30 October 2013

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Tinsel's new favorite spot to sit: In front of the computer screen! :)

28 October 2013

Chopper Guy Salsa

 This past weekend, we were stuck at home instead of visiting our daughter at Indiana University as planned. An unexpectedly astronomical workload made it not such a good time for the parents to be hanging around. So we drowned our sorrows in a batch of homemade salsa. I won't say it completely did the trick, but it helped a little bit.

I'm surprised I haven't posted this recipe, as it has become Spouse's signature dish (actually, his only dish). Better late than never, I guess.

Start with the equipment. A few years back at the state fair, we bought one of these manual food processor type things (once called Kitchen Plus 2000, now upgraded to 3000). We were not planning to get sucked into one of those demos but a taste of the Chopper Guy's salsa made us pull out the wallet immediately. Holy cow, it was good.

Although it comes with all these attachments, pretty much the only thing we use it for is salsa. And still, it was money very well spent.

Chopper Guy Salsa
1/4 medium onion (we use yellow but white is ok)
2 medium Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/4ths
Cilantro - 5-7 sprigs (more than that and it will taste like dish soap, according to Chopper Guy)
1/8 green bell pepper
1/2 juiced lemon
1-4 garlic cloves (this time we used the pre-chopped garlic)
Salt to taste

Spouse also adds a jalapeno or other hot pepper.

Put everything into the bowl of the chopper and turn the handle. 

This past summer we bought a set of the newfangled blades and my goodness, they work like a charm. Just a few turns of the handle and you've got great salsa every time. This particular batch was extra good because we started with homegrown tomatoes. Makes a huge difference.
Make this salsa and take it, along with a bag of chips, to your next party. I guarantee you'll be invited back!

25 October 2013

Feline Friday: This Princess Loves Peas

It didn't take too long for Lily to discover the big stack of blankies I removed from a closet recently. Talk about a comfy sleeping spot!

I immediately thought of this book:

 Then I tucked in this furry princess for a long night's sleep!
Sleep tight, Princess Lillian! :)

24 October 2013

Making it My Own

This process of re-orienting myself is SLOW. I mean REALLY slow. I am picking away at it little by little, trying to assimilate all the things I brought from my parents' house and somehow make them my own.

 I took hundreds of pictures over the summer, as I wanted to remember everything just the way my folks left it. I'm really glad I have those pictures because they not only help me remember how things looked before I dismantled everything, but they give context to the things I brought home. That's helpful to me as I try to incorporate a few items here and there into our house. When you take an object out of its original context and move it to a new place, it retains its old identity but gets a new lease on life. I see that happening around here.

Let's start with something I found in my dad's garage. Holy buckets...his work space was not especially tidy! Somewhere on that work bench I found an old olive green lazy Susan which I believe was salvaged from my grandma's kitchen. I don't have a close-up photo of it, but my dad used it for jars of nails and screws. Given the context, you can imagine what condition it was in. (Pssst: See that metal cart at the bottom of the photo? I brought two well-loved shop carts home to re-purpose. I'm really looking forward to that project!)

It took considerable scrubbing but I cleaned up the lazy Susan completely and brought it into my craft room for my tools. It looks almost new, and it's really nice to have this little piece from his garage in my work space. My dad would get quite a kick out of it, I'm sure. :)

I also kept the little olive enamelware pot shown in the photo below. I don't know where it came from but I remember that Mom had kept it for a very long time on top of the fridge. I liked it, so I brought it home. I kept things that spoke to me, even if I didn't know what I would do with them.

 This week I ran across several bags of October Afternoon buttons which didn't fit into my embellishment storage containers. The enamelware pot finally had a purpose.

It's the perfect size for all of those buttons. They're my favorite buttons anyway, and now they are easy to grab. I just love this little pot, and it's really nice to have something from Mom's kitchen in my craft space.

Mom also had a lot of Longerberger baskets. The one with a lid now holds several of my small mini-albums.

 Up in a high cupboard in Mom's kitchen, I found three nesting bowls which she used for cole slaw and potato salad. These are VERY heavy bowls which have been used a lot. In fact, each one has a small chip, but I couldn't bear to part with them. Aside from the fact that I remember those salads fondly, I really like their sturdy, simple design. One has already found a new use as a fruit bowl in our house.

I found this small bookcase/table in my old bedroom. I don't know where it came from or how long Mom had had it. But once I cleared everything off of it, I liked its simplicity. I thought and thought about whether or not to sell it then at the last minute, I squeezed it into my SUV and brought it home. I had been on the lookout for a small table for our entryway and wondered if it would work in that capacity.

Sure enough, it was the perfect size. I cleaned it up, repaired a loose trim piece with some trusty wood glue, and used scratch cover to mask a few flaws. Now this little bookcase/table has a new lease on life as an entryway table. It will be a perfect spot for a small seasonal decor piece.
 Slowly but surely, I will continue incorporating some special pieces into our home, fondly remembering the way my parents used them...but moving forward to make them my own.


19 October 2013

Doing Good in the Midst of Heartache

 When Dad passed away, I realized that I would soon face the daunting task of cleaning out a house filled with 60 years of stuff. Early on, a few people advised me to call for a dumpster. I found that thought completely repulsive. I knew I could -- and would -- do better than that.

First of all, I could not imagine just tossing once-cherished (and still quite useful) possessions into a dumpster. And second, I wanted to try to make the best of a very difficult situation by keeping as much as possible out of the landfill. For me, that meant finding places to donate items which could not be sold at the auction. I am very pleased to say that I met (and I think even exceeded) my goal.
 I recently made a list of all the organizations I donated to as part of this very sad situation. In today's post, I would like to share this information...not at all in a prideful sort of way, but just so that others who may be going through a similar situation will see that it is truly possible to do a lot of good in the midst of heartache. If anything made me feel better throughout the summer, it was taking tubs and boxes of useful items to groups in need.

I'll share the list of organizations at the end of this post but first want to give you a little information about the process I used. I'm very much a "process person", which helped keep me focused during this overwhelmingly big job.

Sorting with Plastic Tubs  
As I thought about how to approach the "dismantling" of my childhood home, I decided that I would use plastic tubs to sort and organize household items. I found a great deal on tubs at Big Lots, so I bought 25 of them. A woman behind me in line even said, "She must be a teacher!" Ha. I couldn't bear to tell her what I was really going to do with my 25 tubs. It seemed like a ridiculous number at the time, but I used them all and many more.

I labeled the tubs to identify their contents: "Older Towels" were marked to go to our local Animal Rescue League, as they are needed for kitty cages. "Newer Towels" were labeled for the auction. I researched and found local groups in need of toiletries and personal hygiene items such as nail clippers, new combs, new socks, and razors -- anything that would not sell well (or that I did not wish to sell) at the auction. I did this for several groups such as our local food pantry, clothes closet, and book sale. I taped a list to the front of the tub detailing the items needed by that organization. As I worked my way through each room in the house, I placed items in the appropriate tub. When the tub was full, I delivered it.

I also tackled a few items in our own garage to make room for new things I needed to bring home. A local company was collecting used bikes to be refurbished for people in need of transportation, so I donated one. Sure, it could have sold at the auction, but why not help someone in need?

Keep, give away, recycle, toss, sell, or donate?
As I sorted, I had to answer this question about each item, then mark it clearly. Here are some thoughts about each category:
  • My daughter and I labeled things to keep with brightly colored garage sale dots, using a different color for each of us.
  • I set aside certain items to give away to family and friends, again marking them so they would not be missed.
  • I recycled anything at all that could be recycled, such as old papers, metal, and plastic. I filled the recycle bins over and over throughout the summer.
  • I threw away only items that were beyond repair and could not be recycled, such as old carpeting. Had I had time for more research, I'm sure I could have kept even more items out of the landfill.
  • I consulted with the auction staff about the types of items which sell well at an auction. For example, clothing and Christmas decorations do not sell well, nor could I bear to see those items on auction day, so I chose to donate them instead. Items to be sold at the auction were marked as such. Then after considering the items marked for the sale, I identified some unique pieces which needed a special type of buyer, so I pulled them to sell later on Ebay. 

 Groups, Organizations, and Other Ways to Help
Here is a list of the groups I donated to as part of this process. It made me feel so much better to help people (and animals) in need. I know my parents would have been pleased, too. 

There are many more wonderful groups I could have helped as part of this process and, as I re-organize our own house, I hope to donate much, much more. It goes without saying that anytime you're donating, contact the group first to confirm its needs.

Animal Rescue League of Iowa - old towels and blankets to be used for kitty cages and comfort

Johnston Clothes Closet - clothing, shoes, neckties, purses, coats, and gloves to be provided to needy families in our community

Church sewing group - old or damaged clothing, sheets, blankets, and fabric to be cut up and sewn into quilts for charitable organizations

Church hospitality group - Styrofoam cups, napkins, and plastic ware to be used for community dinners and youth activities

DMARC Food Pantry - non-perishable food and paper products

Perishable food - donated by a kind neighbor to local families in need

Central Iowa Shelter and Services - toiletries, new socks and underwear, heavy coats, and gloves

Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation - monetary donations made in memory of my parents

Local nursing home - walkers, canes, and crutches which belonged to my grandma

Piano - donated to a family with a young musician

Des Moines Bike Collective - bicycles in need of repair or refurbishing

Furniture - donated to a family with young children

HCI Giving Tree (supporting Hospice of Central Iowa) - dishes, decorative items, holiday decor, and much more

Local historical museums - items specific to towns in our area to be used in displays

Curbside giving - Following the auction, I placed a few unsold items on the curb and marked them, "Free -- Please take and use." Most were gone in the morning.

* * * * *
If you ever find yourself preparing for an estate sale, or if you just want to clear out the clutter in your life, I hope you'll find this information helpful. It is entirely possible -- and enormously comforting and rewarding -- to do good in the midst of even the most difficult situation.

18 October 2013

Feline Friday: Lily's New "Friend"

 How nice! A new friend for Lily showed up on the patio! This plump little 13-lined ground squirrel (or squinney, as we call them around here) was more interested in nibbling the flowers than socializing with Lily.

In fact, he was oblivious to the kitty peaking out the door at him. And it's probably a good thing, too. While she looks like a nice, new friend here...

 ...a quick check of Lily's ears shows that she doesn't have a LONG-TERM friendship in mind!
Happy Feline Friday, everyone! Play nice with your friends today!

17 October 2013

A Little Sand Therapy

There were a thousand other things I needed to do today, but a project called my name instead. It's been a very long time since I've done anything for just me, so I justified the time as creative therapy!

 When I was cleaning out my childhood home, I ran across a box filled with bottles and bags of sand I had collected on family vacations. I'm not surprised my mom had saved it all these years. She knew it was important to me. I still love and collect sand so I decided that I would gather up all of it and make a display. I've had this project brewing in my head all summer long, and I'm excited I finally had a chance to work on it.

 I started by gathering all of my more recent sand acquisitions from various places around the house and combined them with my childhood sand collection. I had much more sand than I anticipated! I initially thought I would use small bottles for the sand and get rid of the rest, but it was too pretty not to use all of it. So I decided that I would incorporate a few larger jars, too. 

I've been on the lookout for jars this summer. I initially thought about using matching spice jars from Penzeys, but then after seeing a few sand collections on Pinterest, I realized that wasn't the look I envisioned. I decided to use a variety of jars since I wanted the display to have a natural, organic look, as if it had been created over time. This was the perfect opportunity to use the glass jars I've had for years which have just been collecting dust.  My intent was to give the collection of unrelated jars a cohesive look by using similar tags on each container.

I also brought home a few favorite shells and such from family trips and decided to incorporate some into my display.

I picked up a couple of larger jars with wooden lids at Target and combined them with cork-lidded jars I already had.

I found tall cork-lidded plastic jars at Memory Bound for some of the sand. I added a little ink to make the corks look old. A funnel I found in Mom's kitchen proved handy for this part of the project. (Sorry, Mom!)


 I have been on the lookout for wooden trays and found a couple of really nice ones at Target. I considered buying a larger one with handles but decided I didn't want to devote quite that much space to this display. I opted for the simpler, smaller tray and decided to make my sand collection fit on it, no matter what. (I did end up with some large jars filled with extra sand that did not fit, so I put them elsewhere in the house. I was OK with that since those beaches were represented in smaller jars on my tray!)

Fortunately I had labeled most of my sand, even the sand from my childhood. There were a few containers that were not labeled (I'm obviously slipping...) but I was able to identify most of them by searching the internet for photos of seashores I have visited. I put quotes on two of the jars with sand I couldn't identify and added a metal charm to another one.

I tied twine around the neck of each jar. I used Glossy Accents to glue large shells to the tops of a couple of the jars, covering the folk star on one of them.

I printed tags and cut them out with my Spellbinders dies. I added eyelets and inked the tags.

 Here's the completed project! I'm pleased with how it turned out. It's small enough to sit on a coffee table, ottoman, or in my craft room.

This project was good therapy for me...maybe the next best thing to actually walking along the seashore!

 * * * * *
 P.S. Not one hour after finishing this project, can you guess what I found? A jar with MORE SAND and SHELLS! And, since it has a black lid, the new jar is a better match for my project than the jar with the large shell (the reddish tint of that lid was bothering me anyway). So I put that jar back with the scrapbook from that trip and substituted this new jar. Since it contains unmarked sand, I added a metal tag with a seagull which I found in my stash.

OK, NOW it's done. :) I think.

15 October 2013

Re-Orienting Myself

 This past weekend, I had breakfast with a dear (and very wise) friend I've known since junior high. I expressed to her that since the estate sale, I feel like I've lost my bearings.  No longer can I go to my childhood home and be surrounded by the comfort of familiar things. I've lost my foundation. It has been disorienting, to say the least.

My wise friend believes I am in the process of creating a new foundation for myself in our own home, using the familiar items I decided to keep. Her observation really rang true to me. That is exactly what I am doing, although I am truly just getting started.

This re-orienting process is going to take a lot of time, because 1) I don't have room for everything without getting rid of some things first, and 2) I'll need to decide whether to store or (how and where to) display the items I kept.

 This is a look at just some of the things I brought home, many of which are currently sitting in our basement area. There are many more assorted things stashed in our garage and other places in the house. Each box is filled with unrelated items (dishes, books, knickknacks) so each must be unpacked and the contents re-sorted by category so that I can figure out what to do with them. All of this clutter makes me feel very unsettled.

 My dear mother would be having an absolute FIT right now. "Don't clutter up your house with all of this crap, Jan!" I can hear her saying. "Well, it's not CRAP to me, Mom!" I would tell her. :)

  What to do when faced with a daunting task like this? Start with one thing at a time. I decided to begin by clearing out my kitchen cupboards to make room for the dishes and glassware I brought home. I've added wire shelves to create more capacity within some cupboards.

 I have been evaluating, paring down, and re-organizing the contents of each cupboard as I go. For example, I had vases stashed in two different cupboards as well as a third place in the basement. I use my vases a lot so decided to bring them all up from the dusty basement shelf and pare them down to fit on one shelf, keeping just one of each style. I donated lots of vases to make room for the new ones I brought home with me.

 I found clear stacking boxes at Bed, Bath, and Beyond which allowed me to stack the short bud vases. Now they're all on one shelf at eye level where I can reach them easily. The green vases were part of my mom's green glass collection.
 I have a long way to go, but it's a start. Sure, it may look like I'm just re-organizing my cupboards. But it's more than that. I am slowly creating a new foundation for myself.

13 October 2013

Look Who's Feline Better!

Thanks to all who stopped by and left messages about our sweet Tinsel. Good news to report: Friday evening, after two days of eating virtually nothing, I started her on an appetite stimulant called Cyproheptadine, which is actually an antihistamine which has a side effect of stimulating the appetite. It worked within an hour of giving her the first dose. Quite amazing! But it does come with some undesirable side effects so I hope this is just a temporary thing. You can read about this drug here.

 I think Tinsel had developed a mental block about eating. Once she started eating, she could not stop. I have NEVER seen her eat like this. Notice how her food is elevated. She seems to prefer it that way.

Since she has been eating more this weekend, she is much more active and back doing her little daily "routines", such as sitting on the bathroom counter while I put on my makeup. It warms my heart to see her feeling better. 

Although we still have several days left to go on the medication to treat her bladder infection, at least I know she won't be developing liver problems due to her refusal to eat. With Tinsel's underlying blood abnormality, her ability to fight off infections and diseases may compromised.
 For now, I'm happy that I'll have a good report to give the vet on Monday!

11 October 2013

Feline Friday: Get Well, Tinsel


It hasn't been a very good week around here. I have been noticing Tinsel has been drinking a lot of water in recent days so I took her to the vet for an exam. Sadly, it appears that she is in the early stages of kidney failure. This isn't entirely unexpected for a 12 year old kitty, but it certainly came as a shock to me. 

On top of this news, Tinsel also has a bladder infection and is now turning her nose up at nearly every food we've tried. I started giving her a 1/4 tablet of Pepcid which is supposed to calm her tummy, but it takes awhile to kick in. After numerous trips to the grocery store, I finally landed on a canned food she'll eat. At this point, I'm not even worried that she won't eat her prescription food. She just needs to eat SOMETHING until we get this infection under control. When her appetite comes back, we'll give the new food another try.

For now, she's getting lots of pampering and attention. Here's hoping tomorrow is a better day for her and that she'll soon be feeling better!

10 October 2013


Heartbroken. There is no other way to describe my feelings following our recent estate sale. The sale itself went fine. The auction folks worked incredibly hard. And in spite of the cold, relentless rain, the crowd stayed and nearly everything sold.

Yet I am heartbroken. After spending an indescribably sad summer sorting through the stuff of our lives, I had hoped -- no, expected -- to feel relieved once the sale was over. After all, how could I feel worse than I already did? Instead, I was left with a profound sense of loss. Grief compounded and multiplied exponentially.

I watched in disbelief from inside the house, peeking out from the window of my old bedroom. My mom's beautiful treasures were spread out on tables in the back yard, hurriedly covered with plastic when the rain just wouldn't let up. They were the very artifacts of our lives, each one representing a memory. And there they were, heaped on tables, covered with rain-soaked plastic. Touched, evaluated, rejected, or purchased by people who didn't even know my mom.

Across the street, my dad's well-loved equipment and tools were piled onto four hay racks. The auction staff worked through rain and wind until everything...EVERYTHING he worked with and held in his hands was gone.

And there were his beloved tractors, the ones he worked so hard to restore, sold to the highest bidder. Yet the value of those tractors was not in the money they brought.

At the end of the day, strangers drove away with everything. The stuff of our lives went on to new homes, and a little bit of us went with each of them.
In time, I will come to accept the loss of my mom, my dad, my childhood home, and everything I let go of that day. In time, I will heal from this pain. But for now, I am heartbroken.

04 October 2013

Feline Friday: Tummy Time with Tinsel

 We don't often see Tinsel's pretty tummy. One day when she was rolling around on the floor socializing with me (also a rarity), I caught a few (albeit blurry) pics of those beautiful stripes. She'll let you look at that pretty tummy, but don't even THINK about touching it or the party's over! :)