Odd Things That Give You a Happy Moment

Last week I really hit a wall. I am sure in some way this transient lifestyle caught up with me. I did what I call “went to ground.” I just stopped. I just become even more of a introvert and only did things that make me smile. Most of them alone. No apologies for my choices of activities. No embarrassment about what I chose do. I lived each moment in the here and now.

So for those of you regular readers, don’t worry. I am sure it was some kind of mental health bump. A really good mental professional once said, as long as when you hit a bump you use the tools you have and you make good forward progress then you are good on your own. When your tools are not helping or you refuse to use your tools then you need to make sure you reach out for help. I did not stay in bed and do nothing. I wasn’t blue, sad or feeling depressed or hopeless. I just needed to slow down and do what it took to recharge and get my feet back under myself. I think it was just some reckoning of life in upheaval as we passed week 12 in the apartment.

So what did I do?

I had two firm commitments and I attended both of those, my book club and my watercolor class. I enjoyed them both and the people in them. I am the youngest person in my book club, but this group takes me into places I would not normally travel. This month’s book was The Warmth of Other Suns. We did our meeting via Zoom. Everyone wanted to meet in person but we all wanted safe more. My watercolor class is taught by a local artist. She is so talented. We meet at the local cultural center. There are only four students and we all mask up for the hour and half class. This week we did a beach scene. I got my ocean wrong, but for a quick first painting of a seaside it was a fun exercise.

I’ve never done a watercolor landscape before.

I watched two movies in just a few days. For me this is like watching a 1,000 hour TV marathon nonstop. I can’t remember when I last watched TV for more an hour in a single setting. I liked the movies and sat still for both of them. Not my usual cup of tea, both were documentaries.

I also played Kitchen Crash. For those you not familiar with this TV show, it was a reality show, where some chef/food professional came to your house and made a meal out of what you had in your refrigerator and cupboards. My refrigerator and asking Google for a recipe using X ingredient meant I was cooking up a storm. Cooking is calming, creative and an expression of my love for others. I made a zucchini cake, rhubarb crumble, homemade tortillas that became pork street tacos, homemade pizza using tapas leftovers, mini cheese cakes, a kung po inspired vegetable crisper dump with chicken and tried brining and roasted fresh dug peanuts. This required some serious eating here daily, but fortunately I have become the master at cooking for two. So there were no leftovers.

Doing something in the kitchen is one of my creative moments.

I did not art during my down time. I had been doing mega doses of art since we moved in the apartment. I was arting overtime daily. I needed to step back and I did. I had reached the point where I was not enjoying my art. One should never get to that point. Today I am half a week behind in year long class, but I am ok with that and will catch up in the next few weeks. I gave myself permission to art for me until I get into the house and start setting up my studio space. I do what I do. No more racetrack art.

This was the most unexpected thing I did during my down time. I embraced wild and crazy socks. I get cold feet, even during the summer here in North Carolina. I have a nice collection of sport socks and dress socks My dress socks are gold toe black socks that are exactly the same. Now you know how boring I am in the sock department. Enter 10 pairs of Halloween socks. I was checking out at Marshalls, walking down that aisle of impulse items that you have to go down before you get to the cashier. There was a packed of low profile Halloween socks 10 pair for $6. They went into my cart. I thought that they would be a great cold toes addition. Those of you familiar with me know I have no use for the Halloween holiday. I don’t hate it only because it is not worth expelling that kind of energy that hating it would take. Suddenly every evening I have on a different pair of socks with some crazy design. What is even stranger is I am hoping for the next set to be either Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, or autumn. Each evening when I settle down in a chair with a book, these wild Halloween design socks just make me smile and what better way is there to end the day than with a smile.

I have ten pairs of these wild socks that do nothing but make me smile….oh and yes keep my toes warm.

So my words to you is embrace what makes you happy. Small things. Big things. Let there be no such thing as a guilty pleasure, just let it be a pleasure. Look for what will bring a smile to your face. Acknowledge those wonderful things inside you and don’t wait for someone else to tell you that you are wonderful. Treat your body well. Let those around you love you, but also love yourself. You take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Embrace each moment. Live in the here and now.

Celebrating What You Can Control

I have been gone a couple of weeks perking on a couple things I can NOT control. Even went to far as to draft a post on this line of thought. I wanted to share it, but feared internet trolls would make an example of me because my opinion was contrary to theirs. Well today that stops. I am going to write about things I can control and things in my life that may be helpful, bring a smile to your face or give you some input or insight. So I am back on track and writing again.

Summer is coming to an end and for the first year in memory I have not put a single thing by for the winter or to share with others. This is not me. I have been canning, freezing and drying food for as long as I can remember. In a normal life, in a normal year my freezer would be full of things I had froze for the long winter months. I would have ran the dehydrator for hours to save our special recipe fruit, leathers or jerky. I would have canned something to use as gifts for friends during the holiday season. Living in this apartment made any of this seem impossible. Enough of that woe is me. It might not be easy or “normal” but anything was possible.

Muscadine & Scuppernongs

Last week at my favorite roadside market got in their first batches of grapes. They stopped me in my tracks because they almost looked like a miniature plum. I asked the owner what you did with the grapes and was told most people make wine but that some people also made jelly with it. I was game for the jelly, not giving a lot of thought about how I might do that. I bought two quarts of grapes, one dark and one light. I tasted my first grape as I put them in the car to take home. The skin is tough, seriously tough. I think even more so than the Concord grape I grew up with. It was clearly one of those grapes you were supposed to squeeze the grape out of the skin into your mouth.

I got home and asked Google about my new grape purchase. I learned North Carolina has tons of grapes. They even have a state grape. It is a grape that has two names Muscadine when it is ripe to the reddish purple stage and Scuppernongs when it still yellow. Never heard of it? Neither had I. The mother vine here in North Carolina is estimated to be over 400 years old. It is an indigenous grape that grows quite well here and resistant to pests. There are several wineries across the state that use this type of grapes to make wines. I am going to have to make a roadtrip to do some up close and personal investigation into that. Of course, I was able to find a recipe for small batch Scuppernongs jelly on the internet and I was off and running.

I apologize for not taking pictures throughout the process. It wasn’t on my radar as I was making the jelly that I would blog about this. One of the things I learned online is that you slit the skin when cooking down the grapes so that they would not explode as you cooked the raw grapes to extract the juices. I also spent some serious time thinking about all the canning supplies I had in storage back in Montana that I did not want or need to duplicate. I did not mind buying jars but the tools I was going need would require some serious workaround hacks. I found some old fashion methods to help me and some inventive hacks to make my jelly.

I got some good old-fashion muslin to drain my cooked grapes in to separate the pulp for the the juice. I put two layers of muslin in my colander for spaghetti and rinsing fruits and veggies and poured my cooked grapes in it it over a bowl. I allowed it to sit overnight so that I was able to get two cups of juice the next day for my jam. Problem one solved.

I got jars and lids at my local discount store. I was perfectly okay with that. I always seem to be buying some jars each year to replace what I give away or the customize the size for what I am canning at the time.

7-4oz jars fit perfectly in the bottom of my crab pot.

My next problem was the hot water bath to properly sterilize my jars and then cook them for sealing once they were filled with jelly. I have perfectly size pots for just that along with a couple of funnels with marks for proper head room when filling them and jar lifting tongs for working with the hot jars. I did not want to duplicate what I already owned. I found the perfect hack, a crab cooking pot. I now live close to the coast and could use something like that. I had nothing for cooking crab back in Montana. No big call for cooking fresh crabs there. The insert to put in and pull crabs out of hot water was perfect for getting my new jars in and out of the hot water. I put the jars and lids in the bottom of the strainer pot and let them boil to sterilize them. I would later put the jars of jelly with seals back in that same sieved pot insert and use it to immerse the jars in the water bath for my final step. It was a hack but it worked.

For such small jars I could use plain old steak tongs to pull out my finished jelly jars.

I have now nested and completed a ritual that is part of the changing seasons for me. It makes the fact that after 11 weeks in the temporary quarters while our new house is puttering along with construction, but we are still without an end date not so overwhelming. I have a collection of little jars of bright fuchsia jelly that looks like jewels to share with others. I have a wonderful sense of accomplishment. I am ready for fall, whatever it looks like in North Carolina.

This doesn’t capture the jewel fuschia color of this jelly, but it is there.

My Pressure Cooker is in Storage

I have always loved using my pressure cooker. Unfortunately my pressure cooker is in storage back in Montana. Living here in the apartment I decided this was a perfect time to give the famous Instant Pot/Multi Cooker a six month test drive.

My first pressure cooker I got in the 70’s when I signed the lease on my first solo apartment. It was a Presto with the wobbling weight. My second and the one I currently use I got in about 1995 when we moved to Colorado and experienced the challenges of high altitude. The Fagor was revolutionary at the time because the wobbling weight was gone. It had three pressure options built right into the handle an advantage when living and cooking with altitude. Unfortunately both of them required lots of attention to keep the pressure at the right level. You had to adjust to throughout the cooking time. I assume because of the loss of moisture as steam worked its way off via the weight. In spite of the constant attention required I loved what a pressure cooker could do to cooking times.

This picture is a flashback to the past for me. It is exactly like Mom’s pressure cooker

I had the dangers of the pressure cooker indoctrinated into me early in life. My mother told stories about her Grandmother and the exploding pressure cooker. In spite of what she said, she used a big monstrosity to do can foods that could not be done in a hot water bath. She also had an avocado green pressure cooker she used for general household cooking. I see it in my mind on the stove, but have no memory about what she made in it. I could not tell you if she used it a lot or a little, but that green pot with the rocking weight is a memory forever. My father’s mother also was a big fan of the pressure cooker. She was a minister’s wife and she used it to make sudden dinners for unexpected guests. She talked about how the pressure cooker was her savior for many a Sunday night dinner guests. I have no idea if there was a recipe or two that were her go to favorites. I just know the story she told.

I have watched and heard all about the new “gadget” pressure cooker. I was not convinced to buy one because I had a perfectly good one in my kitchen collection. On top of that the new ones were what I felt to be expensive when buying it would only replace something I already had. Spending money when you had something perfectly functional isn’t in my comfort zone.

In the apartment it has been hard because I have perfectly good pots and pans in storage. I really didn’t want to buy and donate when I am done here, so I have limited my purchases to two saucepans and two skillets. I did research and decided a modern electronic pressure cooker would give me lots of flexibility cooking without have to get any additional pots. I found that the differences in brands/names/features probably did not mean a lot to me because when it came to the presets most recipes and people use manual mode. I did like the saute/brown mode because I like the idea of browning before pressure cooking. I wanted a size big enough that I could a little bit of canning in 1/2 pints or pints for our household of two. In the end I got a six quart version of the Instant Pot. For me, this was a case of size matters and the brands did not seem to have big differences, just nuances that appealed to me.

We’ve been here eight going on nine weeks. It is summer in North Carolina so lots of the heavy meal cooking that one does, generally does not happen in the summer. That said, I have done several things and have to say it has won me over. I have not yet canned it and until I have tried that out I will keep my Fagor in the pantry, but if turns out well it will just be the InstantPot (IP) for me going forward.

I have cooked rice several times. I used manual mode and made white jasmine and brown basmati rices. Both turned out well. I made risoto twice since we moved in the apartment both times using a traditional method. I forget about the IP, but have promised myself that arborio rice will be the next type I try. Folks know I am the absolute worst rice maker in the world. In all instances the rice turned out quite well. Once it was a hair underdone, but since I have adjusted the time by just a minute it has had good repeatable results.

I have made a pork roast. How do I tell you how nice it is to make a pork roast without heating up the house in the summer. It is a reason in itself to look at the IP. Turning on the oven when it is in the high 80’s is just crazy. In an hour I had a wonderfully seasoned dinner. It was nice in that it was easy to depressurize to add the potatoes and other veggies that I cooked for just 5 more minutes. I was able to put a large enough roast into the IP that I had pork for Cuban sandwiches and able to make pulled pork with the leftovers.

I also make tikka masala with chicken. This I is as far from traditional cooking methods for tikka masala as possible, but the flavors I ended up with worked just wonderful. What was nice is I made the rice in the IP and set it aside, and then I made the chicken in the same pot. My dinner was ready in less than a hour. I made the recipe using just two leg/thighs. I really try to keep my cooking portions down to two people. I am not a big leftover person, but hate wasting food. A leftover pork roast or rice is easily reinvented. Tikka masala not so much. So big and small portions are working out well.

So have you ever used a pressure cooker? Old-Fashion/traditional or the new electronic version? What are your thoughts? I am sold on the new one. Once I try out small batch canning and have success with that my old fashion version is destined for a donation to the thrift store.

Missing Montana Night Skies

I have never been able to take great nighttime photos. I sure wish I could have and done so, when we lived in Montana. Because the night skies of Montana are now gone and I really miss them.

As we approach the Perseid meteor shower it makes me think about Montana night skies. When living in Montana, each year we would mark our calendar of all the known meteor showers that we might see and mark our calendar to watch the night skies for a possible show. I remember many nights in Montana where I would lay out on the deck or in the hammock and watch as the moon and stars moved across the night sky as the earth turned. There was no need for the calm app, nature provided for us. I have audio sensitivity with my migraines and could not tolerate the sound of RangerSir breathing and so spent I many a night on the living room couch looking up and out the picture window with ice on my head concentrating on the stars. The winter nights were exceptionally clear, but laying there on the couch in the warm living room was a warm wonderful way to watch the stars and give my mind something to focus on besides the pain. I think about the fall full moons coming up over the Eastern horizon so big and bright, that you could see the outlines of the trees of the mountains on the moon as it rose.

Photo by Timothée Duran on Unsplash

Living now in the city I have come to understand light pollution. Light pollution is something most folks don’t think about because they have no point of reference. They don’t realize that there are a billion stars they are missing and the ambient light of the city prevents them from seeing all that is out there in the skies. They don’t realize that the night sky can really be pitch black. People don’t get to know the darkness of nature, or the brightness of a full moon that casts shadows it is so bright.

I sit on the deck here in the city late at night and look up and see only a few stars. It makes me miss the Big Dark Night Sky of Montana.

Amazing Produce

When we lived in Montana we were living what is a high cold desert. We lived at 5,600 feet above sea level, we had less than 10 inches of moisture a year and sitting out in the open the wind was merciless in all seasons. Frost was possible anytime, and you were never surprised to wake up to snow. For a girl coming from the Midwest the inability to grow a garden that did not get frosted off at least twice year was a hard thing to swallow. Suddenly here in North Carolina I find myself surrounded by amazing produce.

We arrived in the last week of strawberry season. RangerSir and I found ourselves talking about how the local strawberries tasted like the ones we remember in our grandparent’s gardens. The had that mythical flavor that grocery store stable strawberries can never capture.

Since that time we have had so many other amazing fresh farm grown items. We had a cantalope one week that was unlike anything in memory in flavor and sweetness. This week we got an old-fashioned watermelon imperfect shape with seeds and all. It had a flavor that almost seemed impossible. On the other hand it had so many seeds that the only option was to let them be and spit them out as we ate the melon. The rind of this melon with the little bit of green, a nice layer of white and some red called for me to make some watermelon pickles.

I can’t remember the last time I saw seeds in a watermelon.

I did not make watermelon pickles. My mom’s recipe calls for a couple of weeks of time in brine in a crock and lots of daily chores of skimming and reheating that I could not imagine doing in the apartment. I did make an assortment of refrigerator pickles instead. I got nice fresh little pickle-style cucumbers at my favorite farmstand and I picked up fresh beets at the local farmer’s market. I called my mother and got the recipe for pickle sauce of Great Grandma’s beet pickled beets. My mother told me about making a refrigerator version of bread and butter pickles she had made. I used Google to find a bread and butter pickle recipe that was small batch and went directly to the refrigerator. Lastly I remember our favorite deli we ate in so often when we last lived in the city. They always had a crock of fresh dill pickles on the table. A friend had given me a book “1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die.” It had a kosher dill pickle recipe that the story alongside the recipe could have been describing the deli of my memory.

I had given away all my canning jars when we packed for moving. I debated if I should buy new and start my collection of canning jars again. I felt that these pickles were one offs and I was unsure I would be canning again. I decided I wanted something pretty or at least decorative for this first batch of pickles in NC. I sought out French heat resistant canning jars with red rubber ring seals and a clamp. I spent an afternoon making the various sauces/brines for my pickles, cutting veggies and arranging my jars. My choice of jars gave my “canned goods” a rustic farm feel and made them show off pretty.

Small batches of pickles

My pickles turned out awesome and brought back so many wonderful memories. It was a great sense of accomplishment and went a long ways toward of making this new place feel like home. I encourage you if you like pickles to consider making a fresh refrigerator batch of pickles. The supplies are readily available, minimal and not expensive. We are now in peach and tomato season. I feel a peach pie and gazpacho calling me next. Keep tuned.

Month One Is Over

We have now been in our apartment for just over a month. It has been a month of lots of realizations. A few surprise moments. Mostly good times and a few not so fun times. For a couple who spent the last 19 years living on acreage in rural SW Montana living in the apartment has gone much better than I had imagined it would.

Confirmation: We are ready to downsize and need much less space than we imagined. After living in an apartment with less than 800 square feet we have all realized this downsize is not going to be hard. The house we are building is bigger than it needs to be we have learned this month in the apartment, even if it is smaller than our previous house. We have discovered that little rooms are just fine. A small kitchen isn’t great, but we can make it work. Lack of countertop is a little bit of a bummer, but it is not a show stopper to cooking good home cooked meals.

RangerSir sitting down for dinner at the breakfast bar in the apartment.

Discovery: We’ve never had a breakfast bar before. We have discovered we’d rather eat at a table than sit side by side for dinner looking into the kitchen. If we are going to sit side by side, we might as well sit in the living room because we actually see one another better in the living room. Our new house has the so in vogue open floor plan with an island and breakfast bar area for stools. Thank heavens it also has dining area for the table we moved.

RangerSir and Zip standing in front of our new kitchen island.

What are your thoughts on the breakfast bar/islands with stools? Do you have them? Do you like them?

Easy To Get Into A Holding Pattern

In life it is easy to get into a holding pattern. We say to ourselves when we have enough money, get a new job, get married, get divorced, have kids, the kids leave home, and the list goes on. We find ourselves in a holding pattern right now. RangerSir and I find ourselves saying when we get into the house. In reality that is a long way away and a lot of time to waste waiting.

I had not thought we were living life in a holding pattern until I got my local library card and checked out some books. I got an assortment of books: cookbooks, house organizing, watercolor painting and a retirement book. It was the retirement book that made me realize that I was putting most of my life on hold. Yes we were settled in our temporary quarters. Yes there are a lot things we can not do. But there are somethings you can do that will move you forward in the continuum of life.

The books I checked out this week from the library.

I realized that journaling, cooking, painting and other creative outlets I was pursuing daily was not really moving me forward. As much I love them and the fact that often they were the only thing between me and insanity of boredom, there were not moving me forward. These are activities I do most days home, travel or in an apartment waiting for our house to be done. I realized that these were part of me. There were like breathing. I needed them desperately in these times, but they were not moving me forward.

There are lots of things we can’t do like signing up for our utilities and getting our homeowner’s insurance. Somehow we focused on those things and let it obscure what we could be doing. We could update our legal paperwork i.e. wills, health directives, pick a dentist, find an primary care doctor and so much more. We do not have to wait until we get into the house to do things like this. It doesn’t matter that we are living in an apartment in a town 50 miles from our final destination.

So don’t confuse a busy life with a life moving forward. They are not the same thing. You can busy and just existing. Don’t wait moving forward even if it is little steps.

The book I was reading is “Who Will Take Care of Me When I am Old?” by Joyce Loverde. It was not full of pages of things RangerSir and I had not thought about. It was full of reminders of what we had done right, what we might want to revisit, and even a few things that had never crossed our mind. I have since returned the book to the library and purchased a used copy for lifetime reference. I recommend it it. Planning for aging is never easy. It is a good reference.