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Monday, December 28, 2015

After Christmas Strategic Shopping

I typically do more shopping after Christmas than before. I've been a bargain hound since way back.

We don't need the usual Christmas lovelies, like lights or gift wrap. I've managed to stockpile that long ago. Nowadays, it's the fancy stuff like Godiva chocolates and the extra cute Christmas cards I found this year.

At this time of year we're usually loaded down with homemade treats from the neighbors so I freeze the chocolates until we come up against a dreary day when only the best chocolate will do.

Sadly, stores have gotten savvy to bargain hounds like me. Inventory is computer-controlled now. They know what stock will move and what won't and they buy accordingly. There's always a margin for error which is why there are still some items leftover after Christmas, but it's not like the old days.

I feel sorry for younger shoppers today. They'll never know the thrill of overstock.

If I can give you one tip for buying after Christmas sales, shop for items that are not tied directly to Christmas


• Cloth napkins trimmed with silver thread will serve long past the holidays. Whereas, snowman-themed napkins are a once a year item.

• Holiday dishware: Last year I bought several place settings of gold rimmed dishes for 75% off. (I waited for the very end of the clearance.) They're great for big gatherings when paper plates won't do.

• Gift wrap in solid colors can be used year round.

• Holiday candles can be used for any festive occasion.

• Christmas-themed, quality dog toys (don't bother with the cheap stuff) is good for any occasion. Dogs don't care if they're chewing on Santa's leg. It's all good.

Speaking of dog gifts, please avoid any rawhide made in China. Too many dogs have died from Chinese products. Because of their size, little dogs are even more susceptible to any toxins. If you can't verify where it was made, don't chance it.


• Don't forget the necessary extras like tissue paper, tape, and baking tins. If they're in the Christmas aisle, chances are they're also marked down.

• As you glance at the pre-packaged Christmas gifts, stock up on things that won't expire. Pajamas, bed throws, slippers, and neck massagers almost invariably get marked down. Now's the time to get them for next year's gifts. Note: If you buy anything with a cord, be sure to check that it works before you put it away.

Did you get anything good for Christmas this year? We don't buy gifts for each other anymore, though somehow Greg managed to get a few toys for himself. Men!


Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Chickens

Chickens normally go into molt as the days shorten. After molting, egg laying pretty much stops. There are some breeds that lay nearly all year, but mine are not one of those.

I usually keep enough eggs to last us through the winter but this year I gave away too many eggs. I had to dole out eggs like a miser for our breakfasts and baked goods. 

A few weeks ago, I realized I was going to run out before the hens started laying again. (For these girls, it's usually February.)

An old standby is to put a light in their chicken coop for a few extra hours after dark. 

You want to mimic 12 hours of daylight. To keep hens healthy, only do this after they've molted and only for a few extra hours--not all night.

I waited and waited. Two weeks went by and nada. I was down to two eggs. 

Can I tell you how much it killed me to buy store eggs? 

On the third week, I made breakfast with the store eggs. That's when the girls decided to start laying again. I swear they clucked Merry Christmas to me. 

A day late and three dollars short.

*****

I hope you have plenty of eggs, family, and friends in your life. 

Merry Christmas, my friends!


Monday, December 14, 2015

Easy-Peasy Chocolate Turtles

I want to share a truly easy treat to make for parties or neighbor gifts. I found the recipe on Facebook but I didn't want to share it until I had tried it out. 

My guinea pig...um...taste-tester was Greg. The royal taster gave it two thumbs up.

Ingredients:
1 package of Rolos (or comparable chocolate candy with caramel in the middle)
1 package of mini pretzels
1 package of pecan halves
 
Instructions:
• Preheat oven to 350 F
• Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. You can go without it, but the parchment paper makes the job easier.
 • Place pretzels single file and top each with a Rolo.
 • Bake for no more than 3 minutes. The original instructions say 3-5 minutes but for me 3 minutes were more than enough. Bake them too long and the caramel will glue itself to the paper.

You want to soften the candy, not melt it completely.

Take the tray out and top each with a pecan half. Pressing the pecan
will spread the chocolate nicely.

Cool and eat. 


They're really good! And super fast to make in a pinch.
 


Monday, December 7, 2015

Of Blogs and Bread

All weekend I've been researching web hosts and trying to glean the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. More importantly, I've been trying to decide which is the best for me and my situation.

Enter tech-guru Tia Nevitt who was kind enough to explain what I was reading. Deciphering technical jargon is like reading ancient Greek...backwards.

After talking to Tia I'm sure now I want to go the self-hosting route. I don't want to be encumbered by restrictions over what I can and cannot post. Chances are using WordPress.com wouldn't hurt me any, but I'm trying to plan for how my blog might evolve in two or three years. WordPress.org is more hands-on, meaning more control on the part of the user.

That's good if you like to have full control of your blog. Not so good if you're a troglodyte like me. But even troglodytes can learn. We usually do it kicking and screaming--but we do learn. 

Whatever I decide won't go into effect until mid to late January. I want to get the holidays behind us before I start anything new.

Speaking of holidays...have you decorated? We were supposed to decorate over the weekend but I came down with a bad sinus headache. 

This year I plan to make gift baskets for my friends. For the neighbors I plan to make some kind of bakery goodness. Sherri Myer on Facebook posted this recipe for cinnamon rolls. I'll probably use Greg as my pastry tester to be sure they came out right. He won't mind. :)

I've mentioned before that I am not a baker, but I would love to get better at it. Please, please, all you bakers out there: What's your secret for making a light, holey bread?



My bread always comes out too dense. I thought maybe I was overworking the dough but even with my handy-dandy Kitchenaid mixer, it's still not light and fluffy.

What am I doing wrong? It tastes good, but it's as heavy as a rock.

Do you bake?
Have you decorated yet?
Anybody out there use WordPress.org?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mini-Review: Julie & Julia

We've had yet more rain. 14 inches, not counting the overflow when it was too wicked-wet to empty out the water gauge.

Cold and rainy, we've been cocooning this past week with a marathon of movies. One of the movies in the queue was Julie & Julia.

It was a movie made out of a combination of two books: My Life in France (Julia Child's autobiography) and a memoir of Julie Powell who cooked and blogged her way through Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

After watching this movie I'm convinced there's nothing Meryl Streep can't do. She somehow adapted Child's voice, body language, and mannerisms into a character that bursts to life. Streep is absolutely brilliant.

Amy Adams plays Julie Powell. I adore perky Amy Adams but I couldn't help feeling she was being kind to an otherwise bratty character. Julie Powell comes across as whiny, self-centered, and immature. Amy Adams handled a difficult character with a lot of grace, but you can still see the brat under the blanket. I get annoyed with people constantly in me-me-me mode and this woman seemed to live in that state.

I loved how the director mirrored Julie's life in the 21st century and Julia Child's life in 1940s France. The sets, the clothes, and the food was sheer artistry. The actors were believable. They breathed life into their characters. There wasn't a poor performance anywhere in the movie.

As I like to do with movies, I did some research on the real life people behind the story. I found a new affection and respect for Julia Child. She was a woman who wasn't afraid to show her passion for food and for her husband. The movie is worth watching just to see the romance between Julia Child and her husband, Paul simmer.

Julie Powell, sad to say, seems to have lived up to my suspicions. Apparently, after her blog fame, she wrote another book, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession, a memoir of her adulterous sex life. :facepalm: Judging by the reviews, it was not pretty.

I highly recommend Julie & Julia though. The performances, the sets, and the food will have you salivating to cook up something fancy. 

Right now I've got a craving for lobster in garlic butter sauce. Bon app├ętit.

Are you a foodie?


Monday, November 30, 2015

What We Want vs What We Need

I'm not an impulse buyer--unlike a certain husband that shall remain nameless.

But sometimes...I wish I could be deliriously impractical and just buy something for the heck of it.

Today is not that day, but I came close. LOL

Worm Factory 360 WF360B Worm Composter, Black 
I was browsing online for sales when I came across a Worm Factory Composter. Some women want jewelry. Others want shoes or designer clothes. Me? I want a worm factory.

It was on sale for $71 at Jet.com, down from over $100. At first glance, a multi-tiered condo for future chicken food for 70 bucks seems like a great buy. But I know that the whole apparatus is a facade of marketing genius.

The only nice things about the whole contraption is that the bins are stackable and it sits on a base. The rest is fluff. I could make the same contraption (not nearly as pretty) for about ten bucks.

It sucks to be practical. My heart still wants to spend the money on the worm tower, but my brain says: Get off your bum and build it yourself. 

Do you ever catch yourself wanting to buy something you know you could make cheaper? 

Have you started shopping yet? What's the one impractical thing you'd love for yourself?

Aside from a worm farm, I've always wanted one of those electric pressure cookers. The one I want is still too expensive but I've got it on my Amazon wish list, waiting for it to go down in price. I'm patient. Sooner or later it'll go on sale.

 

Monday, November 23, 2015

State of the Homestead

Garden: It's nearly the end of November and we're still getting peppers, eggplants, okra, and kale. We've been pulling kale from the same plants for two years in a row! 

I picked over five pounds of serrano peppers and turned them into pickled peppers and hot sauce. Later today I'll use up the last of the bell and poblano peppers in a sausage and pepper medley.

I've been using the eggplants for sandwich fillings. I like to saute thin strips of eggplant with spinach and green onion and stuff them into toasted pita bread. Delish!

Our tomato plants died off during the height of summer (too much sun) but I started new plants and they're producing fruits now. They're not as prolific as the spring tomatoes, but I can't complain when I can pick fresh tomatoes in December.

My only disappointment has been my romaine lettuce. It's gorgeous, but still bitter even with the cooler temps. I've read that black seeded Simpson lettuce is less prone to bitterness so that's on my list for next year. I'm determined to grow sweet lettuce. 

The winter garden consists of: peppers (hot and sweet), tomatoes, radishes, beets, kale, spinach, snow peas, carrots, potatoes (in pots), eggplant, sweet potatoes, chard, garlic, pumpkin, winter squash, and strawberries. 


I accidentally planted cucumbers! Oy! So now I have little baby cukes on the vine. I'm trying to keep them protected for another few weeks until they're harvest size.

I also planted soybeans (a lark since I knew it was too late to for them), but they actually produced pods. Still, they could've used another 3 weeks of warm weather. Soybeans are a great cover crop though, so they won't go to waste. They'll amend the soil.

We had a light freeze over the weekend, but it looks like everyone weathered it fine.

Goats: I think the girls are pregnant. We've yet to decide for certain, but we may just raise these kids to sell in 2016. They sold really well this year. 

We've been toying with the idea of raising a small cow for the freezer. We'd have to get other people to go in with us because there's no way we could store, let alone eat a whole cow. It's a two-year idea at least. From what I've read, 18 months is the average age for slaughter.

I kind of like the idea of raising beef on our pasture--with no antibiotics or growth hormones. It's a 'maybe' project for the think-shelf.

Chickens: After raising the Marans for two years, I've decided to sell the birds next spring. They lay beautiful dark brown eggs, but they're fussy birds, and don't lay near as prolifically as the Australorp or Americaunas. 

We may add a few quail next year. I've never tasted quail but Greg says they're good. I don't mind trying a few to see what they're like.

Rabbits: Alas, Frodo (our male rabbit) tries his best but he has a hard time mating with our bigger girl. I'll probably sell him in the spring and find a bigger bunny to do the job. 

Around the house:  
We put up a fence for our indoor atrium. I didn't want to do it at first, but I got tired of the dogs picking up a mouthful of dirt from one of my potted plants and then expertly grinding it into the light-colored Oriental rug.

It was the perfect weight in wrought iron for indoor use. The only thing I did was paint it a bronze color. 

Countdown to Thanksgiving: This is the week when most of the US settles down to food and family. I bought a small turkey this year. The sides dishes will come from the garden. Broccoli, snow peas, and garlic mashed potatoes. 

Greg gets his traditional homemade pumpkin pie all to himself. (I dislike pumpkin.)

We're planning for a quiet Thanksgiving. Good food with my weird landscaping dogs and my best guy.

How about you? If you celebrate Thanksgiving, what do you plan to serve?

Have you ever tried quail? How would you describe the taste?

Gardeners, do you have any lettuce recommendations? 

And raise a paw if you have a pet that likes to spread dirt like a coal miner. You can cry on my shoulder. I know your pain.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Dead Couple Walking

 
I thought I had come down with food poisoning, and then Greg got sick the next day. By the second day of headaches, body aches, and chills, I knew it was stomach flu.

We've yet to keep anything down but sips of water, though Greg did try oatmeal Sunday, much to his regret.  
I still have body aches and headache, but the cramps are almost gone. I might try some dry toast later this morning.

Have any of you ever had stomach flu? Any suggestions?


Monday, November 9, 2015

Blogginess

What do you call your blog? Why did you choose the name you did?


Using my name as the blog name was a deliberate act on my part. I felt that as a writer, it was important readers know me by name. It was and is my brand.

For the new blog (still in pre-production) I need something catchy with good search engine potential. I'd also like to create a logo around it, so it needs to be short and spiffy.

Somehow, and I need to think on this some more, I need to keep my name linked with the new blog name. I've worked too hard and too long to lose my name in the quagmire of searchable bloggers.

Over the weekend, I've been keying in various names to see what hasn't been used yet. A quick Google search states that in 2013 there were over 152 million. Another site says it was over 173 million (in 2011). 

Let that sink in. That's millions upon millions of blogs.

Many blogs are abandoned. Still the url remains. If no one deletes it, it continues to exist in the blog realm of the ethereal.

Coming up with a catchy name has been incredibly easy. Coming up with a name that hasn't been used yet...not so much.

Have you ever considered renaming your blog? What would you call it if you could change it?

PS  I'm in and out today. I'll reply to comments as soon as I'm back in internet range.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Are You on Pinterest?

There's been widespread flooding throughout Texas, and more rain expected. Right now, we're just sitting it out. Our main road into town is under water. Thankfully we have other options, but I hate it when we lose the 'best' road.

I lost one chick due to the relentless rain. I can't imagine how he drowned but he did. Down the road from us there was a drowned sheep. There are probably more dead animals in the fields. The vultures are circling everywhere.

Help! I discovered a deadly pastime. Pinterest.

How do people navigate that thing?!

I'm overwhelmed every time I go there. I don't have any boards yet. My brain hasn't yet recovered from the "welcome choices" Pinterest gave me.

I blame the rain for leading me there. That's all I need--another web site to suck my time. LOL.

Any tips on how to use Pinterest? Do you have boards there? If you do, let me know in the comments. I'd love to see what other people do with this site.

How many social networks do you belong to? What's your favorite? 

I like to hang out on Facebook just to chat with friends, but that's also how I got sucked into Pinterest. My evil friends tend to cross post and I made the mistake of going down the rabbit hole.

I have two pages on Facebook, my social page, and my frugal living page. If we're not already friends, add me to your list.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Why am I Reinventing my Blog?

It was my birthday (back in March) that got me serious about reinventing my blog.

There's an old African proverb that says: When a man dies, a library burns to the ground. It got me thinking about how much knowledge old people have and how we kind of disregard them (until we need them).

I've had friends come over and marvel at how I did something--something so totally old fashioned it must've looked new and innovative to younger people. To me, it was nothing, but to them it was like I had opened their eyes. 

I had begun to wonder if I wasn't like an old library. I have no children, so who was there to pass on my experience? I've done a little sharing here on this blog, particularly with my homesteading articles, but I wanted to do more.

Other times I had learned something all by myself, and again there was no one to share it with. That seems a sad fate for hard-won knowledge.

The details on how this blog will evolve are still a little nebulous. I know I'll be blogging a lot more often. Sometimes it'll be just bargains I'd found (including books). Other times it'll be real articles about DIY projects, saving money, gardening, or (gasp) even cooking. 

There'll be more pictures. Eventually I might put out a call for guest bloggers if they have a good topic in one of the above subjects.

Regardless of whether I stay on Blogger or go to WordPress I'll cough up the money to have my own domain and web host. I want to do this as professionally as I can.


My (blog) voice will remain the same, so expect the same folksy anecdotes and occasional dog dramas. Who knows? I might even make Nana my mascot. She's always hamming for attention. Might as well put her to work.




None of this will happen until 2016, but I'd like to hit the ground running when I do.

Do you have any big plans for 2016?  Is there any one thing you'd like to accomplish next year?

 This is part two of a two-part post. Click here for part one.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Should I Move to WordPress?

We had a tremendous amount of rain since Friday. More than 12 inches in a 24 hour period. We'd been dry for months so the rain was welcome. I just wish it hadn't come all at one time.

The storms were so fierce it brought down two (dead) trees on our land, but further south of us, flood waters derailed an entire train hauling cement. That won't be pretty to clean out.

I'm continuing my research on expanding my blog. The big question will be whether I should migrate to WordPress or stay on Blogger. I like Blogger but many of the affiliates I'm interested in seem better connected to WordPress. It would be a big step for me. 

Right now I'm busy reading up on their terms of service. From what I've heard, blogging with affiliates is a lot trickier than it used to be. I don't want to make any missteps out of ignorance.

For instance, I can't advertise too big a percentage of free books if I also happen to have an affiliate that sells books. I think I can get around that if I post a separate post that doesn't compete with the affiliate. My plan right now is to offer a small venue to my writer friends.

In my own small way, expanding into a bigger audience looking for bargains and DIY articles, I might be able to showcase a few books every week. I'll know more once I parse out all the fine print. 

And tomorrow, I'll tell you why I'm doing this. 

In the meantime, I want to give a shout out to a few friends in the middle of a promotion.

Jenny Schwartz is asking people to nominate her novel, Sky Garden for the Kindle Scout program. This sounds like a pretty sweet deal so be a pal and nominate Jenny's book. Here's the link.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan is in the middle of a blog tour promoting her fantasy series, Seasons Avatar. They're offering some pretty nice prizes in the rafflecopter. Check it out.

My buddy, Jimmy Garcia Jr. is doing a bang up job in direct sales of his books with a couple of live book events. I really need to interview him and find out if he has any secrets to share. He always seems to do a great job hand-selling his books. Must be the smile. 

Tyrean Martinson is putting her book, Champion in the Darkness for free to get people interested in the rest of her fantasy series. Go over and take a look.

Last but not least, Mike Keyton is looking for readers with a soft spot for "not your average" noir fantasy with his novel, Clay Cross. I know Mike must be serious about his career because he sent me his author photo and I touched it up with the right background. Look out world!





To all my WordPress friends, how do you like it? Is it easy to navigate? If I do this I'll be spending the extra bucks to have my own domain. 

Is it cool by you? Other than the rain, our temps have been pretty mild. 

End of Part One. Click here for Part Two.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Is It Time to Reinvent Myself?

Every decade or so I feel it's necessary to take a step back and evaluate where I've been and where I'm heading.

I feel like that time is drawing near again. I've been questioning myself, asking myself what I want out of life.

I know I still want to do covers, perhaps expanding into advertising and branding. Frugal living/saving money is also important to me, along with the ability to share that knowledge.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how to best bridge those two interests so I'm not spreading myself thin between two web sites.

I might lose some followers with this change, but I might also gain some too. Only time will tell.

Do you ever step back and reevaluate your career/life? Have you ever tried to reinvent yourself to change the course of your life?

How would you feel if I switched the format of this blog to more instructional articles?


Monday, October 12, 2015

Family Legacies

My mother (on loan from my other siblings) has been regaling me with stories of her childhood. One of the stories I found fascinating was that she never knew her grandfather. He died in the early 1910s, before my mother was born.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancho_VillaHer grandfather had been killed by a real life guerrilla from Pancho Villa's regime. The motive, according to family lore, was robbery, which makes sense considering they owned property. Villa's forces were often known to demand tribute from wealthy landowners.

This, in turn was how I found out my sweet, soft-spoken grandmother always packed a big, old revolver near her person. I guess I would too if I had revolutionaries riding around my hacienda.

I always knew my grandmother was a practical woman and apparently, fearless too. I've heard other stories when she had actually threatened a bad guy with that same gun while she was home alone with her young children. I never heard conclusively whether she fired or not. Knowing her, she probably scared the crap out of that guy though. No one messed with my grandma. :-)

Another interesting factoid: My mother says she had a hard time understanding her grandmother, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman from Spain. Spanish dialects are remarkably unique to Mexico and Spain. It would take a keen ear to understand both dialects.

I have one small photo of my great-grandmother. She was very old by then, and tiny! She reminded me of a doll in her long flowered frock and ruffled collar, still as svelte as when she was young. 

My grandmother (a young woman at the time of the photo) stood a whole head taller. I guess I can thank my great-grandmother for my lack of height. Alas, I inherited no blonde hair or blue eyes, though occasionally it pops up in a descendant.

Do you have a favorite family story about one of your ancestors?

My mother's memories are beginning to fade, so I treasure the small gems she's able to remember.

***

Speaking of stories with family secrets, I promised my friend, R. Mac Wheeler to mention his 28th book, "6 Ways to Where". You can read an excerpt here.





Just out of curiosity, authors, how many books have you published?