Tough Times and Pea Soup? Of course!

I meant to get this written in May but as usual time escaped me. Those who know me can probably attest to my unique filing system. The good thing is that while I always put things in a safe place that is never too be remembered I often run across unexpected items.

Like this picture of a very young mother with her toddler and new baby (it’s from a few years back).mom 1960

The picture belies the challenges faced by this young mom and I wanted to share one story that I grew up hearing.

I was reminded of this narrative because May is both Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday. When I was just six months old my parents adventurously packed up all their belongings and left the then depressed area of New England hoping to find a better life in the brand new state of Alaska. Faithful readers will remember that last year our family made the drive over the AlCan Highway. We were stocked with our satellite cell phone, CB radio, GPS and maps upon maps, a month’s supply of food and every supply we could imagine needing for our trip. We also knew what was waiting for us at the other end. My parents did not have that luxury (and remember this was in the pre-disposable diaper days so Mom was not like but was a Pioneer Woman washing clothes and diapers out at the end of each day…) I can’t imagine their strength or tenacity.

Still, the trip is a story for another day, I promise to press Mom for details. Today’s tale relates events that happened after they arrived in Anchorage. My machinist father found work with the Civil Service, a good job that would allow them to save and buy land for a future home. But, it came with a caveat. The job was in the Aleutian Islands…far, far away from the city. Mom and I stayed in our little travel trailer, family and friends all thousands of miles back in New Hampshire.

The arrangement probably would have worked pretty well except for a snafu by the government (some things never change). Dad’s paycheck didn’t arrive. Pretty soon Mom had used up the savings and we’d eaten all our food. What’s a mom with a baby in the middle of nowhere to do?

Well, fortunately, the new neighbors learned of our plight and like the pioneers of old shared with us. According to Mom, the one thing they had lots of was…

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Dried peas. Yes, a simple but nutritious food that made a filling soup and the dried peas stored well. I don’t know how many meals we had before Dad finally got the word that his paycheck was in limbo and managed to get money sent home. Was it a week? Two? Longer? But, more importantly, how many meals of pea soup could you manage? Would you have given up and gone back home to a more familiar and comfortable place? How tough are you?

As Gregory Peck famously said, “Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.” Today the events are hard to imagine and may even be unbelievable but they are true and as I think about loved ones who are facing enormously challenging times I am reminded of this story. I am reminded of my mom who didn’t give up and went on to live another twenty years in an area that was so wild with moose and bear that she had to keep her .357 always within reach. It was a far cry from the comfortable New England town she grew up in.

Are you going through some tough times? I know Mom is not the only tough person I know. I bet you can outlast the challenges too.

P.S. The picture above is my mom, I’m the cute toddler and my sister is the baby and …

P.P.S. I still like pea soup 🙂

Curried Sweet Potato Soup–a new recipe

Every day around four in the afternoon Matthew starts roaming the kitchen looking to see what is on the menu for dinner. It makes sense then to include him in the preparation and soups are something he is likes to help make. This is a good recipe to have kids help with. 100_2380

Yesterday we forayed outside our normal routine and tried a new soup: curried sweet potato. The soup turned out so delicious I’m sharing it with you.

The idea of curry, especially to my meat and potatoes husband, was a little scary. Some people have warned us that curried foods were hot and spicy. But we are brave souls and there’s always McDonald’s just down the road if the soup was too inedible.

What prompted me to make the soup was that I discovered in our local Sprouts grocery store, a whole shelf of bulk spices. I’ve been shopping there for years and never seen it but I’m sure it’s not new. Anyway, I was able to measure out just enough of the spices and not buy whole bottles that could potentially be tossed if we didn’t like them. Here is the recipe from which I based our soup: Curried Sweet Potato Soup.

This soup is naturally gluten free and can be dairy free if you use just oil for the sauteing and a milk substitute. (If you want to cut down on the fat, don’t use so much :), you can also find light coconut milk at the Asian market or in larger grocery stores. You’re smart, you know what to do.) I used large yams in the recipe and it made enough soup for six…and that’s at two bowls apiece for the boys.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large sweet potatoes (or yams)
  • 2 Tbsp butter or margarine
  • 2 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 brown onions, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp of garam masala
  • 1 tsp of curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cans of chicken or vegetable stock (I used low salt)
  • 1 lb silken tofu firm cut into chunks
  • 1 cup of coconut milk or regular milk

Things I did different from the original recipe:

·         I have since read several recipes and they all say use sweet potatoes not yams. I can’t tell the difference and yams were on sale so that’s what we used. I also read that you are supposed to roast the sweet potatoes ‘to caramelize and enhance the flavor, well maybe… but I just cut them into big chunks and boiled them. Peel after they are cooked-it’s lots easier.

·         I didn’t use whole celery stalks; I just cut the leafy tops off a bunch and chopped them up. Celery stalks were eaten later, with peanut butter…

·         One thing I did not try but am sure would taste good is some bell peppers.

·         I have seen recipes that talk about choosing a spicy or mild curry. What I found at Sprouts just said curry powder. But, and this may be important…I neglected to write curry and garam masala on the bags so when it came time to make I took a guess that the curry powder was the more yellow one and the brownish one was garam masala. Since you use a tablespoon of one it might make a difference in the spiciness. The original recipe says that if you can’t find the garam masala you can just add more curry powder—just taste it before you go to crazy.

·         I also added tofu for protein. Husband did not know it was there until I told him. I think it adds a nice smoothness to the soup.

·         We did not use coconut milk. We drink almond/coconut milk so I just used this…I think you could add regular milk with the same effect. If your soup is too thick add a little more milk or add some water.

Preparation:

  • Slice the sweet potato into large pieces. Boil in water until tender. Let cool, then peel.
  • Cut up the onion, garlic and celery. Saute in your large cooking pot in margarine and olive oil until tender.
  • Add spices and heat through (if you think it might be too spicy add half and then taste-ours was not at all hot). Add your cut up tofu now. Remove from heat and let the tofu absorb some flavor for twenty minutes or so.
  • Cut up the sweet potatoes and add to your sauce pan, stirring to coat.
  • Add stock, bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are very soft.
  • Use your hand masher and beaters or blender to blend until smooth. (I used a hand blender with great results.)
  • Add milk and stir to combine. Heat through.
  • Ladle into bowls. Add a dollop of sour cream if desired and serve with garlic toast.

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Trust me. You will like this.

Paring Down Christmas

christmas tree 11013I meant to share this post after Christmas last year but as soon as the decorations were down I forgot. Today’s post is not about remembering the real meaning of Christmas. There are plenty of others who will write about that. Instead, today I want to tell you how our family lowered the cost and reduced the stress of Christmas.

Are your holiday credit charges now coming due? Maybe you’ll want to put some of these ideas next year to work in your family.

A few years ago after we all opened ALL our packages and began the clean up my mom asked me what everyone had gotten. It was then I realized everyone had gotten so much stuff that nothing really stood out. And it’s no wonder. Like many of you we have gotten used to just picking up things the kids or family needs during the year so by the time Christmas rolls around they really don’t have one particular wish. And because they don’t want one specific thing we made up by just buying all sorts of stuff.

It’s a good thing; a real first world problem, but we parents often are pulled into feeling that we need to buy more and more–just because.

So after Mom and I talked about it I decided our family most likely didn’t need all the stuff we got and most likely we didn’t need to spend all that money.

It all kind of fell into place when talking to the poor college student daughter, she was trying to figure out what to buy for different members of the family. At our next family gathering I shared my revelation and announced that we would pick a maximum dollar amount per person and everyone had to agree to stick to it. Our family picked $20…for no other reason than it was a good round number. To get the family more enthused I explained I would be judging their gifts for cleverness and there would be prizes.

Just a few presents: Photo calendar from Grandma along with popcorn for Matthew, a couple lottery tickets for everyone, a small log representing a load of split wood for the folks, and some crocheted pot holders made by the poor college student.

Just a few presents: Photo calendar made by Grandma, popcorn for Matthew, a couple lottery tickets for everyone, a small log representing a load of split wood for the folks, and some pot holders hand crocheted by the poor college student.

I was surprised at the family reaction. What would have been just an ordinary Christmas suddenly turned into a challenge. We had to really think about what the other person would want or could use. Some in the family decided to make gifts. The poor college student embroidered Christmas designs on towels. Bob made a cookie sheet holder for the cupboard. Some choose to buy food items, the kind that you might want but just put back on the shelf because it costs more than you think you should pay for such a product. Grandma got Bob a giant jar of peanut butter while I got the college student a case of mac & cheese. We put the dehydrator to good use and Grandma got a box of dried vegetables ready to throw in her famous soup. To no one’s surprise Matthew received hero themed presents including coloring books and colored pencils. But even better, Matthew was able to be part of the planning as he crushed a box of soda cans for Grandpa’s recycling project.

Do note that thinking of these ideas might take more time then just buying off the shelf at your local megamart. We started in November the first year and now enjoying having the whole year to plan and shop with these limitations in mind.

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My most useful present? According to the family it is a new keyboard with actual letters…

Opening the gifts was fun for all. We laughed at our own cleverness and talked about why we were inspired to give each present. Prizes were awarded for most unique, most homemade, most regifting, etc. I don’t remember what was handed out for prizes but it seems like they were coupons for coffee at McDonalds and the like… something small but fun and usable. Now as the January bills roll around we’re not having to re-budget and eat beans the rest of the month. We’ve discovered a meaningful and fun Christmas does not have to be an extravagant Christmas.

If you decide to try this be sure to let me know how it works for your family. I bet you’ll be as surprised as we were at how much fun it can be.

It’s a Conundrum

Sorry I haven’t written in a few weeks. Had you stopped by you would have found me sitting her wallowing in my own self-pity. No, nothing is wrong with me. It’s just sometimes the reality of Matthew’s limits come to the surface and I sit around feeling sorry for myself.

Matthew and his pal Smokey with the beautiful red rocks of Sedona in the reflection.

Matthew and his pal Smokey with the beautiful red rocks of Sedona in the reflection.

For those who haven’t met Matthew I’ll share just some of his challenges. He is non-verbal which doesn’t mean he is quiet, instead it means he talks a bit, most with prompting, and makes sounds (some which are obvious—like right now as he sees the Lone Ranger come into view and he cackles with excitement). He can say NO to most anything and left to his druthers would probably never go anywhere because this is his stock answer. Matthew also needs help with everyday things; some he can do independently though not to a ‘mom approved’ standard, like brushing his teeth. Even though he does not talk he wants to be part of all conversations using tools like his TV guide to pull you into saying something for him.

Superhero map reader.

Superhero map reader.

That said we aren’t complaining. We live a good life. He and I are together each day with our schedule of events and activities. Matthew’s knows what time it is and plans for his lunch and later waits outside for Dad to show up. Our routine is not all that exciting but we manage to keep the house in order, care for the pets, visit friends, shop, etc. Contrary to popular opinion, and Matthew’s personal preference, we don’t spend all day sitting around watching TV eating bonbons.

Working on those pesky weeds.

Weed eliminator.

The Department of Developmental Disabilities offers assistance for disabled adults.  Matthew qualifies for specific programs because he was a disabled child who became an adult; adults who become disabled are covered differently.

We parents, as guardians, can choose to live without government aid. My own personal preference would be to keep the government completely out of our lives but, in our case, especially after my cancer and mortality reality check, we accepted some of their programs including health insurance and some respite care. Because we receive these services the government wants to make sure we are keeping Matthew’s best interests at heart. So they come by to check on him.

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Apple picker.

And that’s where we were last week. It’s a quarterly meeting and to me seems silly but I know that sometimes those who are disabled are taken advantage of and not well cared for. It’s sad to think about but I know it happens. Anyway, the case manager assigned to Matthew has to visually lay eyes on him, speak with him and generally assess that Matthew is in good condition.

Salad eater.

Salad eater.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it’s all good and well that someone, especially an outside source, regularly checks on the well being of the weakest among us, those who are most vulnerable. And you would be right.

But.

Something seems to happen when the government gets its finger in the pie.  Sometimes the workers, well-meaning though they may be, start to think they know best. Maybe you’ve run into this. When Matthew was in school we would meet with the ‘staff’ who more often than not appeared to be on a power play as they all sat on one side of the table opposite me, the mom, telling me what was best for my child and too often making light of or in some cases even laughing at my suggestions.

Grrrr…what a terrible flashback, I felt my claws coming out just remembering…

So back to today. These social workers who come to visit are well meaning but this year I have been getting the feeling again that they would go back to their little government cubicle and write up a plan for Matthew that their superiors would approve of.

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Log loader.

The agent this week did just that. Each visit he asks whether Matthew should be in a day program or a group home to which I respond that Matthew is quite content right where he is. But this time he wanted a specific list of what activities Matthew participated in each day. What does he do with his time? And how could he, the agent, justify to his superiors that Matthew could stay home rather than going to a day work program?

Log unloader.

Log unloader.

What? Wait a second, what kind of communistic questions are these? Since when did this person, who has met Matthew only twice, know what is best over the desire of his parents of his daily schedule?

And therein lies the rub. I grew frustrated with the agent and asked if I needed to even meet with him. But of course, I knew the answer. If I want Matthew to remain eligible for services I must accept their intrusion into our lives.

Brother.

Brother.

It’s a conundrum.

A Home for the Holidays! Thanks Operation Homefront!

This week Matthew and I were able to witness a very special event. It took place just outside of Reno which is a 12 hour drive no matter how you look at it from our house. But, it was well worth it.

In order to see the significance of our trip let me take you back three years, to Afghanistan. Army Specialist Mark was doing his usual job as gunner, manning the cannon in an Infantry Stryker tank when they hit an IED. Fortunately, no one was killed because the tank is heavily reinforced, but some were seriously injured. Specialist Mark’s injuries were severe enough that he was not able to return to his position and was sent home to recover. At the end of the deployment the rest of the unit returned to its home base and where they were rejoined by those injured. Specialist Mark resumed his position. After a short stay the Army decided they needed the additional support of this Infantry unit and once again they began training for deployment. It was during this time that Specialist Mark discovered the severity of his injuries. After a fall during night training x-rays revealed that the broken vertebrae in his back had splintered and bone fragments were pushing on his spinal cord. Surgery was done to stabilize the bone but the nerve damage could not be repaired. The orthopedic surgeons told Mark he was done in the Army. This wounded warrior had to take a medical retirement from the service.

Matthew with a real SUPERHERO!

Matthew with a real SUPERHERO his friend Mark!

Fast forward two years and now Veteran Mark has completed all the therapy and treatments as prescribed. He has no feeling in his left leg and limited in his right. Special braces help him to walk though he still needs to use a cane or a wheelchair for any distances.  It’s a difficult adjustment but he remains Army tough and as he told me he, “soldiers on.”

Mark and his wife Rochelle were just starting to think about their options for the future, sudden retirement was not part of their plans, when they learned about Operation Homefront. This non-profit organization was created following 9/11 to support the military men and women and their families. Their primary target is the unmet financial hardship of the military families particularly those who have suffered death, injury or other crisis. Charity Navigator just awarded Operation Homefront with its 4-Star rating for the seventh year. As a charity they use an impressive 94% of received contributions to help families.

Our family has been aware of Operation Homefront for years because they sponsor local 9/11 events. I regularly get emails about their fundraising opportunities for collecting back to school supplies for the children and helping families who need utility or grocery assistance. But like many, we were not familiar with their Homes on the Homefront program. The agency partners with banks (in this case Chase) and home builders to place wounded veterans into a home of their own.

Mark and Rochelle filled out the myriad of paperwork and were accepted into the program. They were able to pick the general area where they wanted to move and when a home became available they applied to become its homeowners. It was an exciting day when they learned they were chosen. The house was a bank repossession and Operation Homefront worked with Chase to assure that everything was in good working order with a fresh coat of paint before the family could move in.

Heading to their new home!

Heading to their new home!

The key ceremony happened last week. Matthew and I met up with Mark, Rochelle and their daughter Leah who were all just as excited as could be. This was their first true home. No longer would they be renters!  The family wasn’t allowed to see the house before the ceremony; they knew where it was and had been given pictures of the original inside. As we pulled up a stream of cheering welcomers from both Chase Bank and Operation Homefront came out to greet us. It was beyond thrilling as they welcomed the family and then gave the grand tour. The single story home is on a quiet cul-de-sac . The new carpet and surprise of fresh out of the box appliances gave it a brand new feel. Between Operation Homefront, Chase Bank and the VA the home will soon be made ADA compliant to accommodate Mark’s specific needs.

New homeowners being greeted by Operation Homefront and Chase Bank staff.

New homeowners being greeted by Operation Homefront and Chase Bank staff.

The rest of the week was spent helping unpack after the movers truck arrived. Matthew discovered that his friends at least feigned interest in his ever present TV Guide. He and I did a good job of pretending to be working while in reality we didn’t do very much. We did pick up Bob who flew in and was able to install Rochelle’s new dining room light as well as some minor Mr. Fix-it projects before we headed back home.

An excited family!

An excited family!

Thank you Operation Homefront and supporters. Thank you Chase Bank. Thank you Mark for your service and Rochelle for managing the homefront.

It was so fun to witness this ceremony. We are thankful that Mark and Rochelle allowed us to be part of it. We are especially thankful that men and women like Mark continue to risk everything in order that the rest of us can sleep safely at night.

And the title? I invited Rochelle and Mark to join us for the holidays…after all, it’s only a 12 hour drive… but they declined. They are eager to be Home for the Holidays.

What’s on Your TV?

As anyone who has spent more than thirty seconds around Matthew knows, he likes television. He religiously carries around his TV Guide reading and searching it until it is thread bare. In Matthew’s mind, any TV is better than no TV.

Being mom and head authority over the remote I am allowed, though grudgingly, to limit television time and to help choose what ‘we’ watch. Our family has some rules that may be unique to us and we limit viewing to family friendly shows. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find appropriate television that is not a cartoon (yes, low on my list is Sponge Bob.)

This week we were waiting at the doctor’s office and Matthew found a magazine with the new fall lineup. We don’t want to miss out on a possible good show so he and I spent an hour carefully looking through each day’s schedule. We found one new pilot that he thought might be good—something Shield; it’s about some superhero Avenger-type guys.

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The new fall lineup. Thank goodness Leroy Jethro Gibbs is still on.

One show out of an entire seven days. And for what it’s worth, he watched about twenty minutes of before handing me the remote to return to an old standby, NCIS.

But never fear, we are not without television shows to watch; including many we haven’t seen before.

That’s because we discovered some good family shows down on the religious channels. We are watching old Westerns including the High Chaparral and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman along with some really old black and white shows like Roy Rogers.  (Feminists should love the independent minded Dale Evans who has become my hero.) These shows are found on the INSP channel which, to my surprise, advertises they have been offering this kind of programming for ten years. Down on the BYU channel we have found Doc (Matthew loves Billy Ray Cyrus) and Sue Thomas, FBEye. I also discovered they have some great live action history shows that, were we still homeschooling, we would certainly schedule time for. Now that we actually watch these channels schedule we have found that many offer great family movies, including some of the old Disney specials.

One thing I personally find positive is that when we are watching these channels I don’t have to worry about being offended, or having my folks who might have joined us, be offended by the commercials.

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It is not without noting the irony of watching an old black and white television show on a new HD TV. But Matthew doesn’t care. He is happy to stand next to Roy Rogers!

Bob mentioned that we were watching some of these channels to some of the guys at work and one friend shuddered telling him that only old people watch these shows. I beg to differ. Just because a program isn’t new doesn’t mean younger people won’t find it entertaining. I know for sure if Rebecca had any free time she would be scheduling the series Christy which will be starting next month. And you certainly don’t have to be old to enjoy the BYU new series Granite Flats, a compelling mystery adventure.

Folks looking for family friendly television, who aren’t so keen on the questionable humor and often degrading conversation found in many of today’s sitcoms may find some of these older shows to be uplifting.

The shows we have been watching do not promote any specific religion but we’ve noticed most do portray a more civilized society. In the age of Honey BooBoo, it’s a refreshing change.

PS Some may wish to tell me that NCIS is a particularly violent show and I agree it’s not appropriate for young children, maybe even older children. But, as the Grail Knight said to Indiana Jones, “You must choose. Choose wisely.” Four-year-olds may impacted differently than teens. Be a parent and make good choices.

PPS… Matthew and I are on the road this week. It’s a super mission. We’ll tell you about it very soon!

A Valuable DIY Project!

This week I made a button! And it wasn’t that hard.

Well, I didn’t actually make a button; but I made a button replacement for a recliner. Maybe you have lost a button from an overstuffed chair, you too, can repair it yourself.

I tried to get a cloth covered button made for my chair after reading that any upholsterer could/would do this for a buck or so. But, at least in my area, there was no one willing to take on this simple task. After looking at the local fabric store I decided this project was not worth the $10 plus it would cost for the cover button kit. But. I did have possible makings for such a repair in my stash of stuff.

Ingredients: 1 1inch button, stiff wire, dental floss, a piece of matching fabric twice the size of the button and assorted tools, including needles, pliers, and you might need a staple gun. (You don’t have to use dental floss, you can use a very strong thread but I happen to have plenty of packages of floss just waiting for a good use.)

Some chairs come with a small swatch of matching fabric attached to the underside of the chair. Mine did not, but there were several areas where I could cut a piece that would not be visible and that’s what I did.  Look for a piece on the underside, like at a corner, or where it there are plackets, again at the back corners. 100_1932First, I pulled the wire through the button looping it through twice and then using needle-nose pliers twisting the ends round so that it was secure and no sharp ends were sticking out. I discovered that the wire needed to stick out almost 1/4 inch because of the cloth thickness. 100_1933

Then, I sewed around the button with a simple stitch and when the circle was complete I pulled the thread tight, gathering the cloth around the button and secured it.

100_1935The gathers were thicker than I anticipated so the wire is barely visible. Still, it only has to be enough to be threaded with a needle.

If you have the original button you can just reattach it starting at this point.

This next step calls for a long needle. You could buy an upholstery needle which is like eight inches long and very wicked or you could be cheap like me and use a yarn needle that you have lying around. The needle I had is about four inches long. I don’t know where it came from but before buying ask your crafty friends if they might have one. Or your mother.

I threaded the needle with three lengths of the dental floss. Make sure you use more than enough to thread all the way through the chair and back out with enough to tie off. Don’t skimp on this length…you’ll thank me later.

100_1936Thread the button onto your thread, holding on to the end and then push it into the chair. I was able to recline the chair back and fit my hand to the back without removing the backing. You might not be so lucky and have to remove the fabric then re-staple it. If you have a second pair of hands this part would be easier. Thread it through and then back out to the front and through the button again.  Holding both ends pull the the button into the fabric, tightening it so that it’s the same depth as the other buttons. Then tie it off securely. Do not be a dummy and use a granny knot or you’ll have to repeat this step.

Do not go all the way through the back material or your project will look like a doofus did it.

I was worried that I would pull the thread all the way through but there was so much fiberfill that this does not seem to be a problem. Still, if you are worried about this you could easily add a button on the inside that would hold your thread in place.  So, thread button from top through upholstery material, add simple back button and then pass needle back to front. The back button will help hold the thread in place.

And, voila! 100_1940There you have it. The chair is good as new and does not have that obvious hole. It took less than an hour and didn’t cost anything.

Now. Time for a nap in my recliner.

Ziploc Space Bag: A True Space Saver

Note: Today’s post is a product review. Nobody paid me to try this and I purchased it just as you might. As with everything in life, your experience might be different.

My little house in the mountains has limited closet space, especially when it comes to storage for blankets which we need plenty of when there’s two feet of snow on the ground. You’ve had this happen: every time I open the linen closet to find a wash cloth I have to use one hand to push the blankets back in when I shut the door. The attack of the big bulky blankets!

Like you, I’ve seen the commercials for those space bags but they always seemed to be too pricey for their use. When we took our trip last summer I picked up a pack of the generic bags to keep the pillows clean and out of the way. They were definitely cheap but they immediately lost their vacuum caps and became pierced with holes. Still, while a small consolation, they did keep the pillows clean for the trip.ziplock bags

This week I heard an ad for the “Original Space Bag” indicating they now carry the Ziploc Brand. I wondered if they might be more sturdy and zip together better. So when we were shopping at our local Big-Mart store I picked up a box. There are many assorted sizes. This box cost me $8.94 and included two big bags and one travel size.

If a person was packing small items like sweaters or easily squishable ones like pillows I think loading the bags would be very simple. But we found getting the blankets and comforters pushed in to be a two person job. On the plus side, I felt like the sides of the bag were strong enough to handle a fair amount of pushing and tugging. There is a dashed line just below the zipper on the bag and we discovered if you fill above it (as in the picture below) there may be some cussing and swearing as you struggle to close the bag. But. I was able to just push the blankets down further and then the zipper worked fairly easily.

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One electric blanket and two comforters stuffed in the bag. See the little line about four inches from the top? That is as full as it’s supposed to be.

These big bags have a vacuum hole which is a one way flap to suck all the air out. It worked just like on TV. In less than a minute the bag was shrunk to less than half its original size.

So are they worth the money? At the same store I found an 18 gallon plastic tub with lid on sale for less than $5. I know I could have packed all the blankets into two tubs for the same price. However, I couldn’t put one tub, let alone two in the tiny closet. I was able to easily stack the two bags in the space. The bags could also be stored under beds which would be a very good use of space.

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No, I did not take out anything. That’s how much it shrunk.

My experience with the generic bags proved that in this case the brand name was much better quality and worth the additional cost. There will always be pros and cons but for sure I am going to be watching for these Space Bags to be on sale.

And So???

I know. I know. Dear gentle readers, who followed us all the way up to the North Country and back, you are right to ask this very question. What happened to us? Did we just disappear? Did we melt in the heat? Well, honestly, time escaped me and until my air card required its monthly renewal I didn’t realize how much had passed.

After our return to the very HOT Valley of the Sun we had only a few days before Rebecca headed back to school. We are learning that medical school programs do not have to follow the same schedule as the regular university. Without Rebecca’s company we decided to let Bob fend for himself and Matthew and I headed up to Strawberry to work on a few projects. . . and that’s where we’ve been since.

My helper.

My helper.

You may remember we have a little place right on the side of the Mogollon Rim. It’s wonderful Ponderosa Pine country and at 6,000 feet it is always much cooler and peaceful than the metropolitan area of Phoenix. Once the monsoon season arrives it brings cooling rains most every afternoon and provides an amazing respite from the valley heat a short two hour drive away.

The monsoon brings welcome rain which is especially fun to watch from the front porch.

The monsoon brings welcome rain which is especially fun to watch from the front porch.

Anyway, there have been a number of items on my priority list begging for attention at the place. Since Matthew and I had no other commitments we thought we’d use this time to start tackling them. As we were working I remembered when last I had attempted to work on some of them. For example, I wanted to take the many sandstone rocks from the lot and build them into a stairway on part of the hill. I remember well heading out with my shovel in hand and trying to dig the dirt so that I could move the rocks around. I remember how quickly I became discouraged when I tired after chipping out what seemed like only a half shovel of dirt.

I blamed the high elevation. . . It takes time to become acclimated and be able to work at such altitudes.

I blamed the rocky soil. . .Who can shovel this hard rock filled caliche?

I blamed my age. . .After all, I was nearing that scary mid-life number.

I blamed everything but I didn’t realize the culprit. Longtime readers and my family know what it was. They know the answer. I discovered it in September four years ago. It was an insidious cancer that was so slow growing in my body that all its symptoms were able to be explained away.

Today I lecture people. I know the caregiver’s life is never her own. But there are times when we must make ourselves the priority. (And even though I had gone to the doctor I had put off getting that screening mammogram because. . . well. . . there were other things needing my attention. . .)

So there. After going through the hell of chemo and radiation therapy I came out on the other end, slightly worse for wear. I still have chemo brain and just hate when I can’t remember the _____.

Before

Before

and After.

and After.

But. Here I am and it is four years later. Matthew and I headed back to the mountains to see what we could accomplish. And this time, I’m pleased to report that I could shovel the dirt. And I could move the rocks. And we were able to trim the trees and use the weed eater—we hauled off three truck and trailer loads of brush. And we even worked on the inside of the house painting.

My rock staircase. A work in progress.

My rock staircase. A work in progress.

You may be asking when or if we will return to the valley. But I know if you are fighting the urge to turn down the air conditioner and sweating instead of sleeping at night you will understand that I am keeping the windows open and sometimes, well sometimes, the fan is just a little too cool. Ha. We’ll come back when the high temp drops under triple digits. Or. . .

100_1848. . . if Matthew’s satellite reception goes out.

And so. . . that is my report. I am happy to say we have been busy. But, never fear, I have been thinking of lots of other things to share, including a couple of product reviews and I promise to post them soon.

Things We Learned

For the new reader, our family recently returned from a lifetime adventure driving all the way from Arizona to Alaska…and back. You can read our daily trip diary if you scroll back to the beginning of June. For all you regular followers, I don’t know about you, but I’m having  withdrawals not writing every day.My mind still has things to share but generally the chore list has taken priority.

Today’s writing is a large compilation of things we learned from our trip.

The truck is cleaned out and all the clothes are washed. This week we’re returning everything borrowed so before I forget everything this is a good chance to look back at our adventure and share what we determined, discerned and stumbled upon…

  • At 9,933 miles we put on about 2,000 more than originally calculated. Since we didn’t drive in circles we must have underestimated our detours, particularly through the parks.

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    What’s the Boy Scout motto?
    Be Prepared.

  • Gas was cheapest in Arizona. We paid $3.39 in Phoenix both leaving and on the return. Where the Stewart-Cassiar Highway connects with the AlCan (in Canada they call it the Alaska Highway—everyone else calls it the AlCan) we paid the most at $1.99 Canadian per liter (I’ll let you the math, suffice it to say it was over $90 for half a tank there.)
  • We did not have a problem finding gas but… Bob was nervous about it enough to always fill the tank before it got below half full and we paid great attention to the signs about distance between stations. We did see some gas pumps out of gas. We also found that ‘gas station’ is not exactly what we know in the city; many had one or two pumps and most were the old fashioned kind where you had to pay inside, requiring the store be open to get fuel. Not all stations were open in the evening.
  • We learned that there are two types of tents and ours was the one for mild weather. The wind and rain both blew right in. Reason one to stay in a hotel.
  • We also learned that while there are RV places all along the highway, not all will take tenters and often those who will do not have bathroom facilities close to the tent areas. The National Park and Provincial Park campgrounds are very standard with toilets and access to fresh water at a cost less than $25 per night for a tent.

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    Camera in hand. Foot ready for the gas.

  • Groceries and supplies are expensive outside the big cities but there are Walmarts and chain grocery stores at regular intervals through Canada and into Alaska. With all our dietary restrictions we packed most food so only needed to buy fresh produce and meat (and even then we used cans of chicken/tuna, etc.) All the stores had an assortment of ‘non-dairy’ milk which surprised me. We had no trouble finding our almond milk.
  • Three weeks plus the weekends, from Seattle to Salt Lake, was just barely enough time to do everything but not enough time to spend with everyone. This is a hard trip to do without being retired. It would be much easier without a set schedule.
  • We learned to have our camera ready at all times because the local animals are not afraid to travel alongside the road. It was exciting to capture the grizzlies, blacks, moose, caribou and deer who just happened to be crossing just as we came along. Never have we been so close to so much wildlife.
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Salad again???

  • If you, or someone in your family, qualifies for one of the Access Passes offered by the park system take the time to fill out all the paperwork for it. Matthew’s pass allowed us to get into all the parks free and we got half off on campground fees in the US. The rangers don’t like cheaters and requested his ID at most of the entrance stations.
  • Still even if you don’t get a pass take time to visit the parks making sure if you travel during holiday weeks you reserve your spot. Teddy Roosevelt had real foresight when he began the national park program. And even if you think the road is scary, like the one at Glacier Park, take it anyway. You’ll thank me later.
  • Summers in the north are short but mosquitoes make up for it in volume. The Anchorage newspaper had an article on the shortage of mosquito repellent while we were there. We went prepared with several cans of assorted spray. The lesson we took from our experience is that life is too short to mess around. Buy the most lethal spray you can and then get some of those incense style smoky things. Oh, and it helps if you are not blood type O, apparently this is their favorite.
  • Every place we stopped at in Canada took US money. However, they charged a fee. The best deal we found was that the Walmarts took my Discover card and did not charge a foreign exchange fee. (I might have saved a buck fifty…or so by using my card.)
  • We learned that there are still many rural areas where there is no cell service…and we were there.
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    Dasher or Dancer?

    We saw an accident site and guy using his satellite phone to call for rescue help. Kind of frightening to think of being in an accident and it taking, not minutes but maybe hours, for help to arrive. But, on the plus side, we saw fellow travelers stop to render aid when needed.

  • Back to the cell phones. Bob’s Verizon phone worked where ever there was service available.  Once we crossed the Canadian border he got a message that his phone calls would cost $1.85 per minute—yikes!
  • Speaking of connectivity, when we saw lodging there was most often a sign for wi-fi. There were also signs at all the Tom Horton’s and McDonald’s advertising free internet service. My Boost aircard worked all the way to Seattle and after we reached Boise. It was not meant for the North Country. Still, we all learned we could survive off the grid without email, texting, facebook, etc.
  • Oh, Rebecca learned that while reindeer and caribou are in the same family, they are not the same. No matter, Matthew thought they looked like Santa’s helpers.
  • There were many, many miles where we had no radio service. I was outvoted on my plan to get a satellite radio so I could listen to Fox News. We had several mystery books on cds that were compelling listening and of course, we had Matthew’s very favorite Adventures in Odyssey which worked to calm him when he decided he’d had enough riding.100_1551
  • Yes, there were times when Matthew held his head in his hands and cried because he was tired of traveling. Okay, so did the rest of us. It was a long trip. What I learned from this was there were times when we needed to stop driving and do something else…even if was just to jump out of the truck and swat at mosquitoes.
  • And lastly, we learned that if you’re going on such a long adventure you really need to travel with people you like. Otherwise, it might be just a really long ride.
    Thanks for coming along with us. We loved all the comments and emails following the posts. We felt like we had a whole cloud filled with people riding along giving us incentive to share what we could see and do each day.
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Happy Trails to You!