Here comes February

It’s blowing my mind that it’s already February. Anyone else feel like time has picked up it’s pace for 2015? I know I do.

I was in the local Dollar Tree (I have to admit, it’s one of my guilty pleasures) yesterday and noticed that in addition to their Valentine’s Day offerings, Spring is, well, springing, in the stores here.

I picked up a bag of potting soil and was so tempted by all the seed packets they had. I really want to grow a few edibles this year, but as tempted as I am by all the veggies, what I really want to grow is herbs.

For those who don’t know, herbs have been a passion of mine for a long time. I love to cook and the idea of snipping off my own live plants appeals to me.

Of course, I blame this obsession on my sister-of-the-heart, TimberLeaves, and her mom.

Growing up, TL’s mom was probably the closest thing I had to a positive female influence and I always thought she was beautiful and cool and interesting. She played the guitar, there was always a glass jar of sun-tea brewing on the back steps, she had an herb garden and there were always delicious smells coming from her kitchen. She was a powerful influence to an unloved child, although I’m not sure if she actually realized that. (Now I think I should write her and tell her).

I remember visiting her, probably 10 years ago now, and we got to talking about her herb garden. She has a chocolate mint plant that tastes like a peppermint pattie. She would walk around and pinch a leaf here and there letting me smell and taste the fruits of her labor. It was a magical experience, especially hearing not only what foods they were good in, but some of their medicinal properties as well. It fanned the flames for me and I vowed to one day have my own herb garden and use what I grew for cooking and making medicine.

I’ve studied herbology off and on over the years and even though most of my studies were of a more religious nature, I did pick up a lot of information on medicinal uses as well.

This is the year I actually want to start growing herbs. I’m sure I’ll end up with some peppers, green onions, a tomato plant or two, etc, but herbs is where I’d really like to focus since fresh herbs at a reasonable price are hard to come by around here.

Are you itching for green and growing things yet? I know I am!

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Radio Silence and Super Bowl Dip

So, I caught the flu bug from Kid #3, who obviously caught it at school. I was down with it most of last week.

Unlike before, I didn’t have a back-stock of posts sitting around, so you could hear the crickets chirp around here last week.

Friday, I spent my day running Mini-Me all over town and towards the end of the day, the starter went out on my car. Paul spent all morning, and up until time for him to be at work, fixing it.

Now, in the past, I’ve considered giving up the car. Friday when I was stressing where I was going to come up with the money to replace a starter, I considered it again.

After being without a car just 24 hours, I came to the sudden conclusion that going without a car just isn’t an option. I hated not having the ability to just jump in my car and go do whatever I needed to.

Last week, we also added a new family member. His name is Duke and he is a Chiweenie. He’s three months old.

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Duke and Duchess

Anyone who cannot see the similarities between being a parent and being a fur-parent have obviously not been exposed to a child and puppy at the same time.

Duke requires a lot of time from me right now. There’s so much to teach him. Where to potty (meaning stop pottying on my bed, even if I do snicker a little at the fact that it’s always Paul’s side), not to chew on things that aren’t his (sorry about your phone charger, honey).

He’s also very energetic right now (meaning he acts like someone is slipping him drugs when I’m not looking) and quite a handful to keep up with.

He’s cute as a button though and absolutely has that pitiful-puppy face down pat.

Because of sickness, new puppies and broke cars, the Super Bowl will probably not be what I’d hoped this year. I’d wanted a night of bar-type foods, which included my Super Bowl Dip which I’ll share with you below. As for the rest… Well, it looks like it might just be a quiet night at home.

This recipe is for a small gathering. You can double or triple the recipe for larger crowds.

Super Bowl Dip

1 lb ground hamburger or turkey
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix
1 jar salsa, heat level is by preference
1 block Velveeta soft cheese

1. Brown hamburger or turkey and follow directions on taco seasoning packet.
2. Cube cheese to make melting easier.
3. Add taco meat and all other ingredients to crock pot set on kite. Heat until cheese is melted and serve with tortilla chips.

I got the original recipe, which was a little different, from Paul’s aunt about 18 years ago and it’s become a favorite, especially for the Super Bowl!

Hope you all have a wonderful Sunday and enjoy the game!

Baking in the rain

While we were at the hotel, I learned how to bake bread. It was a labor of love since I don’t have a bread machine our a mixer with s dough hook, but it was something I enjoyed.

Since we moved back to the camper, I haven’t baked any at all. Needless to say, Paul, who is a fan of all things homemade, had been dying for me to make some more.

Of course, we had Christmas to get through. Then New Years. Then, the rain started.

I think today may have been the first clear, non-holiday, day we’ve had, so I, of course, decided to bake some bread.

I’m not sure if there’s still just too much humidity in the air or what but I’d bet its gonna be hard as a rock when its done.

It looked like the yeast bloomed…at least, I thought it did, anyway, but the first rise just didn’t really happen. Same is happening on the second rise.

Paul, of course, wants to be the final judge when he gets home from work, so I’m going to bake it and see if its at least edible or not.

We did accomplish a lot of other things today, though. We got our grey water tank emptied and got some off the black tank. I also spent my morning washing clothes and I have a line full that I’m hoping actually dries.

There’s nothing really easy about this lifestyle. It seems like everything is work in one direction or another. I guess it’s a good thing we love it so much.

One thing is certain though. Bread or no bread, I’m gonna sleep like the dead tonight. I’m exhausted!

Getting back in the swing of things

Paul and I were talking the other night and as our minds sometimes do, we ended up wandering into our long and varied past.

We’ve been together nearly 19 years, almost half of our lives, so there is a lot of history between us. We’ve watched each other grow up, really.

It’s no surprise that the walk we took down memory lane was peppered with food memories and we wandered through some of our favorite meals and finally landed on some forgotten recipes from back in the day when neither of us knew a lot about food other than what came out of our mothers kitchens.

One dish in particular came up that I learned from a neighbor when I was in my early 20’s, not long after we were married. It was a simple meal, easy enough to make, but somehow over the years it’d been all but forgotten by both of us. Of course, it’s now been requested, and I’ll end up sharing it with all of you, but that’s not really the point of this post.

During that same time, I got really into meal planning and menu planning. I operated on a tight grocery budget, much like I’ll be doing here, and it’s an idea I’m considering revisiting.

I do know that when you’re on a budget, every penny counts. Very careful budget planning is often the only way to survive.

Although my budget will be tighter than I’d like until I get the business going, I’ll have a little breathing room thanks to the way we’ve chosen to live and thanks to CB and her hubby for not charging me an arm and a leg in rent!

Still, I know there are a lot of people out there in today’s economy struggling to make ends meet.

Paul finding a job had caused a bit of a reshuffle around here. The hours he’s going to be working are going to greatly

Honestly, my life has led me to master very few things. It has mostly been focused on raising my daughter and being a wife. Cooking, cleaning, household management, child (and husband) rearing…those are all what I suppose you’d consider my areas of expertise, if I have any at all.

Now that I think of it, I suppose I did major in something…surviving being poor.

Paul and I have never been rich and I don’t see us ever getting there. To put it bluntly, we’ve both been poor our entire adult lives. We both finished high school and we both attended college, but I was a ready-made family when he met me and we both tried to focus on doing all we could to raise my daughter. That meant full-time jobs for both of us for a while and when I left the work force, it was to be a full-time mom and wife because those things were always where my heart really was. College just never seemed like a real option to either of us and since a family was what we both really wanted rather than high-paying (and high stress) careers, he focused on trade skill jobs, including cooking, while I focused on taking care of us.

It was a trade-off, yes. One that I’ve had called into question recently, but I stand by the fact that I don’t regret it and neither does he.

So, I guess that leads me to state my qualifications then, right? Here goes.

I became pregnant my senior year in high school at the tender age of 17. I was married the first time two weeks before my 18th birthday. Not exactly a shotgun wedding, but close enough.  I gave birth to the daughter who would be my only biological child (we’ve unofficially became parent figures to others over the years) 6 months after I turned 18, about the time I would have been starting my 1st semester at college.

My first marriage was abusive and brief. One of the reasons my ex-husband used as an excuse to be abusive was that I wasn’t a good enough wife and mother, didn’t know how to cook well enough or manage a house. I tried my best while we were together, but I decided, if I ever remarried, that I would make it my goal to learn all those things somehow.

I’ve been lucky with Paul. He’s a good man, patient, supportive, understanding. He’s never belittled me, in all of our 19 years, for not being a good enough anything. I couldn’t ask for better.

Over the course of our marriage, he’s stood by me as I expanded my limited cooking knowledge, taught myself a different way to budget than the way my mom had taught me, fought with a natural tenancy towards laziness to make myself get up and clean and learned, at times with his help, how to successfully manage our household in every way.

Now, I don’t have to try so hard. Years of fussing with, and at, myself has lead me to develop routines and ways of doing things that work for me and I do most of those things out of habit now.

One tool, other than a supportive husband and sheer determination, that I will recommend if you’re having trouble getting your house under control or struggling with clutter, a tool my best friend shared with me some years ago is Flylady. The Flylady, was a god-send to me back when I was really struggling. I honestly don’t know if I’d be who, and where, I am today without her and her website.

There is tons of useful information on her site and you’ll notice as I share my own tips and tricks, that there is a dash of her in nearly everything I do.

Of course, I can’t share her specific system with you here, so make sure you go check her out.

I suppose that’s enough for this post. When I have time to sit down with internet soon, I’m going to rearrange some of the categories at the top to make things easier to find.

Ringing in the New Year

*Written on January 1, 2015

Last night, we did something we haven’t done in a long time. We spent New Year’s Eve with someone other than each other and Mini-Me.

CB and her husband invited us to ring in the New Year with them. Their kids watched the ball drop on one TV and we all watched on another. Kid #2 (they have 3)ran to the room where the adults were to try to catch the New Year’s kiss (which she missed).

A good time was had by all and I’m hoping next year we might can put a little more planning into it since this year was kind of a spontaneous thing. They’ve never really had another couple to hang out with either (we haven’t in a long time), so the idea of getting together was kind of last minute.

Next year, I’d like to get enough stuff for everyone to have dinner together, maybe make my dip and chips and a little something sweet and festive.

For our New Year’s Eve meal, we had shrimp Alfredo with most of the ingredients coming from the Dollar Tree. Not as “homemade”as I’d have liked, but still better than eating out.

This morning, I put on a pot of beans and I’ve got some greens and cornbread I’m going to make tonight. Granted, it’s not black eyed peas and collard greens like I wish it were, but I’m working with what I have.

Paul has his second interview Friday at that job he’s been wanting. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a job offer will come at the end of that interview.

In addition to grabbing the odd holidays in the warmer weather that we can host outside, I’m considering talking to CB about me cooking food here and the possibility of her hosting the Sunday dinners we’d like to have, at her house, which is way bigger than our camper. I’d like to help her unearth her dining room and use it for that purpose. We’ll see what happens with that.

All in all, it was a quiet but enjoyable night and it looks like it’s going to be a nice day as well.

Who knows, maybe I’ll load up the food later and take it over to the kid’s house and share it with them, and idea the hubby has already latched on to.

Last night was our most serious temperature drop since being back at the camper. 29 degrees was the predicted low.

While we certainly weren’t freezing to death by any means, we did find some drafts as the temps dropped that weren’t as noticeable with the milder temperatures. Paul is running in and out steadily trying to identify where the drafts are and resolve them whatever way he can.

The hose pipe also froze and our impromptu party threw off our evening routines so I was left with only three bottles of water in the house this morning instead of the seven, plus the camp shower, that I’m used to.

I’m down to one bottle now with coffee and getting the beans happening while I wait for the hose to thaw. A perfect example of why routines are so very important to this kind of lifestyle. It’s not the end of the world, but it is extremely inconvenient.

Luckily, it should warm up enough for the hose to thaw today but we really need to get an all-weather hose (about a $60 purchase), get it insulated and get it buried.

Coming home just as winter sets in and P not having a job lined up has been inconvenient in so many ways.

There were things that needed to be done as summer turned to fall to prepare for winter, just as there will be things needing to be done to prepare for summer again.

Had I known for sure that we’d be coming back, I’d have spent more weekends down here getting the place ready as much as I could have. At the time, though, coming back seemed more like a distant emergency back-plan than a real possibility.

I guess I should have paid more attention to the warning signs that things weren’t working out. They were there, and I did see them, but after all the promises that were made between my sister and I about not letting anything come between us again and her repeated pleas for me not to leave her, I somehow held on to the belief that we would find a way to work things out this time. Obviously, I was wrong, but that’s another post, one I am going write, but not as part of this one.

All in all, coming back hasn’t been as hard as it could have been, and for that, I’m thankful.

Happy New Year from The Tiny Hearth

This year, unlike the years in the past, hasn’t really been about New Years Resolutions.

There have been a few things I’ve said quietly to myself, but nothing I’ve made a big deal about so far and the flavor of the ones I have made has been different.

This year’s resolutions sound something like this:

1. Eat home more, out even less.

The move has really messed up all that wonderful cooking I was doing and the stress of trying to put the camper back together has caused an increase in convenience foods.

2. Figure out a better system for waste management.

Right now, I have more bags of trash than I’d like. We really need to get on the ball with recycling. Here, I think we have to take off our own, and take it to the same place as regular trash, so it’s just a matter of implementing a system for separating it without having to run out the door every five minutes.

We also need to get a portable sewage tank for dumping the black tank easier than the method we’re currently using.

3. Plant that herb garden I’ve been “meaning to plant”.

I’ve said for years now that I wanted an herb garden. This is the year I intend to do it.

4. Finally fix the plumbing.

One thing that’s been an ongoing problem with the camper is 30 year old, rotted, PVC pipe. All the plumbing needs to be completely rerun and we need a new hot water heater. Preferably another gas heater, solar or a rocket heater.

5. Get a better outdoor cooking system set up.

Right now, we have a little fire pit and some grates that we use. Paul wants to build a better fire pit with an outdoor oven.

6. Get a futon.

The camper is a one bedroom and that one bedroom was set up with two built-in single bunks. That room has been converted to a closet on one side and a pantry on the other.

We started out sleeping on a drop down bed where the kitchen table is and I now have a queen-size air mattress taking up my entire living room. A futon for the living room would be awesome. That would mean during the day, I could actually have a living room.

7. Bigger propane tanks.

90% of our camper, like most campers, is set up to run on propane.

When we moved in, there was two 40 lb tanks that were both too old to get anyone to fill them, so we used our one 20 lb and borrowed a second 20 lb tank from CB.

I have to fill both of them once a week now, but if I was using my stove and oven and had hot water, it’d take a lot more. Right now, those two 20 lb tanks just cover heat and it’s a smaller heater than what we actually need. We’d like to get at least two 100 lb tanks.

As you can see, there are no resolutions to start the latest fad diet, to exercise at least three times a week or anything like that.

The last month has taught me that I’m really ok with who I am. I don’t feel the need for a bunch of self-improvement resolutions like I have in the past.

In fact, if I had to make a personal resolution it would simply be to enjoy life more and to walk closer to my gods and maybe to cut myself a little more slack once in a while.

I am, after all, only human and it’s human nature to be flawed.

Why bother eating healthy?

Most of you are probably not aware of it, but I’m supposed to be on a number of medications to treat various health problems. The problem is, I don’t like to take prescription medications. Never have.

Part of the move from packaged and processed to made from scratch was because of spending some time considering the fact that although illness and sickness happened when I was a kid, for the most part, people seemed healthy.

Now days, if we see an article about someone living beyond their 80’s, we’re almost in awe. Again, true old age wasn’t that uncommon when I was growing up. Most people did live to their late 80’s at least, most well near to 100.

So what’s changed? Well, a lot actually, but one of the big factors in my opinion is how and what people eat.

Fast food was just starting to gain it’s death-grip when I was a kid. Sure, I got the occasional Happy Meal, but it was just that. Occasional.

I grew up in a world where people still cooked. Sunday dinners were common but they weren’t courtesy of KFC, they came from a woman that usually ran straight home from church to start the huge undertaking of putting it on the table.

We ate real food. Green beans that were snapped by hand. Corn that the kids spent half a Saturday cleaning. Fried chicken, potato salad…I could go on and on.

Now, families head for drive thrus and take out menus. Refrigerators and cabinets are usually bare and the microwave is the only appliance that sees regular use. We’ve become such a culture of instant gratification that we even get restless in line in the drive thru but complain if it isn’t “fresh”. I’ve got news for you, almost nothing that can be gotten in a drive thru is “fresh”. Go home and make the same meal fresh in your kitchen and tell me if you could mass produce them that way in less than 5 minutes. You can’t. And that’s where they get you.

But ask yourself how health has changed in the last 30 years or so. Compare life expectancy then to now.

Of course, there are other factors, such as pollution, but even the fresh vegetables you can buy in the grocery store could come with more than you think. Chemicals from pesticides, growth hormones, genetically altered to resist insect infestation, drought and all other manner of things. Do you really know what you’re eating?

I guess I’m old-school, and getting worse as I age, but when I was a kid, people knew what was in and on their foods. Is it a coincidence that people lived longer then?