Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ham, Ham and more Ham

You may be in the same blessed predicament as us to have more ham than you can think of what to do with after Christmas. Paul came home with a Honey Baked ham last Tuesday - a gift from his company, and we have to finish it in a week (or so the instructions say) before it spoils. I love Honey Baked ham, but because ham is so salty, I get tired after a few days of ham with green beans, ham with carrots, ham with broccoli, and on and on.

The solution for me was to go to my favorite book of all cookbooks, one that I found years ago at a used bookstore: The New York Times Menu Cookbook, published in 1966. The fun thing is that this huge book of recipes was written pre-carbs and fat days so the recipes are based purely on taste rather than health - a bad thing most of the time, but occasionally it must be done! It also has a fantastic index. I looked up "ham" and came up with dozens of recipes including ham. This is what I chose, and it was a wonderfully delicious choice that tasted like a cross between a creamy Italian pasta primavera dish and a vegetable medley/pot pie (don't let the simple, innocent name deceive you):

Ham and Vegetable Casserole

4 Tbs. of butter
1 small chopped onion
1.5 Tbs. flour
1 cup milk
1 cup of diced potatoes
1 cup of diced carrots
1 cup of chopped green beans
2 cups of diced cooked ham
1 cup of fresh bread crumbs (put a few slices in a food processor or vitamix and you have crumbs)
Few slices of bacon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F
1. I chopped all veggies (onions separately) in a food processor to cut down on time.
2. Melt butter in saucepan and add onion, cooking until transparent.
3. Bring milk to a boil.
4. Meanwhile blend flour in with onions and start the bacon cooking in a frying pan (you will need the drippings so don't microwave).
5. bring some water to a boil and cook the chopped veggies for only a few minutes ~2-3.
6. Add the boiled milk slowly in with the onions/flour/butter mixture, mixing until it thickens.
7. Add cooked veggies and season with salt and pepper to taste.
8. Place mixture into a 1.5 quart casserole dish.
9. Dice up the cooked bacon and sprinkle on top.
10. Add bread crumbs to the bacon drippings and sprinkle on top of everything.
11. Bake the casserole for thirty minutes or until mixture is hot and the bread crumbs are brown.

Note: this is supposed to serve 6 but really in today's serving sizes, especially if you are serving no side dishes, serves 3 to 4. Even that looks like a small amount, but it is surprisingly filling - really packs a punch. We had enough for the two of us to have dinner last night and leftovers for lunch.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Pics for the Family

Merry Christmas again everyone! This post is mainly to thank our moms, dads and sisters for the wonderful gifts you sent. So here is our Christmas morning....
Clementine is not quite sure about the disco ball from my sister. It will take her ~ 4 months to get used to it, but Clementine still said, "Thanks Aunt Heather"

Paulie in his new homemade Christmas PJs (from me).

Paul says, "Thanks, Mum, for Batman!"

This shirt from my mom and dad says, "May the forest be with you." Quite cleverly paralleling Paul's favorite movie trilogy of all time.

" Thanks for the top and purse, Alison, Barry, Craig and Adam!" (my family-in-laws)

Love the apron, M & D!!! I used it already when making cinnamon rolls. Heather, thanks so much for you generosity and great ideas!

Hitchhiking Fairy coming in for a closer look. She spent the whole morning preening the fuzz on the santa hat!
Thanks again everyone for the wonderful gifts!

And Paul says thanks too (foot shot to include Christmas PJs).

Heather, the Thomas Kincaid puzzle is so much fun!! We have much more done since this picture was taken a few days ago. The Vader puzzle we started Wednesday night and finished on Christmas.
The 47 kajillion veggie dinner spread of savoy cabbage, carrots and swede, sweet potatoes, roast potatoes and parsnips, ham and broccoli.

Carrying out the English tradition of pulling Christmas crackers (as provided by M & D)

After reading the enclosed jokes and trivia, we donned the included golden crowns.

Funny story about going to the neighbors to give out our plates of cookies on Christmas eve. We finished the cookies and mince pies around 4:30 and I left the cinnamon roll dough to rise for the 1.5 hours that's required. Thinking we'd be gone 20 minutes or so I almost left the birds out of their cages. Paul said he thought we'd be gone for quite some time because we'll probably end up talking, etc. "oh, no, I don't think so." I explained, "everyone will be getting ready for Christmas and so we'll deliver our cookies, wish them merry christmas and move on."
How wrong was I! We were invited in, given drinks and snacks and experienced the full hospitality that can be offered. Feeling more comfortable about our relationship with the lawn lady across the way, we were so happy that the past could be forgotten. Four hours later and three plates of cookies delivered, we came back home.
Sadly, the cinnamon roll dough had risen and fallen, being that it was left for too long. But nevermind, a new batch was started the day after Christmas and they are delicious! Plus, I got to use my new apron and measuring spoons.
Mom, Dad and Heather, I lost my old recipe! This is a new one I found on the internet - that's why they may look a little different. They are flatter, but moister, hmmm.. can't figure out why!

If you guys have any Christmas pictures you'd like to share, email them to me and I'll post them.
Lots of Love,
Karen and Paul

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bringing in the Winter

It's been a cold fall so fall seemed to blend seamlessly into winter here... although we did have some T-shirt days this December! I've been in the field for the last two weeks sprinkled with a few days in the office, so the weekends have been jam packed with getting things done and having fun for the Christmas time. A summary of the past 3 weeks.. wow has it been that long?

Our girls have been anxiously awaiting santa, especially Clementine who loves the extra snacks: walnuts and noodles and walnuts and pistacios and walnuts.....

Fairy, the look of an angel but not so this year. We hope Santa will still be gracious, but we will have to see. She has been showing us her alter ego this year by way of behavior problems ranging from screaming, to overly clingy to biting. We took her to a therapist who is baffled.

We had lots of raking to do this fall, and this is the last of it. I dragged Paul out of bed two weekends ago to help, and he's most feeling sorry for himself here. It is a big job, especially since the wind blows the leaves from our neighbors yards into ours!
Same day: Paul helping with Christmas deco. Doesn't he look happy? It was a big day after all, but he got really into the decor after a few minutes and donned the traditional santa hat.

Paul in the Santa hat and the tree finished.

I went to a friend's from work (girls' night) and we did a craft - painted our glass Martinelli's, wine or water bottles, to fill with christmas lights.

Of course what girl party would be complete without the goodies? - everyone brought a dessert and a $5 ornament for the secret santa exchange.
Bottles finished!

Then we helped Tracy decorate her baby Christmas tree.

Today, Paul and I are baking to carry on the tradition. Paul "the Mincer" Pie from last year will be making a reappearance to bake his famous mince pies, and Kare "the bear" will be making cinnamon rolls again. We'll see how much gets done but we are keeping the goal loose so we will stop when we are tired.
Thinking of family all the time- we miss them so much. This is an especially joyous time of year and wanting to be near family and relive memories of days past seems to just come with the season. Not like those thoughts are not there the rest of the year, but especially at Christmas.
Exciting news on the family front: my brother and his wife are expecting their first child! And Paul's mum is making a wonderful recovery and is enjoying some pampering at Alison's, my dear sister-in-law.
I hope you are all able to enjoy your Christmas with loved ones and have much to be thankful for! Merry Christmas and lots of love!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

I have not posted in a long time because I have been working on Christmas projects since Thanksgiving, and have been swamped! My blog got back burnered. But I took some fun food pictures of Thanksgiving to share, and wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving.

We decided to hog wild for this Thanksgiving dinner, to enjoy and give thanks for all we have. Actually, we had a little bit of a miscommunication, because Paul thought we were going to cut down on the veggies this year, and I thought we were doing the "Engish Traditional" as I have dubbed holiday dinners that we do. Paul loves to have the fancy 27 kazillion veggies that they do for a traditional English Christmas dinner, and since they don't have Thanksgiving over there, we usually do the same dinner, more or less, for Thanksgiving and Christmas here.

I had to do a pie, and I found a really good apple pie recipe that has caused Paul to beg for a pie every week.

The the turkey that we injected with cajun marinade. It didn't come out real spicy but kept the turkey incredibly moist.

Paul jumped into action towards the tail end of cooking when he suddenly realized we were doing the 27 kajillion veggies. I became frantic in the last 20 minutes and shouted for help! He was hanging curtain rods, and I hated to stop a good thing in action, but crisis in the kitchen was more pressing.
A few of the veggies: green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows (my request), roast parsnips in the front.
We also had cabbage, carrots and rutabaga, roast potatoes and homemade cranberry relish.
Finally ready!
Friday night we had a couple over from my work, and we had a leftover party. We contributed our leftovers and they brought their leftovers and we all put it all together for a huge variety, a fabulous dinner reheated in the oven. Paul and I still had more of our leftovers left and didn't have to cook Saturday or Sunday night and we had thanksgiving leftovers for 2 days of lunches at work!
Things that I am particularly thankful for this year:
1) family, family, family (although we don't see them much, they are always on our minds)
1) we both still have our jobs for the moment
2) we have a home
3) we can afford a comfortable life
4) we are healthy
5) Paul and I have each other
6) I love where we live, although I wish family wasn't so far away.
7) we are beginning to make some good friends and feeling more established here
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Home Sweet Home

My dear sister texted me yesterday asking if I had any recent pictures to post of the house. Coincidentally, the fun thing is that on my day off last Wednesday I really enjoyed being home in the morning to see the sun come in through the windows. I was sitting enjoying my cereal and feeling so fortunate and thankful to have a home right now in these difficult economical times. The talk radio that I listen to has no happy news these days and every day I feel so sad for people's loss of jobs and homes. So that morning while pushing out the negative and thinking about my blessings, I wanted to capture the moment for myself by taking a couple pictures of my favorite rooms in the house as the sun was streaming in. Here's our kitchen with dinner in the crock pot on the island.

And the bathroom, which I don't think has changed since last I posted pictures (other than a few new plants around the fountain). Oddly, my bathroom is my sanctuary when I want to relax. The water trickling in the urn (big brown thing in the center) is pure relaxation.. all I do is add water to the tub, hop in with a good book and enjoy the sun streaming in. This is the only room that has any decor other than furniture. We are on the 30 year plan!

I will add more pictures later of some of the other rooms that have furniture (some rooms are still empty) in case you are interested.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Day Off

I took a spontaneous vacation day on Wednesday, inspired by a business class offered in Columbia, South Carolina. I got the day off, signed up for the 3 hour class and made a day of it. It was not a day filled with excitement around every corner and adventure up every hill, but it was a really nice day. Even though it was a day off, I didn't seem able to sleep past the usual wake up time of 5:30 so I got up and helped Paul get to work, did some spinning, watched a movie, cleaned up the kitchen and had a leisurely breakfast while reading a chapter of "These Three Remain," which I'm reading for the third time. I did a heap load of stuff before leaving the house at 9:30 and then decided to take the back road ways to Columbia, staying off the freeway for as much as possible. What a pretty drive!

The various buildings of the school were scattered among beautiful southern style homes.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Eastern North Carolina's Fall Fields

I was in Greenville of North Carolina for the past two weeks working, and I really enjoyed the scenery. Farmland and fields abound, and this was the first time I have seen cotton fields! This field was probably ready to be harvested, as all surrounding ones have already been de-cottonized. I couldn't believe that natural cotton was truly that white straight from the plant. I had the idea that it would need to be bleached to get the white T-shirt look.

I found a piece of cotton on the side of the road, as it is blown all over the place, and brought it home as a souvenir. Wouldn't it be fun to spin into yarn and knit a pair of socks? Only, the one pod is probably enough to do one finger of one glove! Spinning cotton is a different experience than spinning wool or alpaca. The fibers are so short. I have spun dyed cotton to make a hat, but it's one of those projects I haven't finished..

This is the cotton field from a distance. See the thicker patch near the treeline?
And here we are at a vacant field that I just thought was lovely in its own right. The trees, I am told by my work buddy, Jerry, are the infamous sweet gum trees. He says they make great shade, although he doesn't have one in his yard. He says he enjoys them from the safe distance of his neighbor's yard.
We decided to let Mavis the Sweet Gum stay planted in our yard through to the spring, and then we will transplant her again and put her along the back of our property line where the gum balls won't intrude on anyone's yard.
Meanwhile, Paul has arrived home safely from England, and it sounds like his mother is continuing to improve, thankfully. We are going to rest and take it easy this weekend.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Sweater (I) and The Sweater II Update

I'm picking Paul up from the airport this afternoon. He has been in England visiting his mum who has not been doing too well health-wise. He has had an exhausting few weeks (as has his mum) and so I've been busy this weekend working on ways to spoil him: apple pie is made and in the fridge ready to be baked this evening, his car is cleaned and vacuumed, the house is clean (a miracle), pot roast is in the crockpot, and so we should have no chores to do when he gets home.

Speaking of Paul, A few weeks ago I mentioned that the back of The Sweater II was almost finished. Well here it is! I had been working on it a few rows each night for the past week and last night I measued and it was the correct length: 26.5". Inspired from getting a big section done, I immediately cast on the stitches to start the first sleeve. I only wish I could get this done for Paul before winter is over. With spinning the yarn almost as fast as I'm knitting it, it seems like it could be possible, but with lots of experience in having unrealistic goals for my crafts, I know this will not come to pass!
Last night I was rummaging around for my circular needles to use on the sleeves for the Sweater II, and I realized that they were still attached to The Sweater (I)! So I thought, might as well get this one finished since all I had to do was bind off the stitches. If you recall, this sweater was supposed to be for Paul and then a valuable lesson was learned. When knitting patterns, don't measure the chest size and knit according to that exact measurement. Add a few inches for ease. So this, The Sweater fits him like a glove, but fits me more like how it should. Hence, The Sweater II was born.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hotellin It

I was sitting at the desk in my hotel room the other night and looking at the assortment of things I had going on. Yep, life on the road with long working hours is about making use of the available time and multi-tasking. I was working on coloring jellybeans for my nursery age sunday school class while watching a movie I had from Netflix and shoveling leftover pumpkin cheesecake from Olive Garden (super tasty) with a protractor I had in my backpack (forgot to ask for a fork). Meanwhile, while the movie was playing, my computer was uploading my work email and timesheet. I had my knitting off to the side in case I had time for The Sweater II before getting to bed at a decent time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Unhappy Truths Continued

More woe to my already woeful story of the unhappy discovery of Mavis the Maple's true identity as a sweet gum tree. Tonight I set myself to the task of discovering more about sweet gums, to enlighten myself and my readers who have "watched" Mavis grow up on my blog this past year. The news is not good, my friends, but here you have it from a website forum where people are posting their comments and asking for help regarding their sweet gum trees. I found this to be extremely enlightening, if not downright funny at times, but also sad if I do choose to keep Mavis planted in our yard. These are all quotes from the forum on website http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf86353601.tip.html :

"People, these trees are troublesome and dangerous, I had to rebuild the garage years ago because one approx. 30 inches in diameter fell across it, limbs, leaves, balls, are constantly falling. From what I have seen and heard these trees are very weak, lots of times breaking off 20 and 30 feet up with just a little wind. Anyhow, just want to rant a little because I so disliked those trees."

"For all you that don't like sweet gum trees, get some goats, mine have cleaned up every tree they could munch on and none come back because the goats eat as soon as anything on them sprouts. No problem here!"

"HELP!I had two VERY large sweetgums cut down in my backyard and now I have hundreds if not literally THOUSANDS of small sweetgum trees popping up EVERYWHERE around my house. I just run them over with the lawnmower and sure enough in 1 week they are everywhere again... What can I do/spray to get rid of all of these trees and keep what grass I do have? Please help!"

"My 9 year experience with a twenty year old sweet gum tree is: 1) the spikey balls are good for nothing, except building muscles raking the never ending supply, 2) it will raise the floor of your garage an 1 1/2" in the course of a couple of months and evidently crack it, 3) the branches, at any age, will easily snap in a wind storm - and aim for your roof, 4) the wood burns well, but only after it dries for three years, AND, 5) unless you dig all the roots out once you've fallen the tree and dug out the stump, you will continue to have sweet gum starts all over your world FOR YEARS. Good luck!"

"Reading through all these postings, I didn't see anyone mention the feature of this tree that I enjoy the most - crush some leaves in your hand and they produce a smell like turpentine. I don't like gathering up the thousands of "spiny balls" either, but I do enjoy the shade provided by the one tree we have in our front yard. Hey - I haven't gotten the flu in several years! maybe inhaling the "fumes" from the crushed leaves has something to do with it? Caution: some folks (such as my wife) may experience negative effects from this practice, but I really enjoy it!"

"Dear sweet gum club,I too have many sweet gum trees. Has anyone seen the wireball contraption that rolls on the ground picking up the balls as it is pushed?"

"The first year we lived in this house with the gumball trees our bull terrior got two infections in between her toes from those spikey little devils. Be careful with your pets."

"I would love to know how to effectively even rake up these gumballs. My hubby tried to "vacuum" them with a leaf blower. Not good! We could spend weeks raking and not make a dent!"

"Does ANYONE have a solution to our population explosion of gumballs?
Shockingly, not only do these huge, towering trees spit spiked balls all over our lot, but this spring, OVERNIGHT, it dumped some sort of leafy-type pods --- thousands, millions of them --- covering the patio and surrounding area. WORSE, these pods almost immediately ROT and STINK, almost like manure! As if that weren't enough, they then shed pollen, which creates an even further mess! What could people be thinking of when they plant these things? We live in Atlanta, so everything that thrives elsewhere thrives even more here!"

"I have come up with one use for the "porcupine balls" as i call them. i put them in the bottom of my potted plants (annuals) instead of rocks, for drainage. at the end of the season, i just dump the whole thing in the compost pile & dont have to dig out the rocks! i have also heard of making table top Christmas trees out of them, but havent tried it myself."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Unhappy Truths

The big event of fall season here on the east coast, is naturally, the fall leaf color debates. One popular phrase is "Since it has been unseasonably dry this year, the colors won't be very vivid." Others say, "The height of color can only be seen in the mountains, but wait another week or so before you make the trip." Some say, "You better go this weekend or miss the display entirely!" Everyone has some tidbit of information to add about the leaf coloration and when and where to see the best display.

What better time to be outside doing field work? None that I can think of. And lucky me, I've been out for 3 weeks already and have enjoyed every bit of it (when I've been smart enough to dress warm enough).

But amidst the leaf excitement, last week I was in the field with my boss who happens to be a (self-proclaimed) expert on deciduous trees. I didn't know this because he's a geologist not a biologist. But get him outside and he's pointing out hickory trees here and maples there and live oaks yonder. So we were sitting and sampling a well and admiring the surrounding tree coloration when I saw a tree that looked the spitting image of Mavis the Maple who Paul and I have fondly raised from the wee size of 6" tall. I proudly stated, "I have a maple tree just like that one." He smirked and said, putting on his Agent C cap, "Actually it's real identity is a sweet gum tree." I didn't dare tell him that I have even named my sweet gum tree "Mavis the Maple." I just concealed my disappointment and said, "oh."

Meanwhile, Mavis the Makeshift Maple is enjoying her new home, transplanted in our backyard a few weeks ago. She has decided not to change colors yet, and it's probably because she's suffering from an identity crisis.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Sweater II Update and Yardwork

The delicious feel of fall in the air and the smell of fires in fireplaces are some of the signals of my favorite time of the year. Our maple tree in the front yard is Christmas red right now (our small maple, Mavis, has still not turned any colors yet) and I spent a few hours yesterday raking leaves and getting ready to re-seed the lawn. It was a great weekend to be outdoors!

But some of my favorite things about the fall are sitting by the fire and reading a good book and bundling up in flannel sheets and cozy blankets at night. I sleep so wonderfully in the cold weather. It is also a time when I enjoy my knitting more.

It is not fun to have a hot sweater on your lap in the summer and work on knitting it with sweaty hands, and so naturally I didn't get a lot done on The Sweater II this summer. But I am 1.5 inches from finishing the back as of this weekend! I will post a picture when it is done and off the needles. I think I'll work on the sleeves next before starting the front piece, to add a bit of variety (the front is identical to the back).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chicken with Corn Salsa Recipe

Another week in the field, but fun thing is this project is in Charlotte so I get to come home every night!

The other night I felt like making something really easy, but didn't want to have to resort to a box. Ok, I did use a jar of something, but for the most part it was a very fresh food dinner, the flavors went well together and with very little time involved(15-20 minutes).

1 jar of Trader Joe's Corn and Chile Tomato-less Salsa
4 chicken breasts
1 head of broccoli
8 oz of sliced baby bella mushrooms
grapeseed oil (healthy and relatively low fat)

Heat a few Tbs. of grapeseed oil in a large frying pan,season chicken with cumin, salt, pepper and paprika. When oil is hot add the chicken breasts.

Meanwhile, slice the polenta (I've never had polenta before so don't know if I was doing this the traditional way) into 1/4" slices and add to the pan with the chicken.

Heat a pot of water to boiling. Meanwhile cut the broccoli and then add to the pot of boiling water.

Heat another pan with 1 Tbs. of grapeseed oil.

Flip the chicken and polenta after lightly brown. Add corn salsa.

Add mushrooms to new pan of hot oil and saute until brown.

Serve with the corn salsa on top of the chicken and polenta, with mushrooms and broccoli on the side.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Short Story: "The Lone Tomato"

It all started back when the tomato plant was very young... no, I must go back further. It all started with the summer drought, nearly dead grass and a sudden surge of rain...

We live in a home owner association where I'd estimate half of the people who live here either work from home or are retired. So "keeping up with the Joneses" is a big deal here. When one person gets sod, everyone starts getting sod. Except for us.
So back in the spring and summer when everyone had dry to dead grass because of the water restrictions, no body was really bothering with seeding and lawn beautifying because what's the point? However, we suddenly got a lot of rain all within a few days from Saturday to Monday, let's say, and subsequently by Wednesday, we, along with everyone else, got long shoots of "grass" that sprang up overnight.
On Friday, Paul was home and got a knock on the door by Mrs. Neighbor who was happy to announce we were getting a fine from the homeowner's association for our long grass that was "an eyesore." We had been really good pals with Mrs. and Mr. Neighbor up until this point, so it was a surprise how excited she was. Paul leaned down and looked across at her lawn and said, "Huh. Doesn't look any longer than yours." And so ensued a semi-polite discourse during which she said she was getting it cut tomorrow, and Paul said that we were doing the same, pointing out that we really only get to yard work on the weekend, and it had not even been a week since the grass grew.
He afterwards called the homeowners association president and asked why our neighbors are being informed we are getting fined before we are. She said, "oh, that's not the case. Only the people on the board know who's getting fined, or the people who report the incident. Your neighbor is not on the board." So started the seething anger.
Needless to say, we rushed out to buy a lawnmower which we had not bothered to do before because no grass was growing. We bought it late that night, and stealthily backed into the garage so Mrs. Neighbor couldn't see that we just ran out to get one. We assembled it with the garage door closed and woke up to mow at 7:00 on Saturday.
We also mowed the next door neighbor's lawn, Mrs. Nice who we were told by Mrs. Neighbor was also getting reported. Mrs. Nice lives up in New York and is still trying to sell her house there. So she wouldn't know about the state of affairs down here and that she was being reported. I have to admit, I mowed her lawn at the time, mostly out of anger towards Mrs. Neighbor, who I thought I'd kill with kindness, and it worked. Mrs. Neighbor told me repeatedly that I should not be cutting Mrs. Nice's lawn. I told her that I thought it unfair that Mrs. Nice is getting fined for suddenly rampant growing grass when she's not here to see it and arrange accordingly. She had nothing to say to this and would walk away, only to repeat the plea next time.
As it turned out, the "grass" was a case of rampant weeds because they grew up every few days. It was tough for everyone in the neighborhood because it meant either mowing every few days or pulling them all up by hand, which is what I did in our yard and part of Mrs. Nice's yard after the second week.

With time, Mrs. Neighbor and I became on friendlier terms again, but not without telling her I knew she wasn't on the board, and subtly let her know we knew what she had done. And then throughout the weeks she became more complimentary and saying how nice our shrubs were, and "my that tomato is looking good!" I had one small tomato plant in a container on my front porch and it was growing the most delicious looking tomato, and everyday I talked with Mrs. Neighbor, she admired it and said it was doing so much better than hers. I told her I was nurturing it carefully and gave it plenty of water.

Then, the day after the last admiration, at the peak of tomato ripeness, I went out the front door to go to work and the tomato was gone! Nipped clean from the vine with no remnants suggesting an animal had taken it. I immediately came to the conclusion that spiteful Mrs. Neighbor took it because she was jealous of my tomato and also upset that I was cutting Mrs. Nice's lawn.
I went into work feeling angry and after talking to several colleague's at work, my boss agreed it sounded like the workings of a thief, and so he devised a plan to bring me a bushel of tomatoes from his backyard to take over to Mrs. Neighbor. He said that I needed to take them to her and say, "I know how much you like tomatoes so I thought I'd share the wealth. These were the backyard tomatoes (notice I wasn't to say who's backyard) and they had done much better than the one in the front yard." By watching her reaction, I would be able to tell if she was the thief. My boss, Agent C, has a talent in these things, so I took him up on the offer.

True to his word, Agent C. brought me in a bushel of dirty, very backyard-looking Roma tomatoes, some with holes and everything, to look legit. I brought them home and had all intentions of going over to Mrs. Neighbor's but found that she and her husband were on vacation for two weeks. Oh well.

Weeks later, long after we had enjoyed all of Agent C's tomatoes (he was disappointed that the plan flopped), I was talking to Mrs. Neighbor, not really angry about the grass and one little tomato anymore, and she complimented me on the next two tomatoes coming in. "I had that one from a few weeks ago stolen you know," I told her. She couldn't believe it, adding that the bench in her front yard was stolen the night before, and a lady down the street had her watermelon stolen. Huh. All that hoopla and planning for nothing! So I told her I was going to move my tomato plant to the back porch instead and it has been fine since.
It was a valuable lesson in how anger can snowball and cause unreasonable stress and desire for revenge over something that was originally something so small and petty.
The funniest thing is that it has never been the showiest or most proliferate plant! Here she is in all her glory:


Friday, October 10, 2008

Agent S

Another busy 10 day shift in Hendersonville, with more fun at the Waverly Inn. A few days into my stay, John, Diane and Darla, the innkeepers headed out on vacation. I was a little sad because they always make me feel like I'm coming home after a busy day at work. The fun thing is that the "innsitters" that came in to cover for them were every bit as welcoming and the transition was seamless.

On the second day of Jim and Susan's reign, I came back from work and they asked me if I knew anything about an auditor from my company arriving. I usually get a safety audit once a week and since I already had one that week, I was not expecting another one. "No, I don't know any more auditors arriving this week." Susan said, "Oh, well, we were just wondering if you knew if he was going to be a late check-in or not." I said that I was sorry I couldn't be of more help, but if it was a safety audit I was getting, then it was intended to be a surprise. Susan lowered her voice to a whisper and said, "We'll let you know one way or another if he arrives so that you have a warning." I laughed and admired her good humor.

Then next morning I came downstairs and my sausage and egg sandwich was wrapped in foil and sitting on the counter for me promptly at 6:30, same as what John normally does for me. I took it with me to eat on the drive to the site, and when I got in the truck and opened up the foil, there was a secret note in with my sandwich:

I laughed half the drive to work, and dubbed Susan "Agent S." I have dubbed all of us who can perform covert operations. I am Agent K of course, my dearest friend Laurie, Agent L, who I worked with in California, is one of the sneakiest of all when it comes to finding out the latest office news. My sister is Agent H and is real good with agent speak, and Mom is Agent M, pretty newly installed. Agent S is the newest recruit, and will do just fine holding down the mountain post in North Carolina. We had so much fun talking the rest of the week, and I'm sad that she will be gone when I go up there again in a few weeks.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Crockpot Fajitas

I found a crockpot fajita recipe to try and it was muy bueno! Here it is with my modifications:

1 pound of beef flank steak
1 onion cut into strips
1 can of Rotel diced tomatoes and chilies
2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic minced
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 orange bell pepper cut into strips
1 yellow bell pepper cut into strips
flour tortillas
cheese, sour cream, guacamole and salsa as garnish if desired

Combine onion, Rotel, chili powder, cilantro, steak (I put the steak in whole and shredded in the pot after cooking), and cumin in Crockpot. Cook on low for about 4 hours. Add bell peppers and garlic and cook an additional hour on low. Serve with tortillas and any accompaniments.

Paul gave this recipe two thumbs up, even though we didn't even have the garnish items, and we ran out of tortillas!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Working in Hendersonville, NC

It was a long 10 day shift installing wells, but you can't beat the location. The mountains around the Asheville/Hendersonville areas are beautiful and I often had to pinch myself to make sure I really had it so good! This is what a drill rig looks like:

A lot can happen in ten days and we had it all: lightening and thunder, misty rain all day, hot weather, and a bloom of mushrooms of all kinds.
One day we were out in a field that must have been a favorite hideout for yellow jackets. We saw the area where they must have had an underground nest so I made sure the drillers set up away from the nest. I was writing notes in my field book and minding my own business when I got stung on the back of my neck by an angry yellow jacket that got stuck in my hair. It's been a long time since I was last stung, and it hurt, so naturally I screamed. Before I could say, "That hurt like a son of a gun, and it was a yellow jacket, I reckon," the driller's helper was pressing a wad of chewing tobacco onto the welt on the back of my neck. He says it pulls out the poison, and he did say, "reckon" a lot. We are in the south, and the hospitality does come with charm.

Now, this is one of the coolest aspects of doing work up here besides the wildlife. We get to stay at the Waverly Inn, a bed and breakfast run by a couple who treat you like family. They gave me the best room in the house, a beautiful room with an adjoining sun room since I was staying a piece (pretty much all month minus a few days).

Downstairs on the front porch they serve snacks and drinks so people can chat and meet other guests, while enjoying the peaceful event of rocking in the rocking chairs and enjoying the birds. Every evening they greet me by name and ask how work was, bring me a ice cold glass of coke and pull up a rocking chair for me. Afterwards, I enjoy a hot bath get something to eat at a nearby restaurant within walking distance and then come back "home" to grab a slice of homemade cake that John and Diane have in the kitchen. I mosie upstairs with my cake and herbal tea and watch a bit of one of the movies I brought. It was like working really hard for 12 hours and having 4 hours of vacation afterwards. Not bad!

On Saturday night after work, I went to see a play, Unnecessary Farce, at the Flatrock Playhouse. I laughed for 2 hours and came back to the Waverly and slept like a rock. It was a fantastic comedy, and I needed it after a few stressful days at work that followed the bee sting.

My sun room adjoining my bedroom at the Waverly.
There was a nearby nursery that has loads of cool shrubs and so on my drive home I loaded up to start working on our backyard.

I have 4 days off starting today and then head up to Hendersonville again for another 10 days. Have a good weekend!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Chilling Out in the Backyard

We've had a pretty mild summer, averaging in the80s-90s I would guess, and so we've spent more time outside than I would have predicted. However, the humidity is still higher than we are used to from California. Notice in almost all pictures of Paul that I post he is without his shirt. There's a good reason for this: he doesn't like having a shirt stuck to his back in the humidity.

Anyway, we've been spending a lot of time outdoors for another reason. Fairy has been driving us crazy. She's been squawking and squeeking and screaming to be held and everytime we leave the room she amplifies. I took her to the vet a few weeks ago and the vet thinks it's part hormonal and part we've been catering to the squawks. So she has become like a whining child used to getting her way. Solution: to ignore it or get out of the house. So, here we are eating dinner outside, and see my camp chair in the background for lounging and studying.
This was another delicious crockpot recipe that we tried on the weekend- very good.

Then with all the outdoor time, we discovered a few turtles roaming around our backyard. Here is Ted, probably in search of Cynthia.