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Monday, January 26, 2015

An Expiration Date on Fame

I hate to break it to you but chances are whatever fame you earn in your lifetime will probably last about four thousand years (give or take a few centuries).

Jean Shepherd, author (and narrator) of A Christmas Story said:

Can you imagine four thousand years passing and you're not even a memory? Think about it, friends. It's not just a possibility. It is a certainty.

Makes you think.

As time goes on we might be able to glean a new historical figure we've yet to discover, but really, 4k is about right.

Most of us can probably claim 15 minutes of fame, some epic moment in our lives when the eyes of more than a few thousand people were upon us at once. It's even more likely now with the rise of You Tube.

I've had several 15 minute epochs. Maybe even enough to fill an hour. With any luck, I might have a few more before I'm dead and done.

Will it last four thousand years? Probably not. I doubt I'll even be a footnote in an electronic catalog. And who will care?

Seriously. How much do we care about Enmebaragesi of Kish, the earliest known ruler (verified by archeological records)? How about the sculptor, Praxiteles, circa 300 BC?

Praxiteles was probably a rock star in his day. Much like Genghis Khan, Amerigo Vespucci, and Mozart, mavericks and trail blazers.

It's only when historical figures get closer to our own timeline that we begin to create an emotional attachment to them. Reading about the death of Alexander the Great (my personal crush) does not move me one way or another. But reading about Steve Irwin's tragic death upset me greatly.

Steve Irwin was within my timeline. Alexander the Great might have been more famous, but Steve meant more to me as a person. Each person who knew him, remembering and speaking of him prolongs his fame.

So fear not if you find yourself NOT famous in the traditional sense. Most of us will get at least 15 minutes. Some of us might even get a little bit more. Just remember, nothing lasts.

You're famous only for as long as people remember you. You might be nothing more than a name written into a family bible, or a name on a book cover. But every person you've touched, physically, emotionally, or intellectually gives you one more chance at immortality--or 4000 years, whichever comes last.

Do you dream of fame? Fleeting or long term? I prefer the fleeting kind. The lifetime fame comes with too high a toll on privacy. I like the anonymity of a job well done, discovered only after a brief two-page Google search.

Just spell my name right and remember that I rescued stray dogs, a few friends, and one husband.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Hard Part

My good friend, Marguerite Butler commented about my Mad Skillz post on Facebook, saying meat eaters should know how to butcher and cook a chicken. Fewer people would waste food if they knew how much effort goes into something so simple as a chicken.

That statement prompted today's post. 

I don't like killing anything. Anything. Even killing a scorpion fills me with remorse. I do it because those sons-of-a-gun hurt like crazy. I don't want them stinging my dogs, let alone the husband.

Part of homestead living requires killing at some point. It's something I don't discuss much on this blog because I imagine many people can't handle the truth. 

It's incredibly hard to separate emotions from what needs to be done to feed your family. In the US (and I'm sure in every other modern nation) we are so far removed from the actual killing and processing of meat, fish, and poultry that we're conditioned to believe that the hamburger we're eating started its life in a piece of plastic wrap.

What Marguerite said struck a nerve. If we knew firsthand what was involved, we'd be less likely to waste food.

It's a rare thing for food to go to waste at my house--especially if it's food we grew/raised.

When it's time to kill an animal I always say a prayer, thanking it for its sacrifice and wishing it a safe journey. It might sound stupid to you but it means a lot to me. The animal had no choice. It was an animal born to feed my family. The difference is we give it the best possible life while it's alive and kill it swiftly and cleanly.

If you've ever seen some of those secret videos of commercial slaughterhouses, you'll know why we go through so much trouble.

Now I know some people are incapable of ever killing an animal to feed himself. Many generations have passed since we last had to raise, kill, and cook food from the hoof.

This isn't a blaming post. It's no one's fault if the average person can't bring himself to kill his food. The logistics alone defies even trying. So many people live in apartments, homes with zero yards, or zoning that prevents any farm activity at all.

Still, I wish schools would offer the option of teaching kids how our ancestors lived, if only for a day. I'm sure it would offend far too many people, alleging animal cruelty, all the while forgetting how the lunch they just had really got on their plate.

My earliest memory of home butchering was watching my grandmother slice a young goat's throat. My mother was horrified that her child had witnessed such a thing and hurried me away, but even at that young age, I was fascinated. For the first time I made the connection between animals and the food I ate.

Thoughts? Do you feel we're too far removed from our food source? Would you ever send your kid (or yourself) to a farm to see how animals are raised and butchered? Are there other solutions to commercial slaughterhouses?

You can see Marguerite's reply to this post here

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mad Skillz

I read an article a few weeks ago about all the skills we should have by the time we're thirty. They were simple things like how to change a tire, paint a wall, or sew a button. But it had more challenging skills like how to administer CPR--and (gulp) swim. Something I will never be able to master.

I suppose their list was all well and good, but it could be better. Every generation loses valuable life skills. Unless we make a concerted effort to learn them on our own, that information could be lost forever.

You can argue that kids today are so computer literate they can create entire apps that will show you how to do CPR--or call the auto club when you have a flat tire, but what would you do if your smart phone was dead?

Copyright: <a href=''> / 123RF Stock Photo</a> What if you were without power/communication for days? Weeks?

And don't think it can't happen. It happened to us. 21 days of pure apocalyptic agony.

Here are 10 things every person should know by the time they're thirty.

• Cook an entire meal from scratch...and from memory.
• Know where your electrical, gas, and water main is located--and how to turn them off.
• Start a fire. Then try it without matches.
• Splint a leg.
• Navigate North, day or night.
• Know how to bring a child's temperature down.
• Recite one poem by heart.
• Recognize and identify poisonous plants like poison ivy. (Learned that one the hard way!)
• Grow one edible plant. Extra points if you grow staples like beans or potatoes.
• Write at least one love cursive. (Neatness counts!)

What other skills do you think we should have mastered by the time we're adults?

If technology stopped working today, how long would you last?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Frugal Cookery

Since it's been too cold to do much work outside, I've concentrated on cooking. 

I've done "freezer cooking" before but it was mostly me making packaged meals for Greg to take back with him. Now that he's home, he not only helps me with the prep work, but he's been going online to find new recipes for us to try. It's been fun.

The one thing I changed about how I cook, especially if it's going in the freezer, is to make smaller portions. This helps in two ways.

Smaller portions is better for the waistline, and it stretches the food dollar farther.

Before, I used to store packaged meals in plastic or glass containers. Now I buy small aluminum disposable pans (with lids if I can find them). I can reuse them at least a couple of times before they lose their shape and I have to toss them.

This frees up my valuable glass containers and the aluminum pan can go from freezer to oven.

I buy the multi-pack aluminum pans at the dollar store, but keep your eyes open for sales at bigger grocery stores too.

Cooking out of the freezer and pantry has been a good training ground for me. I'm learning where I had enough of one item or not enough of another. For example, butter. I regularly buy butter on sale and freeze it, but I forgot about getting unsalted butter for certain baking recipes.

This has also been a good primer on what I need to grow in my garden. Right now the only thing growing in the winter is rosemary, kale, bok choy, spinach, onions and garlic. I definitely need to grow more herbs and spinach. I ran out too soon.

So what have I been making for freezer meals?

So far it's been enchiladas, lasagna, sausage & pepper casserole, and pot roast. My good friend, Melissa McClone sent me to Stockpiling Moms for more great freezer recipes.

Greg also made a Chicago style deep dish pizza the other night that was HEAVENLY! Both of us grew up in Chicago so we know a thing or two about good pizza. This was definitely one of the best I've ever tasted. I doubt this pizza will ever see the inside of a freezer, but maybe next time we can do a few mini pizzas to freeze while the big one is baking.

Pizza baked in a cast iron skillet

If you have to be stuck inside because of the weather, try making some freezer meals. You'll be glad you did for those days when you're too tired or too busy to cook.

Have you ever tried making freezer meals? Do you have a favorite standby recipe that you can whip up in a jiffy?

If you'd like to try Chicago style pizza, here's the recipe Greg used. The only things he did differently was add crimini mushrooms and onions, quickly sauteed in the grease where I cooked the hot sausage. I also jazzed up the sauce with dehydrated tomatoes from our garden and extra spices. It was amazing!

PS  I sent the expense spreadsheet I talked about recently to several people. If you asked for it but haven't received it, email me and I'll send it again. 

My email has been playing footsies this past week. There's a chance a few outgoing and incoming messages are lost in limbo. You can always try Facebook or my gmail address if all else fails.

Monday, January 12, 2015

How to Be Interesting

I've often been accused of leading an interesting life because I follow the road less traveled. I don't do it for the novelty or even for the honor of eccentricity. It's just me, odd since birth.

There are other ways to be interesting. People who read widely are interesting. People who write are notoriously fascinating though often inherently reclusive.

Those with special talents, or those who travel are interesting. I can listen to them for hours.

But the real secret to being interesting is far simpler. Dale Carnegie said it best with: “To be interesting, be interested.” 

We, as a society are smitten with ourselves. We're everywhere with selfies, emailing photos of our 'junk', and sharing things on Facebook that I wouldn't tell a priest.

It's too much, especially for (very) public consumption. I think this is why so many people come across as monotonous, or at least boorish. 

It's even worse for people in business. Social media feeds us a daily diet of self-absorbed crapola and calls it networking. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Networking in its purest form is about what you can offer, not take. It's an organic form of communication with no obligation to trade tit for tat. 

In a recent post, Barbara Wright asked in a comment: How do you tell a guest they must be interesting?

You can't go wrong with Dale Carnegie's advice above. 

My tips:

• Ask for a proposal and then approve (or decline) the post idea. It's your blog. You call the shots. If the post turns out boring, you become the cheese for allowing it to appear. If it's awesome, you shine for having such good taste in guests.

• Offer your guest blogger a specific topic if they can't come up with a good one on their own. Who knows your readers better than you?

• Never, ever allow them to monopolize your blog with an advertisement. Hand-waving used to be the norm, but it's fallen out of favor. You can talk about a book without resorting to cheer leading...unless of course your book is about cheer leading.

My number one rule is is to always put my readers' interests first. They're the reason this blog exists.


Who's the most interesting person you've known? What made them interesting?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Spending Confessional

Three weeks ago, Greg and I started an expense journal. I wanted to use a notebook and jot down our expenses, but Mr. Excel Spreadsheet wanted to see a running total and created a spreadsheet instead.

I'm glad he did. It made a huge difference. Had we just kept a running list, we wouldn't know our totals (and details) until we tallied it up. This way, I know exactly how much we spend, down to the category. Knowing the problem is half the solution.

To be fair, Christmas was probably the worst time to start a journal. The holidays are not reflective of a normal spending week, but putting it down in black and white put everything in perspective.

The first week was a wash. We had continued eating out like we normally did (which was always excessive). We also shopped for gifts and the fancy foods we'd planned for our feasts. 

By the second week, I was putting stuff back on the shelves and rethinking priorities. Knowing it was going on the spreadsheet kept me from buying anything superfluous.

Eating out was kept to places where we had coupons or gift cards. Now into our fourth week, we don't even think of eating out unless we know we're going to be out all day. As a matter of fact, our spending has dwindled to a fraction of what I originally allotted. How's that for putting us back on track?

We've been cooking at home a lot. I even spent two days making freezer meals that I could take out for those days when I'm just too pooped to do anything but turn on the oven.

Greg's been experimenting with bread making and I've been making soups. Here's a photo of my French onion soup. It's incredibly satisfying, especially with a hunk of bread and Swiss cheese floating in the bowl.

It was humiliating to learn how weak we were with our spending. Neither of us minded when we had regular paychecks, but now that we're on a strict stipend, every little expenditure comes under scrutiny.

My personal Waterloo comes when I go grocery shopping. I only shop for fresh foods and bread, but I haven't had the strength to walk out without first purveying whatever's on sale. It hasn't blown my allotted budget yet, but it came close.

Ironically, our biggest setback didn't come by our efforts, but by our health insurance. They raised the premiums by almost two-thirds, which goes to prove that even the best laid plans can be thwarted by outside forces. 

In the end, the spreadsheet has been a godsend. It forced us to reevaluate our needs and rein in our vices. It's easy to see how people can get into trouble. We weren't even trying to play fast and loose, yet it was easy to spend when the increments were small. 

And that was my biggest discovery. If it had been a big purchase, we both would've screeched to a halt, but as I look at the spreadsheet, most of the numbers are tiny, which is why we never noticed them before. It all adds up.

If you use Excel, I can send you a copy of our spreadsheet formulas if you'd like to try tracking your spending too. Even if you do it for a week, I guarantee you'll never look at your spending the same way again.

There'll be a future post on how we trimmed our spending, but I'll cover that later.


In other news: Stacy McKitrick has a new book coming out and I designed the cover.

If you've never visited Stacy before, check out her blog and books.

Have you ever tried tracking your expenses? Was Christmas expensive for you this year? Where do you think the majority of your money goes every month? 

Ours used to be gasoline, but that's been slashed in half since Greg came to live with me again. Dining out was definitely our 500-pound gorilla in the room.

Monday, January 5, 2015

I'm a Border Collie on a Mission

I started 2015 by cleaning house, literally and figuratively. With Greg home, my house seems to stay in a perpetual state of tornado-induced chaos. I don't mind if the tradeoff means he's home. ...but if you visit, call first!

I have boxes and boxes of things for this spring's garage sale. As I go through the house, I'm boxing anything I haven't used in over a year. I've emptied drawers, closets, and checked all the nooks and crannies where I store hide stuff.

Clean slate. That's my mantra this year. If it's not useful, beautiful, or beloved, it goes.

Then I attacked my blog feeder. 

I was shocked! Dozens and dozens of people had stopped blogging. If they hadn't blogged in three months or more, their blogs were deleted from my list.

The other cuts were to bloggers who did constant promo. I don't mind the occasional advert, but as a reader, I want to read about interesting stuff. Stuff they learned, the skeletons they discovered, or new adventures they're attempting.

I didn't cut too many, but if they never bothered stopping by my blog and theirs was a daily rendition of 'buy my book', I gave them the Marie Antoinette haircut.

2015 is the year to be interesting again. Blog about the stuff that makes you, YOU. If you allow guest posts, insist your guests be interesting.

I plan to blog at least twice a week from now on. Probably Mondays and Wednesdays.

This Wednesday, I'm going to talk about the expense journal I started and the humiliating discoveries I made about myself. This thing punched me in the gut. If I was a drunkard, I'd be stone sober right now, instead I'm just black and blue.

I took down my Christmas tree over the weekend. The house looks so sad now. I drove Greg crazy with the way I stored stuff. You see, I have specific boxes for each kind of decoration and room. It just makes life easier when it comes time to bring them down again. 

Greg calls me Mrs. Sheldon (a la Big Bang Theory). Nana is also a Sheldon. She can't stand things not going in a certain order. That's the border collie in her. Maybe me and Sheldon are really border collies.

Are your lights and decorations down? Are you a "Sheldon" when it comes to storage?

Stop by and see me Wednesday. Maybe I can convince you to start an expense journal even for a week. It's an experiment you won't soon forget.