Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Adventures in Canning

From my Facebook on Sunday:

I've run into a little problem with the pressure cooker. I can't get it to unlock and open. I followed the directions, I let it come down to zero pounds of pressure on its own and even let it sit a bit longer before trying to get the lid off.

The lid wouldn't budge.

So I ran the whole thing under cold water to hopefully cool everything so the lid would unlock and come off.

Nothing doing.

I decided to let the whole thing sit overnight and cool to room temperature. Certainly then the lid would come off.

No way, Jose.

That lid is locked on tight, so we used a rubber "persuader" and one handle broke off, which cut Jay's hand.

Still nothing doing.

How the hell am I going to get my eight pints of pork green chili out of the pressure cooker?! 
I got all sorts of helpful ideas from my Facebook friends.  A couple even suggested shooting it.  Dudes, there were eight pints of green chili in there - shoot it and lose eight pints, are you crazy?

I was using my Great-Grandma Wheeler's pressure cooker (the one I remember from childhood) and I thought everything was in working order.  The gasket looked great, but turned to glue with the heat and the pressure. Oops.  

I removed the gauge to equalize the pressure inside and out (it said it was zero, but could have had negative pressure) and that didn't help.  Then I followed someone else's suggestion and pushed down on the lid as I rotated it, like you would a pill bottle, and that didn't work.  I finally decided that in all likelihood the cooker was going to be a loss anyway and pulled out The Greatest Little Tool Ever (the pry bar from Man Crates).

I used The Greatest Little Tool Ever to try to pry the locking teeth apart on the cooker.  At one point, I thought I was going to break the pry bar, but it's a sturdy little dude.

I tried rotating the lid to unlock it from the pot and it didn't work.  I was about to give up and then thought, "you dummy, you only did half of the pot!".  So I went back and did the other half and gave the lid a twist.

The lid rotated, but still wouldn't come off, but I hadn't wasted almost two hours trying to get the blasted thing off to give up!  I did what any frustrated woman would do - I beat on the lid.  I slammed it back and forth in rotation, picked up the whole pot by the stuck lid and slammed it on the floor a couple of times.  Finally, the gasket started to give, but there were still some sticky parts that didn't want to let go.

What the hell?  I'd already used the pry bar a couple of times, why not to "help" the sticky parts along?  Next thing I knew, the lid was off!  Success!!

You can see the black gasket still firmly attached to the pot.  I was so excited about getting into the cooker that I didn't even care about the brackish-looking water.  I'm assuming the water was discolored from the metal oxidizing over the past forty years or so the cooker has been in use.  (And, yes, my kitchen is so old it still has the 50's kitchen carpet in it.)

Looks like all I need to do is replace the gasket and get a new handle for the lid to replace the one that broke when Jay was "persuading" the lid to come off and we're back in business!  Now, who knows where I can get a new gasket for a pressure cooker that is at least as old as I am?

Water-bath processed green chili on the left, pressure canned pork green chili on the right.
Never a dull moment in our household, I tell you.

Friday, September 12, 2014

My Girls Came For A Visit!

I'm a whole week late posting this, and not because I don't love my Robs and Sue. My computer is on its last legs (I think) and is really slow, so I get impatient give up.

Last Saturday was a busy day.  First, Copper got out of his gentling pen, then my girls came up.  It's been forever since I've seen them and Robs' kids have grown so much.  I swear they were just born, but here they are, over a year old already!

Remy, Ruby, Lucy, Robs, Sue (and Skeeter and Copper in the background)

Remy, Ruby, Lucy (hiding), and Maddox
Maddox is such a good big brother.  I have three siblings of my own, but I can't imagine having triplets for sibs!

I'm so impressed with Robs.  I always knew she was amazing, but watching her handle four kids three and under is awe inspiring.  Sue has been spending one evening a week (or more) helping out Robs since the girls came home from the hospital.  I wish I was close enough to do the same, darn it. 

I miss them so much and every bit of time I get to spend with them is so special.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Why I *Despise* the Ice Bucket Challenge

The Ice Bucket Challenge has raised 15.6 million dollars for ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), which is a very good thing.  I am not bashing fundraising.  Lord knows, I've done plenty myself and am currently involved in a gofundme project.


The Ice Bucket Challenge is nothing more than bullying for a good cause in my mind; the ultimate form of peer pressure.  You are called out in a public forum (social media - about as public as you can get) and have 24 hours to do the challenge (and still pay $10) or cough up the money.  To me, this is like the playground bully telling a child that he can either give up his lunch money for the week or get a swirly and give up just today's lunch money.

It doesn't sit well with me. 

I donate to charities a lot.  I give both my time and my money. 

I haven't forgotten that just a few short years ago we were living hand-to-mouth and I never knew from one month to the next if I was going to be able to keep a roof over our heads.  We went three entire winters with nothing more than extra blankets and space heaters because I couldn't afford the $300+/mo natural gas bill.  There were times when we'd wake up and the house was a balmy 40* F.

Now that I'm in a position to be more free with my money, I don't think twice about giving charities that I believe in my money, but I won't be bullied into it. 

Maybe it's the still-too-fresh-memory of having nothing that makes me hate this challenge so much.  I worry about the people who are challenged who don't have the money to donate, who are playfully "called out" by their friends.  I put myself in their position and can feel very clearly the pressure to perform.  I'm sorry, but back in the day, giving up $10 would have been taking food out of my kids' mouths.  The $100 for not doing the challenge would have been my entire month's worth of groceries.

Even though it's "for a good cause" it's still nothing more than bullying.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stuffed Potatoes

A couple of days ago, one of my FB friends was asking for cheap ideas for dinner.  I love threads like that, so I contributed my favorite versatile recipe and watched closely for any new ideas.  One caught my eye, but it was for sweet potatoes.  I hate sweet potatoes, so I substituted regular potatoes.

You'll need:
  • baking potatoes
  • can of corn (drained)
  • can of black beans (drained)
  • sour cream
  • cheese
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Bake the potatoes either in the oven or microwave. It was almost 100* F today, so I opted to "bake" them in the microwave until soft.  Nebalee gave me a good tip:  after cooking in microwave for ten minutes, cover with a glass bowl and let sit for another ten minutes to let them steam.

Cut potatoes in half and scoop out the innards, leaving a "boat".  Mix the innards with the rest of the ingredients and spoon into the boats.  Stick back in a 350*F oven for fifteen minutes.

They turned out okay, a little dry, so I should have added more sour cream.  Jay suggested next time, in addition to sour cream, I should use some queso dip.  Sounds like a good plan to me.

I've also heard that chorizo is pretty good in the mixture.  That sounds really good, too.  When I started to think about it, there are a ton of things you could mix in the "stuffing" that would be really good.  I'll definitely be trying these again.

So You Want To Be A Writer

Every once in a while, someone on one of the FB pages/groups I follow or am a member of will pipe up and ask opinions on whether or not they should write a book.  The post usually looks something like this:

so ive been thinking about writting a book lol i've just allways wanted to rite n i no i have a good book people wuld by it's title is: the next best amurican novel n i no it wuld be a best seller what do u think shuld i do it

Now, I know I'm not an expert on all things writing.  Heck, there are some days when I just can't get the right words to come out of my mouth for anything.  I have not, and will not, write the Next Great American Novel.  Frankly, I don't have the time, patience, or creativity to do so.

I'm proud of the two books I've written and published.  They are solid books, good for entertainment, nothing more, nothing less.  TALES FROM THE TRAIL has hit #1 on Amazon's free list a couple of times and hovered in the top twenty for a while.  HUNTED LYON faces much stiffer competition, but has still sold relatively well.  Since I don't intend to make a living from writing, the little bit extra is kind of fun, but mostly I just enjoy my books and hope other people do as well.

I am a voracious reader, though, and have some very strong opinions about writing from a reader's standpoint.  When I see posts like the one above, I want to scream and tell the person who posted not only no, but hell no, they should not write a book.

Based on my limited experience as an author and my extensive experiences as a reader, here are a few "tips" for people who want to write a book:

  • Punctuation.  It is a really go idea and helps the reader understand WTF it is you're trying to say.
  • Spelling.  Try it some time. Even if you can't spell, your computer can and it will helpfully underline the misspelled words in red ink.
    • There is no "x" in eSpecially
    • No is there an "x" in eSpresso
  • Text-speak.  See Punctuation and Spelling
  • Sentence Structure.  A very basic understanding of  how to build a sentence will go a long way in your writing endeavors.  
  • Word Choice.  Your computer cannot decipher if you are using the wrong word, but spelling it correctly, to help you out here.
    • Could've, should've, would've are contractions for could have, should have, would have = NOT could OF, should OF, would OF
    • You must know the difference between homophones.  Your and you're are not the same thing.  Neither are there, their, they're.

In all seriousness, though, I think people need to pay attention to how they come across online.  The people who post things on FB/Twitter/Instagram need to pay attention to how they present themselves.  I know the social media thing has been done to death when it comes to professionalism, and I'm preaching to the choir here, but if you want to be taken seriously, you must put forth an effort.

I know that I have blog posts up with errors - I try my best to avoid them, but often, I'm just jotting something down to get it off of my chest (like I'm doing here) or because I'm excited.  My blog posts are written very much the same way I speak.  However, my books are not.  TALES is a narrative, but I put a lot of effort into cleaning it up and "formalizing" it to make it more readable.  HUNTED LYON is written in a completely different manner, much more formal, but my voice still comes through.

I know I've posted things on FB with errors (usually simply swype-os), but I always try to maintain a certain level of professionalism.  After all, I want people to buy my books and I know they won't if my posts, especially on my author's page, are so full of errors that they are almost unreadable.

The people who post that they want to write a book, yet have zero apparent writing skills are people I'll never buy a book from - even if the book is free.  Those people have killed their market even before they know they have one.

I know self-publishing has opened up many doors, for which I am very thankful. However, for every well-written self-published book out there, there are many more poorly-written books by people who post statuses like the one above.

My advice to the people who post statuses like the one above:

Just don't.  Please.  You're killing those of us who put time and effort and a bit of pride into our work.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Weekend Project #2 - Kitchen Cabinets

The same weekend we did the picnic table, we started the kitchen cabinets project.  At Habitat for Humanity's ReStore, we found a 13-piece cabinet set for $600, which we thought was a pretty good deal.  But the deal got even better, we happened to be shopping during "Habi Hour", so Jay got to spin the wheel to see what our discount would be.  I was happy with a $600 set of cabinets, but I was even happier with 40% off those cabinets!

Getting them home was a bit of a problem.  We thought we'd be able to shove them all into the truck bed, but we were sorely mistaken.  Jay called in reinforcements in the form of his family with their big excursion and we were able to shoe-horn the three cabinets we couldn't fit in the truck into the excursion.

Kitchen before

With the cabinets unloaded
This pantry? Enormous.

We couldn't find a counter top at ReStore, so the salesman suggested getting a solid-core door and cutting it to size.  Why not?  It would give us a nice solid counter top and we could tile over it.  The door they had in stock was HUGE, something like 7 feet by 4 1/2 feet and weight a zillion pounds.

To get it cut, I called in my own reinforcements with a circular saw.  Nebalee and family came out to cut our "counter top".

Huge, heavy door undergoing its transformation.
It had taken most of the day to get the cabinets home, unloaded, and the door transformed to a counter top.  We laid out the base cabinets, slipped to top on, and called it a night.

I was determined to at least get the base cabinets put together, so I took a day off of work.  When I called Mom to tell her what I was going to do, she sent Bill down to help.  Instead of just getting the base cabinets done, we were able to get all of the cabinetry put together and hung.

Me and power tools - a dangerous combination

All together

We took a break and Bill played with Skeeter before heading home.  I decided I wanted to paint the cabinets and had just gotten started when Jay came home, so he jumped in and we knocked it out in no time.

After a break for dinner, we put the doors back on and it started to look like a real kitchen!

I love our "new" kitchen.  The gaping space in the upper cabinets will be a wine rack (eventually).  We also need to replace the shelves in the two right upper cabinets and all of the shelves in the pantry.  Why on earth those didn't come with the cabinets is beyond me.  It never occurred to me to check, because who takes the shelves out of cabinets?  What does one do with lengths of board that were formerly shelves?  It's a mystery.

We haven't actually gotten around to unpacking and putting things away yet, but I'm sure I'll love it even more once we get our kitchen stuff moved in (and the shelves replaced).

Maybe once Copper is delivered, we can go back to focusing on getting us settled in.  For now, we've been too focused on outside stuff.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


You know my passion for the 9HealthFair, though I try to tone it down a bit on the blog.  I've been a volunteer since 1997 and in the last ten years it has become a very big part of my life.  Three years ago, my school was lucky enough to be approved to host our own Family9HealthFair.  Our Family Wellness Coordinator is pretty passionate about helmets for traumatic brain injury (TBI) prevention, so we've always offered free bike helmets to kids at our fair.

Unfortunately, our budget is running a little tight this year and we can't buy the number of helmets we'd like to (25), so she put together a gofundme account and we hope to raise $500 dollars to purchase new helmets.

I hate to beg, but this is something very near and dear to my heart, so if you can donate even just a dollar, that would help us in our efforts to keep Northern Colorado's children safe.