Friday, November 22, 2019

What Do You Want For Dinner?

I believe that almost every night for the past 51plus years, I have asked someone in my family "What do you want for dinner?".  Most of the time the answer I got was "I don't know".  Yet somehow we managed to find something to eat and never once starved.  Sometimes I imagine someone wished they would have spoken up and told me what they wanted because what I made wasn't all that great.  I would get on health kicks even when my kids were little when it wasn't in fashion to eat bulgar or lentils.  I would get so creative that my husband would give me the thumbs up or thumbs down.  As you can imagine a "meat" loaf made out of zero meat and bread made with sprouted wheat berries didn't get a thumbs up.  Even when we would go out for dinner, we usually didn't know what to order and often regretted our choice.

Tonight was no different.  We got home about 4:00.  I said, "what do you want for dinner?".  No response so I went into the kitchen.  I was cold and tired so I decided to make some hamburger soup.  I always have some fried out hamburger in the freezer for times like this.  Shoot, I couldn't find any.  Last December we bought a half of a grass fed beef cow.  Before that time, I would buy big family packs of hamburger and brown the whole package.  Then I would freeze containers of about a pound each.  Here is my best technique for browning ground beef.

Now our hamburger is frozen into two pounds lumps.

If you don't think about thawing it out in advance, you are out of luck or you have to figure out how to thaw it quickly.  We all know that a microwave defrosts meat but it also starts cooking it before it's totally thawed.  I figured out a little better way.  I use the same method as I use for boiling eggs.  I use the pressure cooker (Instant Pot).  I put one cup of water in the pot.  Then I put a steamer basket in the pot with the center spindle removed.

Next I put the cover on and pressure on high for 7-9 minutes depending on the weight of the meat.  This was two pounds, and it took about eight minutes.  The outside turns brown but the inside is thawed and still uncooked.  I removed the steamer basket and added the meat back in.  Next I browned the hamburger right in the pot.

While I was pressuring the meat, I peeled some carrots, cut up some celery and an onion.  I then used one of my favorite gadgets, the Vidalia, and cut the veggies into bite sized pieces.  I opened a can of diced tomatoes, opened a carton of broth, a can of tomato soup and set aside a 1/2 cup of barley with 2 cups of water.

When the hamburger was ready, I piled on the rest of the ingredients.

I mixed everything together with a half bag of frozen mixed vegetables and some seasonings. and set the pressure cooker on high for another seven minutes.  I let it stay on warm until we were ready to eat.

It was pretty good, warmed us up and made a big enough batch so tomorrow I may be able to get by with serving it again.

As for all the vegetable scraps, we compost.  For years we would throw anything compostable into a plastic ice cream bucket.  When it was full, we would take it outside and put it on the compost pile.

Now we have a Vitamix Food Cycler.  It is a contraption that looks like a bread maker.  It collects and stores all our compost until the container is full.  At that time, we push a start button, and it turns stinky compost scraps into dry deodorized compost.  It isn't cheap but it makes our life a lot easier and it smells a lot better.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Little Pumpkin Birdfeeder

This is going to be a really short blog, but I want to remember doing this.  Fall is a time for pumpkin everything.  We have pumpkin spice foods, trips to the pumpkin patch and the carving of Halloween jack-o-lanterns.  Fall is also a time for the weather to get cooler leaving the birds who don't migrate searching for food.  I feed the birds all year but in the fall I pick it up a bit.  The natural food isn't as plentiful.  This year I incorporated pumpkins and feeding the birds.  Our daughter grows pumpkins and a lot of squash.  Our grandson has a little farm stand where he sells some of these products.  I picked out two small less than perfect pumpkins for this project.

I cut the pumpkin in half.  I loosened the seeds but left most of them in the pumpkin.  I filled the cavity with some birdseed blend, peanuts and sunflower seeds.  I figured I would give the birds a choice as to what they want to eat.  My problem was two fold.  One was to place it where the squirrels couldn't reach it and the other was to figure out how to hang it.  I found the perfect solution.  It was the Baltimore Oriole jelly feeder.  I cut a circle out of the bottom of the pumpkin and placed it on the feeder tray.  This way water would drain away if it rained, it had a perch for the birds and it was secure.

The birds are loving it.  The cardinals, nuthatches, finches and bluejays have emptied it already.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Making a Concrete Pumpkin

The stores have been showing their Halloween and Fall displays since the 4th of July, but I thought I would wait until now, October 1,  to show our latest crafting project.  Quite a while ago I saw this project on Pinterest.  As with all projects on Pinterest, the end result could go either way.  Usually they don't turn out at all, but this one has mixed reviews.  Mostly it was a success.

We made Concrete Pumpkins.  The first thing that needed to be done was to gather some plastic trick or treat buckets.  We made the rounds and found several priced from 25 cents to $1.00.  The last place we stopped was a Goodwill store, and they had many.  At least we now know where we could find more if we want to.

We didn't work alone.  We made arrangements with our friends, who happen to be our son in law's parents, to do the project together.  We often find adventures or do projects together.  Wayne gathered all the things we needed to do the project.  We brought a bag of concrete mix to add to the mix they already had and a few buckets, but he did the rest.

Then the mixing began.  We were very deliberate at first, measuring, adding water and mixing very carefully.

By the end, we were scooping mix and splashing water.  I mistakingly said that my arms weren't tired, and we were proud that we were able to hand mix two fifty pound bags of concrete mix plus two ten pound bags.  A couple days later I felt it in my shoulders, but not too bad.  As we mixed, we put it in the plastic buckets.

We used a tree branch cut to length for the stem and put them in when the concrete was still wet.

Then the concrete had to dry.  It took a few days before the unveiling.  Getting the buckets off was not as easy as it looks.  We even sprayed the inside with baking spray.  Wayne ended up cutting sections of the plastic bucket and lifting the finished pumpkin out.  Since each pumpkin took twenty pounds of concrete mix, they are very heavy.

They turned out pretty well.  The coarse concrete mix made it difficult to get a really smooth finish, but that was fine.  Some of the faces turned out more distinct than others.  That is something to look for if we make them again.  Some buckets have deeper indentations than others.

Beth kept some and I took three home.  Now how to decorate them was the challenge.  She painted hers with acrylic paint.

I gave my three to my daughters.  One daughter left hers plain.  I'm not sure if she will decorate it or not.  My other daughter used chalk paint and placed them with her outside decorations.

All in all it was a fun and successful Pinterest project.  We learned that our choice of buckets was important and possibly a finer concrete mix would give a smoother finish.  They will last for many years.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

My Barrel Cactus Surprise Flower

Five years ago, I was given a small barrel cactus.  It wasn't any bigger than a quarter.  I brought it home and put it in a pot.  I have done nothing with it except water it occasionally.  In the summer, I put it outside,  and in the winter I put it where ever I can find room for it.   It has grown quite a bit.  This summer was no different.  As soon as the danger of frost had past, I put the cactus outside on our deck.  I didn't pay it much attention until one day I noticed a slight bulge on the side of the plant.

I wasn't quite sure what it was.  I was hoping for a flower or at the least a baby cactus.  It grew very fast and in a few days it had grown a lot.

I still didn't quite know what it was.  I watched it very carefully everyday.

Then in a couple more days, I could tell it was going to be a flower.  Having no experience with this, I didn't know how long it would take to bloom.  It didn't take long, within a day or so I woke up to a beautiful blossom.

Within a day the long stem separated from the barrel and fell off.  I think it was supposed to dry up and fall off but we had a heavy rain the night before which probably made the blossom too heavy.

I picked it up and put it in a jar thinking it would only last a couple hours.  It lasted a couple days and then shriveled up.

This whole process was complete in eight days.  I noticed the bump on August 6, the larger bud on August 9, the full bud on August 12 and the full flower on August 14.  I am hopeful that this is just the beginning of more flowering to come.  I should take it out of its tacky little pot with a hole in it, but I don't want to ruin a good thing.  Soon it will be too big for the pot and I will be forced to repot it, but hopefully I can get one more year and another flower or two. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sometimes It's Hard To Help Mother Nature

Whoever said you can't mess with Mother Nature is correct AGAIN.  We see it with the polar ice caps melting.  I read recently that Greenland lost 11 billion tons of ice in one day.  As most of my friends know, for several years I have been raising Monarch butterflies from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis and then to the adult.

I have blogged about it many times and enjoy it so much.  The feeling of seeing the process never gets old.  Now in light of new developments, I have to suspend this activity.  At least until scientists change their minds about the value of this activity.

There are a few reasons for this.  The first involves scientific evidence that this activity doesn't really help increase the population.  I can't imagine why it doesn't make a difference with so many individuals and school classrooms doing it, but scientists say that even if it is effective for some species it doesn't help the Monarch butterfly population.  They say it may even have a negative effect.  There is not much of a risk on the small scale if they are being watched for educational purposes or enjoyment.  The risk is when the Monarchs are being raised in high numbers in a captive situation.  There are companies that sell Monarch caterpillars.   The butterflies aren't used to being in such close proximity to others.  The chance of disease is greater than in the wild.  If unhealthy Monarchs are being released it's chance of survival is lower, reproduction is compromised and then migration is a problem because they are weaker.  Another article I read says they may be disoriented because spinning a chrysalis indoors confuses their sense of direction.  It is important to release the adult butterfly in the same area as the egg was collected.  The last argument is that over time the genetics can be changed.   

I really want to do what is best for the Monarch butterfly population.  I also had another problem this year.  It had never happened before, but one of my caterpillars was parasitized by an adult female Tachinid Fly.  What happens is the fly lays eggs on a host.  This fly is beneficial most of the time because it helps control garden pests like tent caterpillars, Japanese beetles, cutworms and other pests.  The downside is that this fly also feeds off Monarch caterpillars.   A few days ago I noticed one of my caterpillars had formed the "J" shape.  Usually within a day they spin the chrysalis.  This caterpillar was going through the motions and suddenly it stopped moving right before I went to bed.  In the morning I found a four inch thin white strand hanging from the caterpillar.  The caterpillar was dead.  I learned that after this fly lays eggs on the caterpillar, a larva hatches and burrows inside to feed.  This kills the caterpillar and when the fly larva emerges it leaves a thin white strand.  The larva is worm like but soon hardens into a reddish capsule resembling a bean.  This is the pupa stage.  In a couple days a new fly hatches from the pupa and the process starts all over. 

I won't include a picture of the dead caterpillar with the thin white thread.  It is just too sad looking.  I couldn't find the "bean" but disposed of the dead caterpillar hoping none of the others were parasitzed.  As a precautionary measure, I took everything out of the habitat except the hanging chrysalises.  I cleaned it and one by one replaced the caterpillars onto fresh milkweed leaves.  I did find two "beans" and destroyed them.  Hopefully they hadn't hatched yet.  If they have, we may be in for more tragedy.  Everything looks good right now.  I just want to raise the caterpillars and chrysalises I have to adult butterflies.  Then that will be the end of that.  I really enjoyed the process but what I can do now is provide an outdoor habitat with lots of milkweed plants and never use any pesticides. 

Hopefully future studies will prove this latest information incorrect, but until then I will love and enjoy these beautiful butterflies in my yard.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Cutting the Cord

As an older person, technology is always a challenge.  It changes so fast.  Every time we get a grip on the latest products, it changes.  When our oldest daughter went to college thirty years ago, she had a tiny Macintosh computer.  It was more of a word processor than anything else, but we thought it was the latest and greatest.  We had an even earlier computer.  It was an Atari computer.  We still have it in a box in the basement.  It's probably a collectors item at this point.

Fast forward those thirty years and look where we are now.  No wonder some of it is overwhelming.  Now small children have tablets where they can play games and watch movies.  Elementary school students have smart phones.  Go to any restaurant and see everyone at the table staring at their devices.  This is probably a very big downside to technology, but it is the way of the world.  My fear is that face to face communication will soon be obsolete.  People are much braver talking through devices than in person.  Even I panic if I go somewhere without my phone, and I went to college with a pay phone in the corner of each floor of the dorm.  I can't do anything about it, but there is something I could do about price gouging by cable and satellite companies.

I heard about streaming, but I thought it was just about watching movies on your computer.  I still don't really understand exactly how it works, but I discovered I don't need to know how it works but just need to know it does work.  We were a family who has gotten good introductory deals from the cable company and from satellite dishes.  They give you unbelievable offers.  When you ask if the price will go up, they lie and say no.  We know it's a lie, but decide to take a chance.  Sure enough, within 6 months the prices starts creeping up.  We call and they give us another offer.  It isn't as good as the first, but acceptable.  Then boom the price doubles, and they won't negotiate. Time to switch from cable to a dish system.  Repeat the pricing sequence and now it was time to move on again.  We were at that point, but didn't know where to go.  Then thanks to my Facebook friends, we discovered streaming TV.  Last week we tried a seven day trial offer from Hulu Live.  At first I was not impressed.  Hulu Live did not work on our Sony smart TV and another Vizio TV had distorted sound..  I consulted my nephew and a cousin.  They suggested a fire stick.  This is where I don't understand how it works, but it does work.  I went to Best Buy and they confirmed that my problems could be solved with a fire stick.  I opted for the 4K Amazon Fire Stick for $49 each.  If I could get the same or better TV for $44.99 a month plus a one time purchase of $98 in fire sticks, then I would be saving money after the first month.  We were raised to $172 by DirectTV which prompted this change in the first place.  It worked.  We can access Hulu Live from all of our televisions, laptops and phones plus the sound on the small Vizio is fine.  I have Amazon prime so I can look at all my photos by just speaking "photos" into the microphone. We are getting channels we didn't even get on satellite tv.  I just talk into the microphone to ask for a show or I ask for a series.  I'm given the choice of which season and which episode.  Then you just choose the show and watch or record to My Stuff.  My husband isn't quite convinced because there is a learning curve, but for me it's wonderful.

I know that now that we made this decision and finally caught up with this decade, we will be alright for a while.  Six months from now, who knows.  All this will probably be obsolete, but I will cross that bridge later.  There are several streaming companies with no contract, so we can try another if necessary.  I love that I can watch all my local programming, and my routine will remain the same.

I am putting this info in a blog for July 21, 2019.  It could be quite comical to see what it will be like in another thirty years or even five years.  I won't be here to see it thirty years from now, but my family members might get a chuckle out of how it was back in the old days.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Missoula Children's Theatre-Robinson Crusoe

This is the fourth time I have written about the Missoula Children's Theatre.  Twice a year they come to Green Lake Wisconsin.  On Monday, they auditioned children from the area for a play.  This summer it was for Robinson Crusoe or a loosely interpreted version of the story.  Then all week the children practice.  They learn the story, songs, and practice their lines. By Saturday afternoon, the show must go on.  It always amazes me how two or three young adults from the Missoula Montana theatre group can come to a strange town and organize and teach a cast of almost sixty children of all ages to be ready to give a performance in five short days.

Our granddaughter participated in Robin Hood (,
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ( and
The Secret Garden (

It was a great experience for her and led her to having acting parts in two middle school plays and eight high school plays.  Now it is our youngest grandchild's turn.  He is nine and auditioned for the first time.  He was part of the Very Hairy Frowny-Face Tribe.

Ewan was excited and really enjoyed his experience.  It was a big commitment and a lot of hours.  They practiced from 4:00pm until 8:30pm each day.  The next show will be The Snow Queen next January 20-25, 2020.  I wonder if he will want to participate in that show.

Here are a few pictures of Ewan as a Very Hairy Frowny-Face.  Sometimes he frowned but he also smiled.

So that's a wrap.  Big brother Dylan was able to get off work in time for most of the evening performance.  The day was a big success.