Thursday, February 24, 2011

It all started with the dishwasher

For someone who grew up in the stone ages (nearly), I've had a lot of computer learning to do lately.


Back in September, 2010, my dishwasher started making a funny noise. A kind of groaning that made it sound as if it were in pain. I actually made an appointment at the time for a local repairman to come and look at it, but he didn't make it in time for me to pick up the grandkids from school, so I had to cancel. What with one thing and then another, I never got around to calling him again.

On Thanksgiving Day, with the dishwasher loaded to the gills with dirty dishes and silverware (thank goodness I decided to use paper plates for the very first time), it gave one last terrible groan when I turned it on, and died a horrible death. Everything that been carefully loaded had to be unloaded and washed and dried by hand, including all the stuff that didn't fit into it in the first place. I have to admit there was some brief cursing, and then tears. The next day, while everyone else was out braving Black Friday sales, I was at Kroger getting more paper plates and plastic utensils. Thank goodness there were no more big meals to prepare. We mainly ate leftovers.

After calling my handy repairman for a telephone conference regarding whether it would be practical to repair, he gave me the bad news. The cost of repairs would be approximately 1/3-1/2 the cost of a new machine. It wasn't a difficult decision to make. So, on Monday morning off I went to Home Depot to scope out a new dishwasher. David had told me (after nearly killing himself installing the dead dishwasher years ago) that he didn't care how much it cost for installation, but I lucked out; they had a special on appliance installation...only $49. Caught a break there! Choosing one wasn't too difficult. I went with a mid-level LG, computerized (what isn't these days), white to match the rest of my appliances.

When they pulled it up on the computer, it turned out there was a back-order time of three weeks. Okay, not too bad. With just David and me here, I could handle washing dishes for a few weeks, and it would be delivered two days before Christmas Eve...just in time for the Next Big Holiday. Two days before set delivery time, I received a phone call from LG explaining that it would not be delivered until January 18. It seems there was a shortage of Energy Star appliances due to the end-of-the-year rush to buy them before the Home Energy Tax Credit expired.

The only good thing I can say about washing dishes by hand is it makes arthritis feel better for a little while, but that benefit is offset slightly by the dishpan hands. Boy, am I spoiled.

The dishwasher was finally installed as promised. The computer is a little finicky. We have a well and sometimes our water pressure is a little low, so it reads as a "water leakage problem", or E1, on the computer panel readout. I just have to wait a few minutes for the water pressure to build back up and then restart it.  Oh, and it plays a little electronic tune at the end of the cycle to let me know when it's done. Isn't that sweet?


For Christmas, David and I decided to buy a new computer as our old desktop was on its last legs, and slower than smoke in January. We had been wanting a laptop for quite a while, so we can take it with us when we start the retirement travel in the new "home on wheels".  Everyone we know who has a MacBook raves about them, so we took the leap (they had a $200 instant rebate, because of the brand-new Air) and bought a MacBook Pro with the reassurance from the sales person and everyone who owns one that there is barely a learning curve. "It's so easy. You won't have any problems getting used to it." Well, maybe if you have a four-year degree in computer science. The damn thing didn't even come with a manual. 

Thank goodness David is savvy in computer ways and set up the Wi-Fi converter and configured everything, or I would still be typing this on the old s l o w computer. I finally downloaded a copy of the tutorial to my documents, and figured out a few things on my own or by Googling, but there is still a lot to learn. I did have to get an external "wee little mousie" though. The different pressure of pressing and clicking on the internal one was killing the carpal tunnel in my right hand/arm. Now if I could just figure out how to get all those cool fonts and thingamajigs that come with Mac and iWorks into my blog posts, I would be all set. Well, I can, but only Mac users can see them. And there's no Mac version of Photoscape, although Picasa now has Piknik editing, which, if I would cough up the extra dough and buy the upgrades, is probably as good. Or if I would bite the bullet and purchase Photoshop. Can't afford it after buying the Mac. I've always liked going FAST, so I am more than thrilled with the speed of this baby.


My sewing machine, a Kenmore that David bought for me as a Christmas gift, is 35 years old. It has been a steady rock and has made countless items of clothing, home decor, crafty gifts, etc. My trusty sewing machine repairman/clock maker in Pittsburgh told me I should never get rid of it, but if I decided to do that, to please let him know first. It has all steel parts and they don't make them like that anymore. It isn't fancy, even though it was considered so at the time we bought it. About sixteen years ago, I added a  serger machine as a companion. If you don't know about sergers, they are wonderful machines that overcast and cut the seam allowance to a professionally finished edge, all in one motion. The only drawback to them is the threading, which can be a real bitch. You have the upper looper, the lower looper, the right needle and the left needle. 

A couple of weeks ago, when I started making the shopping bags, everything was going along smoothly,  after having made two of them. All of sudden, my machine started acting crazy and I was ripping out more seams than I was putting in. There was some cursing, but no tears. I had to go to Dublin anyway, so I decided to go to Jo-Ann Fabrics to use a couple of coupons burning a hole in my pocket, and to get more fabric to make more shopping bags, even though I was frustrated with my machine. I happened to walk by the sewing machine department and the kindly, sweet sales lady lured me in with her damned sweet talk. This is what I bought. 

The Husqevarna Viking Emerald 183. It is totally computerized (of course) and makes 80+ fancy stitches and makes professional-looking buttonholes, and all I have to do is touch a couple of buttons. Okey-dokey. It's complicated enough that one needs a class, which doesn't start until May. So, I'm on my own until then. The machine is completely foreign to me, from threading the needle to winding the bobbin and everything in-between. It has a speed governor on it (you know, because apparently it knows I like to go FAST), which confounds me to no end. It starts out  s  l  o  w  and then a little faster until it reaches full speed. By the time that happens, I'm at the end of the seam. I'm sure once I learn to use it, I will love it as much as my old one. But, I saved the box, because the jury is still out. 


When I'm sewing I keep my ironing board and iron nearby, as all good seamstresses do, because pressing before and after you sew is half the battle. Well, I was pressing away when, suddenly, my 15-year-old Rowenta steam iron jumped from my hand and landed just the right way as to smash the whole back-end, which conveniently covers up all the iron inner workings. I still had some immediate pressing to do, so I duct-taped that sucker back together to finish what I was doing. So, on my next trip to Dublin (see above), after doing mega-research with Mr. Google, I decided to stick with the same brand, but one that is especially good for sewing, because it has a pointy end. It isn't computerized, thank goodness, but there is a learning curve attached to it.  I got it on sale at Macy's, plus I had a discount of 10%.  The steam it puts out would supply a two-person sauna, and I have to be careful not to steam the ends off my fingers when I'm pressing a seam with it. It also reminds me of lifting an anvil every time I pick it up, but, by golly, it gets rid of the wrinkles lickety-split.  Just in time to iron the twenty shirts that have been piling up in the laundry room.


KERPLUNK!  SPLASH!  Those are two sounds you don't want to hear when you are pulling up your pants in the powder room. I know that because I have heard them more than once. That made the third cell phone that I have drowned. Though the dunkings have been brief, it has been enough to scramble the inner workings of those necessary gadgets. One previous time, I was able to dry out my phone by taking everything apart and putting it in the toaster oven on the lowest setting for a little while, but it was a very simple one compared to my touch-screen. 

So, off I headed to Verizon, thinking, "Now I can get the iPhone!" On arrival, I was informed that the waiting list was about a month long. I had plans to go out of town the next day for the weekend and didn't want to be traveling without my lifeline, so I agreed to give the LG Vortex a Android...a Smartphone. Well, trying to learn its quirks, its ins and outs, its ups and downs, made me feel like a Dumb Robot. I could no longer type a text easily. I was used to the QWERTY slide-out keyboard, and I was getting pretty fast. The Vortex has a QWERTY, but it's all on the screen, and it is extremely sensitive. My daughter was cracking up every time she received a text from me. They were barely decipherable. And I thought the MacBook was difficult!

It has so many apps that I was just a "ball of confusion", and, of course, when you're standing in front of the nice young salesman who is explaining five hundred different "wonderful things you can do with your new Vortex", it all sounds so simple. Not. I had 14 days to return it for a different phone, and I nearly did about a hundred times. But each day I learned how to do something new with it. My fingers got a little less clumsy on the screen. I found out I can play Lexulous (think Scrabble) with my friends when I don't have a computer. It takes pretty good pictures and I can actually upload them directly to Facebook, which I couldn't do with my other phone. I can get Google GPS and give it voice commands for directions, and it will steer me around any accidents or traffic jams. All in all, it's a pretty jammin' phone. My sister Judy says when she goes into a store to buy a new cell phone or a new computer, she always tells the salesperson to give her the most complicated one they have. She says it keeps her brain from getting mushy. I think she's right. I can feel my brain getting firmer every day.

Postscript:  The old phone actually survived after about a week of drying out, but don't tell David. It's the one he's going to get when he retires in November and he loses his company phone. Ssshhh.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

And the winner is.......

Cue drum roll, please (click)!

Oliag, from Picturing the Year, wins the shopping bag giveaway!  Hooray for you, Gail! Just let me know which print you prefer and I will send it on its merry way to the East coast. Again, here are your choices.

Enjoy your trips to Trader Joe's, Gail!

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Funny Valentine

Trader Joe, I love thee,
Let me count the ways.
I love thee for thy organic produce
With such lovely price tags.
I love the way thy nuts and dried fruits
Line up so nicely on the racks.
Thy cheese selection is top notch,
Especially dear asiago with Rosemary
And olive oil.

Doest thou know how well 
Thy cookies go with thy organic milk?
Joe-Joes that delight, in sandwiches 
Of gold, chocolate brown and crushed peppermint
brought out especially for the days of Christmas.

Ah, the love song in mine heart 
For thy organic moisturizing shampoo
And conditioner that tames my unruly mane of silver.
O, wondrous market of delights,    
How did I live so long without thee in my life?

Seriously, I'm not sure how I ever managed without Trader Joe's. Until we lived here in Central Ohio, I had never even heard of it. In fact, the first couple of years we lived here, I would drive past the shopping center where it is located and think "What the heck is Trader Joe's?" I figured it was one of those import shops loaded with lots of brass elephants and papa-san chairs from which nobody over forty years old can extricate themselves. Then a new acquaintance told me about the wonders within and convinced me to try it out the next time I went to the big city. 

Oh. My. Goodness. I think I spent an entire hour or maybe more inside its walls, and this store is not very large. It has only four aisles, but there is a lot of goodness packed into that small space. I studied each and every item. At first I was a little leery, because Joe carries very few brand names. Most of the food and grocery items have the many variations of Joe's name, depending on the food nationality...Trader Jose, Trader Josef, Trader get the picture. 

At that time, it was still difficult to find cookies and crackers without partially hydrogenated oils in them. At Joe's place, nothing has that artery-clogging ingredient listed on the ingredient panel. 

About half of the produce is organic and reasonably priced. The cheeses are wonderful, both domestic and imported. This evening I used a wonderful fontina in a creamy polenta. I paid $2.95 for an 8-ounce hunk, about half what you would pay in another store. 

The wine and beer selections rival larger stores when you consider that at least one-fourth of the store is dedicated space for those items. Two-buck Chuck is famously sold there. People carry it out by the box. It sells for a higher price in Ohio because of state minimum pricing regulations, so it's more like Three-eighty-nine Chuck.

The clerks are outgoing and friendly (but not pushy) and always eager to assist if you can't find something, or when they're offering you a taste of the featured items. You can't miss them, they're all over the place wearing tropical shirts. I've heard that none of them ever leaves if they get a job there. Trader Joe's has one of the best ratings for treating their employees with respect and paying them a decent wage. In 2009 they ranked second in MSN Money's "Top Ten Companies That Treat You Right" list. I would apply for a job there if I lived closer.

So, here is a baker's dozen of the things I buy at TJ's on a regular basis. I almost never get out of the store spending less than $100. And I take my own Trader Joe's bags. They reward you for that with a $25.00 gift card drawing each month. Even though I've never won, it's still nice to think I might someday.

1. Organic canned beans, especially garbanzo, kidney, and black beans. I use a lot of them.

2. The barbecue sauce is spiced just right and contains NO high fructose corn syrup. Oh, excuse me, corn sugar. That's what the corn industry is calling it now. I don't think I'm fooled.

3. I love the balsamic vinaigrette. It is the best non-homemade I've had. I use it for marinating chicken, too.

4. Savory Broth concentrates. These come in veggie, chicken, beef and, during the holidays, turkey. One single packet + one cup hot water = one cup broth. They're perfect for when you just need a cup or two of broth and they don't take up much space on the shelf. If I'm making soup I add them directly to the pan to give a boost of flavor.

5. The microwave popcorn comes in one-serving bags. I don't know about you, but if I pop one of those 2 1/2 serving bags, I eat the whole thing. I love popcorn. 

6. The dried herbs and spices actually look and smell like their fresh counterparts. They're the best ones I've ever used and they're cheap, cheap, cheap. I use the "21-Seasoning Salute" on a lot of things. It's got a little bit of everything in there.

7. Organic Superfruit Spread. This is the best jarred fruit spread I've ever eaten. It tastes like the real thing. I use it all the time on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The grandkids don't even know they aren't eating any sugar in their "jelly". 

8. The frozen organic vegetables are about $2.00 for a 16-ounce bag. Try finding that price anywhere else.

9. There are too many cookies to name, and they're all wonderful. My favorites are: almond windmills, vanilla meringues, triple ginger cookies, vanilla and chocolate Joe-Joe's (think Oreos), and the piece de resistance...dark chocolate double-dipped chocolate Joe-Joe's. I seriously cannot open a container of these while I'm alone. I did that the first time I brought them home and before I knew it, half of them were gone. And they are NOT low-cal! I won't even buy them anymore unless I know I will be having company the minute I get home.

10. The frozen convenience foods taste like you made them in your kitchen. My recent discovery is the gnocchi in gorgonzola sauce and the gnocchi in tomato sauce and mozzarella. The gnocchi tastes just like homemade. 

11. Even the pets get treats from TJ's. Lucy loves the organic assorted flavor dog treats. They smell so good that I've been tempted to try one myself. The kitties are crazy for the holistic feline treats shaped like little fishes. They get theirs when I let Lucy out for the last time in the evening. As soon as they hear me call for her, three of them come running to the pantry door to line up. I have to take Cricket's snack to her...she is the Queen, after all.

12. The dish soap is so mild I use it for hand soap in the bathroom and kitchen and it smells divine with lavender and tea tree oil. It contains nothing harmful to the environment and, like all of their cleaning products, soaps, facial and body products, has never been tested on animals and contains no animal by-products. I also use the moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. It's so user friendly that you can open your eyes while you wash your hair or your youngster's and it will never sting. I also use the body moisturizer, oatmeal and honey bar soap, laundry detergent, shave cream in a tube so it doesn't rust in the shower. Well, you can see why I always have such a long receipt.

13. I get all my coffee and some of my teas there. It's fun trying all the different types without spending a fortune. I haven't been disappointed yet.

Before you leave, I have a little surprise for my loyal readers...a Valentine giveaway made by moi. A nice shopping bag to carry home your grocery purchases from Trader Joe's or Safeway or Kroger or Meijer or Giant Eagle or Albertson's........

You may choose the color you prefer. They have reinforced seams and will hold a big load. The blue and green one has five regular cereal boxes with room at the top for a large loaf of bread. 

Just leave a comment and I'll throw your name into a hat. And while you're commenting, you can listen to Michelle Pfeiffer sing "My Funny Valentine" in "The Fabulous Baker Boys". 

It was rumored that Jeff Bridges did his own playing in the movie, but it was actually jazz great Dave Grusin, who also composed the score, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. He also arranged all the music for the movie. If you've never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it with your honey. If there isn't presently a honey, watch it anyway, it will spice up your Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Me and The Long Winter

"Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small, but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds would make it flicker because it would not give up." 

— Laura Ingalls Wilder (The Long Winter)
When I was growing up, I read a lot. No, I mean I actually read everything I could get my hands on. I was particularly fond of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. I felt an affinity with Laura and her older sister Mary. I was a little bit like both of them. Laura’s tomboyish ways and love of mischief fit me to a tee, but I also loved the bookish, quietness of Mary. 

My favorite book in the series was The Long Winter, but the hardships that Laura and her family and the whole town faced during the terrible blizzard of 1880 didn’t resonate with me from personal experience. I had never come up against anything remotely comparable to those tough times. The closest I came was living on the farm with no inside bathroom and only cold running water that had to be heated on top of the stove. The farmhouse had no insulation and was cold and drafty and we had no central heat, only a coal stove in the kitchen whose heat rose through an open grate to the bedroom above it. There was also a coal stove in the living room and one in my parents’ bedroom. It was lucky for us that my dad hauled coal for a living. I still love to catch a whiff of that acrid smell coming from a chimney, although it is becoming more rare these days.

Our farm lay snuggled between hills and we didn’t get the bitter, driving winds of the prairie. Winds that were so harsh, at times they drove the heavy snow into drifts as high as the top floors of the houses. I don’t remember ever running out of food, because the supply train couldn’t reach town through the ice and snow. We always had a cellar full of canned foods that my mother and sisters diligently put by all summer long. Mom even canned meat when we didn’t have a freezer. I’m sure Caroline Ingalls did those same things, but it was a long, long winter on the prairie, with many mouths to feed.

Where we live now, in west central Ohio, is on the far eastern edge of the prairie. It is flat. Our house sits across the road from large open soybean fields and we often get gale force winds that drift the snow in waves across the length of our driveway. Luckily our house is also surrounded by trees that break the force of the wind. Having trees was number one on the must-have list when we moved here almost eleven years ago. The majority of houses that were built here in the last twenty years sit in what once were soybean and corn fields, on five-acre grassed lots. I can just imagine how alone and desolate I would feel living in one of those exposed houses when we’re having a storm of this week’s magnitude, cutting off power and contact with the outside world, even for just a little while. 

I had planned to write a post last week on how I am always complaining about winter and how much I hate it. Then I read an article in our Columbus Dispatch by John Switzer, a regular columnist who writes about birds and nature and weather. In the previous week’s column he had written that, only six weeks into winter, he was tired of it, and was hoping for an early spring. He received an email from a disgruntled reader:
"Winter has just started officially, and you are already wishing it over.
"I think your blood is getting thinner with old age. Summer drags on for four or five months, with uncomfortable temperatures in the 80s and 90s, occurring May to October.
"At best, we get two or three months of consistent cold temperatures. For some reason, snow scares the hell out of most central Ohioans. The average snowfall of 30 inches is virtually nothing.
"In case you can’t tell, I love the cold and snow; grew up in the snow belt of Cleveland and miss having real winters."

So, that started me thinking. Without the freezing days of winter, there would be no killing off of pests such as fleas and ticks. We would have no purpose for all the downed trees made into firewood and carefully stacked inside the large barn. And, there would be no maple syrup, which brings me to one of my favorite parts of The Long Winter.

When Almanzo and his brother are nearly out of food, the only thing left for them to cook is flapjacks made with water and buckwheat. They didn’t have any molasses left, which was the most-used sweetener in those days, so they used something like today's brown sugar between the layers of flapjacks. Those pancakes sounded so delicious with the sugar melting a little with the heat, but still retaining a bit of the crunch. My mouth would water at the picture in my mind. There was even an illustration showing the steam rising from those stacks of golden flapjacks. 

When I was old enough to be trusted in the kitchen by myself (by this time, we had moved to town and had a more modern house), I decided to finally experience what Almanzo and his brother had so long ago. I didn’t have buckwheat, so I used self-rising flour, which is what Mom always used. I fried those pancakes in Crisco in an iron skillet until they were golden brown and crispy on the edges, slathered them with lots of butter (I know, not technically correct either), and sprinkled a good layer of brown sugar between each layer. What a disappointment! Oh, they were good. How could they not be with the half pound of butter? I suppose I wasn’t hungry enough, but the brown sugar just didn’t cut it for me. And in those days, I didn’t even know what maple syrup was. The only syrup we ever had was simple sugar syrup that Mom made in a saucepan. Two parts sugar to one part water; boiled. But I much preferred that simple syrup over brown sugar.

Thankfully, my disappointment didn’t ruin my love for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and I would read them many times throughout my childhood and even as an adult to my own children.

This brings to mind one winter when our children were young and we lived in the country with rural electric co-op service. We had an ice storm such as we had this week, with one-half inch of ice coating the ancient power lines and the surrounding trees. On top of that, Mother Nature decided to dump twenty inches of heavy, wet snow. Many thousands of residents were without power for a week or more, with temperatures falling into the single digits.  We also didn’t have water, even though we had county water lines. The pumping station needed electricity to get the water to us. David had to take five-gallon buckets to the firehouse to fill with water to flush the toilets and also containers for drinking water. Our house survived freezing pipes because we had the foresight to install a cast iron wood-burning stove the first winter after we bought the house. It was a necessity. We couldn’t afford to heat with electricity.

I also used that wood-burning stove to cook our meals that week. To this day, my kids still talk about the sausage and “the best pancakes EVER” that I made in an iron skillet on top of that stove. They were the best pancakes ever. And we topped them with "Mom’s" syrup.

From Mr. Spitzer's column:  The name of the February moon is “snow moon” and it will be full on the 18th. The Potawatomi Indians called it the “baby bear moon”, because that is when the mother bears gave birth to their young. Other Indians called it the “hunger moon”.