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Jul 8, 2011

Tomatoes and Dunk Tanks!

That pretty much sums up my day.

I started the day with saucing 27 lbs of tomatoes.  They have been collecting on the counter for 2-3 days, and were in danger of rolling off to the floor soon.  Hard to believe that just a week ago I was anxiously awaiting my 2011 harvest total to break the 50 lb mark, and as of today I'm over 98 lbs!  Sure, I had lots of lettuce and peas, but the pounds don't really start stacking up until the tomatoes start coming in for me, since normally I don't grow any heavy squashes.  Hopefully this year that will be different since I am trying zucchini and pumpkins.

A tip for anyone looking for a BIG bowl for cheap - I purchased a new oil pan for just a couple dollars last year and it works fantastic for this stuff.  It makes a great garbage heap for processing, too.

Today was another picnic day for hubby's squadron.  He was nice enough to take the kids with him while he set up over at the park, so I was able to prep all the tomatoes and get the sauce going in the crock pot and clean up without kids underfoot.  Just as I was finishing cleaning up I got a text message from him that he was going to put Loch in the dunk tank over there.  ???  That was my cue as a mom to get my butt over there a.s.a.p.!

As I walked across the grass towards them, I could hear the kids shrieking with glee... this is what I walked in on... (sorry for excessive video, but grandma likes it!)



more Finn

I can't even begin to describe how hot and muggy it is here.  There was intermittent storms the whole time we were there, the whole past week actually.  We've been getting anywhere from 1-2 inches a day for a week, and the mosquitoes are getting nasty!

Hubby actually took this photo of Loch before I got there, I love it!

When it was time to leave, hubby had to stay and tear down the event in the pouring rain!

We are back at home, it's still in the 90's at 7:30 as I write this, and I am starting to stress working in the garden.  It's been neglected due to the daily thunder, lightning and downpours and things are getting really out of hand out there.  This morning the heat index was 92 at 7 am already due to the humidity, so it doesn't even work to get up early anymore.  I think there will be a break in the rain on Sunday, so I'm going to have to psych myself up to get at least 2 hours of work done out there on Sunday.

The sauce has just finished up in the pressure cooker, and I'm excited to report that this is my first foray into pressure cooking with meat!

Heirloom Tomato Sauce with Peppers, Onions, Garlic, Basil, Oregano, and Italian Sausage!

Spending yet another happenin' Friday night with my canner :)

Jul 7, 2011

What a day...you might grab a beverage before reading :)

Well, I ended up spending just shy of $200 just for meeting a new friend, I guess.  The well pump guy arrived this afternoon and of course "couldn't replicate the problem".  Oh yes, the pump fired right up for him when he plugged it in.  Of course, I'm not complaining about not spending money I didn't have anyways, but I know something's wrong with it!  Apparently the several times over the last 6 weeks when I turn on a faucet and nothing comes out and the water pump doesn't kick on were just hallucinations.  Of course he said they'll waive the call fee I paid today if they need to come back out in the next few days, but figure the odds of that happening - it will be a solid month before it happens so I can pay the service fee again.  
But... I'm already over that, and have moved on to another issue that has me FUMING!
I'll warn you now that if you don't want to hear a rant that has absolutely nothing to do with gardening/homesteading and the like, "x" out now!

Switching gears...  (I want to say right away that eBay customer service rocks!)

3 weeks ago I won an auction on eBay for a little sewing machine charm, cost $9.99 + $6.40 shipping.  Here's a photo: 

10 days later I receive a plain white envelope in the mail, a hole ripped in the side of it, containing nothing.  I didn't even realize it was supposed to contain the item since the return address was from an apparent real estate company in NJ and I just assumed that it was some mortgage refi solicitation since we get those all the time.  Fast forward a few days and I log onto eBay to see where the heck my charm is and I click on "Seller's info" and find the same company title!  So now I know that the envelope must have contained the charm and somewhere along the way someone either ripped it out or it was torn in a postal sorter.  I email the seller explaining how the item arrived and asked for a refund, since I didn't think a plain white envelope was sufficient packaging, and the postal and eBay rules dictate the the shipper is responsible for adequate packaging, not the buyer.  I phrased it all quite politely and even asked if she had another of the same item, since I didn't really want the refund, I wanted the item!  Well, she ignored 2 of my emails in the past week, so I opened a customer service case with eBay.  Here is my email to eBay describing the problem, remember by this time the seller has ignored twice my attempt to resolve it directly with her:

"I received an empty envelope with a hole torn in the side of it. The item was a metal charm and packaging appeared to be very inadequate as it was not wrapped in anything other than a standard letter envelope. I emailed the seller and notified them of the situation and offered photos of the envelope and requested a refund. Seller did not offer a refund and expressed disbelief that the postal service would deliver an empty envelope. I replied back that the postal service is required to deliver all addressed mail regardless of what it contained and that it is the shippers responsibility to provide adequate packaging. It has been a week now with no response from seller. I would accept an identical item if seller had one, but otherwise need a refund."

Apparently eBay first sends the case to the seller for their input, and instead of trying to resolve the issue, this is what I got in return from the seller:


Let's tackle this response bit by bit, LOL... first off, she really should learn how to spell and punctuate correctly.  Then we have a harassing accusation, followed by "shouting" at me in all caps.  Some random crazy person rant about looking at my feedback.  Feedback?  I've purchased way more valuable things on eBay than a metal charm and paid immediately and have glowing comments from the 5 sellers I've dealt with, nothing negative (although I'm sure there is by now if she's gotten on there yet).  Oh yes, the post office... they certainly do attach a note of apologies with damaged mail, that is IF they notice it and even then they seal it in a post office plastic bag and deliver it.  The final straw however, is when I noticed that she did charge me $6.40 shipping and there is an .88 cent stamp on the plain white envelope... busted!

I saw the above email from the seller as I was leaving music lessons this evening, after stewing on it the whole ride home I immediately replied directly to eBay choosing the option "escalate the case" and wrote this:

Your message to eBay Customer Support:
"The most recent email I have received from the seller I view as harassment and no longer wish to communicate directly with seller. While correct in that the post office will attach a letter stating item was damaged IF they notice the damage, it is not attached with tape, it is put into a post office plastic bag and delivered that way stating apologies. No such bag or note arrived but the post office does not always notice damage, such as the hole in the side of the envelope that arrived. I prefer to stick to the facts, and the fact is that the seller was negligent in both packing the item securely and charging for secure shipping which did not happen. The seller mailed a lumpy metal jewelry item in a plain white letter envelope instead of in a padded mailer or similar, and also charged $6.40 shipping when the plain envelope arrived with standard .88 stamp. If eBay would like to see the photo of the .88 stamp and envelope I would be happy to provide that to a customer service representative. If you look at my history you will see that I have purchased much more valuable things than this item and paid immediately and have positive feedback. Thank You."

Get this... eBay has 48 hours to respond, yet I received an email in less than 5 minutes stating the full price plus shipping had been refunded to my PayPal account!  I was prepared to spend the evening nursing my blood pressure but instead I stuck to my guns and now I'm dumping it all on you so I can "move on" LOL.  Hey, I'm a Type A, it's difficult to move on sometimes!

In short, BOO... to the seller "XYZ"  (I actually would love to name her, but I don't want retribution and stoop to her level)...  and YAY! to eBay customer service!

Sorry for unloading all this on you, but it was really eating at me!  Don't say I didn't warn you :)

Hell hath no fury like a blogger wronged!  :)

Random Stuff

I woke up this morning to NO WATER!  That is one thing that will send me over the edge.  Hubby looked at the well pump and he thinks the motor is toast, so it looks like we'll be out until the pump guy can come later today, and hopefully he'll have what he needs to get us up and running again.  This happening in the country with a hand pump I'd be able to deal with, but these suburban shallow wells are usually located under the crawl space of the house with no hand pump and no way of manually getting water.  Over the years I have figured out what my limits are - I could get by with no electricity as long as I didn't live where it's hot, but  I MUST have running water, I don't think there is any negotiation on this one!  

With no water I can't can my tomatoes or get any kitchen related chores done, so I figure I'd take the opportunity to post some of the random photos that were on my computer desktop, completely unrelated stuff that I was saving to try and integrate into a relevant post, but who am I kidding?  Everything is random some days :)

Ever wanted to know what a cotton plant looks like?  I grow them to show the kids in the 'Ready-Set-Grow' program in the schools every spring.  Most kids have no clue that their clothes came from the dried stick of fluff I pass around :)

Cotton plant flower - the white flowers turn pink after a couple of days which is what you see above.  It is a relative of the Mallow plant, you may notice the resemblance of the blooms and leaves.

From CurlBros. CottonInfo: "Each flower falls after only 3 days leaving behind a small seed pot, known as the boll. Children in cotton-growing areas in the South sometimes sing this song about the flowers:

First day white, next day red,
third day from my birth - I'm dead.

Each boll contains about 30 seeds, and up to 500 000 fibres of cotton. Each fibre grows its full length in 3 weeks and for the following 4-7 weeks each fiber gets thicker as layers of cellulose build up the cell walls. While this is happening the boll matures and in about 10 weeks after flowering it splits open. The raw cotton fibres burst out to dry in the sun. As they lose water and die, each fibre collapses into what looks like a twisted ribbon. Now is time for harvesting. Most cotton is hand-picked. This is the best method of obtaining fully grown cotton because unwanted material, called "trash", like leaves and the remains of the boll are left behind. Also the cotton that is too young to harvest is left for a second and third picking. A crop can be picked over a period of two months as the bolls ripen."  If you are interested in more info, this link covers the basics.  

Yesterday harvested more tomatoes & eggplant

If you are looking for a game that both kids and adults will enjoy, I highly recommend this one, "Camp".  The questions are all educational about plants, animals, geology, "outdoor stuff", and have different levels so it remains interesting for everyone.  For instance, Finn will take Level 1, Loch Level 2, and hubby and I will take Level 4 questions if we are feeling particularly knowledgeable LOL.  Beats the heck out of CandyLand anyways!

Some of you "far North-ers" might want to know exactly what that darn Squash Vine Borer (SVB) looks like:

When you see the frass, dig into the stem of the squash vine, and you are likely to find the culprit, the larvae of the Squash Vine Borer moth, pale with a brown head.  They normally lay the eggs at the base of the squash vine where they hatch, burrow into the plant and commence mass destruction.  So now you know :)

Found a new way to keep kids occupied while I'm canning - clipping coupons!  Now I'm not really a fan of coupons mostly because they are all for highly processed junk that we don't eat anyways, and although I watch "Extreme Couponers" on TLC with fascination, it's usually with mouth agape from shock LOL.  Coupon cutting, however, seems to be extremely exciting for kids, they stayed busy for over an hour!  They asked which ones to cut, and I said ALL of them - bad mommy, maybe, but it was an hour of peace and quiet!

The weather has been just ridiculous, the thunderstorms have been continual for several days now, no sun, and temps in the upper 90's.  Mosquitoes are terrible, and I think the garden is going to be showing signs of problems soon from it.  We have sand for soil so it drains well, but the constant wind, wet leaves and heat is going to be bad.  The plants never have time to dry off since the storms are coming several times a day.

I'm itchy just thinking about going out there to harvest today!

Jul 6, 2011

What's YOUR Mess?

With daily downpours, thunderstorms and high winds taking their toll on the tomatoes, I'm wasting no time in putting up all I can while I can, I have no idea how long they will keep going out there, but I fear I won't be canning "excess" tomatoes in September like usual.  The cucumbers were staggered plantings, so I'm only getting a handful at a time, perfect for refrigerator pickles.  Refrigerator pickles last a year, so there is no need can those here.  I would if I had a huge amount to worry about, but since nutritionally they are just fluff LOL, I save the pantry space for more healthful veggies.  I figure if the power goes out and the fridge goes down, well, it was just pickles in there :)

Japanese Climbing Cucumber

Dilly Jar O'Fun - this jar has a few beans and peppers as well as Japanese Climbing Cukes and Parisian Pickling Cucumbers, fresh dill, peppercorn, garlic and fresh grape leaves on the bottom for crispness.  You never know what you might grab when you stick your hand in the jar!

I've been keeping a "largest Brandywine tracker" on my sidebar this year, and yesterday's took the prize, this one is bigger by several ounces than the "bigger than my head" photo of a few weeks ago - this one came in at 1.89 lbs!  

You know, cooking and canning all day is really boring for children.  I'm noticing that the noise and naughtiness levels rise in accordance with how long and involved my particular tasks are. I couldn't think straight at all with the constant clomping that was going on all day yesterday... Finnegan decided he would wear daddy's "Heelys" all day long, ugh!  School can start any time now...

That brings me to my tomato sauce - ever get sick of looking at nice luscious ripe tomatoes and pretty things like this in gardener's posts?  (Thomas, do you hear me?!) You are thinking, wow!  She's so "together"... come ON, we all know it's not always as it seems in photos...

I have a challenge for you -  Post what's not in the photo!  Yep, I want to see your garbage bowls, arms covered in pulp, goggles and gloves when peeling those hot peppers, juice spattered on the dog, walls, sink full of unwashed dishes, you know the drill!  (Remember the refrigerator challenge from last year?)

Here's my "rest of the story" for yesterday :)

So what are you currently putting up?  What's your mess? 

Jul 5, 2011

How we spent the holiday

We were lucky enough to have hubby join us after all!  He was off the afternoon, so we went to the pool, as the car was reading 101º, yuck!

I scored a table with an umbrella and had some great reading material with me -

Not to be outdone by Loch's "deep end" pool video, Finnegan insisted that I also film him on his first venture into the deep end.  After getting the okay from the lifeguard, off he went!  I know his swimming looks rough, but there's only one way to get better, by doing it!  Also, hubby is underwater near him to make sure he makes it, LOL.  

Poor hubby, works 8 days in a row, 12 hours a day, and we take him right back there for "fun".  LOL, this is the view from the pool...

Hubby can't seem to get away from the jets, but the "free" in the base "free pool" shouts louder :)

Any guesses as to what this is in the photo below?  You win nothing for a correct answer other than my admiration for knowing :), I'll fill you in later if nobody guesses correctly!

Made a few yummies yesterday...

I made my potato salad with onions, bleu cheese, bacon & balsamic dressing,

along with the last of the bean harvest to go with our grilled veggie burgers.  There are more beans planted but it will be a few weeks until they start producing.  These were from the plants I had to pull since they were crowding my peppers.

Big harvest day yesterday...

I spent the evening canning pickled sweet peppers, pepperoncini, and jalapenos.

What, no fireworks?  Nope - I lucked out there.  I didn't want to deal with the crowds of tourists at the beach and worried about being a "bad mom" for not going, but turns out I didn't have to... Mother Nature saw fit to cancel all the city displays and put on her own show of lightning, thunder and rain.

I'm elbow deep in squeezing tomatoes today, hoping to make a decent amount of tomato sauce.  Have I said lately how much I love my new canner?  :)

Jul 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

Or is it Valentine's Day?

Blanched Hearts!

The fight continues this morning...

Above, the Brandywines.  Below, blight has hit the Hillbilly tomatoes hard.  They are looking scraggly due to all the pruning of affected branches.  Any bets on how long they can hold out?  It's 100º so I don't think it will be much longer :(

Speaking of Independence Day...

This morning the one of the two baby doves took flight.  It was more of a divebomb from the basket to the ground, but it's a start!  Now we have to be very vigilant when we let the dogs out and give mama time to herd them under cover.  They can fly halfway decently, but they seem to just sit there, I don't believe they know who the predators are quite yet, so mama is always nearby.  

I hope to salvage some of the day today since hubby did end up getting this afternoon off.  Not sure what the agenda will be, but I'm sure it will involve water, food and maybe some pressure canning!

As one of my friends said the other day, "Party Like It's 1776!".... hope you have a great day!

Jul 3, 2011

Beauty and the Bees

We are blessed with an abundance of bees in our yard, every year I look forward first to the Mason bees, then the bumbles with a sprinkling of honeybees.  Luckily this year we have more honeybees than we've ever had, I only hope that continues.  We also have "Monster Bees", as seen below on the sunflower.  Yes, they are as big as they look LOL, about half the size of my thumb, hence the kids' name for them.  I think it helps that we don't have to "share", we are the only ones anywhere nearby that actually landscape or garden at all, and every perennial I plant is specifically for them.



Butternut Squash

I apologize for the jet noise in the video, but it's like this 24/7 since we live across the street from the Naval Air Station, and this is actually quiet considering the usual screaming SuperHornets banking over the house.  I rarely notice it unless I'm on the phone anymore :)  It's hard to get too spun up about it since that's where our paycheck comes from.

Bees working hard, every plant in my yard seems to have dozens!

My weekend is a bust - hubby works Fri, Sat, Sun & Mon!  Last night he got out of the squadron at 3 am and then he had to leave again at 11:30 a.m.... pretty ridiculous!  Due to his work schedule and the near 100 degree temps I'm spending the holiday weekend indoors reorganizing my kitchen, creating space again where there was none - fun times, I know.  I'll post on that soon!  Hope you all are having a better weekend!