Monday, February 9, 2015

Little Townhouse Not Even Close to the Prairie

    The first thing I did Sunday morning was put a roast in the slow cooker. I was still in my pajamas, ones that I made a few years ago.  After I got the roast going I decided I had better render the beef tallow that had been in the refrigerator for over a week.
     This started me thinking about the process I began a few years back. It started innocently enough long before the advent of social media sites that allowed the sharing of all sorts of ideas.  I somehow found a woman named Linda Cobb who, as the self-proclaimed "Queen of Clean" wrote three books on cleaning and doing laundry using common multipurpose items such as vinegar, borax, Fels Naptha and washing soda.  What the heck was washing soda?  Back in 2000 when her books were published I could only find washing soda in one store.  Being the mother of two cats and step mother to one at the time, I liked the idea of cleaning with ingredients I could pronounce and that were largely non-toxic (borax being the exception) to the four-legged children in my home.  While my ideas were noble they sort of fell by the wayside simply because I was busy and got lazy; not to mention that for 4 years I lived with a man whose motto was 'better living through chemicals', but that's another story.  Over the course of the next few years I ditched chemical boy, moved to another state and at various times I went from being unemployed to making a very comfortable salary to making squat.  It became necessary to conserve finances to maintain my ballroom dance, yarn and fabric habits.  This all coincided with the advent of a little type of social media called Pinterest.  Hello, my name is Edie and I'm an addict.
     I learned two important things: 1.  There are a lot of people like me out there, probably due to the recession, and 2.  There are a lot of women making money writing blogs.  I won't even get into the blog issue because I can't figure out how they can make money doing this, though I'm sure there's a blog for that as well.  Pinterest is a whole different story.  I resisted it's lure for a long time.  I mean who needs to post pictures of things they like online? Buy a magazine, cut out a picture and paste them in a notebook.  However, this is free and you can find articles from electronic versions of print magazines.  So I succumbed to the lure of the 'pin'.  Being the information goddess (a.k.a. librarian) that I am I carefully check the sources.  I don't go out in the pin-sphere wantonly, I am a practitioner of safe pinning.  It's the Internet people; it should be called the "Information and Crap Superhighway".  It is only good if used wisely. Like everything else there are a lot of 'pins' that are garbage; i.e. the chicken and rice casserole I tried Saturday night that went into the garbage Sunday night.  There are a lot of nut-case female bloggers out there as well.  If you weed through the dregs and loonies you can find some useful information.  Which sort of leads me back to the title of this post.
     There is a big self-sufficiency movement out there of 'homesteaders', some more sane than others, who are trying to find cost effective ways of doing things around the home.  For instance, I started my Saturday morning much like other Saturday mornings by doing laundry.  I did this using home made laundry detergent, laundry enhancer (helps to soften the clothes), and dryer 'sheets' (a ball of wool yarn, kindly donated to me by a friend, which I felted).  While the preparation of all this does take time, it also saves money and at least I know what I am using to clean my clothes; epsom salts, essential oil, vinegar, borax, washing soda and Dawn.  Yeah, ok, I know the Dawn isn't exactly natural but it has grease fighting properties - I might try castile soap which is all natural but 1. it's more expensive and 2.  I would have to super pre-treat my clothes with stuff I don't make myself to get the stains out because I am a slob.  I don't consider myself a 'homesteader' because I live in a townhouse I did not build myself.  I get excited when I change a light bulb successfully.  Admittedly I'm not quite that helpless but as some of my friends and my cousins can attest I'm pretty clueless in the some of the DIY arena (thanks, Dad).  I do cook, bake, sew, craft and knit - the latter three thanks to my mom and 4-H; so I am able to put food on the table and clothes on my body.  While I am not the best knitter or seamstress I find the need to make certain things now.  Since Lanz are becoming more and more scarce I have to make my own nightgowns - not too difficult as only the cat sees them and I'm not concerned about fit.  But it is more difficult to find good quality clothes at reasonable prices that actually fit so I'm seeing the need to sew more for myself.
     I am not turning in to Laura Ingalls Wilder.  You will never see me churning my own butter, there are some things that are far too foolish to do on my own. Not to mention the fact that as I said in the beginning, I do live in a townhouse. My back yard is very small and as much as I would love to have a few black-faced sheep in the back yard to keep the grass down the HOA and my neighbors would frown on that so I just have to settle for weed killer and stone to keep the grass at bay.  I do use home made weed killer - yes I started with a chemical but now that the grass is mostly gone thanks to a friend who cut it for me and 2 gallons of Roundup, I can use the salt and vinegar mixture to manage what crops up.  As to the beef tallow mentioned in the beginning, I am NEVER doing that again.  I 'pinned' a recipe for homemade refried beans that used beef tallow so I thought I would give it a try, it was done in a slow cooker, how tough could it be? My first clue should have been when the woman blogger was talking about what part of the cow had the best fat and what had to be removed from the fat after the animal was slaughtered.  I bought mine in a cryo-pack from the grocery store for pity's sake.  While I grew up next to a farm and helped birth a fair share of pigs let's get real.  Next time I'm buying lard in a nice little cardboard box.  Not only was it messy to cut up into small cubes once it hardened while it was rendering the smell was so bad it almost made me a vegetarian.  While I take pride in doing things on my own, being more self sufficient and saving money there is only so much self-sufficiency a suburban girl can take.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Twelve years ago, I was living in Philadelphia and working in Dover, De..  I am lucky to say that at that time I knew only one person directly affected by the events of that day.  I, like most people who lived or worked near the impacted areas of the country, have small stories of how the events touched our lives.  At the time I was living with a Philadelphia firefighter and I remember how angry and frustrated he was that could not go to New York to help.  While I have not been to the site of the WTC since that day, I am now reminded daily of the events of 9/11/01.
I have lived in Virginia for the past 9 years.  It is impossible not to know someone who worked in DC on that day.  Many will only talk briefly of the day, mostly of their attempts to get home to family; many will talk in detail about the events.  Since November I have been making the daily commute into the city.  For most of that time my contact with the Pentagon has been a bus that drops off at or near the bus bays and then crosses the Memorial Bridge by the Lincoln Memorial.  As we would travel on 27 past the side of the building where the 9/11 Memorial rests, near where the plane hit the building I would often wonder what it must have been like to be on that road when the plane hit or going past the scene in the weeks and months that followed.  In the past 6 weeks because I choose to slug to save money and the best place to catch a ride in the afternoon is at the Pentagon, I have become intimately familiar with that area.  Because it is supposed to be in the mid 90's today I decided I didn't feel like standing in the hot sun in the slug line so I took the bus - also because part of me really didn't want to be anywhere near the Pentagon on 9/11.  The bus I took this morning drops off at the Pentagon perimeter but then immediately returns to 395 to cross the 14th street bridge - the site of another plane crash albeit nearly 30 years ago.  However this morning there was an accident on the bridge that had things backed up so the driver made a loop around the Pentagon to go to the Memorial Bridge.  This took us very close to the section of the building into which the plane crashed.  Twelve years on you would never know that a portion of the outer rings of this massive office building had been destroyed.  The morning light was just so that you could barely discern the difference in the stone color - not that big of a deal around here considering the most visible monument in the city is two different colors due to its construction during the Civil War - War Between the States or War of Northern Aggression depending on your point of view - being temporarily halted.  It made me realize that there is a good portion of our population that has no memory of the most recent attack on our shores. 
Seniors in high school and freshman in college were barely school aged when this occurred and children below 5th grade have grown up in a post 9/11 world - it is all they know. The rest of us, however, remember when it was easy to get on a plane or to have a loved one meet you at the airport.  Trivial things I realize but unless you live or work in an area like DC that is one of the few daily reminders most now have of a post 9/11 world.  I too am a generation removed from a direct attack by a foreign government on American soil.  I was born 22 years after Pearl Harbor.  When I was young we would remember Pearl Harbor day, but only as a footnote in history, will the same thing happen to 9/11?  Others would argue this is different - Pearl Harbor was an act of aggression directed to a military installation as a means of gaining a foothold in the Pacific while the attacks on 9/11 were aimed not as an imperialistic act limited to a small area but as an attack on a way of life.  Now, 73 years later Pearl Harbor is barely mentioned - perhaps a wreath laying ceremony somewhere gets a short news blip, if there is time.  Will the same thing happen in 2074 on 9/11?  I believe this is different - this is something we should remember.  This happened because there are parts of the world in which Americans are hated.  Not because we sit quietly by and allow nations to work out their own issues, but because we feel we have to be involved it their problems, whether it is our business or not.  We aren't hated simply because we exist but because of our actions.  Does that justify what happened?  Not in the least - these people were extremists and frankly, insane.  However we need to be mindful of why it happened and make every effort to not make the same mistakes again.  We should not forget all the innocent people who died,the NYFD firefighters who lost their lives simply doing their jobs or the thousands of men and women now lying in graves or severely wounded because of the aftermath of these events.  But we should foremost keep in mind the words of George Santayana;  "Those who cannot remember the past..."
This was not intended to be a political statement but more my musings on living in an area so impacted by such a terrible act and how we should not allow it to become a brief footnote to history.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Walking to work.

Despite the fact that I am now working in the one place I have always wanted to work, getting up at 5:00 a.m. to make the commute north to DC is still a bit daunting.  I am awake at 5, I am out the door at 5:30 to go to one of two commuter lots near my home to wait in line for a free ride north to a Metro station.  Slugging in and of itself is odd, but I'll deal with the concept of slugging at another time.  I'm still not sure how I fell about that but every once in a while you get handed something that makes you remember how lucky you are.

This morning I actually got a ride to 12th and Independence which is across the Mall from my 'office'.  Still sounds weird referring to a national museum as my office.  When I say the Mall, I mean the big one that people come from all over the world to see; Capital building at one end, Lincoln Memorial on the other, Washington Monument in the middle and flanked by the Jefferson Memorial and the White House.  Now I used to work three blocks from the White House and never gave it much thought, expect when my bus was delayed at a traffic light for 40 minutes one night because of a presidential motorcade set to head north on 16th street.  Then I gave it a lot of thought - all negative - because I really wanted to get home before it was time to turn around and go to bed!  Anyway, I don't think a lot about the city in which I work - it's a city and I work there - but today was a bit different.  I was dropped off at 12th Street, grateful that I didn't have to take Metro and saved $2.10.  Then I headed across to my office. At that hour the only people around were joggers so I was in my usual morning fog; until I looked up and saw the Capital building to my right and the Washington Monument, covered in its lighted post-earthquake condom, to my left. 

I like to watch Bones, which supposedly takes place in Washington; technically we work in the same building though I'm glad the things that happen at the Jeffersonian don't happen where I work.  They use exterior DC shots in every episode.  Most of the shots are near where I have worked.  When I ride the bus I get it across the street from the Hoover Building.  Obviously the directors of Bones, unlike those of NCIS, think that making the DC connection is important to viewers.  These are also times when I realize the 'coolness' of where I work.  People come from all over the world to take in the history of this city and the items of historical significance contained in the museums surrounding my office.

I just have to keep reminding myself of that when I am trying to get out of the building where I work to get to Metro and I'm dodging tourists!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Reinventing Myself

It's been some time since I logged on here.  Something at which I know I should be more diligent.  Since last I wrote I started a new job, which I hate, and turned 50, about which I have mixed feelings.  Hitting the half century mark gives one an opportunity to evaluate their position in life.  With the exception of the 12 hours I spend commuting to and from work and being at work, which I lovingly refer to as hell, I like my life.  Funny I know since I spend 7 of the remaining 12 hours each day asleep.  I like where I live even if it does mean awful commute many days.  I have a good companion in Mojo, activities that I enjoy and good friends.  Now if I could only get the remaining 12 hours on track life would be great.

It has taken me a good part of my adult life to be able to say that.  I am after all half Italian.  If you ever asked an old Italian grandmother how they were feeling they might respond with - "not bad" but they would never say they were doing well.  To say that would be tempting the fates and call ill will upon them.  I have lived my life following that premise.  You don't want to be too happy for fear something bad will happen.  Ok, well life's too short for that.  That is where the reinventing myself comes in.

As was bound to happen eventually, I am one of the older people at my place of employment.  However, unlike centuries past I am not respected for my life experience but seen by the 12 year olds with whom I work as someone who knows little about which I speak.  I have spent the bulk of my career around children so I should be used to that.  Up to this point though, I have been the one in the position of seniority not the other way around.  Not so sure I like that.  Despite what I think often, I am told I have accomplished a lot in my life as far as my education and that it was very valuable.  I don't feel as if I have used that education to its maximum potential.  Hence the need to reinvent myself.  I need to take a hard look at my skills and put them out there to be used.  I have discovered I don't like working for an organization where profit is the bottom line.  I don't have nor have I ever wanted an MBA.  I have never desired to be on the Fortune 500 list and to me the Financial Times is just a pretty pink newspaper (is it even published anymore?)  I have to work somewhere where I am doing good for others not just the CEO. I work in a city with people who a full of their own self-importance.  Always knew that but it really hit home overhearing conversations on the street and on public transit.  While self worth might be important for my own mental health I am not about to broadcast it to others.  Everyone is equal in my eyes no one person more valuable than any other.  Now all I have to do is figure out how to best market my considerable skills and decide what I want to be when I grow up.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Thanksgiving Perfection?

I realize I am rushing things a bit as it isn't even Halloween but I was watching a cooking show on PBS the other day and it prompted this.  The point behind the episode was how to cook the perfect looking turkey for the holidays and it really got me thinking.

I admit I have only cooked a turkey once and only for Thanksgiving.  I am not a fan of turkey and honestly cooking an entire turkey for one person is a bit ridiculous.  I cooked the turkey two years ago for a joint dinner with some friends.  My friend had a turkey and was going to cook it, but since I had the bigger dining space we decided to cook the bird at my house to make things easier.  I ended up having to go to the emergency room. I was on blood thinners at the time and cut my finger going into a drawer for twine to truss the bird.  Once the bird was in the oven and I washed my hands again the cut wouldn't stop bleeding so...  Needless to say I will never again cook another turkey.

That is my personal Thanksgiving nightmare and I am sure others have ones that are much worse but my point again is, why should there be nightmares?  I thought Thanksgiving was about being with family and/or friends and eating.  That doesn't mean it has to be perfect.  We are humans and by that very nature, fallible. Nothing is ever going to be perfect and who cares what it looks like, as long as it tastes good?  The other issue I have is traditions.  I grew up eating certain things on the day and the day after.  Since my father died twenty-two years ago I haven't had those same foods because I have never been "home" for Thanksgiving.  My mom and I were invited to various places and after she passed away I have spent the day with friends.  The only tradition has been that we each bring our own part of our tradition to the meal.  In my house it was never a big deal.  Mom would be in the kitchen, killing herself quite frankly and cooking for hundreds, listening to my high school football game.  Dad would be in the living room watching whatever football was on television.  I would hide in my bedroom doing something, either reading or trying to find something on television other than football.  I would hide because I really dislike football and wanted to be as far away from it as possible.  Mom would put a delicious dinner on the table and then not eat.  As she had been in the kitchen all day she was too tired to eat.  She would have leftovers about 10:00 that night after I had cleaned up.  My favorite part of the day was to steal the stuffing that was sticking out of the bird.  It was generally overcooked and I loved it.  Of course Mom would yell at me, mainly because I was faster than her and not occupied so I could steal it before she got to it.

That brings me to another issue - stuffing the bird.  One of the things this program on PBS raised was that issue.  They stuffed part of the dressing into a cheesecloth sack then put it in the bird, once the bird was done that sack would be emptied into the remaining stuffing and that would be cooked. The reason being that  stuffing does not reach the desired temperature to kill bacteria if the bird is cooked to its desired temperature.  My feeling is, while I understand the science behind it, I don't understand the logic.  I ate stuffing straight out of the bird for 27 years and never once went to the hospital or got food poisoning.  Now we are so bacteria conscience we can't do that and what do we have?  A generation of kids who are allergic to everything.  While science has its uses, its taking all the fun out of eating for me.

Thanksgiving is meant to be a day to be grateful for what we have.  We should be grateful for our imperfections.  So what if dinner doesn't look like a Norman Rockwell painting.  We are with the people we care about, warm, safe, healthy and happy - that's what is important.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

From dust ye come....

Will the world come to an end if we don't dust our homes?  I was thinking about doing a survey of women, simply because most men don't see dust and if they do don't see it as a problem, about whether or not they like to dust and how often the task is completed.  I am convinced there is a correlation between the two.

I recognize there are medical reasons for people to keep dust at a minimum and for those people I would happily dust were they to visit my home.  I am talking about the rest of us or at least the percentage of the population who are genetically capable of seeing dust and recognizing it as an issue.  Do we really need to dust that often?  Scientists have said that even the cleanest houses have microscopic bugs.  I am not even going to discuss the critters we don't see that we ingest on a daily basis in our food and drink.  So what if the furniture has a fine layer of dust on it?  Of course one answer to that is keep the blinds drawn and the lights low so you cannot see it.   Life is too short and there are too many other things to do in the world.

I run a duster over things every so often as I am walking past them, or when I'm on hold with some utility company.  It is also one of the reasons we have hands - to send those dust bunnies flying as we go by.    However, I would rather spend my time reading, dancing, sewing a gift for someone or knitting perhaps for charity than dust.  That doesn't mean my home isn't clean.  It may not be spotless but it is tidy.  The kitchen, baths and Mojo's litter boxes are always clean.  I simply dislike dusting.  I have too many things, tchotchke if you will, and it takes too long.  When I am changing things over seasonally I may dust.  Though I shamefully admit; I have a chess set that was my father's in my dining room on the bottom shelf of my server and several of the pieces were knocked over during an earthquake we had in August, 2011.   I didn't reset the pieces until I was home for Easter break.  In my defense there are a lot of pieces and to dust them really well takes some time.  I do not dust on a weekly basis.  Life is too short to waste time and that is a waste of time.

Think about the act of dusting.  What exactly are you doing?  Using a object to pick up the dust.  Well you aren't going to get it all so what happens the rest of it? It moves from one surface only to settle onto another.  Then you vacuum.  Most vacuums aren't perfect, the act of vacuuming creates dust.  I read somewhere that if you have a cat you shouldn't vacuum right before a friend who is allergic to cats comes to visit because the act of vacuuming sends the dander flying through the air and makes it worse.  So what does that tell you?  Anyway, once these tasks are finished dust will return to surfaces right away.  Unless your house is hermetically sealed, face it, you're gonna have to do it again.  Seems like a lot of wasted energy to me.

So go have lunch with some friends, dance, knit or watch a sunset.  These things are much more rewarding.  The dust will still be there when you get home.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Too much free time?

Summer items completed tally : July1 - September 22

fleece pants, skirt, nightshirt, pillowcase, gift bag

5 potholders, assembled one wall hanging (binding not completed), table runner, small wall hanging (assembled only), sewed binding on 4 potholders assembled in spring

3 hats, scarf, 3 dishcloths,baby blanket, edging for sweater

2 dish towels

6 dining room chairs, one foot stool

I need to do this list to remind myself that I have been keeping busy on my 'work hiatus'.  Much of this was accomplished with things I already had at home a.k.a - the yarn and fabric stashes.  This does not include the closet cleaning and basement reorganizing that was done which resulted in a trip to donate things to the Salvation Army nor the countless books I have read and the time spent in the library looking for job. 
As I said, I have been busy. Granted much of this was accomplished while sitting on my butt in front of the television.  It is mindless white noise while I knit or do my hand stitching.

Despite the fact that I have no income and no cost-effective health insurance, I am working through a back log of things that started several years ago.  I want to say 4 years since I moved to my current house but then I realize I moved much of it from the apartment so I would say 8 years since moving to Virginia.  However with the exception of the yarn since I didn't learn to knit until I moved down here, the fabric and clothes to sew came with me from Pennsylvania.  It is good incentive to not buy anything.  I just walk into the basement look through the stash and pick a project. 

This puts me in a good position for when I go back to work.  I can move forward with the projects I already have and not feel overwhelmed by all that is available. All I need to do it choose something from the recently reorganized stacks and go on.  I even have time to write the book I have always said I would write and it's nothing like I thought it would be.

Lest you be too envious of my position recall what I said previously, I have no income and I pay about $500 a month for my health insurance.  I am enjoying the time off but I would be much happier if it had come about because I had hit the lottery (which I don't play very often) and didn't need a steady income anymore. This freedom and lack of stress has come at a price.  I can't afford to dance or compete right now.  My outings consist of trips to the library, grocery store or any free activity I can find.  I have been eating out with friends but it is often because they pay for my meal, of course I did that when I was making decent money so I guess that isn't so bad.

I could start talking about what Americans value but that would be a whole other ideal.  We want free time to do things but the way we work means that we put all these things off until we retire or are not working.  There has to be a balance in life.  While I don't miss the stress I have been under for the past five years from my previous job, I do miss the freedom the income provided me.  Odd that I would use the word freedom as between the commute and the work hours I was logging a ten hour day and when I got home I was too exhausted to do much of anything besides watch television.  When I wasn't in work I spent the time getting the necessities done such as laundry and grocery shopping.  I guess the steady income gave me the security to buy the things I wanted to do in my free time.  Now I have the free time but not the financial security.  It has given me the opportunity to evaluate thigs so that when I do start working again I can put a balance in my life between work and home.  I will make time to do the things I enjoy because I don't want to forget about them.  I will value those things more because I understand that they require the income from work to have the freedom to play.