26 June 2015

Feline Friday: Friendly Tinsel

Tinsel does not get the attention she deserves on my blog! She's such a pretty girl! 

Awhile back, I posted that she had been diagnosed with early stage kidney failure. I'm happy to report that these days, Tinsel is doing quite well and her kidney numbers have even improved a little bit. Otherwise, she shows no sign whatsoever of kidney problems. I'm very grateful that, at age 14, she's so healthy and active!

She still has occasional appetite issues (we've never been able to figure out why) but I've been able to manage that problem by giving her an appetite stimulant. About an hour after taking the medication, Overstimulated Tinsel gets the munchies and, as an added perk, becomes quite friendly!

Overstimulated or not, she's a beautiful kitty and I'm very glad she's in our lives!

25 June 2015

Great Recipe: West Coast Chicken Salad

 What's this? Two good salad recipes in close succession? What is going on?! No, you're not reading the wrong blog!

We tried another new recipe recently, and I'd say this one is going to the top of the list! This is another handy "serves as a meal" salad. I love this kind of dinner where nothing else is needed! It would be great with bread, but we're cutting out bread (*SOBS QUIETLY*) so there was none of that for us this time!

I've had this recipe for a long time but had never tried it. I'm not even sure where I found it, but I'm glad I kept it all these years!

This looked like a salad that needed a bit of time to marinate so I started it very early in the morning -- so early that I was on my first cup of coffee!

Of course, it wouldn't be a new recipe without my forgetting SOMETHING. Sure enough, I forgot to buy both tomatoes and radishes. Good grief! Spouse scored some brownie points by making a quick run to the store for me.

 Like the last new recipe I shared, there was a lot of chopping involved with this salad, too, which was dangerous since I was doing all of this before my first cup of coffee and with my eyes still halfway shut. But other than slightly mushy avocado, it all worked out!

 As you can see, this recipe also makes a LOT of salad. But it's nice to have leftovers when it's something as good as this! If you're looking for a great summer salad, I would definitely recommend this one!

24 June 2015

Succulents: Do-Over

In case anyone thinks that you can't kill succulents, I recently offered proof that in fact, you can. I've let my dish of sunburned succulents rest inside for a couple of weeks, feeling terrible and hoping for a miracle, but recently I decided it was time to let them go. This sight was just too sad to see every day:

  So I stopped by Home Depot on my way home from running errands. Look at all of these beautiful succulents -- full of life!

I'll admit I have become slightly obsessed with their tidy, compact shapes!

I picked out three small succulents to replace those I baked and brought them home to plant. Unfortunately, I'm not optimistic about this do-over because one of the plants (the spiky one at right) completely fell apart when I took it out of the Home Depot container. The roots are very shallow!

I packed it tightly into the new soil, trying to prop it up a bit, and in short order it looked pretty good. But in the process of rescuing Mr. Spiky, a couple of the leaves popped off the big, squatty succulent at the left. Good grief! Aren't these plants supposed to be HARDY?

As I disposed of the sunburned succulents, I found two that seemed to be clinging to life, so I thought I'd give them a second (third?) chance. I put them each in a small pot because they deserve their own space at this point!

  I also bought an aloe plant because I have grown them successfully in the past and let's face it: I need a Positive Succulent Outcome! Plus, they're handy to have around in case of a burn, which could happen at any time with me in the kitchen.

I gave them each a gentle watering...

 ...and will now leave them alone for the next three weeks until the next time I need to water them. No trips to the outdoors for these guys! 

Cross your fingers and watch for my next State of the Succulents report!

21 June 2015


 On the heels of my recent SUCCULENT FAILURE and DEER HOSTA FEED, it's nice to be able to report some nominal garden success: My little pots of herbs are off to a great start! I usually grow one or two herbs during the summer but this time I decided to try a few more, and so far they are all still alive! And I've been using them regularly in my attempts at cooking. The only one I haven't tried yet is sorrel (on the left).

I do enjoy looking out at them on the patio. Then I wonder... what the heck am I doing with all of these herbs? I know they can be frozen so I'll look into that, but in the meantime these little green treasures make me happy!
Let's just hope the deer don't discover them!

20 June 2015

Collecting: Don't Do It

Spouse and I have been talking lately about all the stuff I've been sorting through in our basement. This is a frequent topic of conversation, since it occupies many of my waking hours and nearly all of my thoughts these days. A couple of days ago, the subject of collections came up, prompted by the boxes of stamps that littered our kitchen table.

Before the estate sale, I brought home my stamp collection book plus all of the loose stamps and other paraphernalia I had amassed as a child. Truthfully, I really should have brought it all to our house many years ago, but it took up quite a bit of space so I just left it in my parents' basement.

As part of my mission to get rid of stuff, I set about finding a new home for my stamp collection. I did a bit of online research to see if stamp collections have any value. 

They don't. 

Unless you've got a rare stamp with documentation, stamps have plummeted in value. Not very many people collect stamps these days and because there is little interest, stamp collections can be hard to sell. It certainly would not be worth putting it on eBay, so I took the collection to a local dealer to see what he would offer.

 He gave me $20 and a bag of broccoli from his garden. Seriously.

As you can see in this sideways photo (sorry about that!), I had filled a few pages of my album with stamps. I always thought some of these old stamps had value. Maybe they did at one point, but not today.

Most pages looked like this, more sparsely filled. Still, I hoped that the stamps from foreign countries might hold some value. Nope.

 I also took in several batches of loose stamps, including many uncancelled foreign stamps in glassine envelopes which I hoped would be worth something. Nope. Even my plate block sheets of vintage stamps are apparently better used as postage. Loose stamps like the ones in the box are now sold BY THE POUND, which tells you how little they are worth.

I'll admit it: Hearing that my collection had little value was a bit hard to swallow. But I knew from my online research that it was true. The dealer's offer was fair -- and probably generous.

So back to the subject of collections. As a child, I started very few collections on my own out of interest in a particular topic. Instead, my family decided that I should collect ITEM X and started the collection for me. This always put me in a difficult spot as I wanted to be gracious to my family, but it's hard to keep up with a collection if it's not really something that intrigues you. Over time, I did develop an interest in stamp collecting but not enough to sustain it long-term.

Once people learned I had a stamp collection, everyone started saving stamps for me. In going through my collection, I found BOXES and BOXES of cancelled stamps from people in our town. The same thing happened to me when I decided to collect paper napkins (don't ask...) back in junior high. EVERYONE GAVE ME THEIR NAPKINS. I really didn't want napkins from events I hadn't attended but I didn't want to offend anyone, so I accepted the boxes of napkins graciously.

Guess what I'm sorting through now.

Spouse thinks no one should collect anything...ever. Although I think that's a bit harsh, I'm inclined to agree. Collections found in estate situations are hard to handle, simply because you have SO MANY of one type of item. My mom collected several types of figurines, and none of them were worth anything at our sale.

 Remember Beanie Babies? They were worth a lot of money for a few years, but the bottom fell out of the market and now (with a few exceptions), you almost have to pay people to buy them. It seems that only a few types of collectibles increase in value over the years. As an example, my dad collected toy John Deere tractors which HAVE held their value and sold well at the auction.

So I have mixed emotions about collections. I certainly enjoyed some of my collections over the years, but I know from experience that they can be troublesome in the end. Having dealt with several types of collections now, I guess my advice is this: Don't start a collection. If there's something you like or enjoy, limit yourself to one or two of that item. You'll enjoy a single Delft plate more than 200 pieces which are hard to store and difficult to display.

If you have already have a collection, be aware of the current value and pare it down while there is still a market for it. If there is no monetary value, consider giving special pieces to family members who share an interest. Do your best not to leave 300 porcelain bears (or 50 ceramic angels, or...) for someone to handle after you're gone.  

17 June 2015

Tiny Bouquets

 As soon as the flowers start blooming in my gardens, I look forward to making bouquets to take inside. Of course, the blooms change throughout the summer months, which means there is an endless variety of bouquet possibilities. 

 Ever since I was a child, I've enjoyed picking flowers for bouquets. I often made themed arrangements like this one for July 4th: A ring of red flowers in a bowl surrounding the flag. (YIKES! Could my shorts be any taller???)

Here's another photo from a camping trip. At the far right, you can see that I gathered a lovely glass of grasses for our outdoor dinner. (Obviously, there wasn't much to choose from in a campground!)

Because I enjoy picking flowers so much, I have amassed many pretty vases and jars for bouquets over the years, including a few very special ones that belonged to my mom. I typically start the summer by using my smallest vases but as more flowers bloom, I can begin to fill larger containers.

Last month, my grandma's fern-leaf peony bloomed -- I mean REALLY bloomed! -- for the first time. I moved it from her yard and planted it many years ago under a small tree, and in all that time it has only generated a couple of wimpy blooms each season. Well, last year the tree died and had to be removed, and this year...I had blooms! That small tree must have created a bit too much shade for this beautiful blooming bush.

Shortly after the peony bloomed, my lilies of the valley came out in full force. This is one of my all-time favorite flowers. A handful of them make the sweetest, most fragrant bouquet!

 I have a couple of patches of heliopsis, a native Iowa prairie plant. The blooms are very hardy and make lovely, long-lasting bouquets. I picked these flowers a week ago and they still look great!

Here's another bouquet, just picked this morning. I used the same heliopsis as well as some angelonia sprigs from my patio planters, then added coral bell leaves as filler. I've found that those leaves last a long time and add interesting color and texture to bouquets.

I just love these informal bouquets from the yard! I'll try to remember to share more of my little bouquets throughout the summer. 

16 June 2015

Special College Graduation Gifts

When our daughter graduated from college last month, we struggled with ideas for what we could give her. Suddenly, it dawned on me...DUH! I should make her an album! That's probably the most obvious thing in the world but for some reason it did not occur to me until just a few (very few!) short weeks before the big day! Somehow I managed to get it done, and I'm happy with how it came together. More on that project in another post!

I had also been looking online for some type of wall hanging for her, but I couldn't find quite what I envisioned. DUH! Why not make it myself? So I shared my vision with Spouse and got to work. I opted for a smaller format so it could sit on a shelf instead of hang.

I wanted to use a "roots and wings" quote, because I had included "Find Your Wings" in a portrait album I made for her at high school graduation. College was all about finding her wings...and she did! I wanted to find a new quote for college graduation that would refer back to that very special poem and reflect both her future and her past.

When I found the quote "Remember your roots...trust your wings", I knew it was perfect for this project.

So with that theme in my mind, I settled on a font and mocked up a 5x7 document in Word. I added the word "home" as a reminder of her roots and the plane to symbolize not only her own wings, but the sense of adventure as she begins the next chapter in her life...wherever it may take her, as depicted by the winding, twisting lines.
 I substituted digital images for the state and airplane (not shown here) and once I had everything set, I printed the document on cardstock. I cut the state, heart, and plane using my Silhouette Cameo in the same size as my digital images and glued them on. Simple as that! I put the completed piece in a black 5x7 frame (not shown). This was an easy project but lots of Mom Tears went into it!

Speaking of Mom Tears (and Dad Tears), we also gave her this book, which is an amazingly touching story about a child growing up. I wanted to personalize it, so Spouse and I used different colored Post-It notes to write memories to go along with the story on each of the pages. That was a fun exercise for us, and it was interesting to see what each of us remembered about her younger years.

I also made a card for our daughter...

...and her longtime boyfriend. Luckily I still have plenty of IU paper left! (Yes, I still have lots of IU scrapbooking to do!)

I cut out the "Indiana" state shapes with my Cameo and added the IU stickers to the front of them.

I loved working on these projects, and we both loved sharing them on graduation weekend! These very personal gifts were a nice way to celebrate this big milestone.

15 June 2015

Letting Go of the Sentimental Stuff

During the month of June, I'm trying to focus on clearing out a lot of the stuff that still sits in the basement from my estate sale. I am making some good progress, as you can now see the carpet and walk around down there. But trust me, I have miles to go. 

This is what it looked like after the sale:

 This is what it looks like now, 1.5 years later. Not nearly as much progress as I would like, but you can definitely see improvement. I had planned to work on this project last summer but instead needed to move my grandma to the nursing home, then clear out and sell her house. But the main reason this has taken so long is that these boxes contain sentimental items, things I could not face as I prepared for the estate sale or in the months immediately after. I could not even look in the boxes, let alone make decisions about what to do with the contents. But I'm tackling it now, and I won't stop until I'm done.

 Here are some observations on sorting through all of this sentimental stuff:

* Time really DOES help you decide what to do with sentimental items. If you're suffering from a loss, don't make decisions while you're still in the throes of grief. Let time pass and your perspective on some of those sentimental items may change. Wait until your head is clearer to make decisions.

* Allow yourself to keep the most precious items. My goal is to sort through and decide what to keep. I can't keep everything, but I won't get rid of everything either. I will keep the things that mean the most to me and figure out what to do with the rest -- donate, sell, or recycle. 

* Keep the things that bring you joy. There are lots of things in the boxes that trigger memories, but some of those memories are sad or painful. I have elected not to keep those things. Here's an example: After sorting through them and keeping a few, I got rid of most of the cards that were sent to my dad after my mom died. My mom was full of life. That's how I choose to remember her.

* Allow plenty of time to process through sentimental items. I've found that as the months have passed, it does get EASIER to face some of the boxes, but it's still far from EASY. I found myself in tears again last week trying to figure out what to do with a Ziploc bag of my mom's curlers which still carried the scent of her hairspray. It may sound silly, but that bag of curlers just about did me in that day. I finally decided to keep one of each size and let the rest go.

* Change your scenery. It helps me to drag the boxes out of the basement and put them in a sunny spot for sorting. Being down in the basement is bleak, no matter how brave I'm feeling.

* It may take several "passes" through a box to process it. As much as I would like to only go through a box of stuff once, that just hasn't worked for me. Some of the mementos are too painful to handle in one sitting. Often I'll go through a box and make decisions about the "easy stuff" first, then leave the rest for another time.

* Sort like items together. When I gathered up the contents of my parents' house, lots of papers got mixed together -- letters my dad sent to my mom while in the service, newspaper clippings, a box of notes from my own baby shower many years ago, photos, financial records, etc. All of these things were too difficult for me to process as I prepared for the estate sale, so I brought them all home to sort. The first step is to group all like items together. Just doing that helps a lot. It's much easier to tackle one box of financial records than multiple boxes of jumbled memories.

* Make a life binder. Or make several. I have now set up life binders for my mom, my dad, and me. When I find a significant document (birth certificate, diploma, report card, etc.) I put it in the life binder. It's almost like making a scrapbook as I go along. I can't emphasize how helpful this has been as I sort through boxes of documents.

* Take photos, then let it (or at least some of it) go. This has been my saving grace. I have sorted through BOXES of my own childhood artwork -- yes, my mom kept it ALL -- and I finally had to let go of some of it. My first pass through the artwork was to recycle all the bulky, over-sized pieces that were difficult to store. I took pictures of every single piece before placing it in the recycle bin.

This is a really good thing to do, even for pieces you decide to keep. Over time, construction paper becomes very fragile and breaks down. But a digital copy will last much longer.

And now I can make fun collages using my old artwork. I'll enjoy it much more now that I have it in a digital format, and it will be easy to add to my future scrapbook.

 Do I really need all of these spin art pictures from the Iowa State Fair? Definitely not. The frames make them quite bulky to store. I picked a few of my favorites to keep and let the rest go -- after I took a group picture.

I sorted through boxes of my dad's memorabilia and took pictures of much of it before letting it go. Ribbons like this are much easier to add to a scrapbook in digital format. Just by doing this, I was able to pare down his memorabilia considerably. The next time through those boxes, I'll be able to make some decisions on what to keep moving forward.

The month of June is half over, and I need to keep up the pace to get through the remaining boxes before July comes. I'd like to have the basement looking "normal" again. I'd like to be able to spend time in that space without feeling the emotional "weight" of all of this stuff. 

If you're in a similar situation, I hope you will find these thoughts helpful. Be patient and kind to yourself, and you'll get through this very difficult process.

14 June 2015

Recipe: Mediterannean Tuna Salad With Un-Zesty Dijon Vinaigrette

We tried a new recipe last week, and it's a keeper! There was a LOT of vegetable chopping involved, and it's a minor miracle I didn't end up in the emergency room. But I survived, and Spouse says this is a recipe he'd have again -- just not every week. :)

I found this recipe in the newspaper, which is not my normal source for such things. I tried to make it pretty much as written, minus the red onions (which I don't eat) and using a little less celery and mint (for Spouse).
At the grocery store, I could not find packaged fresh mint, so I asked Mr. Produce Guy about it. He told me that there's a mysterious nationwide shortage of mint right now. Well, I'm pleased to report that I solved this mystery on the drive home. I'm quite sure that the shortage is due to all the MINT JULEPS that were made for the Kentucky Derby! :)

Anyway, since I couldn't find any mint to purchase, I bought a small mint plant in the garden tent at the grocery store to put in a container on the patio. I use a lot of mint in cooking anyway, so this will be handy to have. Assuming I keep it alive, that is. :)

This recipe called for stocking up on lots of vegetables, including radishes and celery. For whatever reason, I almost never buy either of them, but it was really nice to have them in the fridge for snacking. I'll definitely buy them more often!

 Back to the salad! As I mixed up the dressing, it didn't seem like there was enough, so I added more oil to increase the volume. Unfortunately, I forgot to add more mustard so my poor salad wasn't "Zesty" at all. But it was still fresh, crunchy, and very healthful!

Be forewarned: This recipe makes a LOT! We had plenty for two dinners. This is one of those salads which is actually better on the second day. It would be great in a pita the second time around, but of course I forgot to buy them!
If you're looking for a nice summer salad which serves as a meal in itself, I'd encourage you to give this one a try!