Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some Days Are Better Than Others

There are times when I am totally ashamed of myself.  I had a bad day yesterday.  Arthritis is not fun.  It hurts.  Some days it hurts more than other days.  I found myself irritated because I couldn't do some of the things I wanted to do.  I also found myself in the middle of a pity party.  Shame on me.

My brother understands what this is all about.  Arthritis is our family inheritance.  How he keeps on keeping on, working in a physically demanding job, is beyond me.  I admire his strength and courage.

So in the middle of my mental whining (Whining out loud around here doesn't mean a thing.  The dogs ignore me and the cats could care less!) and feeling sorry for myself, I thought about my brother.  And then I thought about my mother, who was in a wheelchair and in a nursing home at a much younger age than I am now because of this disease.  I was able to get out of bed yesterday morning.  Mother could only get out of bed if someone lifted her.  I was able to take a shower alone, get dressed alone, fix my coffee and my meals without help and my hands still worked well enough to do some sewing.  Mother was unable to do any of these things.  What she would have given to have been able to function without help, I can only guess.

Today, on the other hand, is one of my Better Days.  I have been busy doing some of the household chores that were left undone yesterday.  I have been up and down the stairs in my building a couple of times without much of a problem.  I am back to normal, whatever normal is.  But I am left with a sense of shame at letting yesterday's trials get me down.  I try really hard not to do that.  Most of the time I succeed.  And when I don't, I think of those who are much worse off than I am.

It is sort of like the person who complained he had no shoes right up until he met a man who had no feet.

I think I need to concentrate more on what I do have, and be grateful for it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Food Obsession

Yes, I have developed an obsession with food.  Not so much the eating of it, although I will fight you to the death if you try to deprive me of my chocolate, but of the preserving of it.  Although I owe nobody any explanations of the way I choose to live, I feel as though I need to address this issue.  Mostly to give my children an understanding of what their mother is about.  Especially since some of them think I have stepped off the edge of reality.

When I was a young girl, my family had a large garden.  Every summer and fall we spent hours and hours in the kitchen canning and freezing the produce from this garden.  Money was tight.  Mother was ill most of her life.  She couldn't work outside of our home to provide extra family income.  Preserving garden produce insured that we would eat over the winter.

Later, when my children were young, I had a huge garden.  I canned and froze as much as possible, for money was very tight then as well.  Some of my children still remember the jars of food;  fruit, jam and jelly, pickles and relishes, meat and vegetables, that filled the basement shelves.  We may have been poor, but there was always enough to eat.

Things have changed.  I now live alone and have nobody to feed but myself.  I am not rich, but neither am I poor.  What I am is a widow living on a fixed income.  Every month that passes, my income is stretched thinner and thinner.  I am fortunate that I don't need a vehicle and the expense that goes along with it.  But other expenses like medical and groceries and rent, keep going up.  My income does not.

So I decided to change my lifestyle a bit to compensate.  I rarely eat out.  Twice a month I go out for breakfast with my oldest son.  We have been doing this for the last few years, and although I enjoy our breakfasts at a restaurant, it is more about the company.  But I get my fix of restaurant food at those times and it is enough.  I bake most of my own bread.  I can bake at least four loaves for the price of one loaf of store-bought bread.  I scoured the internet and found recipes for things like brownie mix, baking mix, cornbread mix, hamburger helper mix and stuffing mix.  These I can make for much, much less than I can buy them, and they taste good.  I buy bulk seasonings and spices and make things like taco mix, spaghetti sauce mix, onion soup mix and chicken coating mix.  All for very much less than the commercial equivalents.  And I have the added advantage of knowing what is in them as opposed to foods with unpronounceable chemicals included.

I don't have a garden as I did in the past.  Living in a city apartment makes that impossible.  Stuff just doesn't grow well in an asphalt parking lot!  So I buy fresh and frozen vegetables at the grocery store when they are on sale.  These can be either canned or dehydrated.  The canned vegetables I can use as a side dish with a meal or in casseroles and other dishes (I love creamed peas on toast.) and the dehydrated vegetables work really well in soups and stews.  If left frozen, they develop freezer burn long before I could use them up.  There is a Farmer's Market here and I hope to be able to buy tomatoes and other fresh produce there over the summer.  So much better than supermarket fare.

When meat is on sale, I buy as much as I can afford, freeze what I will use within a month and pressure can the rest.  I am not really good at meal planning.  It is more like deciding about 3 PM what would taste good for supper.  Yesterday I defrosted a pork chop, baked it in the oven along with potatoes and carrots that I had canned together just for that purpose.  The potatoes and carrots browned nicely in the oven and it was really good tasting.  Another day I opened a jar of chicken, another of peas and carrots, tossed them together with macaroni, dehydrated onion and mayo, and had a chicken macaroni salad for supper, along with a slice of homemade bread.  This is one reason that I can food.  I tend to get busy doing other things and forget about meals until I start to get hungry.  It is nice to be able to open a jar or two and supper is served.

Contrary to popular opinion, I have not, nor do I intend to join a survivalist group.  Not my thing.  Granted, I would prefer living in a country setting and having a garden and all of the things that go along with country living, but at this stage of my life I am realistic enough to know that this isn't going to happen.  I am more into preparedness.  Life has a way of blindsiding us from time to time.  I am pretty sure that people in Japan weren't aware when they went to work in the morning that their lives would drastically change by late afternoon.  Not that I think that we will suffer an earthquake, and a tsunami is unlikely to cover Minnesota any time soon, but things beyond our control can and do happen.  I just believe in being as prepared as I can be.

There are things that the hard-core preparedness people do that I don't.  I have no guns or ammunition stockpiled.  I haven't invested in a solar oven or propane camp stove.  I haven't converted savings into precious metals.  There are many of these things that just aren't practical for me to do or that I would be comfortable with doing.  But the one thing I can do to be prepared for the unexpected is to have food canned and dehydrated.  At present, I have probably 4 to 5 months worth of food put by.  My goal is a years worth.  I realize that at my present weight and girth, chances are I probably won't starve to death any time soon.  But I don't want to be one of those elderly people we hear about who have to choose between paying for the medications they need to keep them alive and buying food to eat.

I also don't want to have to ask for help, although there are times when a little help is greatly appreciated.  Being as self-sufficient as possible is particularly important to me.  It keeps me out of the nursing home.  It makes me feel as though I have some self-worth when I can take care of myself.  And by preserving food for future use, I can insure that I won't have to ask any of my family for help with the groceries, with the possible exception of hauling them up the stairs to my apartment.

I also really like the part where I don't have to rush to the store to stock up on essentials just before a snow storm.  I remember doing that in the past and fighting crowds of people doing the same thing.  I only go to the store now to buy the sale items or to replenish my kitchen pantry when I use the last bottle of ketchup or jar of mayo or need a dozen eggs.  I have everything I need to get through any storm or other unforeseen disaster.

So you all can stop worrying that Mom has gone over the edge or that her mind is going because she preserves food.  There is a method in this madness.  Now, if I begin to have meaningful conversations with Elvis, then you can worry.

Friday, March 25, 2011

2 AM Musings

One should never fall asleep around suppertime and wake up after 9 PM.  It really wrecks going to bed at a decent hour.

And to make it worse, strange thoughts float around in one's head at 2 AM.  Well, to be perfectly honest, strange thoughts aren't really all that unusual for me, but I digress.

I was wondering, at 2 AM, why my parent's generation was so terribly worried about what people would think.  Like the time when my Mother's doctor prescribed a shot of brandy at night to help her sleep.  Mother made Dad get the brandy from the druggist rather than the liquor store, even though he paid twice the price at the drug store for brandy in a prescription bottle, because she was afraid of what people would say if they saw him coming out of the liquor store.

As a kid, I went through a stage where I wore mostly jeans and my Dad's old flannel shirts.  I lived in the country.  I played in the woods.  I grubbed around in the garden.  I did yard work.  I sat up in apple trees and read books.  I liked jeans and old comfy flannel shirts.  But Mother was always after me to change clothes because what would people say if we got company and they saw me dressed like that.

My 4-H softball team practiced on Sunday afternoons.  I loved playing softball.  I was a pretty fair shortstop.  But Mother was worried about what people would say if they knew that I was playing ball on Sunday, which was a day of rest.

I always wondered who "They" were.  Who were these people who were just waiting for my family to do something out of the ordinary so they could say whatever it was that they were going to say.  I probably, in retrospect, shouldn't have posed this question to Mom, for, as I recall, it got me a week of living in my bedroom and a month of Wednesday night Prayer Meeting at the church, no doubt to pray for the state of my rebellious soul.  I think that having a daughter who was, at that time, a bit of a free spirit, must have been a trial for her.

Odd, the things one remembers at 2 AM.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Beef Sticks

A couple of weeks ago I made beef sticks out of hamburger.  I have this handy dandy little gizmo that came with the first dehydrator I bought.  You stuff it full of seasoned hamburger, squeeze the trigger and out pops beef sticks.

David had told me that his kids really like beef sticks, so I tried a 3 lb. chub of hamburger in my dehydrator.  A few days after David picked up the package and took it home, I asked whether the kids liked the homemade beef sticks.  He allowed as they must, because the package was nearly empty.

So Wednesday of this week he dropped off 6 lbs of hamburger.  Last evening I mixed the spices in and refrigerated it overnite.  Hamburger goes through the gizmo better if it is cold, and the spices need time to meld with the meat.

This morning I made beef sticks.  Six lbs of hamburger will fill nearly seven dehydrator trays.  The old towels under the dehydrator are to catch any grease that seeps out of the bottom.  I learned about doing that with the first batch I made.

After about 12 hours, I had beef sticks.

I love my gadgets.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Month of Sundays

While doing my little stint at the computer this morning, I realized that it has been a month of Sundays since I last blogged.  Well, OK.  Maybe not quite that long.  But it has been a while.

I tend to get sidetracked.  A lot.  Especially if I have a new toy to play with.  I have been dehydrating veggies.  Cub had a sale on frozen veggies, which work really well in the dehydrator.  Just open the bags, spread them on the trays and let them dry.  I tried some shredded cabbage, too.  I like cabbage in soup, and that worked really well.  I also dried 10 lbs. of onions.  I use lots of dry onions, and they turned out great.  The other day, I opened a jar of canned chicken broth and a jar of chicken, dumped them into the crock pot, tossed in a handful of each of the dried veggies and let it all cook.  All of the veggies rehydrated really well and that was some seriously good chicken veggie soup.

I also tried drying a variety of fruit.  The strawberries turned out OK as did the mandarin oranges.  The oranges are a good snack.  But I wasn't thrilled with any of the other fruit, so I probably won't be drying much of that.  Maybe enough to chop up and use in muffins or quick breads.  I haven't tried apples yet.  They might turn out fine.  We shall see.

I have another new kitchen toy that I have been playing with.  When I got my new dehydrator, at the same time I got a jar sealer attachment for my Foodsaver.  That is the neatest little gadget since the invention of the bread slicer.  I wasn't happy with using plastic bags for storing my dried stuff.  Little creepy crawlers can get into Ziploc bags.  I know this because I had to toss out a bag of wheat flour that I had in a plastic bag.  So I put all of my extra dry stuff into glass jars and vac sealed them.  When I use the veggies, I just pop the lid, take out the amount I want to use, and reseal the jar.  Cool.  The dollar store had brown sugar for a buck a bag, so I bought some and sealed that in quart jars and stashed it in the pantry.  It stays soft and I don't wind up with brown sugar rocks.  I love it!

Then there was the sale at Joann's.  Flannel for $2.50 a yard.  That's less than half of the normal price.  I am in need of blankets.  I am not fond of blankets from the local big box stores.  I really like quilts.  Especially warm, snugly handmade quilts.  So I bought enough flannel for three new quilts.  These are not fancy, but are more utilitarian.  There were lots of little kid prints and not much of a selection of other styles, so I went for bright and happy as opposed to beautiful.

This orange quilt top is done and the other two are in various stages of completion.  I expect that winter will be nearly over by the time I get the backs and batting put together with the tops, but that is OK.  I will be all snugly warm when next winter comes blowing in on us.

So that's what I have been up to for my Month of Sundays.  Pretty tame stuff compared to your lives, but it works for me.