Friday, November 10, 2017

The No Work Winter Garden

Are we programmed to start craving pumpkin this time of year, or is it just all the propaganda that hits us in the face when we enter Trader Joe's? I don't know where all the mango stuff goes, but there must be one night sometime in late September when Trader Joe's employees stay up all hours replacing the mango-centric foods with pumpkin-powered everything. I have no complaints, I'm allergic to mangoes, but come Fall I run on pumpkin.

November is that wonderful time of year when the nights are longer, but not too long. The days are cooler, but not too cold. And the sunlight doesn't hit our living room floor in such a way as to show all the dog fur, especially at the exact time a visitor stops by. Yes, we are in that glorious season when the sun is at the perfect angle for not revealing the hairy state of our hardwood floors. Can it just be Fall always?

Just when we are about ready to throw all the summer tomatoes at someone, perhaps the dog, and when we're all out of ideas of what to do with canoe-sized zucchini, along comes the joys of Fall produce. The sweet potatoes, yams, butternut squash, apples. persimmons and pomegranates are ready for their time in the waning sunlight. Not as luscious as summer fruits and veggies, what they lack in looks they make up for in heartiness. I love to make piles of autumn produce and see what happens when they all start getting to know each other. 

Almost squished by the squash...

...Ginger Bear becomes the mascot of Team Tubers.

If this doesn't say borscht what does?

I see curry in a hurry.
3 minutes tops for sweet potato curry in the Instant Pot. 

Persimmons need to get the same agent as pumpkins have.
I see Persimmon Spice Lattes as the next new thing.

Ginger Bear survived the curry stew.
But how long he can last into winter remains to be seen.

Brussels sprouts on the stalk.
It's like Jack and the Beanstalk grew a strand of DNA.

This is soup season.
Bean soup season.
Hearty bean soup season.
With all this cooking of vegetables I adore and crave, it behooves me why I never do a fall/winter garden. We have the weather for it. We have the little garden space for it. What's not to like about almost free kale and spinach and piles of cheap potatoes? Mostly it's because I want to be on the inside looking out in winter, not going out to save lettuce being crushed under the onslaught of a hail storm. When it's cold outside, I just want to be inside getting warm, not worrying about the garden. That's what Trader Joe does, and he does it so well.

But just for fun, and with the understanding that the only water the seeds would get is the kind from the sky and not the hose, I planted three things this winter.

Artichokes, because they are so pretty.

Beets, because something that color must be good for us.

And Pak Choi.
Because I thought it was called Bok Choy.
I like being corrected when I'm wrong.

Winter garden, before planting.

Winter garden, after planting.
Can you just sense the effort I put in?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Konmari the Kleaning Krud

I was not a neat and tidy child. Or teen. Or twenty-something. But when I moved out to room with my sister, I became a bit of a neat freak. I did minimalism before it was a thing, before anyone worried about their feng or their shui. When I was 28, everything I owned still fit in the back of a pick-up truck. It's not hard being a neat freak when there isn't much to freak out over.

Then came marriage and stuff. And more stuff. And various moves to various sized places, from a tiny one bedroom to places with a bit more room for dust bunnies to multiply. But still I kept the dirt and dust and dingy windows under control. 

But now I'm dealing with three distinct factors that are making keeping a neat and clean house a bit harder.

  • We have the biggest yard we have ever had, and since we are mortgage payers and not renters, we are supposed to be grownups and take care of it. It's almost 1/3 of an acre and there is not one sprinkler or nary a drip system in sight, and let's face it, Sacramento is a desert from May to November.
  • I'm not getting any younger. There, I said it. I realized last weekend, when we went away for four nights, that I was looking forward to giving my hands a rest as much as I was looking forward to seeing Washington DC. 
  • Our furry little pup has three goals in life: Be adorable. Kill vermin. Shed fur. She does all of them very well.

She brings the paper.
She doesn't do windows.
The other factor in my thinking way too much about cleaning lately is my desire to get our house more in line with our diet, which is as organic and healthy as possible. Munching on kale while an untold number of chemicals waft thru the air seems to defeat the purpose a bit, so I set out to gather all our cleaning supplies in one place. I thought I could get a good idea of what we had so I could know what natural DIY products I could make without a bunch of repeats. 

Yikes! We had a lot more than I imagined.
The dog will never ever run out of Windex at this rate. 

Madame Curie started out making toilet bowl cleaner.
I have that on good authority.

It didn't take off because it had some branding issues.

Rag sorting, it's not for the faint of heart.

That's right, label that homemade laundry soap as Laundry Soap.
Because a large bag of powdered substance sitting on top
 of the washing machine smelling like soap could be so many things.

Most of the recipes I got were from a book called Clean My Space, which has also given me lots of ideas on how to give my hands a break without having to leave town. It seems as if all you really need to clean house is water, vinegar and microfiber cloths. I hope now that I know how to clean more efficiently the house will shine, the car will sparkle and the clothes will iron themselves. And that will all happen as soon as our dog is done with the windows. Using only water, vinegar and microfiber, of course.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

3 bars Fels-Naptha laundry bar soap
1 box Borax
1 box baking soda
1 box washing soda

These are all items you walk right past in the regular grocery store, right there near the regular people laundry detergent. They are not razzle dazzle, they are just there on the shelf, ho hum. These products are so absolutely tickled when a person as cool as you buys them. They start humming with joy.

To make this stuff, you either grate the bars of soap in a cheese grater (I apologize to your hands) or you throw the bars in your blender or food processor, after you have chopped them into large chunks. Then just mix that up with the rest of the ingredients in a very large container. It smells good, it works great and you only need 2 Tablespoons per load. Some nifty people on Pinterest add a few other ingredients, and then put their laundry powder in a pretty glass container with a lovely metal scoop. I actually just eye-balled the ingredients, kinda, sorta, I used just one bar of the soap, threw it all in a zip lock with a plastic spoon and that was that. But every time I walk by that bag I know I made it, and that's an even better feeling than clean windows.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A year without my Mom

When people find out my mom was 93 when she died, their reaction is usually surprise that she lived such a long life. Her children's biggest surprise was that she didn't live as long as we thought, or expected, or wanted.

My grandmother Leah lived to be 102 years old. Her sister, my Mom's aunt, also lived to be 102. These were not ladies who spent a decade or so in a nursing home. My grandmother lived alone at a senior apartment until she was 100, and only then needed more intense care. 

But of course, when my Grandma reached two years past the century mark, her death was no surprise. When I spoke with my Mom after, she said something I'll never forget. She said of course she knew her mother was old and sick and couldn't live much longer. But she added, "I'm just going to miss how she made me feel when I was with her."

I thank my Mom for giving me the words to express how I have felt since she died, one year ago today. She was "only" 93 and didn't approach the sort of longevity we had come to expect from the other females in her family tree. She was frail and very sick. But her mind was still there, her love was still there, her sweetness, gentleness, and she never lost that quality that defined her - she was a true lady. 

In the last fifteen years of her life we had the whole country separating us, but closeness was never an issue. She wasn't the kind of mother who expected a phone call on some sort of scheduled basis, but we talked often. She always picked up the phone with the most incredible joy, as if my call made her entire week. So often this last year, when issues big and small came up, my first thought was to call my Mom to talk about it. It was rough when her house sold, it really hit me then that any visits back East will now be missing the best part. My Mom was right, I just miss how she made me feel when I was with her.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Going to the mattresses, again and again and again.

The goal is simple. Go to bed. Go to sleep. Wake up feeling refreshed. 
It really isn't asking too much.

The Goal
When we got back from our trip to Germany and Romania, it became quite obvious we needed a new mattress. Getting rid of the old one wasn't terribly hard. We hauled it out to the back porch and then my husband took it to the dump. Since they recycle mattresses, we didn't even have to pay a fee. We set up our air mattress (the one we keep for guests) on top of our box spring.

My apologies to all our guests we made sleep on our air mattress.

Next, we brought the very thick memory foam pad that's in our trailer and set it on top of the air mattress, and that made it better. Except for the fact that it felt like we were sleeping ten feet in the air balancing on a giant marshmallow perched precariously on a slippery eel resting on the back of a turtle. But it was more comfortable than the mattress now at the dump, so we had some breathing room to decide our next move.

We discovered a site for people looking for the perfect mattress, called Sleep Like the Dead. Yes, a very dreadful but catchy name full of tons of mattress reviews from real live people.

We read lots of reviews, and thought a lot about our sleeping styles. Are we Back Sleepers? Snorers? Side Sleepers? Or the dreaded Stomach Sleepers? Without naming any names, let's just say between the two of us we have a Side/Back Sleeper, a Snorer and one who sleeps kinda sideways, kinda face down with one leg bent out like a crroked tree limb.

Since our friends love their Sleep Number bed, we finally decided on a version of an air bed called the Innomax. What better sleep system than for each of us to have our own firmness setting? A nifty little controller lets each person decide if they prefer a soft, medium or firm mattress. Perfect!

When it came we lifted our marshmallow/slippery eel combo off our box spring and put it on the guest room futon. Then we read that the Innomax's pump needed to "climatize"for 24 hours before setting it up. Another night of precarious sleep awaited us, but we were excited about the bed with the options.

A week later we took it back to Sam's Club. Why? OFFGASSING! It smelled so strong of chemicals and vapors that I felt my lungs were burning. We also were putting both our settings on the same number, so it sort of defeated the whole purpose of a dual pressure bed. I think they must work much better for people who have a king sized bed, because when we took it apart, each air mattress only measured 25 inches across. So much for the air bed, it was time to move back into the guest room and keep looking for the perfect mattress.

The innards of the offgassy wonder!

It came in this box? Really?

What a roll of packing tape and persistence can do.
Mattress number two was a mid-priced Serta from Sam's Club, the place that was so pleasant in its return policy of the Innomax. You can actually lie down on the mattresses at Sam's Club. I suggest not going in a dress, that's my advice. But you can lie there, imagining you're at home all snuggled in your pj's, ready to doze off into a wonderful night of sleep. Until, BAM! Someone hits your mattress with their shopping cart. That sure doesn't happen at home.

We decided on a mattress, one I thought was a bit too firm, but maybe it was just the fluorescent lights glaring down on me from the warehouse ceiling? We got it home. It was very tall. And very firm. Too firm. After two nights of not sleeping on my side/stomach/leg kicked out like a bent tree limb, we (read my husband) gladly (read me) loaded the bed back onto the roof of our SUV and drove back once again to Sam's Club for yet another return.

When do you know you've made a lot of returns at Sam's Club? When you see Keith (yes, we're on a first name basis with Keith) in the parking lot as you drive in with your mattress, and without even asking, he goes and gets a rolling mattress cart to help you unload the thing. Thank you Keith, you are the man.

Really tall.
Really firm.
So there we were again, in Sam's Club, lying on the mattresses, trying not to be blinded by the fluorescent lights above. At least this time I wore pants, and no one hit us with their shopping cart. Strangely enough, we decided the cheapest Serta mattress was the one we wanted. It wasn't as high as a sky scraper, it didn't envelope us in a pocket of memory foam that acted like quicksand, and it wasn't so firm that we might as well just sleep on the ground. 

We finally got our mattress. Now about those slouchy couches of ours...

Not too tall,
Not too firm.
Not gassy at all.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Once upon a car - a mattress!

Goodbye, good riddance, goodnight.

Sag Happens

What can I say, we are loyal mattress people. We once had a mattress that was so very painful, we both would roll out of bed in agony every morning. We kept it for much too long, until we finally got a new one. We put the old one out by the dumpster of our apartment and were glad to see someone took it right away. 
They brought it back the very next day! We laughed so hard, what we had put up with for months was discarded in less than 12 hours by our neighbor.
The mattress we've been using lately was very old, too old to even say. When I read stories of all the critters and things living in old mattresses, I would just ignore the science. "Our mattress is solid, it's good, with a flip here and a turn there, it's working for us."
Until we got back from our trip to Germany and Romania that is. Absence did not make our backs grow fonder of our bed, that's for sure. The first few mornings were an eye opener - "This bed of ours is not working!"
With much research and poking around the Internet like the mattress buying amateurs we are, we settled on a new mattress, or "sleep system" as they are now called. 
I'll let you know which one we got, once I catch up on some ZZZZZZZs...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

How Romania has changed

We landed at the Bucharest Airport at the tail end of Heatwave Lucifer. How do you know when a heatwave is really bad? When they give it a name, and especially after they give it a name like that.

This time was going to be different, this time we rented a car with air conditioning! How smart we were, driving away from that blazing hot, overcrowded, traffic-jammed city and on up to our pension in Corbii Mari. The one without air conditioning. Leaping Lucifer!

It's not like the place didn't have ACs, or at least in some of the rooms. It's that in the rooms that had them, they weren't working. There was a pile of them, air conditioners, stacked up by the back door. The rate of installation seemed to be .65 units installed each day. How long were we going to stay there? A week?

As I lie on the hot bed in the hot room in the hot pension, there was a knock on the door. The manager told me there was a room available with AC. I jumped on that like a crazed woman, and the manager kindly helped me move all of our stuff down the hall to the gloriously cool room. OK, yep, I can handle a week at this place.

Romania is getting AIR CONDITIONERS!

Next up, after not shriveling up in the heat, was seeing how the pension was going to handle our vegan diet. Breakfast was included in the price, and it was very meat-heavy. But with just a short explanation of what we needed, we got an incredible fruit plate and a plate of tomatoes and cucumber along with some vegan spreads every morning. Those were the tastiest nectarines I've ever had.

Romania does nectarines well.
So then came the next question, how had Romania changed in the four years since we were last there. In the villages? Not much. They still felt a thousand miles away from bustling Bucharest. There is still poverty amidst the abundant food supply from the fertile soil. Many of the young people have left, but the older ones are incredibly resilient. And yes, the horse-drawn cart is a very popular mode of transport. There is a charming custom of decking out one's horse with a pattern of red ribbons, so many that the horse just knows it's looking super fine and seems to trot that much more elegantly. I tried to get a picture of one of these red ribboned horses, but they were just too jaunty and quick for my reaction time, especially in the heat.
Just one red ribbon.
Craigslist has not hit the villages, if you want to sell a cow, you put up a sign.

Cow for sale
Every single house has a fence and gate. Every one. You just don't have a house all naked and exposed like most of us in the US have. The fence and gate are like the front door. You don't just waltz in to someone's yard without first yelling out for them. We learned this rule this time around, because in 2013 we broke the fence/gate etiquette many times without realizing it. Oops.

A bench is also very common.
Neighbors sit and talk.

The horse selfie, or horsie, has now become a thing.
I don't drink sodas at home. Don't buy them, don't drink them, even if they're offered at a party. Yuck, soda, who wants soda? In Romania, I do! Coca-Cola tastes so good there, it doesn't taste like an assault to the nose and brain like it does here. Yum. Plus, every bottle has a city name on it, and it's fun to see which one you get.

More on Cluj, read on.

Oh the beer.
Oh the Ciuc Radler.
We came back for loftier reasons, I would like to think.
But oh, the Ciuc.
After the first couple days, the heatwave named Lucifer broke. That means it went from the 106 degree range to the mid 90 degree range. Which still felt really really hot in the villages. Shade trees are still not super popular there - small fruit trees that produce food are way more popular than big trees that only produce shade.

You know a town is hot when it is named Hot.
This was the only shade tree in town.
Romania is a place where you're just about ready to throw up your hands and say you're never coming back, ever, and then something happens that touches your heart and begs you to give it another chance. A real shepherd down on the bank of a river with his herd of sheep, a group of Roma children quietly eating plums as they watch a video on your tablet, a kind couple pulling out their best chairs so you can take a little rest on their porch, the street dogs, the goats, the geese, the struggling little stores that are thrilled to sell their barely cold Cokes to the sweaty Americans, finding the best little seesaw you've ever been on in a park in the middle of town as you watch a man take his wife out for a ride behind their red ribboned horse. It's all part of the package, and it's why I'll go back. 

Good and simple times with really loving people.


Andrei and Iulia!

Vegan pizza with arugula? Yes!
My advice if you're looking for a really great place to visit in Europe, with great food, cheap prices, not much traffic, calm surroundings and tons and tons of charm? Visit Romania, but don't go to Bucharest! Don't fly into Bucharest! Fly into Cluj-Napoca, or as you'll learn it's really called, just Cluj. Everything about Romania that makes it hard to visit isn't an issue in Cluj. It was like Romania-lite. We loved Cluj and hope to go back. 

More mamaliga. Yum.
This mushroom sauce was specially made for us. 

Good times at the Botanical Gardens.
What a wonderful treasure in the heart of the city.

Cobblestone streets...

...and pretty buildings with an Austrian feel.
But without the Austrian prices.

Cluj Arena was the best part of the vacation, for sure.

Until next time, Romania.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

How Germany has changed

Please excuse any weird formatting issues. Blogger doesn't care much for this Keyboard.
QWERTY, I miss you!


If one reads the News (and please excuse the German Keyboard, it wants to capitalize some of the nouns) as much as I do, one would think Germany has changed so much it wouldn't be recognizable. Stories of overflowing refugee camps, knife-wielding madmen running rampant in the streets and other Headlines made me wonder how different I would find this place after an Eleven year Absence.

When we come to Germany, we are usually based around the cities of Frankfurt, Mainz, Bremen and a very Little town North of Bremen called Garlstedt. We've been in other larger cities in the past, but didn't visit them this time. Like I said, it's been 11 years. We've been here in 1993, 1996 and maybe three other times, I've lost track. I love it here, because it's cool and green, clean and orderly, well-run and efficient, and very safe. All those qualities make my heart sing, so I was bracing for the worst.  

So, after one week, what have I found? Here is my take on Germany in 2017:

  • People still smoke a lot. They throw their cigarette Butts in the street.
  • There is very Little litter, hardly any. If there were no cigarette Butts, there would be no trash in the streets to speak of, especially compared to where I live in Sacramento, California.
  • It is hotter, but it started off so cool that it's still refreshing.
  • If there is an obesity epidemic here, I'm not seeing it.
  • The buses run on time, as always. If you're late for the bus and you scream and yell and Pound on the doors of the bus as it's pulling away, the bus Driver will not stop. And that's why the buses run on time. You really must get to the stop on time.
  • From time to time you see Immigrant women in headscarfs, but I see more in our Sacramento neighborhood.
  • There are huge windmills and solar Panels everywhere.
  • The German People didn't go anywhere, they are still here. Just with some refugees added in.
  • Most everyone still speaks German.
Some other Things that haven't changed:

You'll see some socks with sandals, but less 
than in the past.

All the Buildings are still Standing.

You still don't have to share your covers.

Tomatoes and cucumbers for breakfast are still 
a Thing. 

Beer, still the national drink.

Lots of Little German cars,
but more SUV's too.

The Food is still awesome!

Yes it is, and it is everywhere. And so is the best gluten-free bread I've ever had. Gluten-free bread that doesn't taste like reconstituted cardboard. It is so good, it Toasts up like real normal bread, and Looks to be whole-grain, which I can't confirm because of Course it's all in German.

Soy Curls! In the Drugstore!

Happy German cows who love Soy Curls.

Alles gutes!