Sunday, October 23, 2011


In between cycles of messing up and cleaning up my kitchen on Saturday during the canning project gone awry, I loaded the trunk of my car with merchandise for the booth space I rented at the antique shop.  I was supposed to meet the owner there at noon Sunday to set up my space.  The plan was to have all of the non-edibles loaded in the car the day before so that all I had to do Sunday was pack the jars and go.    The shop is open from 1:00 to 6:00 on Sundays so arriving at noon would give me about an hour to set up my space. 

The reason I only loaded the non-edibles on Saturday was because the recipe ingredients for the Cookies-in-a-Jar were not yet in the jars.  Instead, they were all over the work table in my office.  Ingredients for a dozen different recipes in unopened packages were all over my work table.  Wide-mouth canning jars, still in the shrink wrap cardboard flats they came in, were setting on the floor underneath the table ...ugh!   So I was up early again Sunday morning, determined to take care of all my normal weekend chores and still make my goal of meeting the shop owner at noon. 

This whole idea of renting a space to sell things sounded so simple in the beginning.  But jumping through all the hoops to get it off the ground has been a little wearing.  The first step was a trip to the tax office for a permit.  That was a little bit of a hassle as most permitting things tend to be ...but I got it done.  Then came what I thought would be the fun part of finding recipes.  Most any recipe can be adapted to this form of packaging but the more varied the colors and textures of the dry ingredients are, the better it will look in the jar.  Sugar cookies, for instance, would be visually boring ...just flour, sugar, baking soda, salt.  Boring. 

Finding recipes has been fun but it's been time consuming too.  When I found a recipe I wanted to use, I added it to my 'inventory list' and then added the ingredients to my shopping list.  I have a document set up in Publisher to create the instruction cards that are attached to each jar.  I created a new page for each recipe and set up a theme-appropriate border or a graphic for each different recipe.  Four 'instruction cards' fit on a page, then I cut them apart using these fancy little craft scissors designed for the Scrapbooking crowd.  It's all fun and appeals to my crafty/creative side ...but right now, it's time consuming. 

So far, I have collected a dozen or so cookie recipes with dry ingredients that include oatmeal, M&Ms, chocolate, white or butterscotch chips, raisins, and dried cranberries.  I found a couple of fancy brownie recipes too and some flavored hot chocolate recipes.  At the suggestion of the owner, I will stock two jars of three different varieties for now.  Today I put two jars each of Cowboy Cookies, Cowgirl Cookies and Mississippi Mud Pie Brownies on the shelves.  The six jars I put out are all I have made up so far.  But the plan is to make them ahead so that restocking will be quick and easy.  I'll generally stock the same varieties for one month.  When the weather cools down, I'll use pint jars to stock flavored hot chocolate mixes.   These are the three varieties I put on the shelves today. 

Mississippi Mud Pie Brownies

Cowboy Cookies

Cowgirl Cookies

The only differences between the CowGIRL Cookies and the CowBOY Cookies are the color of the M&M's,  whether I put Chocolate Chips or White Chocolate Chips in the jar, and what color bandana I cut up to put over the top.  The lids are vacuum sealed onto the jars to keep the ingredients fresh. 

I've seen similar jars with cookie ingredients in specialty shops being sold for $15 and up,  but I don't have any real overhead.  I've kept careful track of my costs and only have $2-$3 in each jar so I intended to price them at $8 each.  The owner talked me into putting $15 on them though.  She said she has been in business in the same location for over 9 years.  She knows what sells and has a feel for pricing things.  According to her, there's already a lot of interest even from the other vendors in the store and she doesn't want me to be afraid of making a profit. 

O.K.A.Y.  Feels like a lot of profit to me but I guess if they sell at that price, that's the market.  I might splurge and fancy up the fabric tops a little if I'm going to be making $12 per jar!  Other vendors at the shop that purchase from me get a 10 percent discount.  I get a ten percent discount on their merchandise as well.  So worst case, I will net $12 per quart.  Wow.  That still boggles my mind.   

This is what my space looked like when I left the shop today. 

It's just a bookcase, not a whole booth space but it's a good start.  I am in a good location in the shop and now that the preliminary legwork is done, I think it will be fun.  Especially if she's right about how much those jars will sell for ...wouldn't that be a nice little bonus! 

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

One of Those Days...

The day started out good.  We were both up early.  Yeoldfurt had some things he wanted to do in the shop and he was down there at first light.  I wanted to do some pressure canning today.  I made a spicy chicken soup for our supper last night and purposely made extra so I could process a couple of quarts for the pantry.  Not wanting to process just two jars in my big seven quart pressure canner, I went down to the food storage this morning and brought up three of the vacuum sealed jars of red beans and rice.  Last July, I had the bright idea to vacuum seal my dried beans and rice in quart and pint jars.  I didn't think it would take long so decided to make canning the first project this morning.

Thinking I had it all figured out,  'I only filled each jar half full of whatever I was putting in it because when I cook them this fall and winter, the amount that's in the jar now will still fit in the jar after it's cooked.'  Oh how naive I was ...never underestimate the swelling potential of beans or rice!

So I bring up three of my vacuum sealed quarts and dump them in my big soup pot.  They are about three inches deep in the bottom of the pot and the pot is 11 inches deep, so I thought I was fine.  I add water until it's two inches deeper than the beans/rice, bring it to a rolling boil for ten minutes and then take it off the burner to let it soak for an hour.  Of course I had a lid on it while it was soaking so I had no idea what was going on in the pot.  When the hour had passed and I went to drain and rinse, I was amazed to see the contents had swollen to a height just two or three inches below the top of the pot.  There was no way I was going to able to add enough water to boil them for another hour, so I had to find a bigger pot.

The only pot bigger than the one the beans/rice were already in was my seven quart water bath canner ... a bit of overkill for the job, but it was my only available option.  So I transfer the swollen beans/rice to the water bath canner and start adding water.  It took eight quarts of water to bring the level up to the prescribed two inches above the beans/rise.  Sigh.  I start running the math in my head and quickly realize I'm going to end up with a minimum of eight quarts of beans/rice to process.  My pressure canner only holds seven quarts so that means at least two batches.  Sigh.  Ninety minutes processing time plus the heat up and cool down on both ends makes for a long day in the kitchen.  That's fine if that's the original plan.  But tomorrow is the big 'move in' at the antique shop and I still have some loose ends to tie up.  THOSE were on the agenda for this afternoon.  Canning in the morning, loose ends in the afternoon.  That was the plan but that's not how it went. 

Well, as sunset approaches, the first batch is cooling on the counter and the second batch is about halfway done processing on the stove.  My second batch ended up being one quart of the beans/rice and two quarts of the soup.  I prefer not to run the canner at half capacity.  It just seems wasteful to me but sometimes it can't be helped.  Today was one of those days.  Everything I tried to do ended up two or three times harder or taking two or three times longer or making two or three times as much mess.  I'm tired, a lot more tired than I expected to be this evening.  But I guess putting ten meals on the shelf is a decent accomplishment for the day. It was a long day in the kitchen.  I'm glad I at least have something to show for it.   

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Fall Vegetable Garden Class

The free class on Fall Vegetable Gardening I attended last Saturday was outstanding.  I loosely adhere to the old adage 'you get what you pay for' so I was not expecting all that much from a 'free' class, especially one offered by a retail business.  At most, I expected to get a few pointers and maybe hear about the latest gardening tool or product for this area.  Even though Producers is an ag co-op, they are still a retailer the business of selling their wares to the public.  I half expected coupons to be handed out for discounts on those tools or products which, of course, would be available for purchase from the store hosting the 'free' class.  The skeptic in me always looks for a catch when something is offered for free.  I was pleasantly surprised on all fronts.  

I have been to Producers dozens of times in the five plus years we've lived in this area but this is the first time I was there on a Saturday when the free classes are offered.  I was surprised to find out I was only one of about a hundred people attending yesterday's class.  I had no idea attendance would be that high and I was amazed to see the lengths the store went to accommodate the attendees.  Large display racks were temporarily moved off to one side to make room for the rows of folding chairs.  Two tables were set up where you entered the area with registration sign in sheets and a nine-page handout of the material that would be covered in the class and the other with several carafes of coffee and trays of cookies.  The store apparently goes to a lot of effort and expense to host these classes every week and I really didn't come away with the impression I had been to a sales pitch. 

One of the things I learned that we will be implementing this coming year is that it's far more beneficial to rest and improve your soil during July and August than to push for production during the two hottest months.  This part of Texas has relatively mild winters and it's entirely feasible most of the time to keep a garden going for nine to ten months out of the year.  But just because we can doesn't mean we should.  Gardens need time to rest, organic matter needs to be worked in to replenish depleted minerals and restore balance to the soil.  The speaker recommended cleaning out the garden at the end of June.  Remove the old crop, clear weeds and grasses and add approximately three inches of well-composted material.  Work the compost in by hand or with a tiller, then saturate the garden with water to a depth of at least four inches.  Let the water soak in, then saturate the ground again the next day and the day after that.  By the third day, you should be able to dig down 8 or 9 inches and still have very damp soil.   If the soil is not damp to that depth by the third day, you are not watering enough.  When it is damp to that depth, flood it one more time to the point you have standing water, then cover it with clear plastic and leave it covered until the first week in August.  The hot summer sun on the clear plastic will sterilize the saturated soil, killing any seeds, fungi or bugs that may be in it.  Even in a normal summer, the temperatures under the plastic will reach at least 160 degrees during the day.  That heat will help speed up the decomposition of the compost you just added.

The first week September, remove the plastic and 'fluff' the soil by hand or with a tiller.  Additional store-bought compost may be added at this time if necessary.  This is not the ideal time to add material from your home compost because you need to transplant seedlings to your fall garden by the middle of September and two weeks is just not enough time for typical home composted material to break down in the soil.   It is also not good to work horse or cow manure into the soil because it adds too much phosphorous and will stress your seedlings.

Mid- to late-September is the ideal time to transplant seedlings into the garden.  Most of us keep our thermostats set so that temperatures in our homes fluctuate very little between daytime and nighttime during the summer.  So if you started your seedlings yourself in an air-conditioned setting, it's best to move them to a shaded area in the yard for a few days before you transplant them into the garden so they can become acclimated to the more extreme outdoor temperature fluctuations between daytime and nighttime.

If you purchase seedlings for your vegetable garden, look for boxy, full-leaved specimens, rather than the tallest or the one that already shows flowers.  Height that is disproportionate to fullness is a plant's response to tight quarters and having to compete for sunlight.  Early flowering is not a sign a vigor, it's a sign of stress ...literally according to Dr Masabni, the plant is saying, 'OMG, I'm going to die soon ...I must reproduce!'  That generated some chuckles, as you can imagine, but he's right.  The base instinct of all life is to survive and reproduce.  Plants are no exception.  

If these kinds of classes are offered through your local ag co-op or the county extension office, I urge you to take advantage of them.  All of the classes won't be relevant to your situation, but take advantage of the ones that are.  Knowledge is something we need to stock up on occasionally too.  

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Continuing Ed Tomorrow

Producers is the name of the big feed co-op store in Bryan.  Their advertising slogan is 'Everything Ag' and that's a pretty fitting description of what you can find there.  In addition to all the normal things you'd expect at a feed store, they offer free one hour seminars on Saturdays, covering a variety of subjects that would interest  most any farmer, rancher or homesteader.  The seminars are held at 11:00 on Saturday mornings in a small section of the store that's set up like a casual den ...complete with fireplace and big comfy chairs.  The subject this weekend is Fall Vegetable Gardening and the speaker is Professor Joe Masahni, an Extension Vegetable Specialist from Texas A&M. 

I don't know if I'll learn anything new in the class, but I'm pretty sure it won't be a waste of my time.  I happen to think that adding to your own store of knowledge is an essential part of being prepared.  The timing for this class is great and the price is perfect.  We were just talking last week about whether to plant a fall garden this year and what we should grow and since the class is free ...well, you just can't beat free! 
There is always a list of errands that need to be done on Saturdays and this weekend is no different.  The oil needs changing in the little truck, a trash run has to be made to the local collection station and now I have this class I want to attend in Bryan.  Yeoldfurt will be tied up at the the Appleseed shoot in Millican all day tomorrow and again on Sunday,  so I'll take care of whatever needs to be done this weekend. He'll load up tonight and leave bright and early for the shoot in the morning.  I'll be leaving an hour or so behind him so I can be first in line at the Kwik Kar in Caldwell when they open.   I should be back home by 9:00, giving me plenty of time to make the trash run and start the weekend laundry before I need to leave for the class in Bryan.

After the class, I'll gas up at the HEB in Bryan because it's always 10-15 cents cheaper than the stations in Caldwell.  Then I have a short list of items to pick up while I'm at HEB and I should be back home by 2:00.  Yeoldfurt will call me when he's heading home after the shoot, but I don't expect to hear from him until at least 5:00.  That gives me three or four hours to finish the laundry and have a nice dinner for him when he gets home.  I've told him he's off the roster as far as feeding the critters or any other chores this weekend.  He's managed to finagle a day off work on Sunday so that he can attend both days of the shoot and I just want him to enjoy himself.  There are plenty of weekends that he has shouldered all the responsibilities for me so I could go visit the granddaughter in San Antonio.  This is my opportunity to return the favor. 

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Ventures

Purging was pretty high on the list of goals for this year and I think I may have found a fun way to go about it.  Some friends of mine own a little antique store called Yesteryears located just off the town square.  It's one of my favorite stops when we have errands to run ...kind of like H&H Guns is Yeoldfurt's favorite stop.  We are usually together when we go either place, but I can be entertained at Yesteryears a lot longer than he can ...just as he can be entertained at H&H a lot longer than I can.  Possibly, the Venus/Mars phenomenon again.

A couple of years ago, Yeoldfurt and I discussed the possibility of consigning some of the things we want to sell to Yesteryears.  But we found out the owner doesn't do consignment, just rents booths to vendors with part of the 'rent' being a few hours a week of minding the store.  That was not an option for us because of our 40-week jobs so we didn't pursue it.  But recently I found out that the owner is now renting shelf space by the unit. One unit is a bookcase, approximately 3' x 6' with up to six adjustable shelves. The rent is $35/month, no requirement to put in hours at the store ...just a simple lease outlining acceptable items for sale and the terms of payment for sales made.  Very little is required of the seller other than to keep the shelves reasonably well-stocked.  Most of the things we want to purge around here are suitable to being displaying on a shelf so I think it's a win-win.    

After I got home with the vendor agreement, I started wondering how hard it was going to be to keep the shelves stocked.  I only have an hour or so of 'free time' in the evenings and Saturdays are already pretty full with odd chores and projects around here.  I wanted to come up with something I could make ahead and keep in quantity to fill space in between things I was purging.  I will be making some Cookie-in-a-Jar type recipes to give as gifts this Christmas and wondered if the owner of Yesteryears would consider letting me sell them on my shelf.  I sent her an email with a picture to show her what would be on the shelf and she loved the idea.  Oh, boy!  Cheap, easy, and fun to make ...I can get creative with the recipes and decorating the jars according to the season.  

I'm on vacation (I know ...again ...right?) on Friday this week so that Yeoldfurt can give me a ride to the paint shop to pick up my car.  He's on vacation until Sunday and I think he plans to head back home after he drops me off at the shop.  But while I'm out and about and have time on my hands, I think I'll go to the hobby store and maybe the fabric store for ideas and supplies.  I really think this is going to be fun.  If it turns out to be profitable too, all the better!

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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sobering Moments

I dropped my car off at the paint shop this afternoon and needed to kill two hours until Yeoldfurt got off work to come get me.  I walked across the street to a little antique shop and was thoroughly enjoying myself, just browsing the merchandise when my cell phone rang.  The caller ID said it was my friend, Anne, from Colorado.  She and I were neighbors when I lived in Colorado in the late 80's and early 90's.  She was a few years younger than me but it was one of those friendships that just happens in an instant.  Colorado is an hour behind Texas, timewise, so I was surprised to hear from her when it should have only be 4pm, her time.  But I'm always happy to hear from her, so I answered cheerfully and said, 'What are YOU up to ..playing hookie?' 

The voice on the other end wasn't my friend, Anne.  It was her husband, Craig.  I knew something was wrong.  He said, 'It's not who you think it is, I knew you would think it was Anne.'  He asked me where I was and if I was sitting down.  I sat in a big chair the store had for sale and held my breath.  He asked me if I was alone and I told him there were people around but I was at an antique store.  Then he told me that Anne was gone.  She passed away the night before. 

You hear people talk about having a brush with death and in that moment when they feel they are truly in mortal danger, they see 'their life pass before their eyes.'   When Craig told me she was gone, moments from our twenty year friendship passed through my mind.  We were in PTA together, we served on a community advisory council together, we took classes at Mesa State College together.  We took care of each other's kids, we cooked for each other's families when one of us had to be out of town for a few days.  Anne was energetic, goal-oriented and adventurous.  She was incredibly organized and knew how to motivate people. She was an amazing person and now she's gone.  She and Craig just celebrated their 30 year anniversary and now he's a widow.  They have three grown children, two that live close by and one that works for the State Department and is currently on assignment overseas.  I'm sure he'll be home to support his dad 

I'm not making much sense, even to post about something like this.  But it's what's on my mind so there it is.  I wonder if this incredibly wonderful person that was my friend knew how much she meant to me.  I wonder if I was as good a friend to her as she has been to me. 

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