Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Can it!

If you're just starting out on an exercise program and you don't want to invest in equipment yet, you can use food cans as weights. The cans above are approximately 1 pound each. If you really want to start light, try a tomato sauce can (8 oz.) or a tomato paste can (6 oz.) I used the 1-pound cans yesterday when I was doing Denise Austin's "Hot Body Yoga" video. The irrepressible Denise Austin thankfully toned it down to a dull squeak for the duration. So I was able to achieve full calmness while only occasionally running from the room, holding my ears from all of Denise's darn peppiness. Peace, please. Thank you.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Guest auto-ethnographer

Today I am featuring a college anthropology paper by my son, and it's worth a read-through. I find it hilarious, but that's just my weird sense of humor. See what you think.

Many anthropologists have found endless delight in studying the traditions of Texas A&M University, and the slaves of these traditions – the Aggies. Every year, thousands of seemingly normal people permanently bind themselves to deeply-rooted traditions such as Aggie Football, the Corps of Cadets, and certain dorm rivalries.

Guest Aggie auto-ethnographer
But there is one tradition on the A&M campus that looms under the externals, threatening to swallow up the very reason most of us are here. The reality of this phenomenon is well known among students and faculty alike. In fact, this is a tradition that transcends cultural bounds, extending its influence beyond the scope of Kyle Field, yes, even to such far wastelands as Austin and its schools. It is a tradition adhered to by most students, though some in greater degrees than others. Some of the adherents hate it; others revel in it. I myself have been a victim of the snares of this long-standing tradition – the tradition of Procrastination.

Although Procrastination becomes an enticing habit to most who dabble in it, many have embraced their addiction, potentially enslaving themselves to a lifetime of mediocrity. Instead of searching for a way out, they turn it into an art.

This habit is usually formed early in the student’s life, beginning as early as childhood. Through repeated patterns of putting off work until the last possible moment, study habits suffer along with many other areas of life. But what does Procrastination look like for the Aggie? I can only speak for myself, but I am sure that the intricate patterns of emotion, attitude, and reasoning are quite similar for other college students who have also experienced this well-founded tradition.

To start off, there are three basic subcultures that comprise the greater academic body of Aggie society – the Over-Ambitious, the Passers, and the Irreparably Lazy. Not all students fit into one of these categories, but the vast majority do.

There's more than just Procrastination as an Aggie tradition.
The Over-Ambitious never procrastinate unless forced to by a conflict between equally-weighted assignments. This situation commonly throws them into a kind of despair, making them irritable, antisocial, and seclusive. For these students, the greatest sin is to compromise their 4.0 grade point average. Some of them will even impose this conviction on the less studious, saying condescending things when they find out their friend still hasn't bought books in the fourth week of class, for example. (Not all diligent students fit into this category. Some exercise grace and humility in the midst of academic success).

On the other end of the spectrum, the Irreparably Lazy does no real work. He does not even procrastinate. He puts off work indefinitely and inevitably fails out of college. Again, there are exceptions, such as the genius who does no work but still excels; or the ‘F’ student who receives an ‘A’ through a glitch in the records.

These students may dabble in Procrastination in one way or another, but this essay is primarily concerned with a third type of student. This is the one who perseveres through most of his classes, sometimes pulling the minimum ‘D’, but usually championing a ‘B’ or a ‘C’. He is usually involved in some form of social organization that competes for his study time, and always wins. This is the Passer.

My tutelage in the art of Procrastination began in Junior High. I soon discovered that tardiness, apathy, and forgetfulness were acceptable as long as I had a good report card to show for it. In high school, particularly in my English writing classes, I further developed my skill at manipulating the teacher in order to maximize my non-work. My classmates and I developed immense pride in the fact that we could find a loophole in any assignment, give the teacher so much grief that she conceded ground, and still come out with low ‘A’s.

The first few weeks of college brought with it a harsh realization that my skill at selective laziness needed reevaluation. But instead of realizing my wicked pride, and asking God to give me the discipline and diligence that he wants, I determined all the more to refine my skills in the Art of Procrastination. I learned how to discern what homework was easier left undone. I perfected the stresses of cramming two hours before a test (or learning not to even bother). I learned how to fool myself into thinking that my priorities do not allow for studying right now. Once the priorities were set, I usually ignored all of them and instead did something more fun. I joined the multitudes who are really organized for the first day of class, reward themselves with a three week “rest” period, and then get hopelessly behind before the first barrage of tests. I became a Passer.

As a Passer, I was exposed to an unspoken system of checks and balances, composed of the Over-Ambitious and the Irreparably Lazy. I was confined to the middle majority by the clear limits of Excellence on one side and Failure on the other. I justified my idleness by comparing myself to the vast sea of other second-rate students. In some ways, college culture could be likened to an “honor-shame” society, but American students are usually not motivated by familial honor as many international students are. Instead, they are driven into the mediocre middle by a fear of the extremes. No student envies the shame a classmate feels when he is announced as the curve-breaker on a difficult test. Many a student would be embarrassed if he were seen as an avid reader who is genuinely interested in his classes. Equally shameful, though, is to be the only failing grade in the whole class. Anyone would say that they want to excel, but in practice, they are limited by a fear of leaving the status quo.

As one who has actively participated in the tradition of Procrastination, I will illustrate the actions of a typical study period and the rationale behind them. As previously mentioned, a Passer is likely to feel competent and organized during the first week of class. After all, the only thing to keep track of is the syllabus. This leads to a false hope that this semester will be the easiest yet, and thus elicits a hearty resolution to study hard this semester. With his sense of accomplishment at an all-time high, the Passer rewards himself with a two or three week rest period. I do not know from what he rests, but he rests nonetheless. He skips the lectures that he deems “unimportant” and decides instead to teach himself. All he needs to do is look at the syllabus and study the assigned readings. He thinks a lot about this revolutionary concept, but never actually carries it out. Once test time begins to loom in the near future, he shifts his mental priorities from eventually learning the material to eventually cramming for the test. But even this will not begin until the night before.

Just before bed-time, he will take out his notes, read the first line, and then decide to clean his room. After all, he still has not fully unpacked from move-in. Three hours later, when his room is spotless, he cleans the dishes and does some laundry. Test time is the cleanest time for a dorm or college apartment. After settling back down to study, the Passer will study the syllabus thoroughly, determining what grades are necessary for future tests and papers in order to put forth minimal effort on this one. Satisfied with his studious efforts, he retires to bed with the intention of waking up early to study hard. This early rise rarely happens, and the test is left unprepared for. This way of life is a trap. It covers up stress for a little bit, but magnifies it at the end.

Should this tradition be done away with? Yes, it should be. But sadly, an art such as Procrastination is not easily uprooted from the very lifestyle and attitude of a majority. In our individualistic culture, dramatic change from laziness to diligence will only happen on an individual level. The fear of alienation from the majority must be overcome, and we must learn to appreciate what we have in education.

Note from Karen, Quirky Cultivator:
My son's essay, above, was due at 5 p.m. on a school day. The professor did not put up with any tardiness. My son printed out the essay and ran at full speed to the professor's office. He was out of breath when he screeched to a halt at the assistant's desk. He was a minute late, and the assistant reminded him of the professor's no-tolerance policy. My son frantically looked around for a clock that said 5:00, and there was one. Loophole found; procrastination wins again.

Leave a comment and let me know if you have ever been a Procrastinator (I love that capital P on an uncommon noun.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Just look at this rock!

Wow! That's a great looking ring!
I've always liked the look of a solitaire,
and this cubic zirconia was only $15.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Now hold it

Useful and safer for my klutzy ways, this storage case has already saved my knuckles. I found this lidded storage thing online in which to store my food processor blades and other sharp parts of my Cuisinart. Now wait a minute. I seem to be missing a blade and a disc. Fabulous.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Candidates were a strapping lot

By Karen Nace

I had lined up 10 candidates for the job. They sat quietly and when approached, showed their best advantages.

Several sturdy, upright characters promised to handle whatever life might dish out.

Others snapped to attention, displaying impressive organizational skills. They seemed to have their lives compartmentalized quite nicely. Orderly yet set in their ways, maybe they took themselves too seriously.

Two applicants were reticent but did finally open up to show great depth of character. They seemed easy enough to get along with, though I was afraid their refined manners might not hold up in tough situations.

Undecided yet determined, I took it to the next level.

If they really wanted the job, they’d have to spill their guts.

They all complied. Three lost the stuffing of pomposity. A few had passed themselves off as sturdier than they really were. One had multiple personalities. It was a tough test.

Unconventional, yes. But it was this realistic approach that helped me make up my mind.

I had entered the department store on a quest. I was leaving with the perfect handbag.

I’ll admit I might have been a little over the top. Not too many shoppers take 10 purses aside to inspect, unstuff then conscientiously restuff. For an hour.

But I was one satisfied customer who had shopped locally.

My purse has been in constant use since July. It has all the right qualities. It sits up on its own. There’s no annoying zippered divider. It closes with a magnetic snap. It matches my clothing, since I wear nothing but black and white (slight exaggeration, but what a way to build a wardrobe).

Whatever I chunk into my purse sinks right to the bottom, where it belongs.

The other day, my shoulder and neck were beginning to stiffen up. It was time to clean out my purse.

An investigation conducted for this column revealed shocking disorder.

I pulled out Caladryl and lotion bottles, a reporter’s notebook and digital camera. Change had jingled its way to the bottom, making it difficult to listen for my keys. My cell phone had fallen out of its little pouch and Bic pens were making calls to Alaska.

Various cosmetics, shockingly, had not been returned to their proper zippered compartment. A quart water bottle and four tubes of lip balm had the run of the place. A wad of papers, receipts and sticky notes were making life difficult. I couldn’t find my wallet or glasses.

Once I got organized, I stretched out my shoulder and sighed in relief. All clear for another day.

This column was originally published on 3/23/05 in The Facts newpaper, Clute, Texas

Friday, September 18, 2015

Stretching myself

My yoga mat becoming one with the living room decor. 
So, do you think I can get a yoga body* if I do yoga one hour a day for a whole year? Plus eat a healthy diet and walk 3 miles a day?

That is my hope that I am going to work toward. (Inner journalist/editor: I mean, toward which I am going to work.)

In the past, yoga has been really good for me in terms of balance and flexibility. I wonder if this free spirit, being me, can buckle down to anything that has to do with self-discipline. Come along with me as I learn. And please keep me accountable.
* A yoga body, to my way of thinking, is long (already have that) and lean (meaning I have to get rid of this gut.) Also muscular, strong, flexible, non-flabby ...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Scary thing on skylight

Is it Halloween yet? Anybody know what this is? Post a comment. Don't be scared. On another note, you may be able to detect the 40-foot ham radio tower. Much, much about that later.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Planting greens in the fall

Turnip, collard and mustard greens are my favorite cool-weather crop, although I've always wondered why they weren't more prolific like in our friends' garden. Well, duh to me, greens need more cool weather, so this year I'll plant them in September, as suggested by my county's Master Gardeners (zone 9). Planting in February does not allow enough cool weather for a good crop.

Friday, September 11, 2015

A quaint post office

I thought I'd post this while there are such things as post offices.
Dutzow's post office, like the small town it serves, is a charmer.

Dutzow is situated along the Katy Trail in the wine country of Missouri. One of the oldest German communities in Missouri, Dutzow is named for an estate in Germany along the Baltic Sea.

My husband and I went through Dutzow on the way to my niece's wedding, where the reception was out of this world. Kudos to Louis P. Balducci Vineyards in Augusta, Mo. Oh, and that's my sister's winery. Balducci's is definitely worth a visit. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Welcome to Weather Nerdsville

I'll admit right here on Quirky Cultivator that my husband and I have a nifty little weather station that transmits data from the top of a 15-foot pole. 

A few months ago I had a day of great drama as I monitored 5.84 inches of badly needed rain via a nerdly home weather station. I am willing to admit that my husband and I like to know exact measures of rainfall, temperature, humidity, dewpoint, barometric pressure (whatever that is), wind and other weather data vital to everyday life.

Sample text messages from today:
Husband: Boy is it raining down there!! Here too. Could barely see to drive to work!!!
Me: Like crazy. 4.3 inches since midnight!!! This is crazy!
Me: 5 in.
Me: Topped out at 5.84
Husband: 5.84 since midnight??? Wow!!!
Me: Indeed. Just suckered tomatoes and sprinkled diatomaceous earth. We got almost 6 in. of rain this morn.
Husband: Gee! That will help our rainfall deficit!! I bet ur garden really likes it. Also bet the gutters were really gutting!!!
Me: And the trenches were trenching. No patio flooding so good work on those trenches!

... and so on and so forth, with drastic overuse of exclamation points. What can I say? We're weather nerds.

Are you a weather nerd? Weather Channel addict? Please leave me a comment below!!!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Creative kids were worth the mess

My children had no trouble making their own fun. Likewise, both of my kids' children like to entertain themselves with books and stuffed animals, coloring and painting, and all manner of merry mess-making that is all to their creative good.

By Karen Nace

My children grew up in House of Creativity, but it wasn't a pretty sight. Most of the time it was just a great big mess.

A sturdy old coffee table -- left over from our rent-to-own furniture days, was the perfect height. My two preschool kids would sit on the floor and use that table as a base for whatever came into their heads to create.

They colored, made up games and used a lot of glue sticks. There may have been Elmer's glue involved, too.

The floor was a constant mess. Construction paper ended up in the smallest pieces possible.

To the craft mess they brought all manner of puzzles, building blocks and books. They made castles and Hot Wheels tracks. They put chairs together for magical sheet-tents. They ran around in their Batman capes. They got really muddy outside.

My house was a swirl of toys, paper and safety scissors. Every day the same tornado touched down.

But it's my children's creations that fill my memory and my scrapbooks. I think they learned to entertain themselves, think for themselves, express themselves.

Having sold the TV for the purpose of inspiring creativity, we were a one-income family going against the flow. It wasn't the easy way, but it was best for us.

Now as college students, my son and daughter wear their own individuality with confidence. And yes, they're creative. Maybe someday they'll have children who will live in their own House of Creativity.

This column was originally published in 2006 in The Facts newspaper, Clute, Texas.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Ever been to La King's in Galveston?

Here the Taffy Maker Man sends a long slug of taffy through one of the machines that will pull, cut or wrap it like magic. If you stand there long enough, he will toss you a piece of taffy.

La King's Confectionery is one of the places we always stop when we spend a Sunday afternoon in Galveston. There's an old-fashioned soda fountain and tons of old-time candy displayed behind glass-fronted antique counters. There's a lot more to La King's, but the taffy and ice cream sodas are my favorites.

I remember pulling taffy as a kid. My mother would pair us up and have us pull the sticky stuff apart, then come together, then pull apart. I'm sure we were enthused at first but then started complaining that a) this is sticky, b) this is hard, c) this is taking too long. Regardless, we had to keep going. When the taffy was of a looser, airier consistency than when we started, Mom would get it from us, cut it into squares and wrap it in cute little squares of waxed paper. 

Has anybody else pulled taffy? Leave me a comment below.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sweet potatoes are taking over

I took it on faith that my sweet potatoes would vine out and spread wide. Now my faith has become sight. I'm having to fold my sweet potato vines back over themselves just to have room to walk in my garden. And to think that they started out so well-behaved when they were children.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Friends of the scarecrow

My late father-in-law told me that the scarecrow in his garden scared him more than it scared the birds. For that reason (ha), I don't have a scarecrow, but I do have an angry-looking fake owl and slithery-looking rubber snakes. These are purported to scare away animals and birds, but I'm not buying it. Squirrels avoid the owl's stare and enjoy a smorgasbord any time they like in my garden. Maybe they know that owls aren't really out in the daytime. And come on, who has ever seen snakes in neon colors?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Can you identify?

Some disease or insect is ruining my green bean leaves. If you know what this is, please leave a comment. The right-hand leaf is shown from the underside, and the veins are brownish/rust colored. The left-hand leaf is brown and kind of curled up at the edge.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How to punish potted plants that do not produce

Off with their heads, and hope they'll come back out from the stump. They usually do return thicker and stronger.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Delicious, simple and fresh

This is my version of bruschetta, an ages-old Italian appetizer. Unlike the classic, I don't bake or broil my bruschetta. 
You just can't do better than crackers (or toasted french bread) topped with fresh mozzarella and fresh tomatoes and basil from your garden. Be sure to dry off the tomatoes or the crackers/bread will be soggy.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

How to make a gathering apron

Every day in the garden is like a treasure hunt, and I usually come in the house with more treasures than I expected. To help with the burgeoning harvest, I came up with this gathering apron that burgeons right along with the veggies. It ties around the waist and hangs down to about mid-thigh.

My gathering apron is 21 inches across, with 23-inch ties. The pouch itself is 8 inches deep, with a 5-inch back piece so the harvest doesn't tip over forward.

This is the back of the gathering apron. I'm sorry
this is not an actual pattern, but if you're somewhat
experienced at sewing, you'll be able to piece it
together. Sorry to be so bohemian. Drives people crazy.

As you add ribbon and seams to the apron, you will naturally be strengthening it. Be sure to use a heavy-duty needle and sew an "X" inside a square where the seams and ribbon come together.

If you zoom in I think you'll understand what I mean about reinforcing as you go.

Happy harvesting! I hope this fuzzy tutorial
will inspire you to make your own version.

Supplies (all from Hobby Lobby)
Heavy canvas-like material
(the color is actually called Garden Soil)
Cute 1-inch-wide ribbon
Cute 1.5-inch wide ribbon
Brown thread
Heavy-duty needle
Oh, sewing machine

Let me know how it goes! Leave a comment below.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Follow-up: Freezing whole tomatoes

A while back, I blogged about whether unblanched tomatoes would do well frozen. Well, now I know: They're easy and great! Plus I saved a lot of time and effort before freezing them.
I just ran water over the tomatoes and since they were frozen and my tap water was warmer, the skins just slid right off. Then I ran them under water again in order to get my fingers into the spaces and clean out the juice and seeds, resulting in thicker sauce.

After plopping the tomatoes into the cooked meaty spaghetti sauce, I broke them up a little with my wooden spoon and cooked the mixture 10 or 15 minutes more. Really good. I highly recommend this method!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lantana vs. Mexican petunia

My summer garden is in full bloom, and two of my favorites are lantana and Mexican petunia. They're both on my list of Plants That Take Over the World, and they're trying to edge each other out. I'm pretty sure the lantana will win. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How to make great tomato juice

If you have a whole lot of tomatoes on your countertop, like I did, why not try making tomato juice? It's even better than V8 juice, though it's more like a V3. This recipe is for freezing. I don't know how to can. For some reason, this tomato juice tastes better when it's a little warm. But keep it in the fridge or freezer.
You will be using 3 pounds of really ripe tomatoes -- those are the juiciest. But not over-ripe. I got a good recipe from the internet then made adjustments. Does that mean it's my recipe now?
Tomato juice recipe
3 pounds very ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (you don't need to core or skin the tomatoes)
1.25 cups chopped celery with leaves
1.25 cups chopped carrots
1/3 cup onion
1/2 cup fresh basil
1 tsp salt

Put all ingredients in a large, non-aluminum stock pot. You don't need to add any water. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until mixture has become soupy, at least 30 minutes. I used a potato masher toward the end just for the satisfaction of squishing soggy vegetables. Once all the tomatoes are as soupy as they're going to be, force the mixture through a food mill (you could use a sieve but that's a lot more work). Don't forget to put a bowl underneath the food mill. Put the mixture through progressively smaller-holed discs in the food mill until it's a nice tomato juice. Pour into jars, drink some, make your spouse sample some, put some in the fridge for tomorrow and the rest in the freezer. Makes about 6 cups of juice.
To your rough-chopped tomatoes, add your celery, onion and carrots.
Once the veggies are communing nicely with the tomatoes, add your fresh basil. I think basil makes the tomato juice.
Let the mixture cook down until it is very soupy. Your luscious tomato juice is ready to be filtered through the food mill.
This is the food mill after I forced the veggies through the large-holed disc and before I changed it out to the middle-holed disc.

Place the food mill over a large enough bowl and carefully pour the mixture into the food mill. You will turn the mill handle to press the juice out of your ingredients and into the bowl. The food mill has three discs. Start with the large-holed disc, then pour the juice back through the middle-holed disc, then pour it back through the small-holed disc twice. This gives you a nice, smooth tomato juice. For catching the juice, you can alternate between the bowl (as seen above) and the stock pot, if you can decipher what I mean.
Since I was freezing the tomato juice, I could use any jars that were clean and undamaged. If I were actually canning, that would be a different story, and I would refer you to a canning cook book.

Do you have a different way to make tomato juice? Leave me a comment below!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

How to grill corn

One day, I decided to try grilling some
fresh corn. Being the skeptical sort, I had researched
it to death several years ago but had never tried it.
Well, it turned out tender and delicious! Not dry
like I thought it would be. Read on for how I did it.
Take off the husks and let the cobs soak in water for about an hour. This does not have to be an exact science.
Use a sheet of heavy-duty foil for each cob. Pour
a little olive oil on the foil and roll the cob in the oil.
Wrap them up tightly. This is what they'll look like.
Attractive, yes. I grilled them on indirect heat,
about 350 degrees. Indirect heat means it's not over
direct heat. Yeah. It took about 20 minutes, I think.
Just use long tongs to see if the kernels
feel tender. And be careful when you
open up the foil. Those babies are hot!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How to make the best spaghetti sauce

There's nothing like homemade spaghetti sauce that has been simmering on the stove all day. It's thick and rich and delicious. Please note that my spaghetti sauce was for the freezer. If you're planning to can your spaghetti sauce, you'll have to go through a certain process to make your sauce safe to eat.

First I blanched my fresh tomatoes. Here's how I made last summer's blanched tomatoes into a year's supply of spaghetti sauce:
After blanching the tomatoes, run the tomatoes
under cold water, washing out the seeds. I thought
I was really using a lot of tomatoes (18-20). But
all those tomatoes really only made the equivalent of a
28-ounce can of diced/crushed tomatoes.
Consequently, I had to run to the grocery store
to get cans and cans of tomato sauce, tomato paste
and diced tomatoes. Plus my hand-held can opener
bit the dust, so I had to make a separate trip
to buy a new one. Plus I decided that I might
as well get a cheapo electric can opener, which
kept me from spraining my wrist opening
all those cans with the hand-held opener
This is where you use your family's secret recipe. Cover and let simmer.

Mmmm, thick and rich

My recipe made a LOT of spaghetti sauce to freeze.
But then I did quadruple the recipe. I thought, might as well
make a lot. It's not much more work than cooking a single recipe.
After filling freezer jars with sauce, don't forget to label them.
Otherwise, what you think you'll always remember will become
the latest Mystery Food. I speak from personal experience.

If you would like this delicious recipe,
please comment in the form at the very bottom of this page.