Sunday, February 22, 2009

Who Knew?

One of the things I told Em that I needed to see from the Whitehouse during the Obama Administration was the first family rototilling some of that White House lawn for a community garden.

Today, I ran across this: WOOHOO! Hat-tip to Jack and Jill Politics.


On our way to Home Depot one day this past week, we passed a house where a black guy was mowing the lawn. It was obvious from the trailer behind the pickup parked in front that the guy was hired to do this. I think Em's one of only 3 people in our neighborhood who mow their own lawns, but this guy stood out because he's not Mexican.

I feel really jingoistic, but if the US is experiencing the same recession as the rest of the world, it makes sense to me that we should hire US workers, Mexico should hire Mexican workers, China should hire Chinese workers, etc. So, anyway, Em pulled into the driveway and asked the guy if he'd like more work (thinking that we had some bushes in the front yard that needed cutting back). The guy said, "Sure!", we got his card, and continued on our way.

Em ended up paying the people who do our neighbor's yard to cut back the bushes, but I'm preparing to buy 22 fruit bushes, 25 strawberry plants, asparagus, horseradish, and rhubarb. Just the thought of digging all those holes is enough to wear me out.

I gave Ken a call and he came over early this morning to give me an estimate on what I might want done. While the weather recently has been in the mid 70s, a cool front came through yesterday and the early morning had a blustery wind associated with it, so Ken and I walked and talked around the outside of the house while doing some serious shivering. His input really helped me get the seeds planted in my head for what I want, so I emailed him with my final thoughts.

Did you ever hear of mushroom soil? Ken did, and we're gonna get a yard of that to amend the backyard stuff over and above the amendments from tossing kitchen scraps. It's times like this that I appreciate the rich black dirt of the Midwest, although No. 2 says that the soil on the back 40 at her dad's place isn't any better than ours and now that I think about it, we paid to have that rich, black dirt dumped in our backyard so many years ago. Like everything else in life, mushroom soil has its critics. I'm not going to market my garden stuff, so "organic" concerns are nill, and a little over $50/yard doesn't strike me as over-priced (especially when pro-rated over 3 years).

The final plan is to have rototilled and amended: a 3 foot wide garden area along all 3 back fences, my 4x9 compost area, another 4x9 garden area perpendicular and on the other side of the yard from the 1st one, along with six 3' circles for my sweet potatoes. The 22 fruit bushes will be planted along the fences on the north and west sides. The rhubarb will be planted in the shade of the northeast corner, the horseradish and asparagus along the east fence.

I don't have final plans in my head yet for the 4x9 garden areas, but will be planting lettuces, spinach, cilantro, and other cooler weather plants between the bushes along the fenceline and lining pretty much every blank space with thick wet newspapers as a mulch. The current 4x9 space gets some shade from the house, but the second one will be exposed to a full day of Texas summer sun. The gears are still clinking and clanging in my head on what I want to plant in both areas. Part of the decision will rest on what seeds are viable, and I'll get going on seed-starting tomorrow.

Gonna order the bushes, strawberries, asparagus, and horseradish from Simmons Plant Farm. Their website is here.

Ken's lived in this area all his life, and has never heard of rhubarb. Rhubarb isn't something that typically grows in the south, and the red-stemmed stuff won't tolerate the heat, apparently. I'll be growing the green-stemmed stuff that could tolerate the heat here, as well as planting it in the corner of the yard under the canopy of our neighbor's tree. Did you know the leaves are poisonous? Ken's also not heard of arugula, which now grows pretty much everywhere in my backyard like a weed, and which Em considers "bitter". He's welcome to take ALL my arugula home with him AND welcome to all my arugula seeds.

I really enjoyed my hour or so with Ken this morning. He's actually a banker by trade, but maybe last October found himself out of a job with a severance package and an attitude that said, "I need to reinvent myself." He's found that he enjoys this outside gig way more than he ever liked the office politics, and it seems to support his family, as well.

We're probably also going to invest in some kind of backyard staging area because this house just wasn't built to do anything in the back yard. We have a "no shoes" rule in the house, and our garage is at the front of the house. This means that anytime I need something like bonemeal I put on shoes, go into the garage, come back into the house, take off my shoes, walk to the back door, put my shoes back on, go outside, come back in, remove my shoes, etc. Might be a shed, might be something Ken called a planting "table", but there's definitely got to be something back there in which to store things like my garden kneeler and (of course) my sun oven. Reminds me of George Carlin's thing on Stuff:

I'm still on the schedule of a vampire and I suppose reading Seize the Night isn't helping.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What a morning!

Having fallen asleep during our third Netflix offering last night, I found myself awake this morning at something like 2:30am. So, I got up, because it's apparently worse to flop around in the bed awake than it is to get up and flop around in the rest of the world.

Yesterday, a representative from TXU called to get us to start a new plan with them because our old plan had expired. At the time of the call, I was in the middle of cleaning my office and had NO time to talk. Em had no time to talk, either, so we took their number. TXU is probably the biggest electricity provider in Texas.

With electricity rates on my mind as I awakened this morning, I spent several hours scouring sites like Power to Choose, Texas Electric Rate, Choose Energy, Save on Energy and finally settled on:
Save on Green Energy, which offers 100% renewable power.

February 12, 2009 launched to market 100% renewable power, it said yesterday. The new site will mimic the firm's established site where some green power plans were already available but CEO Brent Moore told us yesterday that it makes more sense to market such deals separately. Consumers that want green power search for it and thus are likely to be drawn to a site with only those products. "We strongly believe in renewable energy efficiency and feel will be extremely well received by customers looking for the best in green and environmentally-aware products," said Moore. The new site launched yesterday with the firm starting an advertising blitz through the internet and more traditional mediums. Moore isn't sure if it will achieve the same volume as -- that now has commercial offers in 20 states -- but he believes the green site will be a success. is starting in Texas where the parent firm has its roots and hopes to follow the original site on its path to other markets. The eventual goal is to run in every state with deregulated power and natural gas markets, said Moore. Firms with residential offers on the site include Green Mountain Energy, Gexa, TXU Energy, First Choice and Bounce Energy. The commercial retailers are the same as those on the firm's original site: TXU, Reliant, Mid American, Cirro Energy, Glacial Energy, Liberty Power, Star Tex and Gateway. Customers wanting 100% green power options usually pay a premium for them but Moore sees that changing. His firm hopes competition spurred by the website will help drive prices down as the firms offering green plans realize they can win more volume through the website if they do, he added. Moore saw that happen on the firm's main website.

We're gonna try Gexa. Their rates per Kwh were LESS by several cents than we were paying TXU to pollute.

So, I tried to get everything in order to acquire a switch to their services for 6 months, including faxing them a copy of Em's driver's license and our last electric bill to avoid paying the deposit fee.

We don't have a fax machine, but I was pretty sure this new Vista install included one, so I scanned the docs and the PC "talked" to the printer/scanner/copier just fine. I needed to hook the PC up to the phone line, so I did that, too, even though the DSL line goes above the phone line kindof like = . THAT brought down my PC.

I called Dave (my new son-in-law) maybe 3 times for help, and the "boot to the previous" option restored everything to WAY, WAY after I'd have thought it would. It went so far as to include the scanned docs right before the fax that blew everything away.

So, it looks like we're gonna try a new company with 100% wind energy at .125 kwh for 6 months ... as soon as we can find a fax machine that'll accommodate the docs I burned to disk.

Our service with TXU doesn't end until the next meter reading, anyway, and that won't be until maybe the middle of March.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Congratulations, Diane and family.

Josie Rae arrived this morning weighing in at a hefty 9.5 lbs and measuring 20 inches long. Mother and daughter are doing well.

Best wishes on your second daughter! [and you thought it would never happen after all those boys!]

We're all happy for you.

Meet Josie Rae.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Homemade Granola.

A long time ago, in a far away land, I made my own granola and absolutely loved it. Through the years I lost the recipe I'd used. I think it was last year that I tried making granola again, using a recipe I'd found that seemed close to what I remembered. The recipe was one that required the ingredients be laid out on pans in the oven, timed, stirred, and baked again. Not realizing that I'd not set the timer, the granola burned and I lost interest in trying again.

I recently came across a post at Fake Plastic Fish wherein Beth explained how she'd gotten a new-to-her crockpot wondering what she might make in it. Calimama from Compact By Design offered a recipe for granola that could be made in the slow cooker. It wasn't exactly what I wanted in a granola recipe, but a great base from which to start, and I wouldn't need to worry about burning it in the oven.

So, I took 4 cups of rolled oats (all I had and even at that some of the oats were from barley) and added stuff I liked and stuff I wanted to include for health reasons. I cooked 1/2 cup of quinoa, for instance, and added it as well as a half handful of flax seeds, a half handful of sesame seeds, a half handful of sunflower seeds, a T of amaranth seeds, sweetened coconut flakes, smashed almonds, dried bananas, apples, cherries, raisins. I let it all cook on low in the crockpot for 4 hours and the house smelled wonderful the entire time.

While it cooked, I started to grow concerned about the moisture content and whether perhaps adding the cooked quinoa was a good idea. I don't remember storing granola in the refrigerator before (which doesn't mean that I didn't; only means I don't remember). This batch will definitely be stored in the frig, but not until after it cools sufficiently.

A batch of almost 4 cups of oats with all the rest fit perfectly into the empty container I'd reserved for it, and into the frig it went.

We're leaving in the morning to game in Oklahoma, so I snapped a photo of our food/compostable waste.

Under that shredded brown paper (a paper lunch bag that once held dried apple from Whole Food's bulk aisle) is almost an entire potato mashed from last night's dinner. I've been nursing what appears to be a cold virus for the past few days, so Em's done the cooking/kitchen cleanup and he didn't think we'd use it before it went bad in the frig. That mashed potato could have made potato bread or been added to fried mackerel patties ... but we already have pumpernickel and we're out of mackerel, so he probably made the right decision slapping it on the compost pile.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Interesting Week.

We didn't make it to the YMCA this past week at all; we were too busy. Monday, Em took the car to get the tires rotated and then took it to the local fixit shop to get something else fixed. I think it had something to do with water and the radiator, but I don't remember exactly what. I just know that before this repair the car had a funny odor if one inhaled the exhaust (as in while sitting in the passenger seat while the car was running with the driver's door open). Don't know why I notice so many odors these days; I stopped smoking more than 5 years ago now. I do, though, most common being odors that resemble the odor sensed behind a bus (diesel fuel burning), skunk (traveling on highways), and popcorn (most frequently in a movie theatre, but most recently in a casino ... where the bartender popped corn in the lobby bar). We walked over to pick up the car late in the afternoon Monday.

Tuesday, we left around 8am for Shreveport, Louisiana to spend a few days at The Eldorado. We've gamed there for a few years now, but had never stayed there until a robo-call said that we may be interested in a special rate they had. Em had just been talking about taking a trip down there again, so he called and sure enough ... using my card through the years had gained a comp of a free night's stay (If AOI we stayed 2 nights). So, we did. Left Tuesday morning and returned Thursday afternoon. It's about a 3 hour drive for us.

We had quite a lot of fun gaming there, eating out a few times, and sleeping on their magnificent bed. We really queried the front desk about that bed, as we both slept soundly for something like 9 hours on it with no problems. Sealy Posturepedic, they said.

Speaking of robo-calls, I'm wondering why we're receiving so many lately. We're on the national do-not-call list, but we still get them. Last week I even put us on the Texas do-not-call list, because they seem to follow through on complaints while the national program doesn't seem to ... which is why there are these break-through calls increasingly pushing the envelope. Seems that calls are even coming in from over-seas.

So, we got back Thursday afternoon, pulled into the garage and I said, "Crap!" Em said, "What?" I said, "Is that alarm coming from inside our house or not?" Yep! Smoke alarms were going off in every room AGAIN! So, all our smoke alarms are "down" for maintenance and ladders are sitting around the house waiting for us to put the alarms back in working order. We could burn in a house fire without the alarms, I suppose, but we want to take our time and get it right this time.

That reminds me of how my PC crashed recently and I had to download my firewall (without a firewall) when I started the system up again. My credit card was billed TWICE $55.83 for services incurred at on the very same evening that I ordered, downloaded, and had billed to my CC my firewall/anti-virus software. Noticed the charges when I did the bill-paying and notified the cc company that I disputed AT THE LEAST the double charge, but perhaps both charges. If I had a better memory I would have insisted I hadn't ordered ANYTHING from them, but I don't have a good memory, so wrote to the vendor, as well. They cancelled with a refund no questions asked, leading me to believe that they, perhaps (and this is strictly conjecture with NO facts to back it up) just caught my transaction (with no firewall) and thought I wouldn't notice.

Thursday evening, No. 1 called to let me know that her wedding planner would call and take me to see some places the following day after 10am, and she did. We checked out 2 hotels, a store called Dollar Tree. We looked at compostable paper decorations there, and I fell in love with some glass goblets that I want for any adult who attends. It would be perfect for wine, beer, water, or lemonade, and a great momento of the wedding, IMO. I didn't see those listed on the website provided for bulk orders, however. So, we're "moving forward" on the wedding planning an inch at a time. I'd felt that deciding on a hotel where all out-of-towners might stay should be done ASAP so advance (cheaper) reservations could be made AND so that people have a place to congregate before/after and within a free shuttle ride to public transportation to Fort Worth and Dallas. If you're coming to Texas from somewhere else, it makes sense that you want to see a little bit of Texas before going home again.

I really want to share what we did yesterday just to perhaps warn some innocent people who might think they can save a lot of money joining a buyer's club. I'm not talking about Sam's Town or Costco here. I'm talking about a co-op called APS-Store. I don't know if they're affiliated with any of the APS internet sites, so won't provide any links to them. They ARE, however, a Direct Buy co-op.

We routinely accept invitations to spend a few hours on an afternoon listening to some pretty high-powered salespeople try and sell us a timeshare place. We left the last timeshare invitation event with $100 for gasoline, $40 credit card, and a "free" trip to Las Vegas. We used everything ($140) BUT the "free" trip because it interfered with another gaming trip we tend to do once/year, AND it didn't include hotels on the strip ... so we let it expire. We have the same sortof "free" trip to Las Vegas from Saturday's venture, but it's for a hotel on the strip, and at a time of our discretion, so we'll use it this time. Let me make it perfectly clear that we have never purchased a time-share and we didn't purchase anything yesterday, either.

The guy was SO GOOD yesterday, though, that we were noddin' in agreement with everything he said for a good hour or hour and a half and it wasn't until he said, "Do you think you'll pay $15,000 for the rest of your life on items ... (voice fades into distance) ... " and I said, "No." We're cheapskates, for goodness sakes, and trying to reduce our footprints, so we're NOT gonna spend all this money on what we might need replaced in life. Em explained that he was almost 70 and the guy had someone escort us out of the room before the rest of the "marks" got infected. :-)

STILL (just to show you how good this guy was) ... when I got home, I looked for reviews of Direct Buy. They weren't the service that sought US out, but they were a similar service. Em had to ask the guy who escorted us out of the room "How much is the membership?" "$4,000" In the car, he said, "Well, when we got to THAT point, I would have turned it down anyway." Here's a guy who can't buy a shirt without visiting it three times and someone telling him that he's got to put out $4,000 TODAY to be able to save whatever the hell people save on this stuff TOMORROW just wouldn't work with him... or me ...

So, [like I said], I looked online for reviews of Direct Buy and came across ConsumerReports, except that the only company reviewed there is Direct Buy and all the reports are wonderful. Suspicious? I think so.

Then, I found video of someone who purchased the membership and learned that he didn't save ANYTHING> as well as comments from others who'd tried.

Today, I'm thinking about the others in the room with us at the presentation. To our left was a young couple who just couldn't seem to contain their zeal for all the savings. To our right was a couple maybe 20 years younger than us who thought they could buy and sell. I HOPE neither of these couples (or anyone else in the room) signed on for something they didn't want, but we went over it in our minds beforehand and the entire thing revolves around greed getting the best of us.

Signed up for the Crunchy Chicken Food Waste Reduction Challenge and here are my confessional photos:

Before we left for Shreveport, we had Photobucket Em asked if I was taking my camera to Shreveport and I said, "No ... I just had to take a pic of my garbage." <-- He just doesn't understand this taking photos of garbage part of the process... without laughing about it.

Pics from TODAY look like Photobucket. There's pistachio nut shells, egg shells, spent blooms from No. 1's orchid, some dandelion flowers I picked in the yard before they went to seed, tea bags galore (I don't even bother to remove the staples from the tags on the bags), failed baguettes I'd baked (We ate 2/3, but they sucked), pretty damn good spaghetti with carrots that we ate more days than we'd like to acknowledge, as well as that tomato apple soup that lasted WAY longer than we'd like to acknowledge.

I said I was gonna include in my waste challenge water waste. I tried saving water used in cooking in the bucket that saves my shower water (while it gets to temp) and had to toss the water in the garden outside and scrub the bucket: Photobucket

Good things that came out of last week were: Photobucket

Home-made pizza with NO special ingredients, using spaghetti sauce, sharp cheddar cheese, peppers, onions, refrigerator pizza dough, same type of sausage, pepperoni used on the pizzas made with pizza cheese & pizza sauce.
We enjoyed these as much as the others.

We've really enjoyed pumpernickel bread from Kroger these past few weeks. Sardines on an open-faced sandwich with a little light Miracle Whip works very well for me lately. Photobucket