Category Archives: Home Ec on Acid

Five Favorite, Frugal Gardening Gifts

If you have a gardener in your life (or you are the gardener in your life), there are 5 great gifts that you can give them this holiday season and not break the bank doing it.  The least expensive one is under $10.00 and the most expensive one is just over $50.00.  All of these gifts will bring years of gardening pleasure, too.

Fiskars 7079 Big Grip Garden Knife
Under $10 and without a doubt the handiest tool I have in my shed.  The grip is comfortable – that means the knife takes a beating, not your hands.  I use it for digging, planting, weeding, and transplanting. The serrated edge cuts through the ground like butter.  The middle of the blade has a slight indention for transplanting.  And the knife has a notched tip that helps cut through tap roots of dandelions and burdock.  The metal blade is also coated with a rust-resistant material, and the handle features a large hang hole for easy storage.  I bought one of these for all of my brothers and sisters.

Fiskars 3 Piece Soft Touch Garden Tool Set
Fiskars wins again with this tool set.   Easy on the hands and the wallet (under $15.00), the three tools that come in this set make handwork in the garden so much better.   The tools are lightweight and balanced.  Made of rust-resistant polished aluminum, each one has an over-sized, soft grip that is ergonomically designed to keep wrists in a neutral position.  The set includes a trowel, transplanter, and cultivator and comes with a lifetime warranty.

Flexrake 1000A Hula Hoe
if you have to weed, this is the tool you want in your arsenal.  An old standby that has been upgraded, this stirrup hoe has an aluminum handle making it easier on your hands and the blade of the hoe makes it easier on your back.  The self-sharpening Hula-Ho blade works beneath the surface of the soil.  Back and forth “hula” motion cuts weeds at the roots and leaves them to mulch in the garden.  This one is a bargain at just over $23.00.

Mintcraft Folding Garden Stool
For all you gardeners of “a certain age” there is no question that this stool qualifies as a tool!    Bending over is fine if you are under forty.  It’s pretty uncomfortable if you’re older or have a hinky back.  So I love this gardening tool.  And I love being able to pack all my other tools into the canvas pockets and take them with me, wherever I go in the garden.  Buy the gardening stool for just $27.99.  Or take advantage of the great deal Amazon put together.  Buy this stool with the Fiskars Soft Touch Garden Tool Set and get them both for only $37.00.

Felco Classic Manual Pruners
I got a pair of these for my anniversary and I was so excited.  I had been hacking my fruit trees, blackberry and blueberry bushes and ornamentals with loppers.  No finesse there and a lot of hacked up bushes.  The Felco pruners make it so easy to reach into a shrub, bush or fruit tree and only remove dead wood or crossed branches.  I don’t have a lot of upper arm strength so I love the fact that this pruner literally cuts through smaller branches like a warm knife through butter.  This is the most expensive garden gift – $59.00 – but well worth the cost.

Anyone of these tools will make gardeners’ eyes light up, bring a smile to their faces and make them want to run right out and start turning soil.

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THINK Before Buying Holiday Gifts

Okay, I know Black Friday is upon us.  I know some of you are getting up very early or staying up very late to get the best bargain on the latest toy, game, boots, fill in the blank.

But before you dig your credit card hole a bit deeper, before you create a huge pile of “stuff” that will be opened with glee and tossed aside without a second thought, I am asking you to think.

That’s right, think.  Drop the pen.  Put down the list.  Stop perusing flyers and catalogues or crawling web sites and take 5 minutes and ask yourself just one question?

What gift did you get 20, 30 or 40 years ago that makes you smile, right now?

Was it the most expensive?  The biggest?  The latest?  I will bet you it wasn’t.

Over the years, I have been given many big, expensive gifts – jewelry, exotic vacations, works of art.  Nice gifts but not my favorite gift, the one I am smiling about right now.  For me, that gift was a used rocking chair.

A big Christmas gift without a big price tag.

My favorite Christmas gift is this rocker restored by my husband.

My husband found it on the side of the road, put out for trash pick up. Carefully, lovingly, he restored the oak to its full glory.  Removing the shredded fabric and compressed batting from the coiled springs, he rebuilt and recovered the seat with warm, rich velvet.

This oak chair sits, today, in my sewing room.   I see it every day.  I sit in it, often, when I am doing finishing work on clothing or a craft project.

The total cost for this wonderful gift could not have been more than $10 but I remember crying when I saw it by our tree.  Do you remember getting a gift like that?   Not made in China or Taiwan?  No batteries required?  Not mass-produced? Lovingly made by someone you know, just for you? Those are the gifts you remember, you cherish.

If I go back even further for favorite holiday memories to when we were kids, the highlight of our Christmas morning was finding a big juicy orange in the toe of our stocking.  Sounds ridiculous but there it was – five kids racing for the mantle (yes, a real fireplace mantle) pulling down stockings and pulling out the candy cane and walnuts, to get to the bottom, to get to the orange.

Why would an orange be such a big deal?  Oranges weren’t available in December in the North.  No one was trucking them up from Florida or across the country from California.  Back then, an orange was a rarity – a real treat.   Definitely not a big ticket item but a childhood moment I treasure, a wonderful memory of holidays gone by.

Want to have happy holidays filled with warm memories?

Don’t spend too much money on too many things that no one will need or treasure even two weeks after the holiday has come and gone.  Think…and get gifts that really speak to the young, the old and the in-between people you love.  This year, build some holiday memories yourself, memories that will make you smile, 30 years from now.

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My Sustainable Life

Who knew that when I started learning to live on my 2 1/2 acres almost 20 years ago that my lifestyle would become…dare I say it…popular?

As an executive at a multinational corporation, I was literally laughed at whenever one of my peers found out about my hobbies. I was odd man out, you see.

I hated golf.  I really couldn’t stand the pretensions of the “oenophiles” I was forced to travel with.  And I really loathed back stabbing, expense account dinners where the targets of the next round of lay offs were discussed as we plowed through enough wine and food to keep at least one of the “peasants” gainfully employed for 3 months.

I loved (and still love) raising my own fruits and vegetables.  I own chickens and if my husband ever loosens up a bit, will have a goat or two in the back yard, as well.

My life in the dirt began when I tripped over one small book one Saturday morning.   The Victory Garden by Jim Crockett.  Almost 50 years old, Crockett’s book is still hailed as one of the best books for beginning gardeners and it still has pride of place on my gardening book shelf.

Over the last 30 years, with the help of books like Nancy Bubel‘s Seed Starters Handbook, I now raise all my own seeds.  This past summer every plant in my garden — 5 varieties of tomato, 2 types of pepper, 2 of cucumbers and 2 of eggplant and zucchini – were all started in my basement along with butternut squash, lettuce, spinach, basil and parsley.

Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening and Patricia Lanza’s book on Lasagna Gardening, helped me expand my knowledge and increase the size of my garden 5 fold.  I use cold frames in the spring and fall and a combination of raised beds and row cropping to increase my yield.  And I learned a whole lot about what I can raise and what I can’t.

I’m aces with tomatoes — all heirloom or organic seed — from Grow Italian or Territorial Seeds.  My blueberries yield over 60 quarts every year and my Montmorency cherries are a close second with 50 plus quarts.  Pear trees are just starting to bear fruit and the pluots are eagerly anticipated every summer.

But my fig trees are good one year and not so good the next.  And the peach and apple trees bear really bad fruit – spotty and buggy.  Cantelope grow beautifully in my soil but taste like dirt.  Broccoli Rabe comes up fast and easy but flowers before I can harvest it.

Early days for tomatoes, peppers, cukes, squash, and onions.

The garden when you could still see the ground.

Potatoes love the soil but always fall prey to Colorado Potato Beetles and wire worms.

Knowing what I can’t grow upset me when I was a younger gardener but this old girl understands that knowing what she can’t grow is even more important than knowing what she can.  Why?

I no longer waste time or space on those veggies and fruits that just are not going to produce.  I spend that time honing my skills at growing and harvesting the myriad of foods that like my soil, my weather, my temperatures, wind and rain.

So as winter approaches, I spend time gazing at the pill boxes full of seeds that are resting in my refrigerator.  I plot and plan what I will grow and draw a garden diagram I know I will never follow.  And I spend quiet hours re-reading the books by my old friends that have helped me create this sustainable life of mine.

And every day, I give thanks for being able to live as I do, in harmony with the natural world.

 

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Fabulous Fall

I love fall!

Sure I love the leaves – the color, the crackle under your feet – the cool days and crisp nights.  But I love fall for a lot of other reasons.

I love a brisk walk under autumn skies piled high with purple clouds, blown by that northwest wind that brings Canada geese up from the Chesapeake to our pond and fields.  Feed corn is cut and threshed.  Soybeans are harvested.  Fields are bedded down; my garden awaits the spring.

Evenings fall soft and early. Lamps cast a warm glow, inside.  Fires upstairs and down warm the den and make the living room glow.   And food, glorious autumn food says home, family, friends.

My table is set carefully but not with china and crystal.  Fiesta ware brings the color of the leaves to my table.  Linen napkins rescued from my favorite thrift shop grace the table with fall colors, too.

Family and friends warm my heart as we sit down, together, to enjoy a meal made from foods harvested from my garden.   We revel in the rich fall flavors of one of my favorite Crescent Dragonwagon (yep, that’s her real name) recipes, butternut cabbage lasagnaOven-roasted brussel sprouts and warm bread fresh from the oven complement the rich flavors of the main course.   Warm apple cider and homemade pumpkin pie put the finishing touch on the meal.

Then the games begin.  Rummy Kube, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Banana Grams, it doesn’t matter which we choose because we know this wonderful, fall night will be filled with laughter and warmed by companionship and love.

That’s why I love the fall.

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Life Is A Choice – What WIll You Choose

This morning I feel the weight of all my choices rushing in to sit on my shoulders. It is a gray wet morning, leaves scuttling across the yard and my life suddenly reflected  in the balance of good and bad choices made in my career and what they cost me.

What I Chose
Work.  Sounds so simple, so easy, but that choice cost me years and years of my life.

I was a “good” employee.  Work on the weekend?  Sure.  Fly to Florida and work there for 5 weeks without a day off?  Sure.  Spend a week out in Yosemite National Park every month for a year?  Why not?  Live in Los Alamos for 2 months while installing a new system?  Will do.

For almost 10 years of my life I literally penciled in visits to my husband, our daughter, my sisters and brothers.  I was never home on holidays.  They were ideal opportunities to install hardware and software in the many locations across the country where I managed up to 100 people on the team at Marine Midland, Newark Airport, Kennedy Space Center and on and on and on.

I was an executive with an expense account, a secretary and all the gold cards you could possibly want.  First class travel, five star hotels, I had it all.  But one day, something changed.

I started thinking about what all the gold in my wallet and my bank account were costing me.  I stood still long enough to do the calculations.  Working 7 days a week,  averaging between 90 and 120 hours –  reduced my six figure salary to an hourly rate of about $10.00 an hour – what the UPS driver was making except he went home every night and had weekends off.

Then I made the mistake of thinking about what my choices cost me.

What I Lost

My Mom
My mother lived west of Roanoke on 163 acres owned by my brother Mike.  If I saw her 5 times in 10 years, it was a miracle.  Usually, I used my frequent flyer miles to fly her here, to our home, for the one weekend out of 52 that I might be in town.

My mom died of a cerebral hemorrhage while I was in Chicago for yet another meeting.  There was so much I forgot to ask her.  So much she could have shared with me.  But I never stopped long enough to ask.  Now I can’t.

My Life
I was married, had a beautiful home on 2.5 acres in horse country in Pennsylvania.  A gourmet kitchen I didn’t use, a suite off the master bedroom complete with jacuzzi that gathered dust between the maid’s visits and years of sunny summer afternoons on the deck that I never saw.  When someone asked me what my house was like, my answer was swift and sharp, “How would I know?  I don’t live there; I just pay for it.”

I clearly remember the night that I knew I was making the wrong choices.

It was Sunday night on Labor Day weekend. Our daughter was in labor at Bryn Mawr Hospital.  She was ill but it was a holiday.  The Pathology Lab was closed and the doctors didn’t know what was making her sick.  Only after our second grandchild was born with strep did they figure it out.  Whisked from the delivery room to the NICU, the baby’s prospects were poor.

But I had a flight to catch.  I was needed back in Florida.  Heading for the airport, fidgeting in the back of the limousine, I could not get a handle on what was wrong with me.  I needed to go; I didn’t want to.  Suddenly my work ethic and my instincts were facing off and it felt like all the easy answers were off the table until I asked myself two questions:

  1. If I got on the plane and the baby died, how would our daughter be able to face his death?  How would I feel about my actions?  About myself?
  2. If I didn’t get on the plane, if I went back to the hospital to hold our daughter’s hand and be held by my husband, would the meeting be cancelled?  Would the business I worked for fail?

When boarding for First Class was called, I actually walked onto the plane, put my laptop in the overhead, sat down and ordered a drink before I knew I just could not do it.  I could not go.  Leaping up, grabbing my laptop, I raced back up the ramp and into the airport.  Dialing my cell phone, I called my limo back to the airport and ran to the arrival area to meet my driver.

That was the turning point, the moment when I knew that somehow I had sold out all my old values for money and merchandise.  Did I quit the next morning?  No.  It took 2 more years and the death of my boss’s husband to make me wake up.  He died alone, in his garage, in his car, with the motor running.  All I could think was it could have been me who got the phone call, my husband who died.

I woke up.  I realized I was committing suicide – long, slow, deliberate – but suicide nonetheless.

I made a different choice.  I traded in the gold and came home.  My salary went from 6 figures to $28,000 a year.  I came home very night, to spend weekends and holidays with my family and to enjoy time, the only thing we cannot buy.

What choices are you making?  And what do they really cost?

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Psyched! Won Tickets to Psych Premiere in NYC

Okay, so why would a 63-year-old woman whose pursuits are mostly intellectual be so psyched about winning tickets to the premiere of a television series?

The short answer is I LOVE Psych.

I have watched every episode of the first five seasons at least twice and pre-ordered Season 6 before the season has aired.  What makes Psych so special?

As a writer, I have to confess to loving the….wait for iiiiit…writing.  That’s right.  The team that cooks up the episodes for Psych must have a ball putting the scripts together.  Dialogue is hard to do; comedy is hard to do.  A comedy wrapped around murder and mayhem — impossible.  But somehow the writers pull it off, week after week.

I also have to call out the cast.  James Roday and Dule Hill make it look easy to be funny, fast and friends.  I love Corbin Berenson as Sean’s dad – the man who made the hyper aware monster named Sean Spencer and has to live with him, his “psychic” abilities and his odd sense of humor.

Timothy Omundson’s Lassiter is the quintessential uptight, by the book,  cop who keeps getting his hard-held beliefs tested.  And Juliet O’Hara, played by Maggie Lawson, is a good girl, good cop who packs a punch you wouldn’t believe.  (Watch Season 5 – Viagra Falls to see what I mean.)  Last but not least, there is the Chief – Kristen Nelson – who brings just the right touch of boss/parent to her role in the squad room cum asylum she runs.

If you asked what my favorite episode is, I would be hard pressed to tell you.  Homicidio is hilarious – a take off on Spanish soap operas as only Psych could do it.  Guest star Tim Curry brings  just the right amount of disdain to American Duos and Lassie’s interaction with co-star Gina Gershon is classic love-hate.  The cast sends up fashion models in Black & Tan in a way that makes me laugh out loud.  And who could stop laughing at Dual Spires alias Twin Peaks!

But laughter isn’t all this amazing cast and crew bring to the show.  Three episodes reveal the complexity of both the plots Psych offers and the actors hired to bring the scripts to life.  An Evening with Mr. Yang, Mr. Yin Presents and Yin 3 in 2D   showcase the writing and the acting.  Even though these episodes spanned three seasons, each had me glued to my chair, watching, waiting for the next twist or turn.

Psych is a departure from most of my usual fare.  When I say I’m watching mysteries, it usually means Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders, A Touch of Frost or  Rosemary and Thyme.    All of these shows are British productions; all are intelligent, very well-acted and, for the most part, very serious.

Serious is not a word I would apply to Psych but I think I love the series because of the way it deals with difficult topics but always, always brings it back to the relationships of the cast members, how they live, work, fight and “find the bad guys” together, despite their differences.  Oh, and the fact that they make me laugh, every time.

So this over the hill baby boomer is dusting off her sneaks, pulling on her Psych t-shirt and heading for the metropolis! Psyched!!

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Why This Woman Should NOT Mow The Lawn

I should have known….

Those four words would make a nice tattoo on my forehead, a constant reminder not to go near the mower again.  If only I had been smart enough to get them “writ large”  on my bony pate before this summer.  This summer, it was as though the gods of the mower underground decided to show me just how far away from all things lawn and mower I should be.

This chain of disaster, like most, started innocently enough.  The first time the mower just waved a little warning flag.

It was a simple case of running out of gas on the side of a hill.  It took my mechanically-inclined husband and our neighbor about an hour to figure this out, however, because the operator (that would be me) insisted I filled the gas tank before I started.   I did put gas in…but filled was not the word Pat used when he and Jim finally lifted up the seat, spun off the top and looked inside.

The second time, Pat was at Spring Carlisle so I thought I would surprise him by mowing.  Of course, I was riding around, literally in circles, mowing the back yard as fast as I could when suddenly, the mower choked and the blades below the deck stopped spinning.    As soon as I got off, I knew why.  I had managed to suck about 20 feet of a 50 foot hose up under the deck.

The deck would not lift up off the ground so I spent the next 90 minutes using a long-handled shovel as a lever, lifting the deck about 2 inches in the air and shoving my arm up to my elbow underneath to pry, pull and chop bits of hose off the blades.  I almost made it but the last 4 feet were tightly wrapped around the center column.

Another 20 minutes with my cheek on the ground, my arm under the deck and my knees pushing the shovel down and the deck up and I knew it was all over.  I would have to make the call.  Wiping the mud off my face, I dialed my husband.  He was on his way home and said he would take care of it.

He walked into the yard, looked at the mower and me, walked to the shed, grabbed the ramps and put them on the edge of the patio.  Then he started the mower, drove it up the ramps and in 3 minutes, the hose was defeated, the last bits lying on the ground at his feet.  This was when I should have known I was outclassed by my man and my mower.  But no, there was one more embarrassing moment to come in this mower trilogy.

Two weeks ago, I was mowing, again, and suddenly the mower stopped, dead. All I could think of was I can’t call my husband again and tell him that the very expensive John Deere riding mower was dead and I was behind the wheel, again!  It was the 3rd time in 4 months!  How would I explain this one to him?

This time the dealership had to come out and pick the mower up on a flatbed.  The hydraulics had quit – no power steering, no deck, no wheels….no, no, no… My husband tried to make me feel better but it was no use. I still felt like a mower murderer.

Five days later, when John Deere drove up and rolled our repaired mower down the ramps, I decided to try mowing one more time.  Pat wasn’t there to stop me.  And so the mower gods shot their last arrow.

I couldn’t have been on the mower more than 15 minutes when the right front deck wheel fell off.  Here is where this story gets really, really ugly.
Whipping my cell phone out of my pocket, I call the John Deere dealership and ask for the Service Manager.  When the poor innocent picked up the phone and said hello, I let him have it.  Here follows some excerpts:

ME:  “Fifteen minutes, wheel off, deck not working…   You guys broke our mower.”  When he finally managed to get a word in around my Daffy Duck imitation, he asked me a single question.
HIM: “Do you have the broken parts?”
ME:  “What?  You think I have the broken bits?  I was mowing.  I don’t have the parts.  (Warning: if you are not mechanically inclined, don’t do this at home.)  You guys broke it.  You took the deck off.”
HIM:  Ma’am, taking the deck off would not cause the bracket holding the front wheel to break.”
ME:  “Really?  Really??  Well it did break and I want this thing fixed.”
HIM:  “I’m assuming you want it fixed quickly.  How about tomorrow?”
ME:  “Tomorrow?  Are you kidding?  Now, I want someone out here right now.  I want it fixed, now.”
HIM:  “I’ll check for the parts and will dispatch a mobile mechanic immediately ma’am.”
ME:  “Good thing.”

I hung up. Then I went looking for the parts.  And I found them.  And I knew I had to call back, apologize, profusely, offer to pay for the parts, the house call and my very, very bad manners.  I called, I asked for the Service Manager (to his credit he actually got on the phone and asked how he could help).  And I apologized for my very bad behavior.

The mower was fixed that evening.  I was still suffering from the embarrassment hangover you get when you have made a complete fool of yourself.  An in-person apology with a box of handmade truffles from Little Sister’s Kitchen helped but nothing has helped with my considerable reluctance to saddle up the lawn mower.

But, there’s always next year!

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