New Roads to Follow and Trails to Blaze

My dystopian novel – The Storm (Book 1 of 2)

Life changes. It moves, it flickers, it jumps. When I started this blog on March 14th, 2010, I wanted to share my journey and my knowledge in the world of gardening, DIY, and green living.

In fact, my first post in this blog was about companion planting and my gardening plans for the coming year.

And now, nearly nine years later, I recognize that life is changing, evolving, and so I need to evolve along with it.

As I dedicate myself to writing, as I plan my future books, I am recognizing that it is time to let some things go and focus on others.

I will still garden, plant food crops, maintain and expand my herb garden, but I’m also busy with other tasks and no longer can diversify as much as I have in the past.

To that end, I have decided to stop posting in this blog and focus on providing regular updates on my writing, as well as the occasional photos of my garden or a tasty recipe, and work on my book projects. I hope to finish, edit and publish three books this year, so I’m definitely going to have my hands full of work.

Thank you for following my blog for so long. Thank you for being you.

I will be providing regular updates at my author website and also occasional updates at The Cottages. I hope to see you there!

G581: The Departure – if you enjoy sci-fi and dystopian novels, you will love this book!
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Take That, Dave Ramsey!

“Damn” Ramsey

Years ago, at a time I was struggling to maintain a good client base and bring in enough in income with my cleaning business, a cleaning client told me, “Well, I’m really sorry, but we have decided to follow Dave Ramsey’s advice and cut as many expenses out of our budget as possible, so we won’t be having you clean anymore.”

Later, as I provided a potential client with a consult I said, “I have one opening thanks to Damn Ramsey, I mean, Dave Ramsey.”

The guy laughed and ended up becoming my replacement client. But that Freudian slip stuck in my head. I’ve never liked Dave Ramsey, not one bit. I really had liked that client!

A few days ago I saw some link on Pinterest for a list of money-saving tips by Dave Ramsey and decided to check it out. I can’t find the exact link right now, sorry, but I was pleasantly surprised to see I was doing most of what he suggested, and then some.

Instead of an envelope system, I happen to use about 12 different bank accounts, where I park funds for specific needs.

BIG Debt Reduction

The big news, however, is the exciting news about debt reduction. I keep a spreadsheet in Excel that has many different worksheets within it. Multiple budgets (our current one, plus future budgets once we pay off certain debts), as well as savings and debt forecasting.

I updated the Current Debt worksheet and was excited to see that we have managed to reduce our overall debt this year by: $30,725.32

Holy Toledo! That’s a crazy number! This month was the biggest yet. I chose to pay off the back taxes we owed to the state of Missouri instead of making payments on them for another 3-4 months. I just wanted them done and not causing any problems for us as we gear up for 2019 – the year of renovations!

The plan is to obtain a short five-year loan to renovate both of our cottage properties from top to bottom and have them in active service by the end of the summer as Airbnb locations. I’ve already received a pre-approval, and the last paperwork is being completed over Christmas. By late January, we hope to see workers handling first Cottage East and then Cottage West. As each project is completed, I will then list it on Airbnb and VRBO and we will finally see our hard work and scrimping and saving pay off as a steady stream of guests take advantage of our properties.

In five years, we will be almost 100% debt-free and the properties will be earning income for decades to come.

It’s an exciting thought and one we have worked hard on for a very long time to see happen.

The Big Picture and Hopes for 2019 and Beyond

When I say that I have worked hard in my life, I hope you will understand that 1) I’ve worked really hard and 2) Hard work isn’t a bad thing. Cleaning houses isn’t a walk in the park, but heck, it could be worse. I could be mucking out sewers or digging coal or working in a chicken processing plant. As the second half of my 48th year begins, I have been thinking a great deal about what I want to see for the second half of my life.

Frankly, my hopes and dreams have really been working overtime as other opportunities for my husband have sailed in to roost and we wait to see how they shake out.

I was thinking about what my ideal day would be like and I’ll be honest here…I have NO idea what my ideal day is like because it’s been so long of just getting by, just feeding the fire and moving forward and working on all of the little cogs and belts and switches that I’ve forgotten where it was all heading towards.

So I sat down and listed it all out. What I want for 2019 and beyond. I might not get it, not all of it at least. And that’s okay. I’ve got my big girl panties on and I’ve weathered more than my fair share of disappointments in my life. But I figured it would be nice to write it all down and give it some semblance of reality, or possibility.

  1. I want to be successful at my writing – What the hell does that even mean?! For now it is the goal of earning more than I spend, preferably enough “more” that I can stop (drum roll please)…
  2. I want to stop cleaning houses – Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my clients. They are some of the neatest people I know. I love seeing their homes change and grow and new furniture, rugs, or even new pets roll in. I love getting the best decorating ideas from them. Cleaning houses is actually very satisfying. Seeing how it looks after I’m done, makes me feel good about myself and I know my work is appreciated. I would just rather write instead.
  3. I want to go to Europe – Okay so yes, it was really hard to see my 12-year-old go off without me. Especially considering I have wanted to visit Pompeii since I was her age. That I would dearly LOVE to visit castles and imagine what life was like in medieval Europe. It wasn’t any easier to have my mom say in her deprecating way, “Well, you keep collecting reasons not to go.” Yes, like making that super cool kid she took with her to Europe. [Grumble, grumble, grumble] In any case, I realized if I’m going to have a sore ass about it then it is high time I headed that way. This goal isn’t one for 2019, it actually has a very time-sensitive date of May 17th, 2020 – the day of my 50th birthday. So yes, that hope and dream is back on the table, even if it means only going for two weeks. Even if it means GOING BY MYSELF.
  4. I want to have a significant amount of real estate income to weather most financial storms – In other words, Cottage East and Cottage West in some kind of rental capacity, continuing to provide us with income for the rest of our lives. The loan I mentioned above should make that happen, and by late summer if not sooner. That’s super-exciting! Between getting them in action and eliminating our debt, I hope to see us in a position where our investments continue to make us money, month in and month out, very soon. A while back a FB post was circulating, asking what folks would do if they won a million dollars. I said that I would pay for the renovations to the two cottages, put them in action as Airbnbs and divide the rest of the money between savings and improvements on my own house and take a trip to Europe. Someone actually tried to shame me, inferring that my dreams were somehow bad because I couldn’t just be happy with ONE house, I had to have THREE. They got an earful as I explained that I cleaned toilets for a living AND was determined to make our neighborhood a better place by improving the properties. This isn’t greed, folks, it’s an honest business idea, and it’s a good one.

Right now, those are my main goals and wants. I hope to see them unfold over the next 18 months. And if they don’t, if the winds of fate take a sharp left, well, I’ll pick myself up and try again.

Or as this book I just bought at Barnes and Noble says…


Sorry, WordPress is being an asshole and will not let me show it upright. Just turn your head to the left, you’ll get the idea.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Posted in AirBnB, Challenges, Financial Advice, Historic Northeast | Comments Off on Take That, Dave Ramsey!

Love and Marriage

I fell in love with my husband when I was fifteen years old. I believe that I saw it then, the potential of him and who he would be, and what he would come to mean to me. Some 33 years ago now, and counting.

We didn’t date in high school. We were friends. I remember going over to his house once, only once, and he put on a record for me to listen to. It was Kate Bush, her Hounds of Love album, and the next week he brought me a copy of it, recorded onto an audiocassette, just because I had commented how much I liked it.

No matter the number of years that went by after high school, when I ran into any former classmate, I would ask after him. Imagine my excitement when he found me in late 2002 and asked me out to dinner. I was only 1,500 miles away by then. In flyover country. Three weeks later he came for a visit. And six weeks after that he moved here.

It isn’t our anniversary. It isn’t his birthday or mine or the anniversary of us reconnecting after nearly two decades apart. And today was a normal day, filled with tasks and “to do’s” and nothing particularly special.

So why do I find myself writing about him, about us, on my DIY and gardening blog? Because today was a wonderful day – just because I woke up next to him, spent the day with him, and we did the normal stuff we do every weekend.


Grocery shopping.

Cooking dinner together.

Every morning he makes me coffee. Together we sit, our kiddos sleepily cuddling up under blankets, mugs in hand, the four of us in our cozy library. One of us shares a dream we had. Or we talk about the day to come, what we need to do, where we need to go. We plan our day, volunteer for some tasks and are voluntold to do others.

Later, after breakfast and lunch and mounds of laundry and even a visit to the Fairy Princess with the little one, we begin to plan the meals for the week.

“We need to go grocery shopping but first we really need to go play some pinball. Just the two of us,” I tell him.

He laughs, pleasantly surprised at my suggestion, and smiles at me, “That sounds like a wonderful idea.”

We furtively escape to Tapcade for a couple of drinks and some pinball. We guiltily run off after an hour of frenzied playing of my favorite, The Addams Family.

Dave told me that while he watched me play and saw the fierce joy on my face as the machine lit up with a multiball he was determined to buy me one for my very own. “But they start at $10,000, Babe, and I figured you’d skin me alive if I spent that much on you right now.”

How I would love that game, but now is not the time for such frivolities.

We talk about the game room we will have once we finish renovating the two Cottages and begin work on our own house, finishing out the attic into a private master suite. “We can turn our current double bedroom into the game room,” I told him the other day, “We will put a bar-size pool table in the farthest room and the nearer room will hold the Addams Family pinball machine and air hockey table.”

Dave grins and reminds me that he also wants The Walking Dead pinball machine.

But it isn’t just the things we dream of, it’s those moments where we can’t help but laugh.

Today, after he let our little foster daughter out of her chair I rushed to the sink to moisten a cloth to wash her face. Teasing me, he stood in front of the sink, allowing only a tiny stream of water before shutting it off. Twice he did this before I began beating him with the partially damp washcloth, both of us laughing.

He’s the guy who cleans out the stopped up sink drain without complaint, even when it involves digging out the nastiness with his fingers. And we parent the little one, who is as repetitive as a parrot and annoying as hell at times, in relays – the other one stepping in to spell the first.

In the middle of cooking dinner he stopped to call his parents and thank them for not murdering him during this stage of his childhood. “I don’t know how you managed not to throttle me, but thank you,” he says as I giggle in the background.

It is moments like this, after I have listed just the dusting of sugar on top of this relationship that is good and deep and everything I dreamed it could be that I don’t want to imagine ever losing this. I want him by my side, for decades to come, where we can continue to fall in love, over and over again, with each other.

I don’t just wish it for me. I wish it for you as well. Find that person who makes you laugh and holds you when you cry. Find that person, and love them as fiercely as possible, laugh as often as you can, and hold steady during those rocky moments.

I wish for you what I have. It took a long time for us to find each other again, and for both of us to grow together to the couple we are now. But I’m here to tell you that it was worth every minute of it.

Posted in Family, Goals/Dreams | Comments Off on Love and Marriage

Our Red State Turns Green

I’ll admit it, I’m still in a state of shocked surprise, but Missouri voters recently passed Amendment 2, paving the way for medical marijuana in 2019. I guess I’m not shocked about the people wanting it, so much as I am that the powers that be in our state didn’t find a way to stop the amendment. They are notorious for ignoring the will of the people when it comes to legalizing cannabis.

So our little red state, well, historically speaking we are a swing state, has now turned green. Green light for medical cannabis and the activists are already planning on the next step, full recreational.

I blog about many things, but you may be wondering why I’m suddenly talking politics. I’m not really. It’s a plant, one that we have grown in the past…

Click on the image to learn more

And one that I intend to grow in the near future.

I’m a gardener, folks!

In any case, it was fabulous news.

Falling Off the Wagon, Again and Again

I’m sure eating a ketogenic diet will work if I ever actually stick to it. And so far? I haven’t been. I mean, sure, it was Turkey Day and all that. Who doesn’t want a little pie with their coffee? And some of that fresh, made with sugar, whipped cream?

And how about a forkful of stuffing. Oh my, that tastes so good. And so does those garlic mashed potatoes and the 2nd and 3rd fork full of stuffing.

And the child, who pushes her plate away with more stuffing and mashed potatoes on it. Well heck, I can’t let that go to waste either, can I? And man oh man, those Hawaiian rolls were so sweet and wonderful. I ate two.

I’m back up to the weight I was when my 12-year-old left for Europe. And there is still Christmas to get through! Hold me back, folks, because I keep throwing this old body off of the wagon and diving into mountains of carbs.

But, But, But It’s Keto!!!!!

Desperation does not suit me. Nor does burning through two bottles of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey in the past two weeks. I did take a full quart of Irish Cream to our friend’s house and leave it there for them, though.

I have a weakness for Irish Cream liqueur.

So, I made my own keto version.

You want it? Here it is!

  • 2 and 2/3 cups of cream
  • 1 and 1/2 cup Irish whiskey (I used Jameson’s)
  • 3/4 cup xylitol (no substitutes!)
  • 2 tsp chocolate syrup (I used sugar-free chocolate syrup)
  • 2 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract

Mix it all up in a blender until everything is well dissolved.

Add to your coffee or drink it straight.

Full disclosure (and pardon the language): Be careful with xylitol. It will loosen you up. Around here we call it the xylitol shits. That said, I haven’t had to worry about constipation in a long while!

Posted in Advocacy, Recipes | Comments Off on Our Red State Turns Green

Debt Reduction, Keto Update, et cetera

Countdown to Zero Debt

I know I’ve mentioned that I’m the financial manager of the house. When I tell this to others, my husband usually pipes up and says, “Thank god, because it would be a disaster if I did it!”

And while I don’t think he would be that bad at it, I have found that I really enjoy it. There’s something in seeing the numbers, month after month, year after year, that makes me feel as if I’m zeroing in on the pulse of our future. And more than anything, I want us debt-free and accruing savings as we ease into our 50s. My husband will hit the big five-oh in a few months, with me just 16 months behind him.

This year stands out as a banner year for debt reduction. We will come close to reducing our overall debt by almost $30,000 this year. Just typing that number, it feels unbelievable! I think we will slide in at around $29,000 – we have some car repairs that need to be made, and there could be a few bumps in November and December (Christmas presents, property taxes due, the typical stuff), but right now my figures indicate we will have reduced our debt from December 2017 to December 2018 to the tune of $30, 181.48.

I am so excited!

If we kept up this rate, we would be 100% debt free in six years. Instead, it will take closer to nine years, because we also will be raising our renovation budget as we pay certain debts off. Raising our renovation budget means getting the properties (Cottage West, Cottage East, and our Airstream) done quicker, which in turn means they will be earning money faster.

You will find more about our Airbnb progress here.

Keto Update

Ten days on the diet…mostly. I know, I know, all of you keto fanatics out there don’t need to tell me it’s an all or nothing lifestyle change. I underestimated the sheer amount of “bad” food in my cupboards, fridge and freezer.

Yesterday I spent several hours going through each of those places and cleaning them out. Except for those things dependent upon refrigeration, I put two large boxes of items out on the curb and our neighbors took everything – only the empty boxes remained!

I started at 211, and ten days later I am at 207. Yesterday I actually hit 206.5, but then we went a Halloween party! That’s okay, I’m still making progress and so far, my body hasn’t been freaking out, feeling starved, or any other issues. I feel full of energy, especially now after going to physical therapy (more on that later) for six weeks.

We are having friends over for dinner next Friday. They are also on the keto diet and we will be picking our favorite meal from the past couple of weeks to share with them. Heck, I might even make some keto ice cream! [mmmm, ice cream].

I’m hoping to make it to below 200 by the time my kiddo returns, but that’s a stretch. The reality is, this is hopefully a long-term change. In other words, a lifestyle, not a fad. I’m also delving into an excellent book that arrived today, Keto by Maria Emmerich. I want to do this right, not half-assed.

Physical Therapy, Who Knew?!

Two months ago, I was battling back, hip and leg pain on a daily basis. It felt like nothing I did (yoga, stretches, walking, nothing) made it better. I asked the doctor to get me to physical therapy, hoping against hope that they might be able to do something.

The last time I had gone to physical therapy, it had involved the use of a TENS unit (electrical stimuli) and massage, so I wasn’t holding my breath that this would be any better. Don’t get me wrong, the massages were nice, but they weren’t solving the problems. Nor were the visits to the chiropractor, and I had begun to fear getting a deep-tissue massage which felt amazing but then loosened up some areas, causing my back to snap into a dysfunctional state directly after causing me low back pain, leg cramps, and sometimes it was so bad I couldn’t even work!

This physical therapy was different, however. They did massage me twice at first, but after that the honeymoon was over and it was all exercises, posture correction, and exercise homework.

For the longest time I have been complaining that everything in my body feels like I’m turning into a turtle. Or maybe the shape of a ‘C’ – and it has been painful. The PTs showed me how to access the inner muscles, the heavy lifters in my groin and buttocks, my shoulder blades and more, the ones that are supposed to be doing the work and are made for work. Not only did I learn how to access them, but how to tone them and work them out. From glut crunches and Kegel-like exercises (I do them in the car now whenever I drive around), to better positioning of my spine and neck, my pain has been disappearing.

In the middle of my therapy appointments, which were spread out at twice per week for six full weeks, I slipped and fell down my front stairs. Normally this would mean weeks, even months of issues as my body recovered first from the initial bruising and then later snapping into a contorted spasmed position and sending me to bed for days in agony.

But while my ass has a truly epic bruise, I’ve managed, thanks to the physical therapists, to be able to continue to work with just a couple of days down instead a week or longer.

Basically, I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I see my body improving, my posture is straighter, my pain has lessened, and the muscles that are supposed to be doing the work are back at it. My flexibility has improved and I know it will continue to improve as long as I continue to do the exercises I was assigned.

Since I fell and damaged my back at the age of 18, I’ve just assumed I had a bad back. Whenever it’s bound up, or given me problems, I would say, “Well, I’ve got a bad back.”

Now I question that. What if, instead of using it as an excuse, I instead did the specific exercises necessary to strengthen those vital muscles in charge of everything? Would I still have a bad back? I don’t think so.

So I guess you could say that they changed my entire viewpoint of my body’s capabilities to heal and what my role is in it. A huge thank you to College Park Physical Therapy, you may very well have changed my life!

Posted in Financial Advice, Frugality, Goals/Dreams, Health | Comments Off on Debt Reduction, Keto Update, et cetera

Perchance to Keto

I don’t do diets. I never have, not once in 48 years of living. And frankly, when I first heard about the ketogenic diet, I thought it sounded absolutely nuts. Of course, it was my dad talking about it, so as soon as I heard “low carb, high fat” I thought he had lost his mind.

And every time I took him to the doctor (he’s been living with us for two years now) he would tell the doc, “I would prefer to be on the ketogenic diet, but they won’t feed it to me” I would roll my eyes and get more exasperated. Especially when he would finish a meal and go scrounge a piece of bread, or two, or three.

Dad didn’t follow the ketogenic diet, no matter what he claimed, and I began to learn more about it as one friend after another boasted on Facebook about significant weight loss and loving the foods they were eating.

And after learning from the doctor that my A1C was now dangerously pre-diabetic at 6.2 (7 and up is considered diabetic) I knew I had to do something different. And anyone with Type II diabetes will tell you – carbohydrates are NOT your friends.

I had been heading in this direction for a while. I had cut out most sodas and frankly I can’t stand diet cola so drinking water has just been my thing for a while now. No real sadness on nixing what little sodas I had been drinking. But ice cream? Pasta? Potatoes? Bread?

The loss of those, it just didn’t seem fair, much less manageable.

Last weekend I knuckled down and attacked the keto diet from a direction I knew I would need to start from, a reassuring one. One that said, “Hey girl, you’ve got this, and you can do it without suffering.”

I ordered three books…

I also ordered…

I guess you could say that when I jumped on the keto bandwagon, I didn’t jump on halfway.

Right now, as of this morning, I weigh 211 pounds. My husband, who has already lost 22 pounds in the past two months is 204. Our beloved pre-teen left Tuesday for a month in Europe and we are determined to meet her return flight on November 14th weighing at less than 200 pounds each, possibly even less than that.

I would be deliriously happy to make it to 180, honestly I would. The lowest I’ve seen is 190 and that was six weeks after my youngest was born. I’ve seen my weight as high as 222.

If the keto diet works for me, and I truly hope it does, it will be a change in lifestyle, not just a fad diet. I need to see my blood sugars return to healthy, normal levels. I need to see my cholesterol lower and those weird readings from my liver and my thyroid go away. And above all, I hope to be 30 pounds lighter than I am now.

One recipe that I have adapted is below. I found it tasty and extremely filling!

Keto Sauteed Cabbage and Sausage

  • 1 pound smoked sausage, halved and sliced
  • 1 head of cabbage, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 Tbsp of red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp fresh parsley (or 1 tsp of dried)
  • 1/4 tsp pepper flakes (optional)

In a Dutch oven, using half of the butter, saute the onion and garlic until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the sausage and cook until lightly browned. Add the red wine vinegar and the rest of the butter and then add the cabbage, stirring until the cabbage is thoroughly wilted and lightly browned. Add salt, pepper, parsley and pepper flakes and mix until well incorporated. Serve.

And here are some of my random “Oh my god, tell me that there is a way I can have this non-keto food in some keto-friendly way!” finds…

Keto Pancakes (yes, please!)

Keto Pizza (in response to my husband’s sad face when I told him we couldn’t eat pizza anymore)

14 Fast Foods You Can Eat on a Low-Carb Diet (because sometimes I can’t cook)

Stay tuned, I’m sure there will be more.

Posted in Recipes | 2 Comments

Making a List of “To Do’s”

More succulents. I picked up these four different plants at Aldi’s of all places and placed them in this handmade container.

It might be in the 90s outside, but you and I both know that won’t last for long. It’s time to start planning for fall.

Inside the house we have a childhood favorite of mine courtesy of a start provided by my mom. I’ve always called this plant “purple velvet” – does anyone know its proper name?

We worked hard in the yard today and Dave got all of the mowing done while I pulled weeds and began digging out unwanted scrub trees scattered throughout the property.

I made some Ginger Pear Crisp with the Asian pears we have growing in our yard. The pears stay crisp even when baked. So good over vanilla ice cream. You can find the directions under Recipes/Desserts in the tab above. Give the recipe a try!

And then my eyes settled on the future pond and all of the growth and brush that was clogging it up. When Dave finished mowing he headed over to help and together we pulled out many trees, a pile of weeds, and began tarping the cleared areas.

Future pond

I began dreaming of a pond in this spot the first spring we were here, in early 2013. I imagined a deep upper pool, connected to a shallow stream lined with river rock and pea gravel that would open up onto two separate deep pools.

Future pond

It all started with this bit of tree root. Cottonwood trees are notoriously shallow-rooted, and this one was just sitting there on the surface of the ground. I looked at it and thought “Bridge!” and began to dig.

The bit of cottonwood root that started the whole adventure over five years ago.

The years have flown by and I keep promising myself that this will be the year that I put in the pond. Well, I’m really hoping that 2019 will be that year. Meanwhile, we have dug every tree, bush and most of the weeds out, and placed tarps over a majority of the future pond. Next year, we can remove the tarps, dig down deep into the ground to the appropriate depths, then replace the tarps until we have the pipes, pond liner and rocks ready to go.

Future pond

More than anything, I’ve grown tired of having to clear the space over and over of greenery.

Gooseberries, a rosebush and fruit trees surrounded by pea gravel and eventually stepping stones.

We also spread out some of the pea gravel we have bought in this little oasis of gooseberry, rosebush and fruit trees. Looks like I need a bit more to complete the project!

I think I’ll include this other fruit tree as well. I’m going to need a lot more pea gravel!

It will include metal edging so that it is easy to mow right up to.

Ignore all the weeds – I began transplanting my mint from the greenway in the front of the property to the base of Cottage West. I hope to plant moats of mint around all of the houses to repel invading mice and ants. This mint is doing well here and will continue to grow and spread over the years.

I sat down and identified what we still need to do in the yard before it gets cold:

  • Finish the brick firepit surround and reposition the logs for sitting on
  • Finish the brick pathway rebuild
  • Expand the dog yard to include the passageway between the dog yard and Cottage East (build one little patch of wall and one more gate)
  • Remove chain-link fence from side and front of Cottage East and dig up poles
  • Remove the underbrush and re-do the brick walkway on the east side of Cottage East
  • Kill off and remove poison ivy and other weeds from the back of Cottage West
  • Clear the alley side of the back fence of scrub trees, poison ivy and weeds. Put down weed-block and mulch some areas.
  • Finish tree ring in front side yard
  • Clear/tidy Cottage West front yard
  • Clean up garbage along front of property

The “wildflower shade garden” was in a decrepit state. I hope to really cut loose on wildflowers here next year. I will be the mad seeder come springtime.

It’s quite a lot of work. And I’m hoping that most of it can be done before our Halloween Party and Birthday Bash.

One of our two Asian pear trees in our mini-orchard.

Each year we make such enormous progress on this house and yard. Sometimes I feel like I’m running a marathon, or maybe trying to beat the clock before my body tells me “Enough!” while I still have a “to do” list a mile long.

One of our heirloom apple trees in our mini-orchard.

In any case, I took a good look at our calendar over the next two months and plugged in various activities (mostly on the weekends) that should mean we have most if not all of that hellish list done before it gets cold.

All of this hard work is so worth it. Look how far we have come!

Posted in Fruits, Garden Planning, Goals/Dreams, Ponds/Waterways | Comments Off on Making a List of “To Do’s”

Seasonal Cooking – Bring on the Kitchen Mojo!

You and I probably have different interpretations of seasonal cooking.

I don’t mean locally sourced fruits and vegetables, I mean that I typically only cook at certain times of the year.

Yes, every morning I fix breakfast for at least my dad and myself. I don’t trust him in the kitchen (he has dementia) and it’s a ten minute job to whip something up that fits within the parameters of a diabetic-friendly diet.

Big kiddo can fend for herself, although lately she has been quite happy with a scrambled egg and toast, my husband usually eats cereal, and the little one has breakfast at daycare.

What I’m talking about is dinner.

In around late spring, I come to a full stop and hand the cooking reins over to my husband. There is little warning. One day there’s food on the stove and the next I look at him and say, “So, what are you fixing us for dinner?”

Part of it is the heat. We don’t have central air and I’m miserable, sweaty and oh so grouchy. The other component is that I’m the one in charge of weeding. I’d say that I handle about 80-90% of the weeding that gets done on our properties and it is a LOT of work. So my husband handles the cooking from late spring until late summer.

He’s in San Francisco for a mini-vacation and without him here, well, let’s just say that my kitchen mojo rose to the occasion and has been tossing ideas my way for the past few days in a rather intense fashion.

It started with boozy cocktails, proceeded to incorporate some new recipes, and is now steaming ahead with meal planning and baked yummy goodness. Here’s what’s on tap ’round The Deadly Nightshade’s kitchen…

Boozy Shakes

Recently I pulled out this fun book, Boozy Shakes, out of a stack on the drink station and started paging through it. I drink alcohol about once in a blue moon, ask my hubs, he’ll back me up on that. That said, I was shocked to realize I hadn’t tried any of the drinks listed.

Time to change that!

I ran across the recipe for Marzipan Milk and just had to try it. I already had the Amaretto liqueur required for it.

I tapped my fingers impatiently as I waited for the vanilla ice cream to set up in the ice cream maker. It was still rather soft, but I figured that would make it easier to mix with the Amaretto liqueur, milk and almond extract.

I mixed it thoroughly and had a sip. Delightful!

And then I made the mistake of bringing my concoction to this man…

He threatened to drink it all! I ended up making two of them. Very, very tasty.

Last night, I dabbled with a Chocolate Orange Shake. Yum. Not as amazing as the Marzipan Milk, but still good.

I even tried a combination of the two and used the chocolate ice cream, mixed with the Amaretto, to make a Chocolate Marzipan Milk. Soooo good!

Orange Chicken With Three Ingredient Sauce

I was paging through Pinterest. Don’t judge me! It’s like crack, but still, I love getting ideas from that place. It’s way too handy for overloading my days with craft projects and recipes. And don’t get me started on the photos of abandoned mansions or picturesque gardens.

In any case, I found a recipe for “Three Ingredient Orange Chicken Sauce” and just had to try it.

I added a little to the recipe, some tweaks along the way, and here is what I came up with:


  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 cup of cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 cup of barbecue sauce (we use Sweet Baby Ray’s)
  • 1 cup of orange marmalade
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder


  1. Combine the barbecue sauce, marmalade, soy sauce, ginger and garlic powder in a saucepan on the stove and place it over medium-low heat to heat.
  2. Begin heating a thin layer of vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat.
  3. Place the cubed chicken in batches in the egg and then roll them in the cornstarch and flour mixture and place them on a plate.
  4. When the oil is hot, cook the chicken until well-browned on each side, about 3-5 minutes each. Place them on a plate covered with paper towels to absorb the extra oil.
  5. Combine the sauce and the cooked chicken and serve over rice.

So tasty!

More kitchen adventures will follow. Meanwhile, sign up for my newsletter and get access to short stories and more. Thanks for reading, I’ll post again soon!

Posted in Baking/Cooking, Bookshelf, Recipes | Comments Off on Seasonal Cooking – Bring on the Kitchen Mojo!

Perennial Succulents and The Back Fence is DONE!

The view of the final gate from the backyard of the Cottage East.

Oh, happy days, my loyal readers! I am pleased to finally announce that the back perimeter of our properties has been fully secured.


But first, a little pie in face. We went out this morning, bright and early, and quickly learned that the lumber and pickets we had set out for the last gate were missing. Yep, we had fencing out there for WEEKS but someone decided that it was too good an opportunity to pass up with it sitting right next to where it was to be installed and they absconded with it.

We felt dumb. It was around $50 in materials.

So when we went to Lowe’s to pick up the lumber, I stopped and purchased a set of four locks, one for each of the new gates, all keyed to the same key set, one for Dave and one for me.

The entire back fence is now locked down tight.

I took a look at the Cottage East’s backyard and there were a few thin spots in the underbrush, enough that I could see folks trying to shove their way through, so I moved a nearby pile of dead brush and branches against it. It would take some doing to get over and through it, and that should hold us steady.

Now folks can still sashay into our yards from Tenth Street, but they would have to go back the way they came because it is flat-out IMPOSSIBLE to go through that fence without either a key or serious climbing skills.

Perennial Succulents

These darlings were a great topic of study for homeschool science this past week. My daughter learned about their care and gave me some great tips for planting them. I had purchased a whole mess of them, 25 in total.

Several have gone in their own pots, planters, and at different spots in the yard. When I was in the alley re-positioning some old tree stumps I happened across one I knew I could re-purpose.

So I lugged this thing up to the front yard. I want folks to get to see it! I shoved a whole mess of dirt from our compost heap into it and planted the remainder of the succulents inside.

I can’t wait for them to dig in, reproduce and fill up the space. They will look fantastic!

Get ‘Em While the Getting is Good

By the way, now is the perfect time to buy ferns. I found mine at Lowe’s which had them marked to half of the original price, so just $7.50. As you can see from the picture above, they are HUGE!

I’ll bring these two inside when the temperatures drop and overwinter them in our art room which has a good southern exposure. Next year I can either set them out in these pots I transplanted them into or divide them up (i.e. hack them into quarters ruthlessly) and add them to the hanging planters that adorn our wraparound porch.

I’ve been on a mission this past few years to accumulate/propagate ferns by purchasing them in the fall on sale, overwintering them, and then using them again in the spring. With 22 hanging baskets, buying them over and over each spring would be prohibitive!

How Odd…

I have never seen this before and had to share it.

The seeds in this tomato are sprouting!

I showed it to my daughter Emily, she found it quite fascinating.

No More Paycheck to Paycheck

A while back I talked about getting to the point where we weren’t “a paycheck away from the streets.” And while we were certainly already in a good spot, I had sit down and really look at it from the angle of “Should I be focusing on building our savings or making sure there is a solid three week cushion in place?”

Now, without getting specific we are doing just fine, but I don’t believe in sitting on my laurels (or in eating bonbons by the poolside), so fine is nice, but fine doesn’t help us if I get horrifically ill and can’t work or the government has one of those financial all-stops that occurs when the boys in D.C. can’t agree on the budget. Or if Trump gets a bug up his butt and decides to do away with NOAA (small chance, but still!) where my husband works.

So I took the plunge and decided that I had to have a MINIMUM of three weeks worth of funds in our checking account. I moved money from savings, I pulled it from the renovation budget (and damn, that hurt because I really  want to see these projects done ASAP) and as it stands at the moment we have approximately four plus weeks worth of funds in the bank. I hope to keep it close to that amount. That would be really nice.

I was also pleased to see that our debt reduction is continuing at a solid pace – over $3,000 of debt reduction last month alone!

We work hard for this to happen. We buy used clothes, shop at Aldi’s and discount groceries, we rideshare to avoid parking costs at Dave’s work (that and him working just five minutes away is saving us over $150 a month in fuel and approximately $1500 per year in maintenance), and carefully parcel out our dining out expenditures.

I recently made the decision to focus on my writing and to not take on any new cleaning clients. When one of my current clients told me she needed to stop cleaning services for a while, I told her that I probably would not be filling her spot, but I also would likely not be available for cleanings in the future. It means that if I can’t make the writing pay, our budget will slowly reduce over time. OR I’ll start making money on my writing. Here’s hoping it’s the latter!

Posted in Challenges, DIY, Financial Advice, Frugality, Garden Planning, Goals/Dreams | Comments Off on Perennial Succulents and The Back Fence is DONE!

Fences, Elderberries, and a Migraine

Migraines Suck

Have I mentioned my amazing husband recently? Or my amazing daughter?

If not, then let me take a moment to tell you about them.

Today I was felled by a stress-induced migraine. I get them so very rarely now – a handful a year, or even less. I credit this to marrying well.

I’m not kidding.

In fact, when I discussed my migraines and how often I use to have them people ask me, But you don’t have them now? How did you get rid of them?”

I tell them, “I got divorced and my headaches went away!” My first husband was a migraine.

Honestly though, my husband (my third and FINAL husband) is great. He went outside and worked on the fence today, which included disassembling part of the gate we had just constructed the day before and fixing it so that it closed properly. Then he went on to add a third, middle 2 x 4 to most of the fence panels for added support. Next weekend we will finish that project.

Meanwhile, I lay in bed clutching my aching head. And Em, was kind enough to go downstairs and handle preparing breakfast for her grandfather and foster sister.

I did manage to get up later, wobble downstairs and fix myself an egg, clean the dishes and kitchen, and begin to process the elderberries.

Elderberry Processing

Last weekend we gathered around 20 pounds of elderberries from our bushes in the backyard. The easiest way to collect elderberries Is to cut the bracts with the berries off and place them in a bag in the freezer. After the berries are frozen it is easier to remove them from the bracts.

And after cleaning the dishes and clearing the sink, I pulled out the smaller bag of elderberries and began to do just that. I was still feeling rather under the weather, so I only managed to empty about half of the bag. It was an enormous container full of the berries. I figure I’ve processed about one quarter of them. Back into the freezer they go until we are ready to run them through the juicer.

I plan on using the elderberries for some cough syrup and more importantly, my husband will be making elderberry mead. Mead is made by fermenting honey and often fruit juice. We have made elderberry mead before in the past and it was very strong. I want to say that it was either 11 or 13% alcohol. We called it Respect Your Elders. And at that strong of a percentage, you’d better!

The backyard of Cottage East. The future parking area for tenants is on the right and the alley dead-ends behind it.

One More Gate

The other morning, while writing, I could hear two people arguing behind the house. I went out to look, and watched as they proceeded down the  alley all along the length of the finished fence, while continuing to argue. They then cut through the opening at the back of Cottage East, and walked through that backyard and up to 10th St.

I realized then that we had one more gate to build in order to completely seal off the back portion of our properties. So next weekend, we will be building one more gate.

Something like this…

Front Fence-Panel by Panel

Building a fence can be a very intimidating project, especially when your property is approximately 200 feet wide. I am overjoyed that we have finally finished the back fence. In fact, as my husband worked today on the last details of the back fence, a gentleman asked if he could walk through the open gate. My husband explained that we would prefer he did not. He was kind, but firm. After five years, with people barging through, stealing property and high on drugs, we were done.

But a back fence doesn’t stop people completely. Especially when the entire 200 foot width of our property is open in the front.

“What if we began to build the fence panel by panel instead of trying to do it all at once?” I asked. “We could set in one or two 4 x 4’s, install a panel or two, and take it a little bit at a time. What do you think?”

Looking towards the front of our property. As you can see, it’s wide open.

My husband liked the idea. “As long as we aren’t putting in 4 to 6 panels in a day,” he said.

“That sounds great to me!”

We have yet to find the source for the metal panels that I want. We have a few leads, and we will begin tracking those down in the next couple of weeks. Because we don’t have a truck, transporting the panels can be problematic. I’m not sure if we will need to rent a truck. If we do, hopefully we can move 6 to 8 at a time in order to conserve on cost.

I dream of the day when our fences are all in place. Doing it ourselves will save a load of money, improve our property, reduce theft, and help create the sanctuary we so enjoy having outside.

My internet trawling for pictures of metal fences yielded this – a moon gate – and now, of course, I want one.

Posted in Challenges, DIY, Goals/Dreams, Projects | Comments Off on Fences, Elderberries, and a Migraine