, it has not only left some emotional scars for those affected, but it's made the area stronger.  I know that now when I see weather warnings posted, I'm much more aware of what is going on, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Sawhill/Tornado Memorial, Corner of Main & Clinton Streets, Wheatland, PA


S. David Kosta Memorial, Roemer Blvd, Farrell, PA

Cover Of Sharon Herald, June 1, 1985

 Headline of Sharon Herald, June 1, 1985
 Photos from the Sharon Herald, June 1, 1985


For additional reading:
http://www.weather.gov/ctp/TornadoOutbreak_May311985
http://www.pahighways.com/features/may31tornadoes.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1985_United_States%E2%80%93Canada_tornado_outbreak

This outbreak as of May 2015 still stands as the worst outbreak in Pennsylvania.  It did over 600 Million dollars in property damage which if converted to todays standards is over $1 Billion. 


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Have you tried Zulily?

Not familiar with Zulily or never heard of it?  It's an online retailing concept that is rather unique.  Instead of them keeping mass quantities of merchandise in a warehouse, they have worked out deals with various companies.  They offer items at discounts for a few days and then when the sale is over with, the merchandise is then shipped to them where they then ship it out to the purchaser.  They don't have to store the merchandise for an extended time in a huge (and expensive) warehouse, cutting down their overhead considerably.

So how does it work?  Every day they have a group of new items in all sorts of different categories that they make available for sale.  Usually these items are only available for a couple of days at most, some as short as 24 hours.  Once the sale for that item is done, that's it, you're out of luck.  If you placed an order, you will get your item once they have received it and shipped it to you.  Discounts on full retail can vary and is different even sometimes if they happen to sell the same item at another time.  You snooze, you may loose.

The bonus--sometimes the discounts can be hefty.  I recently purchased an item at a 50% discount and after doing a bit of homework, could not find it this cheap anywhere else, even with shipping factored in.  The item was shipped to my doorstep, saving me a lot of time looking around and gas money.  And it was very high quality when I received it, I was very happy with what I got. 

Is everything a deal?  No, unfortunately not.  I've looked at a couple of things on there, only to discover after doing a some checking that they weren't a deal at all.  That's where being a cheapskate comes in handy, I have no issue with doing a bit of research to be certain I'm going to get the best price. 

The caveats?  First off, they have a very rigid return policy.  Basically it's no returns unless the item is defective or damaged.  So if you're one of those people who is unsure of your size and you order the same item in 3 different sizes and return the two that don't work--not going to be a good thing for you.  I've read a number of reviews on them and I hate to say it, but it seems as though most of the complaints have been with clothing items--bad fit, poor quality, etc.  I just steer clear of those items.  And you can't be in a hurry to get these items AT ALL.  Their policy clearly states that it can take 10-17 days for your merchandise to even be shipped.  This is due to the way they operate with the manufacturers, and basically you (and they) are at the mercy of how quickly these companies get these items to them.  The item that I purchased took just over two weeks to arrive from the date I ordered it.  Didn't bother me since I knew what to expect, but I wanted to make that clear to anyone who might be interested in buying from them.  They do have a section of items they have in stock that you can order from in case you need it in a hurry, but it is a limited selection.

I've only purchased the one item from them, but I do go in and check every day to see what they have new.  Some of the companies are big names (Nautica, Clarks, American Girl, etc) and some are upstarts that need an easy way to get their name and merchandise out there.  Some of it is closeout type merchandise, some of it is the same things you would find in other retail stores.  It's one of those places that you need to check regularly if that's your thing.  I have no doubt that one of these days I'm going to come across something else I just have to have!

Lastly, you can sign up for an e-mail notification and they will let you know what's coming up for sale.  I'll be honest, these e-mails can reach the annoying point, and you can unsubscribe.  The good news is that unsubscribing doesn't "ban" you from buying from them.  It's not a secret club kind of thing, you can still go in and poke around the website to see if there is anything that interests you.  There is no membership fee to join either, you just sign up. 

I guess back when they first started the discounts were even better.  Darn, I missed out on that!  I still think it's a neat concept, and here's a link if you are interested in checking it out.  If you use my link, I'll get a discount if you buy something, so thanks in advance if you do!
http://www.zulily.com/invite/fhough701

Saturday, May 16, 2015

I guess I'll never understand/Don't do it!

I recently read a post by Danielle of Blissful and Domestic that really annoyed me.  A lot.  To sum it up, she had received nasty e-mails and comments in regards to how she must hate her son because she post doesn't post enough pictures of him.  Seriously?  Since when is the number of photos you post of your friends and family a measure of your feelings about them?  If that's the case, my husband must be the scum of the earth in my eyes in comparison to my dog! 

I loved the comments she got to this post though, they were all very supportive and pointed out that said persons must not have much of a life if they feel the need to constantly put someone down.  I've talked about this before here on my blog.  I don't quite get the urge to be so mean to someone that you don't even know.  Then I thought of a conversation I recently had with a family member, and it not only put things in perspective, but I think it's a great lesson in human behavior.

Her daughter is only 13, and is having to deal with the whole catty girlfriend issue.  Some of it is ridiculous, and I think it's way worse than it was when I was that age.  I guess it got pretty bad at one point, she was really down in the dumps about it.  So bad that the mom actually went and talked to the school counselor about it, only to find out that the girl who was behind the catty behavior was notorious for this and this wasn't the first issue she'd had.  After a long conversation with the daughter, she decided that this girl wasn't worth worrying about anymore.  What happened afterwards was the best part though.

Once again, catty girl said something behind 13 year-old's back that made it's way around to her.  She decided to confront this girl via a text message with the "if you have something to say to me or have a problem with me, have the guts to say it to my face."  Then she took it a step further.  The next day at school, she walked right up to the girl and said the same thing to her.  What was interesting is that the girl was visibly scared, she said she was actually shaking.  After she said her piece, she walked away, and she hasn't had an issue with her since.  I suspect that no one has ever corrected or confronted the bully before.  And that she is a very insecure person deep down inside which is why she does what she does.  I hope perhaps this was a lesson for her as well.  13 year-old has moved on, and I was very proud of her for handling it the way she did. 

The reason I bring this up is because it confirms something I've thought for a very long time about nasty comments on the internet.  It's easy to hide behind a computer screen and make nasty comments about others when they can't retaliate.  In this case I don't think that the catty girl thought anyone would ever come after her for what she said and she would continue to get away with it.  She found out otherwise.  I've seen some horrible behavior on the internet by others who I know don't think that they will ever be found out.  Oh how wrong they are.  Recently a very popular blogger that I used to follow has been outed as not being as "authentic and genuine" as she appeared to be, and the backlash is proving to be very interesting.  Actress Ashley Judd was a victim of some horrible bullying on Twitter and she is pursuing legal action against some of these bullies.  These are just two examples and I'm sure that there are plenty of others and many yet to come.

Let me just say that "hiding" behind the veil of the internet isn't a good idea.  First off, it's cowardly, but second--you are going to eventually get caught.  I recently had an incident on my other blog with someone trying to post a completely inappropriate comment.  Then they tried to post a response to that comment, posing as someone else.  What they didn't realize is that because of the nature of that blog and the large number of younger readers I have, most comments are automatically thrown into a moderation mode and those that aren't, I closely monitor.  In addition, because of the software used with that particular blog, I was able to instantly detect that it was the same person posting both comments as well as where they were from, who their internet provider was and various other information that had I needed to, I could have turned over to law enforcement.   You are NEVER anonymous on the internet, no matter what you think otherwise.  Choose your words and actions carefully. 

The blogger who I mentioned that was found out not to be who she claimed she was--all that information was discovered by some very savvy folks who found most of the information used to discredit this person via the internet.  You can't hide forever.  I'm sorry, but I just don't have the time or the need to make up a whole lifestyle just to impress people.  It just isn't worth it.  I wonder about those who do this kind of thing though, are they really that needy?

One last thing--to those who think that being "anonymous" when complaining about something is okay.  Guess what?  When I was working in my last job, if we got a letter or complaint from someone that wasn't signed, it went in to the trash.  If you aren't going to be willing to "own" your words, in our eyes your opinion didn't count.  Keep that in mind.