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.

Feeling Like Home

Everything about living in the apartment is different than living in our home in Montana. It is more than the size, or that it is urban. We can’t surround ourselves with things we have collected that make our nest feel feathered because our belongings are in storage. I have found one thing in spite of all the challenges of a temporary living situation is I can cook. Feeding my family and friends has always been a way I showed love. So figuring our cooking is a step that makes this move, this place feel like home.

One of the biggest challenges in decking out the temporary kitchen is that I have a lifetime of collecting things that make an awesome kitchen. All of that is in storage, so the idea of going out and buying things I already own seems a lot pointless spending of money to me. Instead I am challenged to think about things that maybe I wanted to try, but have never done so. I am also tasked with finding things in either a thrift or discount store that will work for us for the next several months.

So far thrift store pickings have been some of the worst I have ever encountered. I’ve always found a fair number of things this way. This time and this location so far I have found no treasures. I find myself comparing prices in discount stores and Amazon. After three weeks I have managed to set up a fair kitchen.

The three big items I have purchased so far are: an instant pot, a countertop modern toaster oven, and a indoor electric grill. Stay tuned as I tell you what I discover about these purchases.

Very Big to Very Little

We have arrived in North Carolina . We will be spending the next six months in a small rental unit while they finish our building our new home. We have gone from a single-family house on 20 acres to a one-bedroom apartment in a suburb of the great Raleigh Durham metro area. Wow! That is all I can say.

Our home in Montana was packed up and put into storage for the next six months. We spent time with friends and family while we waited out snafus in the final days of closing on our house and traveled cross country. It was a time of lots of unrest and all that went with it. Plans were made only to be changed and then changed again.

We planned on downsizing in our new home, but this apartment has taken downsizing to another level. Strangely enough it is good and very comfortable. I guess the fact we went from 2100 square feet to 737 square feet and not feeling like we are packed in here like sardines is a good sign we are making the right choices.

Imagine this with nothing in it.

The hardest part is our household goods are in storage for six months. Imagine this apartment naked, but everything you could want you already own and is in storage. Rental is a more than we had budgeted. It is obviously not unmanageable, but it means we need to be careful in other ways. That said we still needed to make it feel like a home. We are working on that and I will share that wit you in my next post.

Hotel Ratings and Feedback

On this trip we spent a lot of time in hotel rooms. I have always been a clean freak about hotel rooms. Recent rating you can find online have always been important to me when picking a hotel to book. Since COVID everyone seems hotels have put a large emphasis on clean and sanitary. I felt at this point hotels were paying cleanliness more than lip service. Unfortunately I often saw in the ratings and reviews by folks who were quite unkind to hotel staff in their ratings. There were reviews that ripped a hotel for their skimpy breakfast; seriously I hope that was not the reason for picking a hotel for the night. Bed bugs….any bugs are a deal breaker. Price is important when you are staying in as many hotels as we were, but too cheap is usually too good to be true. Expensive locations meant we stopped early or we drove longer.

We are signed up for every chain’s rewards program. We generally try to stick with one chain to accumulate points and a possible free night. However we have found in some areas a particular brand may have have crummy ratings, so we did jump around a bit. I place emphasis on cleanliness. I don’t get hung up on if a hotel is need of a remodel or it not full of the latest amenities. I don’t pick a hotel because of the free breakfast. If the staff was not what a person expected I cut the hotel some slack. Service help is hard to find right now. A plus was a place to walk to to get a carryout dinner. Non-smoking and dog friendly without a fee were required.

When we checked into our hotel in Rapid City the person checking us in had laundry service under her name. She had a mask on so I was never sure of her facial expression. I was the eighth person in line and she was the only person working the front desk at the time. I was just grateful she was there. News stories tell about how hard it is to find help in the service industries. Since help is very hard to find I was grateful for her being there to check me in. Folks in line were carrying on about waiting. People were complaining because the pool was full of kids. Our room was clean and quiet. We were happy campers.

In Minneapolis we found our hotel was in complete lock down. It meant that there was only one door unlocked for entry and no guests of guests were allowed. This was also the only location where masks were required in public spaces for everyone. Was it inconvenient yes, but seriously, a hotel is where folks from all over the country congregate. If were were going to be in a super spreader event this was it. It made perfect sense when you think about. Yes I am fully vaccinated, but I don’t want a mild case of the new Delta, nor do I want to share it.

The Minneapolis hotel was in need of a upgrade, but our room was clean. This hotel had the most housekeeping staff around not just in the morning when rooms were being flipped but someone was always wiping things down, cleaning public area floors and just keeping things clean. The staff here was exceptional.

Breakfast is essentially gone now days. It is too hard to keep it all clean and I honestly don’t think I would be comfortable doing a buffet. Some of the hotels did do a stripped down version of breakfast, but we skipped those. Our hotel in Minneapolis had the best substitute for the “expected” breakfast. They had a bag breakfast program. Every night you filled out a breakfast ticket and there was a brown bag breakfast waiting for you in the morning. It included a juice option assorted juices, a dairy option of milk or yogurts, a protein option of breakfast biscuits/croissants for microwave, a fruit option including hand fruit or fruit cups, a carb option of bars, rolls and muffins, and all bags had a bottle of water. It was by far the coolest innovation we saw on our trip. We ate part of the breakfast early and then the second half later after we showered as we planned our day. Kudos to the Microtel of Inver Grove Heights.

So if or when you travel next think about leaving some good feedback for hotel. They get all the negative feedback they can handle justified or not. Take a minute to ask for the manager and tell them about something good that happened in their facility. It doesn’t take much to say something nice, good or kind. Enjoy your travels

Some People Spoil It For Everyone

On our trip across the US we had many plans to visit many National Parks. Most were out of curiosity because we had never been there before. There were a few parks that held special places in our heart and we had specific goals for that park. This plan turned out to be a bust and we ended up not visiting National Parks on this trip.

I love to get off the tourist track when visiting National Parks. I like to get out of our car and hike some trails. I really wanted to see sunrise and sunset at Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota on this trip. I had made big plans. It was something that was on my bucket list it was that important to me.

One of my favorite, under used and under rated National Parks.

Unfortunately we were traveling with a dog this time. I had never traveled with a dog before and did not realize the restrictions on dogs in National Parks. Dogs were only welcome to do auto tours or be in your campsite with you. Dog owners before me apparently were either crummy owners in dog discipline or delinquent stewards of the land because for the most part dogs are not allowed on trails in National Parks. I suspect this comes from dogs being off leash or appearing to be aggressive to people or wildlife. I also suspect that many owners have not picked up after their dog.

It sure put a big crimp in our plans It was too warm to leave Zip in the car. It meant we either had to tag team or someone had to miss out. In the end we bagged it and marked it up to something that was not supposed to happen this trip. I am not sure that we will get that way again, but if so we will likely try to do sans dog to get an opportunity to be more than a drive by tourist.