Thursday, October 31, 2019

Why me?

This week I received in the mail a catalog so comically at odds with my interests, lifestyle, and financial status that it makes me wonder why I received it at all. Why me? Why not the wife of some powerful business magnate? How on earth did I get on their mailing list?

Titled "An Afternoon at Gump's; or, the Expedient Excursion," it featured a selection of jewelry and high-end gewgaws arranged in a loosely poetic alphabet theme (i.e. "A is for amethyst hostessing pieces; B is for ballerinas for each of her nieces") as told by a (presumably rich) shopper named Ann. For those of you unfamiliar with the store's name because you live on a modest homestead deep in the country, Gump's is "a luxury American home furnishings and home décor retailer" out of San Francisco. Now you know.

Well, seldom has a catalog offered more slapstick humor than this. While I sat at the kitchen table and shelled beans, Don leafed through the pages and read out loud select offerings. We laughed until we cried.

This is "Ann."

Notice the golden bangle on her wrist. For those of us who are rubes, it's a Loren Nicole "Horus Will be King" Repoussé cuff, handcrafted, 22-karat yellow gold, for a trifling $40,000.

It's also butt-ugly.

"Ann" begins her shopping as follows: "Ann had a Christmas list, daunting at best. Fortunately she was famously blessed. With an uncanny knack for the charmingly apt, treasures worth cherishing, perfectly wrapped." (Note to Gump's: Ann could use a few lessons in poetic composition.)

Consider a few treasures Ann found:

Under "B" (for "ballerinas for each of her nieces"), we find "Mints and Mills Nutcracker mice." Don't you think these look like they were assembled by kindergartners?

And they can be yours for only $995. That's apiece, of course.

How about this elegant silver vase? (You'd better pronounce that "vaz" not "vace," you cretin.) This is for mumsy. ("E is for elegant vase for her mother...")

This will only set you back $6,000. But isn't mumsy worth it?

Next, Ann buys what looks like glass beads for her friend Jean ("H is for hand-hammered necklace for Jean..."). Jean must be a good friend to Ann, since this Lilly Fitzgerald tanzanite necklace with mother-of-pearl and 22-karat yellow gold is a hefty $24,500. But honestly, doesn't it look like glass beads?

Here's another "vaz." For this pile of white dog doo-doo (Don's description, not mine), Ann only has to fork over $1950. A bargain.

But let's not forget poor Ann, who has exhausted herself shopping for loved ones. Fortunately, "As a reward for Ann's skill as an elf, a rare yellow diamond she'll get for herself."

This bit of glitter is a frugal $140,000. Can you see me wearing this while weeding the garden or mucking out the barn?

Tallied up, every gewgaw in this catalog came to a grand total of $602,841. If I followed the same shopping habits as Ann, I could either buy a generous farm with a large home and all kinds of infrastructure, or I could buy a handful of jewelry and silver vases. Hmmm, decisions decisions.....

But I'm very glad Gump's sent me this catalog, since we certainly enjoyed it.

I do have one thing in common with Ann, though. I, too, am "famously blessed."

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

How to know if you're a prepper

A couple weeks ago, the Organic Prepper had a hilarious post entitled "99 Relatable Things That Only Preppers Will Understand."

It's an absolute riot. Some of my favorites:

16. You garden with a determination and time commitment normally reserved for endurance athletes training for an Ironman triathlon.

27. When the power goes out, you calmly light the candles and proceed with whatever you had been dong previously.

28. A longer-term power outage is called “practice.”

31. You can and dehydrate food with the single-minded fervor of an Amish grandmother facing a 7-year drought.

45. You don’t stock up on milk. You get an actual cow.

50. You yell at the TV every time a commercial for Doomsday Preppers comes on. Oh. Wait. You don’t have a TV. But if you did, you’d yell, because you know how positively ridiculous and unrealistic that show is.

63. Moving to a new house is no longer “moving,” but “strategic relocation.“

Feel free to add your own!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

One of those days

It was a busy day. Shelling beans, packing a box to ship ahead to Virginia (for my upcoming road trip with Older Daughter), making pizza for dinner, paying bills, keeping the woodstove stoked (high of 27F today), and many other tasks.

This included making a batch of bread (I use a bread machine). Unfortunately a stray elbow slammed into the bread bucket, resulting in a huge mess.

Sigh. What else can I do but just clean it up?

And do laundry.

Yep, one of those days.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

That's one lucky spider

Now that the burn ban has been lifted in our area, I decided to burn some of the paper garbage that accumulated over the dry summer months. Most of this was conveniently tucked inside burnable bags (such as dog food bags, etc.), meaning I could just drop the whole bag into the barrel.

I also got rid of some old tax documents. Not the taxes themselves, but receipts, etc.

Here's one of the bags I planned to burn, stuffed with junk mail and other trash documents. Notice anything unusual?

In carrying this bag from the barn to the burn barrel, I happened to notice an orb-weaver spider on the side of the bag, the biggest durned orb weaver I've ever seen. She's one lucky spider, since I nearly dropped her -- bag and all -- into the burn barrel.

There are a zillion different orb weaver species, but I'm going to hazard a guess this one is Araneus.

I carefully scraped her off the bag.

Once on the ground, she rolled over and clustered her legs together, making me think she was dying.

But soon enough she unfolded herself and moved away.

She started climbing the shop wall. I took a tape measure and laid it beside her. Her abdomen is what, three-quarters of an inch across? With her legs spread out, I'm thinking she was about two inches wide, perhaps a touch more.

Look at the shadow she cast.

So yes, this lucky spider escaped a nasty death. Now we'll see if she survives the freezing weather we're expecting over the next few days.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

God be with you, Spike

Today a neighbor called with some horrifically sad news: our retired pastor, David "Spike" Shine, had passed away.

Spike was our pastor for many, many years. More than that, he was a dear friend. He was instrumental in bringing us all back to our faith, and his influence on our family was profound. His sermons were phenomenal and I can't count the number of times I asked him to email one or another to me so I could refer to them later.

After his retirement, and after he moved to another town, we kept in touch. Through his last illness, he was unrelentingly cheerful and funny, as he'd always been.

Rest in peace, dear Spike. You will be missed, but now you can deliver your wonderful sermons to a wider audience.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Making raisins

With such an abundance of grapes this year -- but not to the point where we can consider making wine -- I was tasked with processing the fruit.

I decided to make grape juice and raisins (stand by for a future post on grape juice). I've never made raisins before, but we use a fair bit of them, so I was eager to give it a try.

I started with the green Himrod grapes. A few of the grapes had already "raisin-ified" on their own, but I wanted a bit more control over the process.

I sat down and started picking through grapes, selecting only the best for the dehydrator.

Any grapes that didn’t pass inspection – too squishy, too flawed, whatever – went into a separate bowl to be fed to Mr. Darcy, for whom grapes were a marvelous discovery.

That is, until our alert Younger Daughter mentioned in an email that grapes are toxic to dogs. Holy cow, she probably saved Mr. Darcy's life! I was completely unaware of this. Okay, no more grapes for Mr. Darcy.

I used the fine mesh strainer in the dehydrator so no raisins would fall through the cracks.

Each tray held three-quarters of a pound of grapes, or 4.5 lbs. for all six trays.

I like to put the dehydrator in a room where I can shut the door, since it tends to be noisy.

I set it at 135F for 24 hours.

But 24 hours later, the grapes were nowhere near raisin status.

Baffled, I reset the dehydrator for a few more hours. And then a few more. And then a few more. By the time the grapes had turned into raisins, they'd been in the dehydrator for a full 48 hours.

This was discouraging, especially since the 4.5 lbs. of grapes only created one pound of raisins.

Was it worth the cost of running the dehydrator for two solid days to produce one pound of raisins? Sadly, I concluded it was not.

Until I tasted one.

It was one of those eye-widening moments. The taste of these homegrown and homemade raisins was unbelievably better than the store-bought ones.

Okay, there had to be a better way. This time I took the precaution of consulting my beloved food preservation bible, Putting Food By. Duh, I should have done that to start with.

The book recommended dipping the grapes in boiling water for about 30 seconds to "check" (open) the skins, then immediately cooling them.

So I started a second batch of raisins, this time using the sweeter red Canadice grapes. I had a lot more of this variety, and planned to juice most of it, but spared 4.5 lbs. for another batch of raisins.

Here's the boiling-water bath.

After dipping the grapes in cold water, I spread them on the dehydrator sheets.

Back in the dehydrator for another round.

This time it still took longer than 24 hours, but considerably shorter than 48 -- perhaps 30 hours total.

So is it worthwhile making our own raisins? We crunched some numbers for just the cost of electricity (not counting other stuff like my time growing the grapes, processing the grapes, etc.), and it came to $4.10 total, or $2.05 in electricity per pound of grapes. (This is based on 750 watts the dehydrator used for 78 hours of running time at $0.07/kWh we spend on electricity.) So you decide.

But one thing's for sure, these are the best durn raisins I've ever had.

I'm all for making more next year.