Elderflower Cordial

When we moved into our home here in Historic Northeast, we noticed there were some healthy elderberry bushes growing. A naturalized plant to the area, cultivating an elderberry is as simple as planting it and walking away.

Years ago, we went elderberry hunting with our friends the Friends. I get a giggle every time I say that, but their last name is Friend, and they are our friends, so…

We drove to Bonner Springs and battled monstrous mosquitoes, braved poison ivy, and sweltering August heat as we picked the berries and filled bags and buckets with them. Into the freezer they went, later through the juicer and back into bags as juice to be frozen again.

Right around that time, the Friends brought an elderflower jelly to the kickoff of the Urban Farms Tour here in Kansas City. One taste of that and I was ready to go back to either flower or berry-picking despite the enormous welts from the mosquitoes and the nasty rash of poison ivy I had suffered.

Fast forward five years and we are here, with our own super-healthy elderberry bushes. These suckers would take over the nearly full acre of land we have here, given the chance. And we have done nothing with them except get out of their way and let them grow and expand over the years.

Elderflowers infusing in vodka

Well, to be completely accurate, we have had to dig up some of the plants and relocate them. They are more than happy to spread everywhere!

By late spring, the creamy white flowers appear. They bloom for several weeks and then fall off. A month or two later, the dark, purple-black berries are ready and ripe for picking.

Elderflower syrup currently infusing

The Friends have made some lovely elderberry wine. We used the elderberry pickings we did years back to create elderberry mead. We called it Respect Your Elders and at 13% alcohol, you had better have plenty of respect for it!

Later we just called it our hooch – because boy howdy was it strong!

With all of these elderberries though, we just had to try something new, especially now that the bushes have grown so large.

All of that elderflower picking barely made a dent – I have instructed my darling hubby to please make elderflower wine this weekend!

I’ve also transplanted a fair number of them to the alley side of our back fence for even bigger future harvests. Meanwhile, a large patch of greenery will help deter the young punks from spraying graffiti and gang insignias on our wood fence (one of the cons to living in the city).

The elderflower syrup I am currently infusing is pretty simple. Here are the ingredients and steps…

Elderflower Syrup

  • 15 large clusters (also known as umbles) of elderflowers -stems removed
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 35 ounces of sugar
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1/2 tsp citric acid (you can get this in the canning section or on Amazon)

Bring the water, sugar and citric acid to a boil, stirring to incorporate all sugar and not let it burn to the bottom of the pan.

Combine the de-stemmed elderflowers and lemon in a big pot. Pour the boiling sugar/water/citric acid mix over the flowers and lemon and stir until all of the flowers have submerged. Cover and let infuse for 3-4 days, then strain and keep the syrup refrigerated.

I’ve never done this before, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how it tastes and then using some of it to make elderflower jelly. In fact, I might make a second, and even a third batch, so that i have enough syrup to also make elderflower lemonade and elderflower soda.

Later, in August, I plan on collecting elderberries and making an elderberry syrup to fight off colds, along with elderberry jam and other interesting kitchen experimentation. Stay tuned for updates!

Posted in Fermentation, Flowers, Fruits, Gleaning, Recipes | Leave a comment

Vacuums That Last

My last post was about my visit to a great bargain store, so in that same vein, I’d like to talk about the best vacuum to buy.

It might not be sexy, but I hope you will listen to me. After all, I run a cleaning business, and I’ve had a lot of experience with vacuums, a LOT of experience.

Also, I am not getting any kind of pay, rebate, or affiliate commission on my recommendation (although I really should be since I’ve been singing on particular company’s praises for YEARS).

Let’s begin by covering what you should expect out of a vacuum, shall we?

  • Versatility – the ability to vacuum all surfaces from rugs, to linoleum, tile and wood without any blowback (nearly impossible to find in an upright without having to fuss with different settings as you move from one surface to the next)
  • Reliability – will it break down easily? Or keep going and going (kind of like the Energizer bunny)
  • Lightweight – when lugging up armfuls of equipment and cleaning supplies, having a vacuum that can be lifted in one hand (along with my steam mop) means making one trip in the front door which increases my efficiency
  • Power – I need something that picks up dirt quickly and easily, without me having to go back over the same areas more than once
  • Long power cord – I don’t want to waste my time trying to find yet another outlet to plug into, I want a nice, long cord that I can plug in and it will handle most floor plans without the need to move to a different outlet
  • Bag, NOT Bagless – Replacing a paper bag has always been easier for me than trying to empty out a bagless vacuum, wash the filter and then wait for it to dry. Perhaps they have improved the bagless vacuums in the past 12 years. I might be behind the times on this particular point.

I don’t need sexy, colorful, streamlined vacuums that have a weird rollerball and claim to turn on a dime. I don’t need a vacuum that weighs 16-19 pounds empty or one that requires me to push buttons or adjust dials or swap out parts when moving from a rug to a hardwood floor.

I also see no need to pay more than $250 for a vacuum. Especially when I can get a workhorse of a vacuum, one that is easily repaired and needs little maintenance to continue to perform.

Every so often, one of my Facebook friends will post, “My vacuum just broke, what kind should I get?”

And I always, always, ALWAYS recommend they visit the ORECK Store on Metcalf and 135th Street and purchase a red commercial grade ORECK vacuum.

About 18 months ago a friend posted asking for recommendations. She ended up getting a Dyson because everyone has heard of Dyson and so of course, it had to be the best. I recently looked up how much those suckers cost, and for the “better” ones, they are close to $500 or more. And surprise, surprise, her Dyson kicked the bucket and now she has to wait weeks to get it serviced by sending it to Dyson for repair.

That is INSANE.

Nearly three years ago, my oldest ORECK upright finally died on me. The motor needed to be replaced and for just $20 above the price of buying a whole new motor, I could get a new vacuum. So I bought a brand-new one. It had a brand-spanking new “endurance extended life belt” on it, and the entire vacuum cost $216.99. I haven’t had to change the belt yet. And on Friday I took it into the store and asked if they could replace a screw that had fallen out on the main stem of the vacuum.

Two minutes later I was walking out of the store, TWO screws replaced after the guy noticed that one of them wasn’t issued by ORECK (my husband had tried to find one that would work) and it was free of charge.

“I have a huge bucket of them in the back, don’t worry about it,” the guy said.

ORECK brand, especially the red boxy commercial line, isn’t sexy. But seriously, sexy doesn’t make a vacuum better, it doesn’t make you look better either, especially when that overpriced, sleek behemoth not only breaks down, but HAS to be sent back to the manufacturer to be fixed. I’d be turning the air blue around me with all the swearing that would happen in the face of that catastrophe. I need my machines to WORK and I have little patience or time for repairs.

I could take my ORECK to any vacuum shop and they would be able to fix it, but it is quite convenient to just drive over to Metcalf.

I just looked up the numbers and, after 13 years in the housecleaning business, I have spent a whopping $168.46 on servicing my ORECK vacuum!

ORECK vacuums have strong motors. They are easily fixed. They weigh just 8 pounds when empty. They have a 35′ long cord, they make the transition from carpet to tile, hardwood or linoleum seamlessly, and they will work hard for you, pretty much forever.

So the next time your vacuum dies. Listen to your favorite writer/housecleaner and go to the ORECK store at 6980 W 135th St, Overland Park, KS 66223. I guarantee you it will be the best vacuum you have ever bought (and with regular upkeep, the last one you will ever need).

Posted in Cleaning Tips, Products | Leave a comment

Bargain Hunting in the Kansas City Metro

Several years ago, I discovered the Dented Can Outlet. It was close, on Troost near Linwood, and I scored some amazing deals there. Sadly, they closed, and I’ve been pining for cool food bargains ever since.

Well, I found one, and it is a doozy!

Located in Grandview, right off of the 140th Street exit and Hwy 71 (aka Hwy 49), Discount Groceries & More has plenty of bargains!

Check out my haul, all of this for a total price of just $56.37!

Four bottles of Frozen conditioning shampoo along with four bottles Barbie detangler – all of them were 25 cents each! Also some Boboli pizza sauce for $1.29 (to go with the Boboli pizza crusts I bought last visit for just $1.00 each) and two 79 cent cake mixes

The last time I was at this store was the Friday before Memorial Day. It was a rather eventful visit. The cashier who was checking me out was fine when I started checking out and slowly declined, moving slower and slower and slower.

Granola bars, arborio rice, sausage links, lime curd, and one of the two round lip balms. The lip balms, originally $3.99 were marked down to 50 cents each.

I offered to help her bag and asked if she could hand me more bags. She turned away, bent over against an empty checking station and stopped responding or moving.

I tried to talk to her, walked over and touched her shoulder, and then called for help.

Some snack size bags of TGI Friday’s potato skins (three for $1), two tubs of Bacon Rub (two for $1.00), four more of Peet’s Coffee, Thai Basil stir fry sauce, tartar sauce, flossers, a gourmet mint and dark chocolate bar, some tasty Cocoa Loco bars, and a box of 20 count Old El Paso mini taco boats.

From the looks of it, she probably was hypoglycemic. The manager, another checker, a customer and me got her to sit down on a cart and by the time I was leaving the EMTs and the fire department had pulled up.

The first book was 50 cents, the rest were 50% off of the marked prices which ranged between $1.39 and $2.39. The books are all for Em. The Lightning Thief is in graphic novel form, Em’s favorite way of reading books.

An off-duty policeman had gotten into the fray as well, asking her quite sternly if she had been drinking alcohol. I tried to not glare at him and his lack of helpfulness, she was quite obviously not drunk.

In any case, I asked about her and the checker smiled and told me she was fine and that no one was sure what had happened but it probably was a hypoglycemic attack.

And now my collection of Peet’s coffee in our new freezer is rather daunting…Twelve bags in the freezer and I’ve just started into one of the medium roast bags. The bags in the “expired foods” section are just $3.59 as opposed to being $5.99. Considering the coffee sells for over $8 normally, that’s a steal! At the checkout, the woman in front of me had found several whole bean bags of the Peet’s for just $1.99. I’ll be keeping an eye out for those next time I go!

This is a great store to check out. They have fresh produce, cheeses, and meats. Shoes, toiletries, auto supplies, DVDs, clothing. Not everything is discounted, so price compare, and head towards the expired foods section first. That’s where you will find the best deals!

I brought my own bags. Despite using the plastic grocery bags for diapers as well as at my cleanings, I’m swamped with them lately, so I brought my own and the clerk seemed quite appreciative.

The woman in front of me told us about a $6 per bag thrift store that I will be checking out when I’m down south again in a couple of weeks. I will report back on my findings then!

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A Brick Firepit!

A few weeks ago I headed back to my primary care doc. I have decided to remain without the typical health insurance and simply pay for direct primary care. I like my doctor a lot, she’s young, has a great sense of humor, and is honest and direct. I told her, “I’m still in a lot of pain, and it is really starting to affect my life.”

She ordered some x-rays. And lo and behold, I have degenerative hip disease, accelerated by damage in my early 20s. I did something stupid a quarter of a century ago. I didn’t use a ladder and instead climbed a warehouse rack, then jumped down and damn near broke my  right kneecap on a solid metal cart. It took about a year or more until I could walk right and of course, I didn’t report it, because I knew I wasn’t supposed to climb and I was young, poor and desperate to keep my job.

Osteoarthritis is the official diagnosis and it pretty much means years of pain, that will get worse and worse until it is so damaged that I need a hip replacement.

So I’m back in the weight-loss saddle – less weight means less strain on my joints – and I hope to lose about 25 pounds. It sure would make a difference if I can manage it!

Happy Birthday – Have An Inversion Table

For my birthday, my wonderful husband bought me an inversion table, which helps to decompress the spine and joints and give everything a lovely stretch. It feels wonderful and I use it twice a day for a couple of minutes at a time.

My left hip is out of whack. It’s also the one that shows the most damage on the x-rays. When inverted, I can easily reach the carpet with my fingers of my right hand, but my left hand barely touches the carpet. I’m uneven!

I hope to also stretch my body and become more flexible through yoga.

Why Look, A Brick Firepit!

So, what I DON’T know about laying brick could fill a small book. And when I first started, I just lay them directly on the dirt. As a result, three years after laying a beautiful, winding brick path, this is how it looks today:

I had also tried to outline the crop garden, something we have NOT kept up with for several years and which mainly lies fallow now, except for a couple of fruit trees, gooseberry bushes, and elephant garlic.

As the weeds overtook the bricks, they simply hid them from view, which became a real problem when my husband mows. So I realized I needed to dig up the bricks I had laid down and do a better job of it.

The best job I could do would include a couple of different paving mediums – crushed rock, sand, and the use of heavy equipment to compact the earth. But we have a lot of projects in motion right now, including the new addition of Little Miss, our foster daughter. I can spare a few hours here, and a few hours there. So I did the best that I could do – lay down the black landscape fabric and settle for eclectic, not quite level, but very cool looking firepit surround.

Little Miss was my supervisor as I dug bricks out of the ground

Once I figure out how to move the massive y-shaped stump from the tree we had taken down last year, I’ll expand the circle by another 2-3 feet. I’ll also burn the wood that’s in the pit, let it cool and then dig it out, remove the edge of landscaping stones currently defining the circle and dig down at least two feet to allow for more wood to be placed in the firepit than it currently can hold.

I’m not done yet, but this project is well on its way.

Four bags of paving sand later and it is starting to look better.

And then I’ll also expand (and level) the bricks around the gooseberries and trees and then turn my sights on re-doing the brick path along with widening it another foot.

Gooseberry bushes surrounded by brick. I need to level the bricks out, and expand the surround out more.

Go For Wool Rugs Instead of Those Awful Poly Blends

I just picked up this cute little 4×5 wool rug used for just $40. I was so excited because I think it fits perfectly in my laundry room!

As a housecleaner, I can attest that polyblend carpets are nigh impossible to vacuum. You have to attack them in a certain direction and my ORECK vacuum, with its strong motor and roller brush, is a bear to use when it encounters the “wrong way” of the carpet pile. Wool rugs don’t have this problem, and the nice thick pile is absolutely luxurious to walk on.

Just keep an eye out on Craig’s List and in thrift stores. I found this beauty at Weird Stuff for just $60 last year.

Bohemian or Victorian?

I am lucky enough to visit a variety of homes through my housecleaning business. I see traditional, shabby chic, Victorian, modern, and more in the varying decor styles and really enjoy getting new ideas.

One of my clients has a lovely little Craftsman style home with bright colors, Bohemian/eclectic style choices, and seeing her house has reminded me of the different choices I can have in decorating my own house.

Growing up, my mother made use of lots of antiques, mid-century fabrics, and truly beautiful design choices that were true to a more traditional sort of decorating.

And I followed in her path, telling myself that I didn’t really know how to decorate like my mom did. And honestly? I still don’t.

But lately, the bohemian style of decorating has caught my fancy with its bold designs and bright colors. The eclectic, whimsical style has also made me smile. It’s one of the reasons I made this terrarium here and put in the dinosaur.

Yeah, so that’s a bad picture. I spilled a bit of dirt and it the humidity is also clouding the glass, but hey, you get the idea.

Eclectic, bohemian, and a dash of Victorian antiques thrown in for good measure. Yep, that’s the decorating style I’m aiming for. I’ll call it the “She can’t make up her mind” decor style!

Posted in DIY, Garden Planning, Health, Home Decorating | Leave a comment

Art and Privacy

A few years back we had several windows replaced in our house. The goal is to replace the rest of the windows (except for the stained glass window at the bottom of the stairs) with energy-efficient windows.

And yes, I’ve heard the arguments for keeping the older windows, but really, for us the vinyl replacement windows will work best for our needs.

In any case, I asked the workers to please remove them carefully, that I wanted to keep them for art projects.

I bought a ton of the flat glass beads and I had already completed a couple of projects that give us privacy yet also allow light in and provide some art for us to enjoy.

And I created this particular piece with the intention of hanging them outside on the Cottage West front porch, but that’s a lot of exposure to the elements and we do live in a neighborhood in transition. I could see someone either stealing these or breaking them, neither of which I want to see happen.

We have a window in the bathroom at the end of our bathtub. It allows in light, which I love, but then there is the issue of privacy when one is bathing. And the other day, while organizing the Art room, I ran across the window I had done and realized it was perfect!

Upstairs, into the bathroom window it went. I’m locating the proper eye hooks, chain and more to hang it properly soon. I think it is perfect for the space it is in! It gives us privacy and art. I might need to do this in more windows!

Posted in Crafts and Creations, DIY, Frugality | Leave a comment

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

I’m a list-maker, a goal-setter, and the financial wizard of our little family. And boy oh boy, do I have plans for our properties, now four in total.

They go something like this:

  • Maintain and increase a solid savings account for emergencies
  • Stabilize Cottage East and get codes off our backs (2018)
  • Finish back fence and gates (2018)
  • Install front fence across entire width of property (2019)
  • Finish work on Cottage West and make rent ready (2019-2020)
  • Rent out Cottage West and get to work finishing Cottage East (2020-2021)
  • Rent out Cottage East
  • Upgrade to 200amp & rewire our house (2022)
  • Replace all older windows with energy-efficient windows (2023)
  • Install central a/c (2024)

Yeah, that’s right, central a/c is SIX years away, maybe longer.

Along with those plans comes plenty of hard work and frugal living, and with that in mind, we are heading into our fifth year of no central a/c.

The house is big, and so as summer creeps closer and closer, and with it the dog days of heat and lots of sweating and camping out next to the window units, I had an idea.

In our double rooms, I have curtains that can isolate one of the rooms from the other and conserve the cool in a smaller space. This worked well for us when we numbered three, but with our newest addition, things have to change.

Little Miss needs her room to be temperate as well, so instead of closing doors and running the a/c in the rooms that we occupy, we probably need to somehow enclose the upstairs.

Heat rises, cool settles, and our hallway, with its stairs and high ceilings, and cooled air will just head downstairs instead of going into Dave’s office or Little Miss’s room.

“We need a curtain,” I said. “One that can go across the entire opening but not reach all the way to the ceiling because the hot air needs somewhere to go.”

The real test will come in the height of the summer – but I’m hoping that a/c units strategically placed in Dave’s office and our bedroom (opposite ends of the upstairs) will converge and cool the hallway, bathroom and Little Miss’s room without too much cooling loss down the stairs.

I’ve utilized heavy painter’s tarp here. I think it will do a fair job at keeping the cool air upstairs and the hot air downstairs. Fingers crossed!

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No State Sales Taxes on Energy Star through 4/25

Get it while the getting is good…

I just purchased an upright Frigidaire freezer with free delivery and no state sales tax on Energy Star rated appliances.

I saved a pretty penny on it and I’m looking forward to it being delivered in late May.

Price matching helps as well. Lowe’s matched Nebraska Furniture Mart’s price – a difference of over $120.

I have had a chest freezer for years and hate it. Frost builds up in it, and it’s hell to find anything inside of it. The new one will have 2 1/2 times the capacity of the chest freezer, so I know I will be able to fit everything and then some.

That’s it. Short and sweet entry for now. Go get your savings!

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Plans and Reality

I can’t help it, each spring I get so excited about gardening. I make giant, insane plans, buy (and plant) a ton of plants, and then reality intrudes.

It’s a BIG yard.

And it gets really hot here in the summer.

And I have some significant pain issues with my body thanks to injuries decades ago.

So there are my plans, and then there is reality – and I get to try and figure out how to balance it all.

Look at what is blooming in my office?!

Last Weekend – Brush and Cleanup

Japanese hops will be the death of us. I hate it, absolutely detest it, and whoever planted it here originally needs to be strung up. It is so invasive and at the end of it all, you can’t even use the hops!

I told Dave that this year we really need to stay on top of it and dig it out wherever we see it growing. If we don’t, it’s going to keep spreading. Awful, awful stuff.

We burned quite a bit of it and some wood. We have quite a bit to go. As we worked, it began to snow, eventually increasing in intensity and forcing us to retreat inside. We sat and watched the big, fat flakes cover the ground and smother our fire. I really hope that was the last gasp of winter.

Plena Cinnamon Rose

Shovel In Hand – Getting the Roses Into the Ground

Yesterday, after the package from Fedco sitting on our front porch for a week, I asked Dave to help me with some planting. And thank goodness he was willing because it wasn’t a single tree in that box, it was FIFTEEN rosebushes and one lilac.

Plus I had three more old-fashioned shrub roses and three clematis plants I needed to plant.

While Dave took the box to the back of the property and began unpackaging it all, I dug holes and planted the three clematis. One plant planted close to the base of the big columns and gently guided into the lattice work.

At least indoor plants don’t have weeds…

Imagine each of these columns with clematis vines wrapped around them and beautiful large flowers blooming each year.

After that was done, I grabbed the three shrub roses I had purchased at Aldi’s and headed for the back fence.

Alain Blanchard rose

I dug the holes every three feet or so and Dave planted the roses. We planted five Rosa Rugosa (the shrub roses) and one each of Maiden’s Blush, Maxima, Plena Cinnamon, Alain Blanchard, Dart’s Dash, and Linda Campbell. The rest were unknown varieties and apparently extra plants for free. All roses.

It’s pretty hard to see, and obviously, they are bare root at this time but give them a few months and I’ll bet they will turn into show-stoppers!

Maiden’s Blush rose

If I remember right, I chose varieties that would grow tall and be extra thorny. Because fences don’t always stop the determined, and I figure getting scratched all to hell by a pretty rosebush WILL. On the other side of the fence, I have planted plenty of raspberries and closely spaced some elderberry starts for maximum effect in creating a plant barrier as well as the wooden one.

I would love to fill the spaces in between and up onto the fence with Sweet Autumn, a hardy quick growing clematis and then add sedum as a nice ground cover that would prevent the need for mowing around the rose bushes.

Elderberry starts, they are everywhere! Does anyone need elderberry? Contact me, I’ll give them to you for free, you just need to dig them up.

Lastly we planted a Sensation Lilac near the west side of the house.

I have some lily bulbs as well that I need to plant soon. I doubt they will bloom this year since I’m so late in planting them.

And don’t get me started on all of the seeds I ordered.

Fences Make Good Neighbors

Since we moved here five years ago I’ve been desperate for a fence. But there were other expenses and a lot of yard to fence in. Recently, while visiting a client of mine in Columbus Park, I noticed some guys building a really cool fence around my client’s parking lot.

The metal panels are the remnants of from a die-cut shape, normally sold to a metal scrapyard, the guys installing this fence bought each 6×10 foot panel for just $25.

It is a pretty sizable parking lot and my client told me she paid $3,000 to have it all done, including a swinging gate and a smaller walk-through gate.

SIGN ME UP!

My plan is to do this in two parts.

Part #1 – We have a couple of holes along the back fenceline that will need to be jackhammered out. The remnants of a concrete foundation for a garage that is long gone, stood in the way of our finishing the fence last year (well, that and weather and finances and stick-to-it-ness).

We had the guys take a look at the back fence and asked them to create two large gates with these metal panels, along with jackhammering out the three holes that will need to be dug.

We will then step in and finish the rest of the back fence, which is currently about 3/4 done if you don’t count the gated sections.

Part #2 – Next year we will obtain an exception from the City ($168 and an application for a fence variance) and have the guys build a fence across the entire front swath of our property – from the side of Cottage East, past the front of our house, and the side lots all the way to the far edge of Cottage West.

It will include walk-through gates at Cottage East, the side lot between the Cottage East and our house, one for the front walk of our house, and one in front of Cottage West, along with a wide gate in the lot right next to Cottage West. Eventually, I would like to pave the lot next to Cottage West, possibly all the way, north to south between 10th Street and the alley.

The fence in progress last year (now installed along here) – note the overgrowth of Japanese hops (the bane of my existence)

A nice, tall fence. No more weirdos traipsing through our yard and depositing presents (yes, I have found human feces before), no one letting their dogs amend my soil (this chick from the apartment complex did it for MONTHS before I caught her and asked her to stop), and it will cut down on trespassing, theft, garbage, and give our dogs an opportunity to occasionally venture forth into the bigger part of the yard.

Heck, I’m hoping to eventually re-do the dog fence – goodness knows it desperately needs to be re-done.

What I Would Like to Do

If I had all the time in the world and endless energy and a pain-free body and cooperative weather, I would like to do the following in the yard this year…

  • Clear ALL of the stumps and brush out of our property – This will require burning the smaller stuff, breaking up the larger stuff, and the use of a truck. That last one, the use of a truck, is the problem. We hope to buy a truck soon, just a beater truck that could handle infrequent trips to the dump or to the brush recycling place. I can hope it will happen this year, but honestly, I doubt it will.
  • Clean up yard and dispose of random stuff lying about.
  • Establish a food garden again after two years of neglect – plant tomatoes, kale, and green beans – mulch heavily so I don’t have to weed it
  • Transplant more of the perennial spring blooming white-flowered plants from the lot east of Cottage West to different parts of the yard.
  • Brick walkways – Finish the brick circle walkway around the large maple tree in front. Re-do the brick walkway along the west side of our house. It needs to be pulled up, the grass and plants between the bricks pulled out, weed block laid down, and then the bricks re-laid. This would also include digging up all of the brick I have attempted to lay down to define the crop garden (now two years of lying fallow) and re-creating a smaller, more manageable crop garden
  • Digging up all of the mint and lemon balm from the greenways and transplanting them to several areas:
    • The east side of Cottage West. I want the weeds growing there to be completely choked out by the mint.
    • The bases of all of the fruit trees. This will control the weeds and we will keep the mint in check with the mower
    • The west wall of our house (keeps out ants and deters mice)
  • Taking it section by section, fill the greenways with daylilies. So full that nothing else can grow!
  • Transplant all of the newly spreading elderberry to line the alley side of the back fence (I transplanted sixteen of them today to the far side (alley side) of the back fence).
  • Eradicate all Japanese hops forever from my yard (a girl can hope!).
  • Dig out the future pond and line it with pond liner with the hopes of installing a pond pump, plants and fish next year
  • Get all weeds under control and out of our yard (yeah, fat chance of that)
  • Plant sedum seeds (all kinds, all colors) in several areas:
    • The sloped edge of the backyard in Cottage West so we don’t have to mow and for erosion control
    • The front yard of Cottage West and in the raised tree stump planter
    • The west side of the front yard of Cottage East and on each side of the walkway of our side lot and the base of the maple tree
    • The west side of our house (it’s a pain to mow)

What Is Realistic (and More Likely to Happen)

So, let’s be real. That list above, is not going to happen. What’s more likely is this…

  • Move most of the mint and as I do, replace with daylilies
  • Finish the back fence come hell or high water (and probably both if I know my luck)
  • Finish brick circle around maple tree, pull up overgrown sections of brick, and hopefully re-lay that one long walkway.
  • Plant a ton of seeds
  • Swear and cry while hacking away at, digging up and burning those awful Japanese hop plants. Give up in heat of summer and watch as they take over hundreds of square feet. Burn property to the ground in response.
  • Speaking of burning. Burn as much of the firewood and brush as possible while dually pissing off Asshat and the KCFD. I’m having a campfire and roasting hot dogs, I swear!
  • Clean up the random crap in our yard and ignore my grass-loving neighbor’s looks of disapproval
  • Maybe manage a small garden. If I’m really,  really lucky and the moon is in the correct lunar phase and I’m not struck by lightning, hives or a thrown-out back (last is highly likely).
  • Make weekly visits to the chiropractor and endure his disparaging commentary on how badly I treat my body.
  • Allow the future pond to grow even further into a morass of weeds and mini-trees because damned if there is time for digging.
  • Retreat indoors, muttering curses, and huddle next to the window a/c wishing, yet again, that I would stop taking on these renovation projects and focus on my own comfort for once and get central air installed (got $6k to loan me?).
  • In a panic, while faced with piles of seeds I ordered and can no longer remember what the plan for them was, begin tossing seeds randomly in the air while cry/screaming lyrics from random songs.
  • Be hit with the writing muse (after months of NOTHING) and spend the rest of the summer writing instead of gardening. Hence more weeds and an over-abundance of nasty looks from the grass-loving neighbor.

Yep, this year is going to be GREAT!!!

A Final Twist

After a nearly seven-month-long process, we have been approved as foster parents. And now the wait begins.

We are hoping for a newborn to under two, and if reunification with the bio-family is not an option, then we hope to adopt.

We aren’t heroes. The foster parent heroes are the ones who wade in and reach out to teenagers, combative tweens, and children who have been through the emotional wringer. I wouldn’t know where to begin with a child who was older, one who had seen or experienced trauma.

I know how to love and nurture, though. And  I know what we can give – stability, love, and good home to a little one who might not have it otherwise. We have a lot of love to give here.

So all of my plans for the garden may be turned on their ear in the next few weeks. We will see. Birthing a baby versus fostering/adopting one is both harder and easier. I won’t be worn out from giving birth, but with my girls, I could just breastfeed. Instead, I’ll be up at odd hours making bottles, burping, and dealing with a child who might have other issues. After all, these kiddos don’t come into care unless there is a good reason.

So my schedule, both working, home and garden, are unknown. I remember that the year Em was born our garden grew wild and unkempt. There was no energy left for it, none at all!

Fingers crossed, the yard will survive.

Posted in Garden Planning, Projects | Comments Off on Plans and Reality

Bidet…Who? Bidet Me!

It’s my husband’s fault.

Which reminds me of the joke…

If a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman around to hear him, is he still wrong?

The answer is, of course, “yes.”

Actually, my husband is right on quite a number of things. And as it turns out, getting a bidet is right up there at the top of the list.

He’s been talking about bidets for ages. And I would listen, nod, and think, He’s insane, I’ll be damned if I’m spending hundreds of dollars on a toilet that will spray me in my nether regions.

I saw a bidet, the standard one, years ago, while cleaning a custom-built house. It sat right next to the toilet, and I was fascinated by it. How did it work? How did you sit on it? Or did you sit in it? And then, recently, I saw a bidet/toilet combo at a new client’s recently renovated historic building/bottling plant turned entertainment area/living space.

This one was fancy. A heated seat, warm water wash, the works. It was super-cool and I’ll admit I really wanted one. But…

I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed
There ain’t nothing in this world for free

That said, my husband mentioning a bidet again a week ago, and on a whim, I scoured Amazon to see what our choices were.

And that’s when I found this little add-on bidet. And for only $34.95!

Could something that inexpensive really work? I looked at the reviews and they had raked in over 6,000 reviews, with an average rating of 4.5 out 5 stars.

I thought about it for a day and decided, “Why not?!”

It was basic, no heated seat, no warm water rinse, but it looked pretty easy to install (sez the woman who asked her husband to handle those particulars) and it took about $10 more in parts (longer bolts and toilet seat bumpers to handle the raised seat).

“Try it out,” my husband said.

I looked at him, and held myself back from asking, “Who, me?” I had gotten us into this. I had bought the contraption, he had taken the time to install it, and now I got to take it for a test spin.

I turned one of the knobs, then the other. A jet of ice-cold water shot up into my nether regions with surprising force and I screeched in shock, turning it off quickly. My husband laughed and laughed, and I tried it again, shrieking again, shocked at how cold the water was.

Cold water – but I can get used to that – until such time as I write that bestselling novel.

After two days of using it, I have a review for you, my faithful readers.

It’s wonderful. I mean, sure, it would be far more wonderful if it had a heated seat, adjustable spray positions, and warm water. But overall, having experienced a bidet, I don’t think I ever want to go back to using a plain old toilet again. Why?

  • Less toilet paper

Where before we used loads of toilet paper, now I use a small handful of squares and just blot myself dry. I can’t tell you how great that makes me feel to not be flushing so much tissue down the pipes. I can’t help wondering how much of a strain this puts on our sewage and waste treatment plants.

  • Cleaner feeling “down there”

Do you remember a set of commercials for adult wet wipes where a guy covered in grease is trying to clean himself with toilet paper? Well, they had a point. Using a dry piece of paper to wipe off the “buttstuff” doesn’t work so well. A nice, cleansing jet of water, however, well it’s kind of like taking a mini-shower. Seriously, I’ve never felt so clean in all of my life.

My dad, upon hearing our reviews, gave his typical “Hmm” and shook his head. “I had a bidet in one of my apartments in Panama and never used it,” he said. “It’s too…French…for me.”

Okay, Dad, whatever.

As for me? I’m actually looking forward to using it each day. How’s that for weird?!

New goal in life: Earn enough from writing to buy a full bidet/toilet combo, complete with warmed seat, positional sprayer, the works.

Update: It is Thursday, 3/22 and the three of us (kiddo, husband and me) have been using the bidet for nearly a week. Today, we put out a new roll of toilet paper for the first time since Saturday. At this point, my husband is the only one who utilizes it.

Not to get too personal…

WARNING! WARNING!

But if you do a little shimmy shake (kind of like twerking!) while the bidet is spraying, everything gets nice and clean. I’m made some family cloth (see here for details on making your own) to blot off with. These cloths have no “residue” and are simply for drying off with. They go into a basket next to the toilet and will be washed on laundry day.

Financially speaking, the bidet should pay for itself in approximately 45 days of use. After that, it is a savings of close to a dollar per day, thanks to no longer needing toilet paper. The family cloth is not gross, since all of the ick has been washed off and is in the toilet (believe me, the spray is…energetic…on its lowest setting).

Posted in Green Living, Products | Comments Off on Bidet…Who? Bidet Me!

Meanderings, Musings, and More

Hi There! Did you miss me?

I missed me, believe me, I did.

Three Plagues Upon My House

It all began in the last days of 2017, the last healthy days before a season of sickness. Seriously, I got sick THREE separate times.

Shortly after I recovered from Plague #1 – which my husband was still fighting off – here comes Plague #2. I could not believe it. I denied it, “This cannot be happening, there are rules, damn it!”

By the time I recovered from Plague #2 and Plague #3 came and walloped me upside my head, I was ready to start digging my own grave, but far too tired to do it.

By this time, the hubs had the second round of whatever he got. And dancing around us with crazy fevers and days of sore throat and sniffles was our little one.

Who am I kidding, she was probably the plague monkey who infected us each time.

Thanks a lot, public school populated with children who are not mine – you infectious little plague monkeys!

My cleaning clients were patient, gracious souls – but I have informed my youngest (currently suffering through a sore throat, malaise, and a zigzagging fever) that she is NOT to get me sick again. As if she could control it.

Could this plague season be over already? I actually noticed on the calendar that next Sunday is Leap Forward when Daylight Savings Time activates (something I abhor) and I actually smiled because it is the first step towards spring. And spring means the end of winter, which hopefully means NO MORE FLU.

Please let it mean that. Please.

Regulations, Schmegulations

First, there came the news of the new Airbnb regulations for Kansas City. One of the biggest thorns?

“Off-site owners must secure the consent of 55 percent of adjacent property owners.”

I live next door to both of these properties. But because I am using a property that I do not live in personally, I am considered an off-site owner. These new regulations mean that I have to ask permission of my neighbors to operate a business.

Now, if I choose to rent these houses out, I don’t have to ask permission. But Airbnb? Have to ask permission.

Uh uh.

Now they are proposing inspections (and possibly more) for rental properties. And I’m really having a hard time with this.

There are already plenty of regulations on the books – renters have rights, property owners have responsibilities, and we have a whole codes enforcement agency in place.

So why do we need MORE legislation, more laws?

Perhaps I’m being overly simplistic. Perhaps I’m looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Perhaps I’m a fool for hoping that other property owners will do this novel and unique thing called “the right thing” and provide a safe, healthy, acceptable living environment for their tenants.

Look, it goes something like this. My first house is in Belton. I lived in it for 13 years – lavished love and work on it and did my best to not just take care of it, but make it a home. I planted multiple fruit trees, improved the inside, put a new roof on, energy-efficient windows, et cetera.

A few years back, the showerhead started leaking. It had a Waterpik showerhead, which might not be the most expensive one there is, but it was one I had bought and used for myself. So when I needed to replace it, I didn’t go out and buy one that was cheaper, I bought another Waterpik for my renter.

When we were over there on Sunday replacing the dishwasher, I felt awful because the dishwasher we put in there was a used one that doesn’t look as spiffy as I would have wanted it to. I was more stressed about it then the renter was.

I noticed the back fence is bowing and that some of the panels need replacing. “Tell me how many you need and we will bring them down, I don’t want you to worry about your dogs getting out.”

Which reminds me that I need to also return next weekend to see if we can fix the double gate which apparently needs work but that I forgot to look at while we were there.

Am I going to get top of the line for a rental house? No. But I am going to provide a decent living environment – one that has working appliances and that is safe. That’s part of the deal.

Today I read an argument about the new rental inspections with one guy insisting that it will make landlords give up and stop renting because they can’t afford to make a rental house be safe and decent to live in.

But the fact is, renting a house for $600 is not a profitable activity in the end. That’s why so many houses sit in poor condition. It isn’t because the landlord is an evildoer. It’s because in the end he just doesn’t have the cash because the activity is not profitable. It’s not very hard to figure out really…Has it ever occurred to you guys that there’s actually a market for substandard housing?

That last line really REALLY bothered me. I’m not okay with being a landlord who provides substandard housing. Call me old-fashioned but a home is where you should feel safe. It’s the place you go back to at the end of the day after working your ass off and feel is your sanctuary. Or at least where you can somewhat relax.

I’ve lived in substandard housing. It sucked. I don’t look back on it as an experience that helped me – it hurt me. I was poor, I was desperate, and all around me were predatory landlords that didn’t give a fuck about me or my child or whether we were healthy and safe. It stressed me out and gave me a shorter temper. I wasn’t as good a mom because I was worried about stuff like my bathroom wall dissolving and the hot water leaking so bad it might burn my child’s skin or the time it RAINED IN MY KITCHEN. And don’t get me started on the intermittent phone service (caused by the lines being flattened in the basement) or no screens on the windows (and having to kill hornets, mosquitoes, and other flying creatures) all summer long if I wanted any breeze in my non-air-conditioned overly priced hovel.

No one needs that.

I’m still on the fence about this new inspection proposal. I don’t think it will make a difference. What will make a difference is a property owner who is willing to be the better person or get out of the game. I believe we CAN provide safe, good housing and still make a profit. It might not be as large of a profit, but still.

The other day, faced with having to replace a broken dishwasher, I grumbled and stared at the rental contract. “A dishwasher isn’t a necessary appliance,” I said, frustrated that I had not delineated it as such in the rental contract.

But the real problem I had?

I don’t have a dishwasher. When mine broke, I decided not to fix it. I was frustrated that it had last two years and then abruptly died. I was also frustrated because the one at the rental house had also lasted just two years and then died. Talk about built-in obsolescence, that is ridiculous!

But it isn’t my renter’s fault. And frankly, for them and their needs, it IS a necessary appliance. I thought about how it would feel if I were in their shoes. When they moved in, there was a working dishwasher. I realized that, like it or not, whether I have a dishwasher or not myself, I had a moral obligation to replace the one that had broken.

So I put in the used one, felt like crap that I didn’t have a nicer looking one, and I’m monitoring the situation. Hell, I’ll probably be buying a new one for them in a few months.

Because that’s the right thing to do.

She Dreams of Spring

I can’t help it, I have to buy flower seeds.

It’s an addiction, I tell you, an addiction!

My plans for the yard are limited in scope. Why? Because I’m going to be very busy. I’m writing, moving between three major projects as the muse takes me, I’m gearing up for homeschooling again in the fall, I’m staying pretty busy with my housecleaning biz (I clean one house per day, five days per week and occasionally two houses per day), AND we will be opening our home and hearts to a foster child soon.

Our hopes are to foster to adopt – but I remain committed to reunification with the bio parents if at all possible.

In any case, it means that we will have one major project this year – finishing the back fence (the front fence will wait until next year) – and then I have my own pet project…

When I laid some of the brick walkways a few years back, I didn’t lay down weed block and so grass and weeds have grown up between the bricks. I need to dig them up, level the soil, lay down the weed block (a black plastic mat on a roll), and then return the bricks to their positions and add sand in between the cracks.

I have several areas where I simply need to dig up and relocate the brick pathways since they aren’t working in their current locations. And on the sides of the main brick walkway that moves along the west side of the house, I want to dig out a two foot deep stretch along each side, add good dirt and plant groundcovers on each side that will fill the borders of the walkway with beautiful green and flowering plants.

I’ve ordered blue Aubrieta…

Irish moss…

Monkey grass…

Rock rose…

As well as a packet of dwarf perennials…

I hope to continue to establish perennials that help reduce weeds while brightening up our yard with an explosion of flowers and beauty.

I dream of spring…I know that it is on its way!

Posted in Frugality, Garden Planning | Comments Off on Meanderings, Musings, and More