Sunday, April 24, 2016

We spend WAY too much time digging through piles of rocks.

Lately, it feels like all of our date nights are on the rocks.  Or on the rock piles at least.

We've been spending a lot of time geocaching lately.  And it's pretty amazing how many ways there are to turn a rock into a geocache.

Dan has made a few of the real rock caches - rocks he drilled holes into to insert bison tubes into them.  He bought two drill bits  - a pricey diamond encrusted one ($20) and a regular mason bit ($3.50). The diamond one did not work well. The $3.50 one has been great.  Go figure.  A 5/8 bit works well for a half inch bison tube.

My least favorites are the "needle in a haystack" caches.  A rock, in a pile of rocks.  These are a couple of my logs from one needle in a haystack rock cache near us:

Didn't find it 04/02/2016
Day #683. Spent another evening skulking behind a convenience store sorting through trash strewn rocks. The container continues to elude us. Our children believe we've gone mad. We may have. Gave up the search at dusk, but am certain we'll be drawn back by a force we cannot withstand.

Didn't find it 04/15/2016
Day #710. Some basic research & mathematical calculations confirmed that at our age, having us committed to a psychiatric facility would cost more than our children will benefit from their inheritance.

With that fact settled, we set out to dig through more rocks, determined today would be the day to get this off our list!

But we forgot to calculate in my attention span. About 40 rocks later, I got bored. That might actually be progress for me.

I'm now contemplating a rock flipping citgo event.

We will return....


We probably visited this cache 6 or 7 times.  We used three different apps on two different cell phones, AND a handheld gps unit.  All put us in the same basic location every single time.

Finally another cacher, after reading my logs, sent me a hint.  We stopped by and found the cache "in minutes" just as others had posted, leading me to believe that the others had the same type of hint we received. I don't think we would have ever found it without basically being told where it was - it was too far away from where our gps units were directing us.

But not all rock geocaches are a needle in a haystack type.  Some are just rock containers.  You can buy a fake rock cache - a hide a key shaped like a rock. Or make one out of cement.  Or use a drill bit to put a bison tube in a real rock.   You can even make a fake rock out of expand a foam, with a little bit of paint to make it blend in. 

 Below are some of the different rock cache hides we have found.  Some were a lot of fun.  Some, like the one above,  I had more fun logging DNF's for than I did looking for.  




It's hard to explain to friends why we sort through piles of rocks, or search guard rails, or look under lamp post skirts..  it's like the dirty secret of geocaching.  We'd rather tell them about the caches that take us to cool overlooks, historic sites, or caches that are puzzles or gadgets.  But we still search through piles of rocks, guardrails, and lamp post skirts.  Why?  I really don't know.  We always think it's not about the numbers for us, but we keep going to find these, rather than ignoring this type of cache.  While we prefer the unique, the scenic, the historical.. the fact is,when we head out to cache, we usually go after every cache in the area, no matter what it is.  It's all part of the game I guess.  :-)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Pulled Pork, Using the Aldi Fresh Meat deal

I'm transitioning to shopping more at Aldi, now that we don't always need the bulk amounts from Sam's club.  So of course I started this week by buying a 10lb pork roast.  Because everyone scaling back on the amount of groceries they buy should buy a 10lb pork roast....

But it was $1.49 a lb!  How can you pass that deal up?  I looked it up online to type up this post, and found this:

"Every Wednesday, look for our incredible Fresh Meat Special Buy* item. When you see the sign, you'll find an extra-low price on one of our very best cuts of meat. But hurry…because at these low prices, our weekly supply is extremely limited. "

I usually shop on Wednesdays, because I'm already in this area for BSF on Wednesday mornings.  I can't believe I've never noticed this before?  I really should be more observant.  :-)

A few months back I had made this recipe, from Kevin & Amanda.  It's called Perfect Roast Pork.  And it was good.  But I didn't think it was perfect, or really worth all of that effort. Ok, so it's really not THAT much effort, but it involved mixing spices, and brining the pork...  basically, more than 3 steps, so it exceeded my attention span. :-)  If it has truly been our idea of perfect (Did you know that 40 years ago students were taught never to use the word perfect when writing? Because nothing is truly perfect, therefor it was an improper use of the word.   some older women in my BSF group shared that they were taught never to use that word.  My, how times have changed...)  I'd have repeated the steps. But although it was good, we just weren't wowed by it.  (It's apparently one of the most popular recipes on their site, and they have a LOT of great recipes, so my opinion is obviously different than that of many others.  Nothing new there.

I put my 10lb pork roast in my crockpot, dumped in a jar of Lefty's BBQ sauce (I found it cheap at Wengers, but apparently Wal-mart carries it), refilled the bbq sauce bottle 3/4 full with water and shook it up good, then dumped that into the crockpot too.

I set the crockpot to cook on high for 4 hours. Before I went to bed, I  switched the crockpot to cook on low for 10 hours. In the morning before I left, I switched it to warm.  At lunch time I shut it off completely, but let the roast sit.

At 4pm, roughly 24 hours after I started cooking the pork, I pulled the meat from the juices in the crockpot.  It looked a lot like soup- the liquid came almost to the top of the crock.  The meat fell apart as I pulled it from the crockpot into a large bowl.

Using two forks, I "Pulled" the pork.  

It was so moist, so flavorful, and so good, that I really didn't have to do anything else.  For me, this came out SO much better than the brined recipe.  

It made a LOT of pork.  I filled one gallon bag, and one half gallon bag, for the freezer, and still had about half a gallon or more that I added Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce to to make Pulled BBQ Pork sandwiches for dinner.  (Served on Ciabatta rolls, also from Aldi)

This is really, really good. I won't call it perfect. But it will be my go to recipe for pulled pork from here on out.  :-)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

How to Make a Chalkboard Graphic

I'm going to assume you already have a basic knowledge of some sort of graphics program.  Gimp is free.  I use Paint Shop Pro - because I have used it for many years, and I lack the attention span (& budget!) to keep up with photoshop.  

First, The Background.
  Thank you google image search....

These sites also offer free downloads - 

Next The Fonts:

This site has links to all of the fonts on the poster above
(most of my favorites are on her list, so I didn't see any sense in replicating it. Plus, she did it better than I would have.)

I personally recommend going to Dafont and downloading just about everything ever created by Kimberly Geiswein.  I can't believe all of these gorgeous fonts are free.
Some of my favorites:

Installing new fonts is super easy.  In most cases, you can unzip them, open 
Control Panel\Appearance and Personalization\Fonts 
or in your windows start menu, search "fonts"
Then copy the fonts and paste them in the font folder
If you have a graphics program open, you'll probably have to close it and restart it for the new fonts to appear.
If you need more detailed instructions:

Then, The Dingbats:
All those banners & frames?  Even mustaches and animals, or cars, or whatever... they can be found in dingbat fonts.
I'd start with:

KG Flavor & Frames
That will give you all sorts of banners and buntings to work with

But the options are pretty endless.  Use google and search for things like "snowman dingbat font", etc.  KG has several varieties of frames. I've downloaded them all.

Those who are pretty serious about this stuff use software to organize their fonts, or they print them into a binder. Me? I google the dingbat font I'm using to remember which letter/number = which graphic.  Probably not the best way, but it really is the easiest.  :-)

Organize with Software:

Organize In a Binder:

The graphic above, for KG Flavor & frames, does not show all of the options - just a good sampling of them.  

Some Examples:

(Have I gone 10 minutes without mentioning that I have a gorgeous new grandson?  Let's rectify that quickly!!)

Not A Pinterest Baker Makes Lemon Blueberry Cake

Working from the recipe found here:

Step 1 - Check the Ingredients

  I don't have buttermilk, but that's easy to make.  (I do have fresh from the dairy milk, and a bag of lemons from Aldi)

Find that our daughter does not like the cherry cream cheese I bought at Wengers, because it was super cheap, on her bagels, she she used some of the plain cream cheese I bought for the icing.  

Check the pan cabinet.  I have a collection of stackable wedding cake pans that I bought for $1.50 at a yard sale and keep, but will likely never, ever, use.  None of them are the same size.   I have two wilsons cake pans from a cake decorating class my daughter and I took for fun 7 years ago.  I know it was 7 years ago, because facebook just showed me the reminder photo this week.  I didn't need facebook to remind me that we really, really sucked at cake decorating.  And that these pans probably have not been used in the 7 years since we took this class, because I really didn't like them.

It may be time to re-evaluate my idea that I am not a hoarder, and that I'm really good about getting rid of things we do not use.  Another day.  Today I am thankful for the pans, and that my cheesecake pan is roughly the same size.

I wonder if pie pans would work in a pinch? Do normal people have 3 cake pans? 

Remember that we just gave away all the eggs.  Go out to the hen house to collect the eggs (by the way, there's 3 inches of snow on the ground.  April 9th, 2016, in Central PA.)  Feed the chickens & peacocks while I'm out there, throw some scratch grain for the ducks and guineas.
Come back inside, find that both the sugar and flour canisters are empty.  Refill them from the huge sam's club bags of sugar and flour that I keep in the pantry.  Wonder if I could start buying smaller bags now that the kids are pretty much grown?  How much money am I saving, especially when you calculate how much I spill all over the counter while refilling the canisters from these huge bags?  Thoughts for another day.

This cake is TIME consuming. :-)

The oven was preheating, I set the plastic lid to the flour canister near the back burner of the stove while refilling the canister, and melted the lid. Just a little.

Step 2 - Mix the ingredients

Zest the lemons.  I like zesting lemons.  I don't like squeezing the juice from lemons.  Especially when I don't think this through, and attempt to squeeze the juice right on top of the zest.  Its harder to find the seeds in the zest.

Squeeze the rest of the lemons into a second bowl, separate from the zest.  Find cheesecloth, find the scissors that belong in the kitchen drawer, but are not in the kitchen drawer.  Attempt to strain lemon juice, with seeds, into the zest.  The cheesecloth slips, seeds go in the zest.  I kid you not, I'm that bad at this.  I think I got all the seeds out, but there's  possibility my version of this cake will include at least one lemon seed.

Manage to mix all the rest of the ingredients without any real incident.  Although I should have softened the butter a bit more.

Toss the frozen blueberries in flour. Gently fold into the batter, using a spatula.  Huh.  She's right, my batter isn't blue.  (Don't worry, I'll screw that up later)

Step 3 - Prep the pans, Pour the Batter, Bake.

The instructions say to lightly grease and flour the pans with nonstick baking spray.  Huh?  Grease and flour OR baking spray, I understand..  is there a nonstick spray that comes with the flour in it?  Or do I grease the pans with the nonstick spray, then flour them?  That's the choice I went with.  It is easier, faster, and less messy then greasing them with crisco then flouring them.

Pouring the batter evenly into 3 pans was not fun for me.  It is really thick.  I find it highly unlikely I poured evenly.  And when shaking the pans to cover the bottoms with the batter didn't work, I used the spatula, and turned the batter blue.  (Told you I screwed that up later)

Put the pans in the oven, and then realize I should have taken a photo of the blue batter in the pans.  Take one back out to take a photo.

Spend the 21 Minute baking time typing this post.  How can it take that long to type this?  I haven't even added any photos or anything yet.

When the oven timer goes off, look for toothpicks.  Why do we have toothpicks? When did I buy these?  Nevermind, just be happy I have them.  They come out clean.  Cake is done.

Pull pans from the oven - this does NOT look right.  Tiny,super thin, dense layers. Read over instructions.  I obviously over mixed.  Apparently it does not take much to over mix.  I should have read this recipe with a little more care before beginning.  Especially the part at the end where she says this cake could be made in a 9x13 pan.  (Of course she's never made it that way - she always makes it in layers. But theoretically, people like me could learn to mix it a LOT less and pour it willy nilly in a 9x13 pan.  If we ever master the lemon juice straining through cheesecloth)

The Icing
The icing recipe calls for 1-2 T of heavy cream.  What would you do with the rest of the carton?  We have milk straight from the dairy, it's about 5% fat - and it will have to do.  :-)  Honestly, after seeing how the cake turned out, I wasn't going to stress over the icing.  Had the layers been all nice and fluffy, I may have pulled out the cake decorating supplies and piped the icing and made this pretty..  but today, a spatula was good enough.

The Verdict:
It has a good taste. The icing is a bit much, but that might be because my layers are so thin.  I've made crepes (poorly) that were almost this thick...

 If I make it again, I will not use the kitchenaid at all - and hopefully that will solve the texture issue.  Honestly, I'd be tempted to make this with a boxed cake mix.  And I'd definitely use a 9x13 pan.  

1. I know it's terribly hard not to confuse us, especially after seeing this cake, but I am NOT the family member who is featured in wedding and cake magazines, and competes  on  (and WINS!) baking shows on tv.  That's my husband's cousins wife.  We don't share the same last name, but we're both married to descendents of the same set of grandparents..  so I don't know why I didn't inherit her cake decorating skills.  Life's just not fair.  :-)

2. My baking process does in no way reflect on the quality of the recipe.  It does however, accurately reflect my attention span and attention to detail.  Unfortunately.

3.  I'm really not completely incompetent in the kitchen.  I cook pretty well. I made things like pasta and pierogies from scratch. I even bake regularly. Really.  But I'm better with things that do not require precise measurements and exact detailed instructions.  See note 2 on my attention span.

4. Yes, I do know how footnotes are supposed to work.  No, I don't particularly care that I used them improperly here.  See Attention To Details under note 2.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Nine Books I could Not Put Down

Recently I saw a list shared to facebook, repeatedly, that was 20 Books You Can't Put Down.  I clicked on the link, read the list, and was slightly dumfounded.  They were all books I had read, and none of them kept me up to finish them.  Some of them I didn't even care to finish, they just were not that good at all.  It was another reminder that my taste in books is far from the New York Times Bestseller list.  (I recently finished All the Light We Cannot See - and although it was good enough, I cannot fathom why everyone is raving over it - it really wasn't that great in my opinion)

In no particular order, these are a few of  the books that I had a hard time putting down:

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

This book, more than any other I have ever read, still sticks with me.  For no discernible reason.  It is probably the only book I have ever read where I truly don't know "who did it", and I'm ok with that.  Normally I like clear endings, with everything wrapped up. But this time, it was better left open to interpretation.

This is my review at goodreads:

Not since reading The Room by Emma Donaghue have I been so completely pulled into a novel. This was a riveting read, near impossible to put down.

This book is set in the prohibition era, and at times you expect Rose & Odalie to run into Gatsby himself. It is delightful to read, with the speakeasies and the clothing so vividly described without being tedious. (I've recently read Inferno & The Kill Room, Brown & Deaver could take some notes from this on how to set a scene without being so tedious that the reader forgets why anyone is in that scene to begin with.)

The narrative is fantastic. The early reference to The Wasteland by TS Elliot hints at the depths and twists in this book, which are at once so clear, and so unclear, that at the end you may wonder what this book was really about. Normally I cannot stand that in a book, I like clear endings with everything wrapped up neatly, but in this book I simply do not care that I don't have all the answers. It's truly that well done.
If you like to think more deeply about plot lines and inferences that the author quite likely never intended be sure to read Odalie by Alice Dunbar. It is very short, not really much longer than this review, and free to read online.
(a side note - I read through some of the reviews at goodreads, and many seem to think there are only two options for the ending. I see a third. Not one or the other, but a blending of the two. I'm not prone to over thinking things though, and allowing for the blending allows me to take the text pretty literally as the author wrote it. ) 

Room - By Emma Donoghue
Ok, so ignore my comments about the New York Times Best Seller List for this one.  I'm sure they will ruin it with the movie, but this book is gripping.  I read it in one sitting, and was haunted by it long after I finished it.  Definitely one of my favorites of all time.

From GoodReads: "To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it's where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it's not enough...not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son's bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work."

What Was Mine - Helen Klein Ross
This was a book club selection from She Reads, and a lot of my favorite books come from their recommendations. This one might be more of a mom thing?  I'm not sure.  I am a mom, so I can't separate the bias here. It's about a woman who kidnaps a baby.  Not a planned kidnapping, it just sort of  happened - although a kidnapping is a kidnapping, and she knew what she was doing was wrong.  She was a good mom, and raised a great kid.  And then one day, with the child off to college, the lie unravels and she is exposed.  Now I'm pretty firmly a law and order type gal - I believe you break the law, you pay the price.  And the birth mother did NOT deserve to have her child kidnapped.  So I can't quite understand how this author made the kidnapper so likeable that I did not want her to be punished.  But she's really that good.  I couldn't put this book down - I had to know how it all worked out.

Learning To Swim - Sarah J. Henry
"If I'd blinked, I would have missed it. But I didn't, and I saw something fall from the rear deck of the opposite ferry: a small, wide-eyed human face, in one tiny frozen moment, as it plummeted toward the water."
When she witnesses a small child tumbling from a ferry into Lake Champlain, Troy Chance dives in without thinking. Harrowing moments later, she bobs to the surface, pulling a terrified little boy with her. As the ferry disappears into the distance, she begins a bone-chilling swim nearly a mile to shore towing a tiny passenger.
Surprisingly, he speaks only French. He'll acknowledge that his name is Paul; otherwise, he's resolutely mute.
Troy assumes that Paul's frantic parents will be in touch with the police or the press. But what follows is a shocking and deafening silence. And Troy, a freelance writer, finds herself as fiercely determined to protect Paul as she is to find out what happened to him. She'll need skill and courage to survive and protect her charge and herself. 
Sara J. Henry's powerful and compelling Learning to Swim will move and disturb readers right up to its shattering conclusion."

Six Years - Harlan Coben
Or, basically anything Harlan Coben has ever written.
I love his books so much that I actually save some unread, for times when my reading list has been disappointing and I want a really good read. I have them stashed away like emergency chocolates, no joke.   He's never failed me yet.

This was one of my all time favorites though.  From GoodReads:
"Six years have passed since Jake Fisher watched Natalie, the love of his life, marry another man. Six years of hiding a broken heart by throwing himself into his career as a college professor. Six years of keeping his promise to leave Natalie alone, and six years of tortured dreams of her life with her new husband, Todd. But six years haven’t come close to extinguishing his feelings, and when Jake comes across Todd’s obituary, he can’t keep himself away from the funeral. There he gets the glimpse of Todd’s wife he’s hoping for . . . but she is not Natalie. Whoever the mourning widow is, she’s been married to Todd for more than a decade, and with that fact everything Jake thought he knew about the best time of his life—a time he has never gotten over—is turned completely inside out. As Jake searches for the truth, his picture-perfect memories of Natalie begin to unravel. Mutual friends of the couple either can’t be found or don’t remember Jake. No one has seen Natalie in years. Jake’s search for the woman who broke his heart—and who lied to him—soon puts his very life at risk as it dawns on him that the man he has become may be based on carefully constructed fiction. Harlan Coben once again delivers a shocking page-turner that deftly explores the power of past love and the secrets and lies that such love can hide."

Winter Garden - Kristin Hannah
This is another author that rarely disappoints, but this was my favorite so far.  I really love these books that alternate between present day and past history, revealing the mystery of the past as they go along.  I love history, and mystery, and when it is well incorporated into a present day story, all the better.  (Which is why it is very surprising that I was disappointed by All The Light We Cannot See - but there's no explaining my taste I guess)

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard: the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time - and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya's life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother's life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.

Another that was a real favorite or mine was Night Road - also by Kristin Hannah -

The Husbands Secret - Liane Moriarty

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

This sounds heavy and deep, but it's really not.  This is what I think of more as a "beach read", but with substance.  And the twist at the very end is very satisfying.  It challenges what we know not only about our spouses, but what we know of ourselves.

Before I Go To Sleep - S.J. Watson
Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love--all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. 

Ok, so I definitely have a "type" of book.  Not just a mystery, but things are not what they seem.  

The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton
During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

I also really enjoyed The Houser At Riverton by this author, it is the same style of book.