To Swap, or Not to Swap?

I had plans. Big, exciting plans. I was going to go to a seed swap and seedling sale on Saturday morning before The Boys (Chuck and Amigo) were even awake. Then the blizzard arrived. And not just any blizzard: the blizzard that broke records, records in snow-is-the-norm Wisconsin.

So I didn’t get to the seed swap and seedling sale. Honestly, it may have been cancelled. So much was closed, so many events cancelled, that I don’t even know if the park or the nature center was plowed. In fact, we were at the meat market watching a chef pick up $500 worth of meat for his restaurant when his wife called him to say the staff couldn’t get in and they were closing.

I wasn’t planning on bringing seeds to swap, if I’m honest with myself. I had been thinking about buying seedlings and nurturing them indoors through the blizzard and the early spring that might happen, maybe, someday. I don’t have many seeds, or at least not unique seeds. Or do I?

I have butternut squash, parsley, and dill, all salvaged last fall. Those are such common seeds that I wouldn’t bother to offer them up as a swap. However, when I found myself in the garage after cleaning and emptying a litter box in the middle of the storm — oh, let me start over without the drama.

Bunny’s litter box needed cleaning, so I walked through the garage to dump the waste/fertilizer on top of the snow in the backyard patch. On my way back through the garage, I grabbed a packet of seeds for sweet banana peppers. As long as I was there, I dug through the empty pots on my planting table to find milkweed. On my way to the milkweed, I realized I had saved more than I’d remembered. I searched through yarrow, chamomile, yellow beans, feverfew, baby’s breath, and (how could I forget?) walking onion bulbs!

The ending of the story is this. I didn’t go to the seed swap and seedling sale – if it even happened. But I did find more seeds that I could start right now – right now! – and nurture under my grow lights until spring really arrives.

Take that, Mother Nature.

Kitchen Planning, sequel.

Have I mentioned that we’re remodeling the kitchen at the O.K. Chorale? It’s all consuming, and we haven’t even started demo. We’re still planning. Details, details, details!

Chuck and I made a trip to Lowe’s – again. We have wandered the aisles in search of wisdom in cabinet design, color (paint or stain?), handles and knobs, under-cabinet lighting, and more. I didn’t know that so many decisions were involved.

Add to the sheer number of decisions the fact that Chuck and I work opposite shifts. We communicate a lot by text message and email, but any true conversation and discussion have to happen on a weekend. This is dragging out the process longer and longer.

We’re close, though. We’re close to calling the designer and telling her, “We’re ready! Here are the details! Let’s make an order!” And then the real work begins.

Due to the age of our house (built 1890), every single element has to be custom. We’ll place the order, and then we’ll wait for the cabinets to be built. Meanwhile, we have a long to-do list to prepare for this project.

  • Empty the cupboards, upper and lower
  • Store the contents of the cupboards somewhere – anywhere.
  • Set up a temporary “kitchen” in another room.
  • Set up coffeemaker in another room.
  • Invest in disposable dishes OR make a plan for washing dishes without a sink.
  • Empty the refrigerator and freezer to prepare for moving this appliance.
  • Make room for computer desk and bookshelf currently in dining room
  • Find temporary storage for dining room table and chairs
  • Cancel cleaning service until project is done
  • Remind selves that we will enjoy the new kitchen for many years before selling even comes on the radar, at which time the lovely kitchen will be a major advantage.

Meanwhile, life as we know it continues.

Prepping for the Flu

Influenza always scares me at least a little. I trained as a public health volunteer when Avian Flu was the big fear, and I was more than a little shocked to realize how close we were to a pandemic. Then H1N1 strain came to my fair state, and my fourth graders were really hard hit. An average day would see anywhere from eight to ten kids absent (out of a class of 26), and those kids were sick for a week or more. The flu season that year lasted four or five weeks – or was it six? Eight, even? I remember slowing down the pace of instruction almost to a standstill. My kiddos needed to rest, to get better, and not worry about missing school. When the first group made it back, the second batch went out, followed by several more. That particular influenza strain hit kids a lot harder that it hit adults. I remember needing two flu shots that year, and I don’t remember missing school myself – not for influenza, anyway.

If that hadn’t been enough to make me nervous, Amigo had a long stretch of ill health that started with influenza when he was 16. A few years ago, Chuck fell victim to a nasty strain of Influenza A that landed him in the ER, barely breathing. If you haven’t yet guessed, each and every one of us at the O.K. Chorale makes a point of getting a flu shot every year. My flu shot was delayed this year due to other problems (hey, vertigo and Prednisone, I’m talking about you), but I finally got one in December.

This kind of worry activates my prepper-style paranoia. Any time we go grocery shopping, I make my list and check it twice for any over-the-counter medicines we might need. The chicken soup section of our pantry is well-stocked, too. Tissues? Check. Juices? Check. Crackers and white soda? Check, check.

I no longer have direct face to face contact with my students, so I’m not breathing their germs  and handling their papers daily. Computer viruses are more likely (Ha! Ha!) in an online school. Chuck works in a large plant, and the people there are conscientious about hand washing and the works. They all touch the same tools, so they’re not willing to spread illness through the line. Amigo doesn’t get out much, so if he brings home a virus, it’ll be one spread through his singing buddies in the barbershop chorus.

Now that the current influenza has reached epidemic status, I’m going to take every precaution I can to avoid bringing it home. At last count, I heard the virus had bloomed and spread its, er, pollen in 49 states. Hawaii is the only state with out an influenza epidemic, and Hawaii has its own issues.

But Hawaii’s troubles are a whole post in themselves.

Feeling Fortunate

Chuck likes to say, “Good intentions ain’t worth squat.” I have to agree, even when my good intentions are the ones fading off into the distance.

I intended to get out of the house and walk every day during winter break. Mother Nature had other ideas. We are in the midst of below zero temperatures plus wind chill, making outdoor activity unlikely to say the least. Brrrr.

I also intended to spend some quality time with La Petite shopping in the post-Christmas sales. Instead, we’re huddling under new blankets (gifts) and sipping coffee and leftover mulled apple cider.

Instead of grumbling over lost goals (the afore-mentioned intentions), I’m feeling lucky. I have a home, blankets, coffee, and more. I’m warm and cozy. Missing the chances to go outside and spend money? No problem. Staying home in this case is a good thing, intentional or not.

Skillet Green Beans

It’s transition time at the Farm Markets in my region – the transition between pea season and green bean season. I suppose I should include yellow beans and purple beans, too, but mainly I buy the green. This recipe turned up in my employer’s wellness newsletter. I wonder if it would work for the purple, without losing the color?

Simple Skillet Green Beans

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake, or to taste

1.5 pounds green beans, trimmed

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

2 tablespoons water

Directions:

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add red pepper flakes and stir to coat the pepper in the oil. Add green beans and cook, stirring often until the beans are blistering and browning in areas, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and salt and cook, stirring constantly until the garlic is fragrant and browning, about 30 seconds. Add water and immediately cover. Cook covered until the beans are right green and crisp tender, 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.

With fresh green beans from the market, this sounds awesome. Readers, how about those yellow and purple beans? Any opinions?

Just another plastic bag of produce.

Sometimes I have to help the grocery store cashiers when I’m buying bunny food. Red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, or Romaine. Curly parsley or cilantro or maybe even flat leaf (a.k.a. Italian) parsley. On my way home yesterday, the cashier and the staffer bagging my purchase needed more help than usual.

I almost, not quite, but almost felt sorry for the cashier. She seemed new at the job. I suspect she has a hearing loss, too. Trust me; I recognize my own hearing-impaired behaviors when I see them in someone else. But where were we? Oh, I was checking out at the small grocery store on my way home from school.

The woman ahead of me in line was buying a six pack of bottled water. The bottled water ended up in a plastic bag. Huh? Put a sticker on it, people. I mean, really.

So I came in prepared; I handed over two cloth bags I always carry in my purse for times like this. Between the bunny food and hamburger buns, two bags should have been sufficient. But then, nothing seemed to go the way of “should” on this trip. First of all, my cloth bags didn’t make it to the end of the checkout right away; they got tangled in with the plastic produce bags. The first bags of lettuce ended up in a store plastic bag anyway.

While that was happening, I was distracted by a clueless clerk. “Is this kale?” “No, it’s parsley. Curly parsley.” She rang up kale. “Excuse me, that was parsley. Curly parsley, not kale.” Oops! She fixed it. And then – “Red leaf lettuce?” “No, it’s Romaine. That’s red leaf, coming up next.” She rang up red leaf. “Excuse me, that was Romaine. The red leaf lettuce is there.” I pointed. Ugh. She was lucky Chuck wasn’t in the checkout with me. He would have identified everything else on the conveyor for her. “And those are carrots” is his favorite line when faced with produce identification problems.

Finally, when I could look down toward the bags, I realized she’d packed my two bags with a few items, a store plastic bag full, and was reaching for another store plastic bag for two small packages of cookies. It was right after school, people. Don’t judge me. Sometimes a teacher just needs cookies. This was really ridiculous, though. I ended up bringing home way more single-use plastic than necessary.

Next time I’m stopping at the nearby grocery on my way home, I’ll avoid this particular pair of employees. If I have to deal with them again, I might react badly. And by badly, I mean I might loudly announce, “That’s curly parsley. That’s red leaf lettuce. That’s Romaine. And that’s celery, by the way.” Or I might glower at the  person bagging my groceries in twice as much plastic as needed. Growl.

If the produce is problematic, maybe the solution is to just buy cookies. Cookies might check out smoothly. Well, they “should”. However, we all know that “should” carries no guarantees.

40 Bags in 40 Days

Final Jeopardy Category was Religion. The answer read, “Famous Catholics who’ve publicly answered this question include Susan Boyle (sweets) & Paul Ryan (beer).” The question?

“What are you giving up for Lent?” Of course. Now if you’re not Catholic (I’m not), Lent might not be a time of personal sacrifice. In Wisconsin, Lent might be an opportunity to find the best Friday Fish Fries.

Let’s go a different angle on the “giving up” philosophy. I’ve been slowly and steadily de-junking and de-cluttering our home. My process is fairly simple. I keep an old, worn out laundry basket in my closet, and every time I find something to donate to a thrift store, it goes in the basket. When the basket is full, I take inventory and go to a donation site. The basket doesn’t come home, either – it was worn out or breaking apart, anyway.

I saw the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge and thought, “Sure, why not? This will speed up the process of what I’m already doing. Maybe my blogger and reader friends would like to join in, too.” So just in case you’re interested, here are the main links.

Here’s the basic explanation.

You can also like or follow her Facebook page.

Rather than throw out or donate a full bag each day, I’m either throwing something away, tossing a stack into the donation basket, or setting aside something for a potential summer garage sale. No matter what, the “something” will be significant. A tiny key ring or scarf will not be enough to qualify. Can the significance be emotional rather than size? Maybe. I’ll see how it goes.

I started today by sorting through a basket of linens I bought at an online estate auction. The napkins I’ll keep. The bandannas from various fundraisers will go in the donation basket. The basket itself will go out in the sale in June. The scarves? I don’t know yet. I might run them through the laundry and then decide if I’ll wear them, sell them, or send them off in the basket.

I’m not ending with a question for you, readers, not this time. I’m asking myself: can I make it? My prediction is yes. After all, I’m still making room for all the canning jars I bought a few months ago.

Boycotts – to buy or not to buy?

Chuck’s new job (electrician, fire truck manufacturer) is turning out to be tough on his jeans and tee shirts. Luckily, he wears jeans and tee shirts, not anything more valuable or expensive. But I’m standing in the closet staring at two pair of good Lee relaxed fit jeans that are ripped in the rear, and I don’t sew.

I did what I do: I reached out for help online. My post said “DH (Darling Husband)’s new job is hard on his jeans. Do iron-on patches still exist? I don’t sew.” The responses were mixed, but positive. Sort of.

“Yes, you can buy iron-on patches at WalMart!” I don’t shop WalMart. I haven’t for years. In my state, WalMart encourages their employees to sign up for the state health plan for low income residents. It works because WalMart doesn’t pay enough for their typical worker to buy health insurance through the company, thus saving WalMart the investment in health coverage. Therefore, I’m already subsidizing WalMart through my tax moneys. Shop there? No, thanks. That company doesn’t deserve any more of my money.

“Try Joann Fabrics or Hobby Lobby.” Joann Fabrics, okay. They’re in the same mini mall with Penzey’s Spices, and I love me an opportunity to shop Penzey’s.

But Hobby Lobby?

Remember the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case? Hobby Lobby brought suit against the Affordable Care Act complaining that the company did not want to pay for coverage that included birth control. They claimed it was a faith-based decision. Let me get this straight: a nationwide corporation, claiming deeply, sincerely held religious beliefs, can apply those beliefs to its employee benefit programs. I haven’t shopped there since the decision.

That leaves me with Joann Fabrics. I certainly hope they actually carry iron-on patches. If not, keeping up my principles might get expensive. I might need to buy a sewing machine and learn to sew.

The Wardrobe of the Rebellion

I bought my Teach Peace sweatshirt last fall. It didn’t seem radical then, but now I wonder whether I should wear it to school or not. I decided yes, I can wear it, because the sentiment is not rebellious. Peace is a valuable, if not exactly realistic, goal.

Nasty Woman gear hit the interwebs after the third debate of the presidential campaign. In the feminist world, the term became synonymous with strong.

Ah, the pink pussy hat! A coworker told me she has one. She leaves it in her car when she gets to school, but she has it. She wears it. She describes it as “cute.” I don’t have one – yet – but the question comes to me: What does it mean to wear this in public? Wearing a pink pussy hat to a rally has a clear meaning: don’t mess with me, celebrity or not. Thousands of women wore them on January 21st, and the world took notice. I predict these hats will stay in style for, oh, at least four years.

The safety pin is still out there, just not as prevalent as it was initially. The trend started in the U.K. and spread via social media to the U.S. after, you know, The Inauguration. The safety pin quietly announces that the wearer is a Safe Person. If someone is being harassed, threatened, and needs help, the victim can reach out to the one with the pin. I see safety pins on Facebook profiles, Twitter hashtags, but few in public. Heck, maybe I don’t travel in the right circles. I know many who consider themselves advocates but don’t wear the pin. This symbol might see a surge in popularity wlong with the surge in deportations.

An old favorite, the Believe There is Good in the World tee shirt, attended the Women’s March in Chicago on my sister-in-law and niece. I wore mine at home – mine being the second I’ve purchased with this slogan because I wore out the first. No matter who leads the free world, I hope many will continue to believe and to Be The Good in the World, too.

The latest on the tee shirt scene is Nevertheless, She Persisted. Senator Elizabeth Warren was “warned, given an explanation; nevertheless, she persisted” to read the now-famous letter from Coretta Scott King criticizing the now-infamous Senator Sessions in his quest to become Attorney General. This slogan has been applied retroactively to Ruby Bridges, Susan B. Anthony, Rosie the Riveter, and more straight up strong women. This one, folks, may last more than four years.

On Election Day in 2012, I slipped my Team Obama tee shirt under a fleece bearing the logo of my employer. Will I do that again? Readers, what are you wearing to the revolution? Your pink cat hats? Teach Peace athletic wear? Something I’ve forgotten? Leave a comment, if you dare.