Exhaustion

Whew.

The week is over and I am exhausted!  Today after work I picked up some gardening tools and two, yes two, mochas at my favorite coffee place. I used a coupon and stamp card but still, two of ’em.

I was home by 4:45 and started working on the yard. In the backyard I cut back 12 rosebushes and I’m contemplating pulling out 3 that don’t have any growth. They’ve had 18 months and nothing has helped. So those will probably come out when I take out the tree.

Then I scooped the dog poop and just kept finding more. It’s like hide and seek when every “find” make you groan. I mowed the lawn, scooped all the hidden gems and then cut the fringe by hand. All because my string trimmer (a Christmas gift) is still in pieces.

I wheeled the toter and mower to the front yard where I pulled weeds, cut back some of the roses but not all and then mowed. In all I worked on 18 rosebushes and emptied the mower bag 4 times. Then I used the leaf blower and trashed the weeds.

Exhaustion ensued.

I realize now that it was a very bad idea to do this work (nearly 2 hours worth) on a day when I’ve neglected to eat any protein. That’s right, no protein in the last 20 odd hours means my blood sugar is dangerously low and I’m slightly dizzy. The hot shower to wash away all that dirt and sweat didn’t help either.

It’s a good exhausted though.  See, for the next week at least I won’t have to come home to business cards from landscapers at my front door or battle thorny paths to get to the back yard. And I’ve managed to finish a big part of my weekend to do list and it’s not even 7pm on Friday.

The rest of the weekend is similarly exhaustion enabled:

  • Clean up the office
  • Modify new ottoman
  • Finish laundry
  • Sort miscellaneous tools & nails
  • Sweep garage
  • Wash car
  • Change oil in car
  • Work on freelance business
  • Meet Tressa for lunch
  • Find and buy material for curtains
  • Rearrange living room furniture
  • Find protein, kill and cook it

Wish me luck.

What does your first day of May include?

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Stock Your Pantry

Let’s have a little exercise I like to call “bad news, good news.” Imagine your house has just been flattened by a tornado (bad news, obviously) but will be rebuilt exactly the same by Extreme Makeover and you’ll have some money to restock your new kitchen (good news).

The question: what do you buy for your kitchen? If you had to start from scratch, today, what would you buy? It’s a good exercise to notice your staples, your treats and the things that occupy your shelves and never seem to get eaten (unless you have teenage sons, I hear they eat everything). My list is pretty extensive since I counted the things I would buy immediately if I run low. FYI: “f.” means frozen and “c.” means canned.

Baking: Sugar, Splenda, Flour, Salt, Baking Soda, Baking Powder, Brown Sugar, Vegetable Oil, Olive Oil, PAM Spray, Crisco

Spices: Sea Salt, pepper, Mrs. Dash, Garlic Salt, McCormick seasonings for fish & steak (hmmmmmm)

Veggies: Zucchini, onions, peppers, potatoes, f. corn, f. peppers, f. tiny onions, f. broccoli, f. cauliflower, c. corn, c. carrots, c. green beans, c. black olives

Fruit: apples, f. bananas, f. strawberries, f. blackberries, c. peaches, c. pineapple, c. mandarin oranges, c. pears

Dairy: f. milk, plain yogurt, butter, sour cream, shredded cheese, eggs

Dry Sides: spaghetti, pasta, white rice, brown rice, dried beans, stuffing, rice & pasta mixes, macaroni & cheese, biscuit mixes, cornbread mixes, tortillas

Protein: c. tuna, c. black beans, c. refried beans, f. whole chicken, f. meatballs, f. chicken breasts, f. enchiladas

Desserts: Brownie mix, cookie/cake mixes, frosting, SPRINKLES, chocolate chips, coconut, food dye, sliced almonds, walnuts, marshamellows, ice cream, otter pops

Snacks: crackers, popcorn, sunflower seeds, some candy, dried fruit, yogurt covered raisins, hummus, chips, pita chips

Miscellaneous: salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, crunchy peanut butter, jelly, enchilada sauce, taco bell sauce

What’s the point of the exercise? Well, for one to see what kind of food you consider staples and what you don’t. I don’t really like cereal, rarely eat oatmeal and can never be bothered to make pancakes. Those are food items I’m just using up at this point. So it’s better for me to stock and focus on finding good deals on the items I will use time and time again rather than the one time items.

Furlough Fatigue

Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of these furlough days. It would be fine if my income was at a level I was comfortable with but it’s not so I’m not. I also do not want to stay with this company for a variety of reasons but I find myself so tired of dealing with the bullshit that I drift toward laziness on my days off.

On a completely random note, I work some Saturdays helping students prepare for the SATs – last weekend I had the joy of reading an essay by a student who wrote on the prompt for moral behavior by using South Park as an example. Oy vey.

Today I did a little work in the guest room, finally folding and putting away a week’s worth of laundry and moving some furniture around. I know, I know, more furniture, right? Well last week my aunt graduated nursing school and moved out of state, leaving me with several pieces of donated furniture.

Best part: Free.

Worst part: Moving it in.

Here in the guest room I’ve moved out the Ikea chairs and thrown in these beautiful red 10-feet leather chairs:

I call them 10-feet chairs because they look great from about 10 feet away. Otherwise you’ll notice about a thousand small scratches on the leather from a half dozen little kitties. Someday I’ll recover them but until now I don’t really care. They’re a nice stepping stool for Wilson to get up on the guest bed so I don’t worry too much about the scratches.

Wilson was in full on Diva mode today, insisting I stop everything and grab my camera. It’s been raining and windy outside so I decided to oblige him:

Doesn’t he look so patriotic? Such a ham. I very kindly introduced him to this new invention called a “dog bed”

He was not impressed.

We argued. I won. But I did give him a distraction since he was in the small bed, on the floor.

Overall, I really like how the guest room turned out.  Sure, I could use a few more prints up on the wall and if I add more bookshelves to the office I’ll have to move my photo wall but I love this room.  Sometimes it’s the small things like a stack of old books my Mom sent me,

or just having the space for a few hundred of my favorite books. Things aren’t necessarily better or the path more clear but the dishes are done, bills are paid and I’ve still get to make room for a new ottoman, footstool and loveseat.

Driving

Last Summer I wrote this post about driving in the dark.
If you don’t want to click on it the short version is that we’re all driving along and our path is shrouded in the night. If we’re lucky the car’s headlights illuminate the road and we know what’s coming up. But even with high beams we can’t see ten miles ahead or even around the next turn.

Lately I’ve been out driving twice in the dead of night and switched my lights off completely.

I don’t recommend it when you’re cruising at 55 and there’s nothing but the light of the moon and stars in the sky.  I don’t know exactly why I reached up that first time to switch off my lights but tonight I did it again. I realized that simple act is very much a reflection of what’s going on in my life .

I don’t know where I’m going. Some things have happened (that I cannot discuss) which put me completely in the dark. I don’t know what to think, how to act, what to plan or how to even just ‘be’ and let everything else work out around me.

It’s like I’m driving along with no lights and I don’t have the power to switch them back on.

Because I’ve been a (somewhat) normal member of society for a few decades now I can fake normal pretty damn well. And I do. For short times. Even when you’re driving with no lights you can stay within the bounds for awhile. Of course when I do it I don’t know that I’m not about to hit a pothole or the ditch, a stray animal or miss a turn.  And that’s what this feels like, those precious few seconds when your lights are out and you still have the illusion of control. Of knowing where you are and where you’re headed.  But the truth is if you don’t get a light, any light you’ll soon be in the middle of a field. Hitting a tree. Explaining yourself to a tow truck driver.

Tonight I stood outside in the cold in one of my favorite places.  It was black as ink and I could just barely see the outline of the trees and some of the stars.  I stood there just thinking, as I have a thousand times now, what do I need to do? How can I get back on the metaphorical road and put the shit behind me?

I still don’t have an answer.

Spring Pictures

I’m back on the Furlough Wednesday schedule and instead of staying in all day I decided to take advantage of the nice weather. I figure every day I am inside working I’d rather be outside so why not?

Next I’m out to work on painting the china cabinet but first a few favorites:

Anatomy of a Pantry

Last weekend I spent some time with my parents working on their in-the-midst-of-a-remodel-kitchen. One of the new features is a walk in pantry that has just a few more steps until completion. I was considering the lack of organization in most kitchens and decided to discuss my own methods.

Rule #1: A place for everything.

I hate wasting time, especially when it comes to searching for something I need NOW. When it came time to fill the various nooks and crannies of my kitchen I considered how and where I cook, clean and prepare meals.My places are not static and change on occasion but only if a new location makes more sense.

I asked my parents for their old mail holder and when they couldn’t find theirs they picked up this one (I think at a thrift store) for me:

It’s great for holding scissors, my keys and labels for the kitchen.

I hate climbing up and down to get things from the top shelf so I tend to put up things I don’t need very often. Here above my fridge I have summer cups, squirt bottles for the grill and empty egg cartons.

And tucked right next to the fridge is my step stool.

Next to the sink I keep scrub brushes for the dishes and drying cloths in a basket and under the sink I have kitchen towels, cleaning supplies and gloves for dish washing. Just recently I moved this big collection of kitchen tools next to my stove top – it’s the perfect location and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before.

Rule #2 Make Room for Food

When it comes to food storage I have shelf stable food and cold storage. Aside from my fridge/freezer combo (a $40 garage sale find), I have a mini deep freezer outside ($99 on sale at Target). You can see my canned storage here in the outdoor pantry which is perfect because I hate stacked cans.

Inside I’ve recently reorganized my pantry into sections. I have baking,

breakfast,

sides, pasta & beans,

alcohol,

dessert,

and appliance storage:

Each door has a simple list of what I have and I update it as I use up stock. And since I tend to collect but not eat a lot of snack foods I’ve been keeping these items out on the counter here:

It really helps to have dedicated areas for food. Mine are divided by type and in a few places – not pictured is my cabinet for spices and a drawer with tea, lemonade mixes and hot chocolate mixes.

Rule #3 Find Appropriate Storage Containers

Currently, I’m refinishing a china cabinet I bought so I can properly store my collections and random pieces I’ve picked up. Once that is painted and installed in the kitchen I’ll begin to figure out new homes for the snack collection, my hot pads and other assorted linens.

My knives are a modge podge mix and currently sit in a drawer. I’d like to find a better home for them but will probably wait until I invest in a better set.

There is no “one size fits all” solution to storage because we all have unique needs and kitchen items. The trick is to identify what you have, what you need and what you use most often and plan accordingly. In the spring and summer I have smoothies 3 to 4 times a week so my blender lives on the counter. During the winter I’ll use my crockpot regularly and right now I can return it to the cabinet in place of the blender.

Rule #4 Keep What You’ll Use

If you find yourself running out of room it may be that you’re holding onto food you’ll never eat or use in a recipe. There are a few solutions:

  • Donate to a food bank (be sure to check expiration dates)
  • Advertise on Freecycle
  • Give to a friend or family
  • Suck it up and use it up
  • Throw it out

Obviously wasted food is not the best solution so if you find that you’ve thrown out or given away something over and over again I suggest a “Do Not Buy” list. This can go right along with your shopping list and include things you *think* you’ll use but never do.

Even if you use some of an item consider the unit cost. Eating just a handful of Super Dense Fiber-O cereal at $4 a box is a very expensive breakfast. Either pick up the smallest possible portion size or cross it off your grocery list. Of course that cereal usually tastes stale when it’s fresh so you could keep it for emergency stock!

Rule #5 Be Ruthless

If you own a chopper and it gathers dust: donate it.
If you buy Pampered Chef out of obligation and never use it: stop (and send it to me!).
If you’re constantly looking in the fridge, sighing and calling for pizza: change your habits.

Shopping sales, keeping a well stocked pantry and cooking at home can save you hundreds of dollars.

Rescue Dinner Recipes

On Friday The Empty Kitchen issued a challenge. Easy to follow recipes with easy to find ingredients, adaptable for vegetarians and oh yeah, they have to taste good too.  It’s a good thing (for them) that I’m competitive! While I don’t use these recipes often enough I find that they’re infinitely adaptable to diets, veggies and the pickiest of children.

1) Taco Bar

Start with bowls. Big bowls. Then go down the conga line of yummy ingredients that make your favorite taco salad or bean dip.

I suggest:
lettuce (chopped)
black olives (sliced)
tomatoes (chopped)
cheese (shredded)
chips (pulverized)
ground beef (hot and crumbly)
or chicken (hot and chunked)
salsa
thousand island dressing

Everyone gets a bowl and makes their own mix. My brother loves thousand island, I prefer salsa. It’s a great way to use up the pieces of chips in the bottom of the bag and the meat is completely optional. Cheese can be any variety, pepper jack is good to try as well as regular cheddar. If you don’t like olives, don’t add them. If you can’t find lettuce at your grocery store then you’re an idiot.  This is a great recipe for the Empty Pantry Challenge because you can use what you have on hand and omit what you don’t.

2) Gnocchi, cheese & veggies

I just met gnocchi in 2008 and couldn’t even pronounce the dish when ordering (that’s why I prefer to point to the menu). But yummmmm.

Pick out a package at the grocer and follow the instructions. It’s very much like cooking pasta: drop in boiling water, stir, remove.

Then comes the fun part: dressing it up. You can add to some milk and cream of mushroom soup and top with mushrooms and cheese. Or just serve with butter. The possibilities are endless.

Serve with a side of steamed zucchini or squash.

3) Grilled Vegeta-bob

soak wood kabob sticks in water for 10-15 minutes
spear a variety of vegetables
drizzle olive oil and season lightly
grill

I love these suckers. My favorite vegetables to grill are zucchini, squash, mushrooms, peppers, onions and chunks of tomatoes.

4) Fajitas – like burritos but fancy

Tutorial here including ideas for zucchini & rice

Extra Credit: 7 layer vegetarian dip for pita chips

Layer 1: refried beans
Layer 2: avocado spread
Layer 3: mix 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup mayo & taco seasoning to taste
Layer 4: shredded cheese
Layer 5: diced tomatoes
Layer 6: black olives
Layer 7: chives
chips work fine but it’s a pretty heavy dip if you get all the layers in there. So Simply Naked pita chips are lovely for this purpose.

Tonight, well tonight I have a sore throat and need to do my taxes so I suppose my dinner will consist of hot tea, honey and maybe some frozen strawberries.