Sunday, September 27, 2009

Prepping: Not for the Lazy or Faint of Heart!

I bought my pressure canner and all the necessary tools to go with it a few weeks ago, but wasn't going to try it out until our schedules settled down a bit. Let's face it though, one thing or another is always coming up and things never really settle down, do they? So I just decided to give it a whirl this afternoon.

I pulled my canner off the shelf, washed it inside and out, washed all my tools and had Yeoldfurt bring me one of the flats of quart jars from storage. I decided to make a double recipe of Spring Skillet Dinner, an easy but very hearty ground beef and fresh veggie stew, for my first adventure in pressure canning. I figured doubling the recipe would give me four quarts which, in my opinion, should equal four meals for the two of us. Left to his own devices, Yeoldfurt would prefer his own quart all to himself for supper ...but, hey ...if we're ever actually living off of our stores, we would be foolish not to be rationing. So four quarts, four meals.

I have a large crockpot I used to cook the two pounds of lean ground meat. In a separate skillet, I melted a cube of butter and added all the chopped fresh veggies ...6 large stalks of celery, two cups of sliced carrots and 1 large white potato, cubed ...added salt & pepper & garlic powder, then sauteed them all in the butter until the celery and potatoes started to look translucent. Then I added 1-1/3 cups of white rice to the veggies plus 3 cups of water, covered and let it simmer on slow heat for about 30 minutes until the rice was done and the liquid was absorbed. While the rice was cooking, I added six tablespoons of flour to the ground beef mixture in the crockpot plus two cups water and let it thicken. When the rice and veggies were done, I stirred them into the crockpot with the meat and gravy and left the heat on low.

Now for the canning part. I had my three quarts of water boiling in the canner already and my jars and lids were washed and ready on the drainboard. The instruction book said to put hot water in the jars until you're ready to fill them ...that was the part of the instructions I didn't remember from my early experiences canning. Maybe it is something unique to pressure canning but I followed the instructions and filled each of the four jars with hot water and put the lids and rings in a bowl of hot water until I was ready to use them.

I have a small kitchen with very limited counter space, but I wanted to organize things as much as possible before I started filling the jars. I checked the level in my canner ...the water level was 3 quarts exactly and was at a soft rolling boil. I set my crockpot next to the sink on one side and my hot water filled jars next to the sink on the other side. The lids and rings were in the bowl of hot water in the second sink and I used an over the sink cutting board to place the jars next to the crockpot when I was ready to fill them. I left one inch of headspace in each jar, per the instructions, and tightened the rings only finger tight on each jar after it was filled. Then I placed each of the four jars around the perimeter of the canner, not touching each other, not touching the sides of the canner and equal distance from the center. I put the lid on the canner and vented it for 10 minutes, according to the instructions. I set the ring and regulator to 10 pounds of pressure, brought the heat up until the regulator was rocking gently and set the timer. The canner has been officially processing for one hour ...thirty minutes to go. When the processing time is complete, I will remove the canner from the burner and let it cool down on its own. I'm just hoping that all is well inside the canner and I will have succeeded at my first attempt at pressure canning.

I honestly did not think I would feel quite so unsure about all this. I helped my mother can when I was a youngster and my grandmother and I did some canning one summer when my own kids were young. But I have only ever canned fruits and jellies and I honestly do not remember it being this complicated. Maybe it just feels complicated because back then I was just helping and someone else was in charge who knew what they were doing. I kept having to read (and re-read) the instruction booklet today and won't be sure I did everything right unless and until everything turns out all right when the process is done. I'm more tired than I expected to be after canning a mere four jars of stew. But if no jars are broken and my four quarts are properly sealed when I finally get to open up the canner, I will be happy. Rather tired, but very happy.

However today's adventure turns out though, I at least learned a few lessons today....(1) Do not begin a canning project in the afternoon least until you're a pro and more efficient at it! and (2) Prepping is not for the lazy or faint of heart!


The Chainsaw Massacre

It was a bright sunny Saturday in the early fall of 2006. Since we both had day jobs that monopolized our time during the work week, we each usually had a laundry list of chores to get done Saturday mornings. Sometimes we combined our lists and spent the whole day together. Other days, our chores were too many or too diverse to be accomplished together we each tended to our lists separately. This was one of those Saturdays.

My big chore of the day was to give a first full bath to our two yearling Paint fillies. First baths can be a little bit of challenge since young horses are naturally fidgeting and cold hose water tends to make them even more fidgety. But learning to accept a bath is an important part of the 'education' we try to give our young horses. Standing tied is another important lesson that teaches patience. So I had decided to combine lessons (bath and standing tied) and bathe both fillies, one after the other, this particular morning. One would stand tied while I bathed the other, then the first one would stand tied and air dry while I bathed the other. Yeoldfurt's big chore was to get out the chainsaw I gave to him for Christmas the year before and clean up along the fence lines. We were living on the Gulf Coast in Brazoria County at the time. Living in that part of Texas in the hot seasons was like living in a terrarium. The humidity is like an invisible heavy wet fog that you can feel but not see. It's an ideal climate for vegetation though. Dozens of 'volunteer' Chinese Tallow saplings (weed trees) were always springing up along the fence lines. Like most 'weed' vegetation, Chinese Tallow trees are hardy and incredibly fast-growing. The saplings needed to be cut down regularly or they would compromise a fenceline in just a couple of seasons. I figured it would be a full morning for both of us. We got an early start, hoping to be finished and back in the air conditioning before the day heated up.

I walked out to the barn which was about 50 yards from the house and Yeoldfurt headed for the tool shed to get started on his fence work. By the time I got set up to start bathing the yearlings, I had all but forgotten what was on Yeoldfurt's agenda I didn't notice that there was no chainsaw noise from a distance. I got the first yearling soaked and soaped and was getting ready to rinse when I thought I heard Yeoldfurt holler from back toward the house. I tied up the yearling and went around the corner of the barn to look. The smaller of our two trucks was blocking my view so I couldn't see Yeoldfurt. But every once in a while, I saw him raise something that looked a whole lot like the sledge hammer high up in the air and swing it back down with a fury matched only by the tone of his ranting. Without the barn between us and now that the water was turned off, I could hear him more clearly. He was definitely MAD. I don't remember exactly what he was saying but it was not nice and I would probably feel compelled to bleep it if I did try to quote him. Having learned from experience that it was best to be VEWY QWIET (Elmer Fudd voice) when Yeoldfurt was in one of these moods, I just said a silent prayer and went back to bathing the yearlings.

About an hour and half later, the yearlings were clean and dry and turned out with the rest of the herd. I cleaned up after my mess in the barn and peeked around the corner of the barn to see if Yeoldfurt was still in a rage. All seemed quiet. Maybe too quiet. I walked to the house and noticed that the front fence line was still dotted with volunteers. I walked up the three steps to the front door but paused to listen before turning the knob. The only sound from within was the drone of the television and the hum of the ceiling fan in the front room. I opened the door and found Yeoldfurt relaxing on the couch with a big glass of tea. He looked calm and he seemed in a good mood, so I decided not to ask about his morning. Instead I asked if he was hungry and wanted some lunch.

The rest of the weekend was easy. After we ate, we headed into town for some errands and came back home with a couple of movies from the video store. By that evening, I had forgotten all about the chainsaw. I don't remember what we did on Sunday that weekend, probably nothing in particular and certainly no more chores.

Monday morning, I was walking out to the truck to go to work and noticed an odd colored patch of grass near the shell drive circle. I looked closer and was baffled at first to see a brownish stained circle, irregular and about 8 inches in diameter. It wasn't brown like dead grass was brown like coffee. Then, half buried under the stained carpet grass was a small shard of green plastic. It looked foreign and familiar at the same time. It was such a distinctive chartreuse green but it was small, a jagged half inch piece of something ...but what? Then it hit me. The chainsaw I bought for Yeoldfurt last Christmas was a Poulan. There was a country song a couple of years ago that railed about "John Deere green" as a distinctive color, but I'm telling you ...Poulan's green is far more distinctive!

I smiled to myself, tucked the shard in my purse and kept walking to my truck. On the short drive into work, I started piecing together what must have happened. The chainsaw had been packed away since early spring and was probably reluctant to start. Yeoldfurt has little patience with things that don't fire up right away and the sledge hammer was probably just a little too handy when his fuse got lit. After the first blow, the chainsaw was dead for sure and Yeoldfurt just finished venting his frustration on it until only this tiny little shard of casing was left. I toyed with the idea of asking Yeoldfurt when I got home that evening, but decided it was better to let him bring it up ...if ever. I got braver as time went on though. A few months later, I casually mentioned some of the deadfall we needed to clear in the back pasture and the ever present volunteers along the fence line. He ignored me the first few times but then finally said, "I don't have the chainsaw any more."

I looked him with as much innocence as I could muster and said, "You don't?" Yeoldfurt has very expressive eyes and it has always amazed me that he can portray two contrasting emotions almost simultaneously. This was one of those times. The look he gave me was both defiant and sheepish at the same time. He was annoyed with himself for smashing the chainsaw, nervous about telling me he smashed the chainsaw that I bought for him and poised to defend himself if I took offense at the news. I let him bake in his emotions for a few seconds and then smiled and said, "I know." I told him I heard him when I was out at the barn and knew he was using the sledge hammer on something but didn't figure out what until I found the sad little shard of chartreuse green casing in the oil stained patch of grass the next day. I didn't mention it to him then because I figured if he wanted to talk about it, he would bring it up ...and if he didn't want to talk about it, I sure didn't want to bring it up. I told him I had come to think of it as "The Chainsaw Massacre" and we both had a good laugh about it. Have I mentioned Yeoldfurt has mellowed a lot since then?

~Published with permission from Yeoldfurt~

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

I've Still Got It!

I got back to the hotel after a particularly intense day of training one evening, changed into my comfy jeans and headed down to the lobby to catch up on blogs and email. There are two computers set up in what the hotel calls their 'library' ...a little alcove near the lobby and around the corner from the reception/dining area. It's private enough for email, but if there are people in the dining room, it can be loud. There was a handful of people in the dining room when I passed through on my way to the library this particular evening. Most of them were business travelers but there was also one lady with three small children.

I had been at the computer for about 15 minutes when I heard a cell phone ring around the corner in the dining room. I heard a man answer and start a conversation with what sounded like a buddy of his. For simplicity sake, I will refer to the caller as PhoneBuddy. The conversation was pretty tame at first. They talked sports for a little while and then the guy on this end started talking about the possibility of getting another friend of his hired on with PhoneBuddy. Now I can only hear one end of this conversation, but PhoneBuddy must have started telling about something really bad that happened at his end of the world. The man on this end stopped mid-sentence and went into intense listening mode ... only interrupting PhoneBuddy occasionally with a dramatic, "NO!" or "Oh, my God, no!" every few seconds.

I was only half listening at that point, not wanting to listen at all ...but not having any choice since I was on a public computer in a public place and therefore did not have the luxury of choosing my company. PhoneBuddy finally wrapped up his shocking tale (whatever it was) and then I started to hear some real language. It started out with a few more or less benign explicatives but soon accelerated into what I consider very inappropriate language for mixed company ...especially when three small children and their mother are an arms length away. I could hear the kids jabbering just as plainly as I could hear the man on the phone and, maybe I'm just old and cranky, but it had gotten to the point it was beyond inappropriate. So, very slowly and deliberately, I leaned back in my chair and gave the guy my LOOK.

Now my kids have been grown and out from under my roof for almost a decade, but back in the day, I could have given them "the look" from across a crowded room and brought to an immediate screeching halt whatever behavior they were engaged in at the moment that had elicited my disapproval. I did not really expect the man to react at all and I would probably not have had the guts to follow up with anything more if he had ignored me. I would have just gone back to my room.

But much to my surprise, as far as "the LOOK" goes, I've apparently still got it! The man stopped mid-sentence and with wide-eyed expression said, "I'm so sorry ...I didn't know you were there, ma'am. Please excuse me!" It was not the least bit sarcastic, it was immediate and heartfelt. He then spoke to PhoneBuddy in a hushed tone and said, "Man, I just really screwed up. I've been mouthin' off and there's a lady right around the corner ...I didn't know she was there!" Even his explanation to PhoneBuddy did not sound the least bit resentful or sarcastic. I smiled a thank you and went back to my email.

A few minutes later, the lady with the three small children came into the library and got on the other computer. A few minutes later and again much to my surprise, the man who had been talking on the phone came and joined her. He was pushing a double stroller of the cutest little four month old twins and leading an equally cute three year old by the hand. The woman and three young children were his! He had been talking that way in front of his own wife and small children. I smiled at the three year old and commented how cute all the kids were. The man looked at me and said, "Thank you, ma'am, and please forgive my rudeness earlier." I held up my hand and said, "It's okay's so commonplace these days, hardly anyone notices. But the fact that you reacted with such remorse after a mere disapproving look from a total stranger tells me you were raised right. I used to use that 'look' on my own two children but they are grown and on their own now. I'm just glad to know I've still got it!" We both had a good laugh.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

One Down, Two and a Half to Go

My first class started at 1:30 this afternoon and the training center is only 10 miles from my hotel. I decided to leave the hotel at noon thinking I would arrive at the training center right after everyone else left for lunch and thus have my choice of parking spaces. The high was 102 degrees here today so if there was a shade tree, I wanted a chance at parking under it!

I left right on time and proceeded to get myself thoroughly lost in downtown McAllen. I never thought of McAllen as a big town. I have never been here before but the way people talked about The Valley (McAllen, Edinburg, Pharr), it was just a border area made of a lot of small towns. Well, I can't speak for the other towns around here, but McAllen is a BIG TOWN to me. I wandered around some side streets for a while, counting down the minutes until I would actually be late for my first class. I finally came to Business 83 and decided that had to be a main drag. I learned many years ago that if you need directions in an area, find a fire station or a rental car company. They both are in the business of knowing where things are in their immediate vicinity. It can be intimidating walking into a firestation, so I was happy to see an Enterprise Leasing office almost immediately after I turned onto Business 83.

The agents at the Enterprise office were very helpful and it turns out I was only two blocks from the intersection I had been looking for. I was safely parked under a shade tree in front of the training center within minutes ...plenty of time before my class started. The training class was good. If the next few days are as good as today, this week will have been a good investment of time. I have a stressful job, the sheer volume of work can be overwhelming at times, but I like the job itself. Even if I didn't like my job though, I would not want to lose my job in this economy. So whatever I can do to entrench myself in the position, I will do.

I still find it amusing that I am well within the borders of the good ol' U.S.A. and yet English is the not the primary language. I stopped off at a Payless Shoesource store on the way back to the hotel this afternoon and was greeted by the clerk with, "Hola. Puedo ayudarle hoy?" (Hello. Can I help you today?) I answered in English that I was looking for dress shoes, flats with no heel and open in the back. The poor clerk looked dumbfounded for a moment and then said with a thick accent, "Wha' sieez, pleas?" I told him and he led me to the correct aisle and pointed, a hopeful look on his face. From there the conversation was limited to point the finger and shake or nod the head. It seems my Spanish was several notches better than his English. Wow. I can say 'shoe' but have no idea how to say 'heel' or 'flats' (in reference to syle of shoe) ...otherwise, I would have just switched to Spanish. The store did have some open heeled flats in my size but nothing dressy enough for my purposes so I thanked him for his time and left. I think he was relieved. I had stretched his vocabulary to beyond his comfort zone. Ha!

If I happened to be up north, still in America but within 4 or 5 miles from the Canadian border, would I expect to walk into a chain store and find only a non-English speaking clerk? If I ever move north, I better take some classes in French ...just to be safe!


Monday, September 14, 2009

New Ideas

I had the rare pleasure of spending an afternoon with a 75 year old grandma prepper yesterday. She is the grandmother of my son-in-law and what a neat lady! The visit was a surprise to her. My daughter and son-in-law normally spend Sunday afternoons with her at her rural property in the Texas Hill Country, but they did not tell her I would be with them yesterday. We had a nice visit, just casual conversation for the first hour or so. But then the daughter and son-in-law went off to do their own thing and Granny and I got into so some deep discussions about prepping. She brought up the subject of canning and dehydrating food from the garden and then asked me, rather hesitantly, what I thought of the way things were going in this country. She clearly did not know I was already a prepper! I certainly didn't realize she was but I'm glad to know it.

We exchanged several recipes for canning and I learned several things from her. I had no idea you could can things like flour and fresh nuts and rice. They will keep even longer canned, so good to know! She is making me copies of some really old (circa 40's and 50's) canning pamphlets she has from Kerr and Ball and she gave me a handful fo dried hot peppers that she said are prolific and good for lots of things. They are not habaneros but one tiny pepper, crushed and stirred into a pot of chili will take it from mild to three alarm ...and one dried pepper placed in a stored sack of flour will keep the mealy bugs at bay forever. The dried pepper is easy to see and remove from the flour and does not affect it at all. I explained EMP's to her and gave her some of my tips of my own ...things to stock up besides food and ways of storing that would not make them conspicuous and a target.

Granny said she started prepping back in 1999, in preparation for Y2K. She kept on prepping through about 2005 but said used more than she preserved in 2006 and 2007. But when she got serious again last summer when she said she 'could see the way things were going.'

She's a smart cookie and is in a good location if she has to hole up for a while. She has two grown sons that live on the homestead and help her maintain things. She said her other three sons and my daugthter and son-in-law know to come to her if things get bad too. I'm glad for her sake and for my kids to know she's one of us.

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Here I Sit ...

...far from home and wishing I weren't. My job sent me almost 300 miles away from home for four days of training in McAllen, Texas. I'm less than six miles from the border and that fact was pretty apparent when I cruised the aisles of the local HEB grocery store this afternoon for some staples. The music (or should I say la musica) that blared over the PA made no pretense of being aimed at an English speaking audience. About half of the products on the shelves were labeled in both Spanish and English and the other half were merely labeled in Spanish. I'm a gringa by birth but am reasonably fluent in Espanol, so I was not uncomfortable ...just found it odd to still be in this country, but feel like I had one foot on the other side of the Rio Grande. I bought what I needed and have been holed up in my hotel room since mid-afternoon. I will be glad when training is over and I'm back at home with Yeoldfurt. If the proverbial caca hits the fan while I'm down here, my odds of being able to walk home would be slim to none.

For lack of the ability get clear reception on any other radio station, I ended up listening to O's speech on the drive down here this morning. The speech itself was innocuous. One commentator afterwards put it well when he said, "It's kind of like when you eat Chinese food and a couple of hours later, you're hungry again." Our illustrious Prez said a lot of things, mostly just a shallow pep talk as far as I could tell. He danced on the edge of playing the Blame Game several times, saying things like 'the recession that began two years ago' and mentioning the three trillion (I think he said three?) dollar debt that 'he inherited from the last administration.' Another commentator afterward really got my goat though. He said that when people say Obama is a socialist, it's really 'right-wing and Republican code talk for the 'n' word.' EXCUSE ME? A socialist is a socialist is a socialist and how does that have anything to do with the 'n' word? I'm frankly pretty tired of people oohing and ahhing over the fact that Obama is 'the first black president' anyway. I think a whole lot of the votes that put him in office were based on that criteria alone. But the man is also half WHITE. Does one negate the other? Of course not. He is no more and no less a black man than he is a white man. He is both. But that has nothing to do with the criticism of his socialistic policies. Nancy Pelosi is a socialist in my opinion and plenty of people have called her one. But are the ones who say she is a socialist get accused of using 'code talk' for a racist slur?

I don't usually post about politics because I don't have the depth of knowledge or finesse of Yeoldfurt and some of you others. But I needed a few minutes of distraction from the fact that I'm stuck down here for now and thought I'd share my two cents.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Meet the Herd

Our youngest horse right now is Lyric. She is the three year old daughter out of my mare, Lacy. Like a typical adolescent of any species, she eats as much as we are willing to give her and it all turns to muscle. She is not yet broke to ride. We plan to start her under saddle this fall after the heat wave lets up. She's for sale. We can't keep them all but we can pick and choose who we sell her to. A young horse needs an experienced owner/rider to develop to their full potential. So we will send Lyric off to a trainer for 30 days or so and then just keep putting miles and training on her ourselves until the right buyer comes along.

Our oldest horse is Yeoldfurt's 26 year old Quarter Horse mare, Scarlett. He has owned her since she was a two year old and, even though she is now retired from riding, she still expects to be pampered and doted on daily. She may be a Pasture Potato, but she is a pampered one! In the 20 plus years Yeoldfurt has owned her, Scarlett has seen sights other horses just dream about. She has explored the open spaces of Florida, the badlands of northwestern New Mexico and seen a whole lot of Texas. She and Yeoldfurt have logged lots of trail miles over the years and even participated in a team penning clinic a few years ago. Scarlett was already 20 years old at that clinic and I don't think the other riders thought they were going to be very impressed with her. They changed their tune after Scarlett's turn came and she showed 'em all how it was really done. There were lots of "oohs" and "aahs" and "how old is she again?" Ha!

Next is Katie. She's now 20 years old and the Paint daughter of Yeoldfurt's Scarlett. She is registered as a breeding stock Paint ...meaning her sire was Paint registered, but she didn't inherit the Paint gene. As of this year, she is permanently crippled with a bad knee. We spent a chunk of change on her last year trying to fix a lameness problem on her right fetlock (ankle ...sort of) and that surgery was a complete success. But she chipped her knee while she was recuperating at the vet and the damage is permanent. Even though she is no longer able to be ridden, she is part of the family so she will live out her days with us. This picture was taken a couple of years ago with our then 10 year old niece riding out through our backwoods. To the 10 year old, it was a sure 'nough trail ride and to Katie, any time she's toting a kid on her back, she's happy.

Next is my mare, Lacy. She is a 9 year old registered Paint mare. She is a red roan sabino and my pride and joy. I've raised her since she was just 4 months old and it's not quite clear even to me whether she owns me or I own her. She allows other people to ride her, but prances and shows off when I ride her. If I happen to ride another horse, she gets highly indignant and vocal at first and then walks off and pouts when I try to make up to her later. She has always taken good care of me on the trails and will come over to just hang out if I walk out into the pasture. She is the tallest of the bunch at 15.2 hh's and probably weighs 1150 pounds. My left ankle is flaky and weak and gives out on me half the time. Since that's the leg you use to step up into the saddle, it makes mounting from the ground quite a challenge. To complicate things further, I cracked my pelvis on the right side back in '99 so just getting my left foot up high enough to reach the stirrup on a tall horse causes pain and stress in the hip. So Lacy will stand next to something for me can get on, and we also had her taught to lay down for me. It's been a great trick. I can even get on her bareback now.

The mare Yeoldfurt rides these is also 9 years old. Lucy is the half-Mustang buckskin mare I mentioned in my blog about the hay ring. She's an extremely easy keeper, probably thanks to her Mustang heritage, and stays fat as a tick on less than 1 pound twice a day. Lucy is always up to something. She has a Dennis the Menace personality, plenty of mischief but no real malice. She can be very opinionated about things on the trail, but Yeoldfurt likes 'em with a little fire in their belly so she suits him just fine.

Last but not least is Dancer. We traded another mare for her about six years ago because we were raising Paints and Dancer is homozygous for the Paint gene. That means no matter how many times you breed her to a solid colored horse, she will always have Paint colored baby. She's a bay/white tobiano (like the horse Little Joe rode in Bonanza, but bay/white instead of black/white) and built like a brick house. She is 15 hh's at the withers (shoulder) and weighs around 1300 pounds. She's downright massive and as solid as a rock. But she's a Baby Huey with her herdmates. She doesn't seem to know she's the biggest horse in the herd and she lets them all ...occasionally even the 3 year old ...push her around. It's kind of embarrassing to watch sometimes! But she is a pretty horse and a good ride. Nothing fancy, no power steering, no power brakes, no fancy gears ...she just goes where you point her and never bucks, bolts or rears. Those are great qualities in a horse.

Happy Trails, everyone!