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Monday, July 30, 2012

Pool party....sunset....and other stuff.

The kids were all in a summer reading program through our local library, and for finishing all of the requirements for that, they earned tickets to go to a pool party last night.

Unfortunately, although Jared earned the ticket, he couldn't go. Remember the other day when we all went plum picking? Somehow he apparently managed to find a patch of poison ivy. And apparently he lifted his shirt and rolled around in it. OK, maybe not, but that's what it looks like. He's miserable, and he's covered in the stuff, so he didn't get to go swimming.

That's Emily coming down the slide.

Wow. They're actually getting along with each other.

Alex got 2 nosebleeds - one as soon as we walked in, and one as soon as his feet touched the water. The lifeguards felt bad for him and gave him a snowcone. :)

They love this frog slide.

And then of course, I had to start playing with the effects on my phone...

When we got done at the pool party, I had to take the girls back over to Ex1's house. On the way back, the sunset was gorgeous - so I couldn't resist taking pictures. And of course, I had to play with the effects on my phone again. Hey, it was a dirt road with no traffic - I wasn't being stupid.


Now, the other stuff.

I feel weird even talking about this. I've vented already about the situation with my van. I looked at a couple of other options today - the garage that I usually go to used to be able to do payment arrangements - but they don't anymore. And they used to have a credit card deal for big repairs - well, they still do, but again, my credit wasn't good enough to get it. So while I was using The Dude's van to take his mother to the doctor, he and a friend of ours went down to the dealership and towed my van back home. So it's sitting in my backyard again, just waiting for a new transmission.

I've had a bunch of people who have asked how they can help. And this is hard for me, because I don't like to ask for help. Not for me, anyway. I can ask for help for other people all day long, but I don't like to do it for myself. I look at it as "I got myself into this mess and I can get myself out of it".

But frankly, I'm kind of stuck right now. School starts in just over 2 weeks. I have to run kids back and forth every day. I can walk Alex and Daniel to school (especially since they'll be in the same building this year *happy dance*) but the older 3 go to school 13 miles from here. The Dude just started a new job, and he needs to get back and forth to work. It's going to be too much for both of us to handle with only one vehicle. Add to that the fact that my van isn't even paid off yet, and you'll see some of my frustration. I have no choice but to fix it.

The good news is this though...my garage gave me a better estimate than the dealership (go figure). And just to prove it....(Sorry, but I blocked out the identifying stuff. I might not be totally anonymous, but I'm not going to just hand out all of my personal info, you know?)

This is a local garage, who I trust. They've done 95% of the work on my vehicles over the past 8-ish years and I've never had a problem with them so I feel confident going there. Plus, they're local - so if there's an issue, it'll be easy to get it back there to get it fixed again.

Anyway, like I said, people have asked how they can help. If you want to throw a few bucks into the "Transmission Fund" you can send it via PayPal to non-stopmom(at)hotmail(dot)com.

And before anyone says that I'm looking for a handout - oh hell, if you're going to say it, just say it. I can't change your opinion of me. Just know that I am doing everything in my power to get the money myself. I have a few odd jobs lined up and I'll be selling anything that I can sell and taking orders for stuff and going through all of my junk to see what can be sold at a friend's garage sale in 2 weeks. I'm doing what I can, and honestly, if this had happened at the beginning of the summer, I wouldn't be so stressed - but with school starting, the pressure is mounting.

So if you want to help, great. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I honestly do, and I appreciate it.

If you can't help, that's ok. I understand. Honestly, I do.

And if you think that I'm a worthless piece of trash for even putting this out there, that's ok too. I've been called worse. Really.

Just know that I will continue to pay it forward, in any way that I possibly can.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The making of the sand plum jelly

Alright, I know that some of you are going to have absolutely no interest in this whatsoever. But I've had so many questions since I've started talking about the sand plums so I thought that I would dedicate a post or three to the actual process of making the jelly. I know when I first started making it, I had to search and search to find a good recipe, and I've kind of tweaked it to make it my own, so here it is. Feel free to use it - and if you do, let me know how it turns out for you!

Once you have them picked, this is what they look like. I found out accidentally last year (I think it was last year) that if you just leave them sit out somewhere for a few days, they will ripen some more. I usually put them in a couple of pans and sit them on the kitchen table until I have time to get to them. They don't seem to attract bugs or fruit flies or anything like that, but I've also not left them out for more than a couple of days.

When I get around to it, I sit down and pick out all of the stems and leaves and other assorted crap that ends up in them. This is also a good time to pick out the ones that are really not ripe (usually green and really hard) or the ones that have gone well beyond ripe and have turned into hard little prunes. They will almost always have that white film on them - I'm not sure what it is exactly, but from the research that I've done it appears to be harmless.

Once I get all of the stems and leaves pulled out, I throw the whole mess of them in the sink and fill it with cold water to wash the fruit. I get in up to my elbows and stir them around and rub them between my hands to get any loose dirt (and some of the white film) off of them. Once they are done, I put them in my big roasting pan and add some water.

How much water? Uh....some? There isn't an exact science to this part. I don't cover them because then the juice comes out too weak. I put maybe about 2/3 as much water in as there is fruit.

Now you're saying "huh?" and I'm trying to figure out how to explain it. Let's say that the fruit is about 3" deep in your pan. Put about 2" of water in it. And then put a lid on it. Too much water makes the juice weak, and too little doesn't cook the fruit. The fruit that isn't in the water gets cooked by the steam, which is why it's important to keep the lid on it while they're cooking.

I cook them on about medium for....a while. I don't cook them on high because then they boil over and it's just one more mess to clean up later. I get them to boil and let them simmer for I don't know how long - depends usually on how many other things I'm doing at the same time. I'd say 45 minutes is a good estimate. When they're done, they split open and they get really mushy.

I usually dip out some of the liquid too, with a clear plastic measuring cup - if it looks like juice and not water, then chances are that they're done.

Now the really messy part starts - notice the towels? This is the system that I use, and it works for me. I take the pan off of the stove and put it on the table, and use a measuring cup to scoop the fruit into the colander that's on top of another big measuring cup (you can use a bowl, or whatever you have). Then I use the musher (that's a technical term, by the way) to mush the fruit through the colander.

Speaking of the colander..... isn't it pretty? Anyone else have any of that antique Tupperware from the 70's that's this color? Kind of hard to tell from the picture, but this is the old orange Tupperware. Mom used this colander all of the time while I was growing up, and now it's mine. And I love it. Melted bottom and all.

This is by far the messiest part of this process, but it's also the best one for stress relief. I won't even tell you who all I was thinking of as I was using the musher to mush fruit tonight...... anyway, mush it all down. Chunks of the fruit will also go through the colander, but that's ok at this point. The pits and the skins stay in the colander, and turn into what I call "plum vomit". Seriously - look at the last picture above and tell me that it doesn't look like vomit....? It does. And the texture of it.....*shudder*

Anyway.... dump the plum vomit in the trash can. Beware though - if you're working with a lot of plums and doing a lot of juicing, the trash bag will become heavy very quickly. It's not a bad idea to double it ahead of time, just to be safe. Seriously. Trust me on that one.

After you mush some and the juice and goo starts collecting in the cup/bowl under the colander, it's time to strain it. You can use cheesecloth or a strainer - whatever you prefer. This is the first time that I've used a strainer, and let me tell you - I love it. I can pour it in and walk away and let it do its thing, and I don't have to fight with the cheesecloth. But, at this point it's really personal preference. You'll find if you're using the strainer, the goo will start to plug it up as it settles and the juice will stop running through it - at this point I usually just take a large spoon and sort of scrape around the inside of the strainer to loosen up the goo, and the juice will start flowing through again.

Keep doing this until you have all of your plums mushed and strained. I mush and strain a little bit at a time because let's face it - I'm clumsy. If I'm going to spill, I'm only going to spill a small amount rather than the entire batch. Once I get it all strained, I usually run it through the strainer at least 2 more times, just to make sure that it's really strained - The Dude would say that I'm OCD about it, but it's just one of those things.

Once you get it all strained, you can continue on to actually making the jelly if you have time, or you can refrigerate or even freeze the juice until you get around to doing it. I'm opting to just stick it in the fridge for now because I'm planning on making the jelly within the next few days.

But yeah, remember how I said I'm clumsy? That's why I use the funnel. After putting this amount of work into it, I'm not spilling it. For now, I'm keeping it in empty (washed) milk jugs in the fridge.

And finally, the last step of tonight....because after being on my feet for the past couple of hours working on this, and then realizing that the reason the house is so hot is not only because of the heat from the stove but because someone's little fingers turned the air conditioning up to 84.... the last step is to dig around in the very back of the fridge and to swipe one of The Dude's beers that's been in there since his birthday in May. It's not even the right brand for me, but it's cold. And it works.

I'm planning to actually make the jelly in the next couple of days. The Dude wants to help me, so it might have to wait until Monday because of our schedules - but when we do it, we'll be sure to take pictures and post that entire process too. And then I'll link the blog posts together to make it easier for anyone who actually wants to use my instructions to do it themselves.

Stay tuned!


The rest of the instructions can now be found by clicking HERE!!!

Friday, July 27, 2012

More plum picking. And a vent.

The kids and I went out yesterday to pick more sand plums. It's rare that I can get them to agree to go - they don't like to do it, but yesterday, they were willing so I jumped at the chance! They actually did seem to enjoy it, although there was some whining and complaining by the end of it. But in their defense, it was hot, and we did a lot of walking and exploring.

One patch that we found was a little bit trickier to access - and this is just one of the reasons why long sleeves and long pants are mandatory attire for sand plum picking!!!

I think we spent about 2 hours out there, and we ended up with just shy of 18 pounds of fruit this time. There is still a ton out there to be picked, but I think we're going to wait another 1-2 weeks before we go out again to give more of it a chance to ripen.

I'm planning on doing an entire blog with the step-by-step directions on how to make the jelly - I tried to take pictures the other night when I was making the juice but I'm having issues since my real camera died. My phone takes great pictures outside, but in inside light it just plain sucks. The Dude and I priced cameras today, but I just can't justify spending the money on one right now so I'm going to hold off on that purchase for a bit.

Which leads me to this....

I've debated saying something. Then I talked myself out of it. But at the same time, I feel like I need to just say it and get it out of my system.

I'm just having a hard time right now. The stress of trying to get my van fixed is really getting to me, and I'm really frustrated. After getting a second opinion on it, it was determined that it is indeed the transmission, and about the only way to fix it is to replace it.

Yes, we could get a junkyard transmission, but that might only last a month and then I could be back in the same boat again. There are no guarantees with those, but I agree that the prices can't be beat. So we are pricing new ones so that there is at least a fighting chance that it'll last a few years, plus it'll have a warranty in case something goes south again.

We're looking at $3000-3500 to get it replaced. I still owe on the van, so I pretty much *have* to fix it.

I tried to get the warranty people to work with me, since it's only 609 miles out of warranty - they refused.
I looked into refinancing it to get the money for the repair, and was shot down.
I talked to the dealership about working out financing or payment plans there - no luck.
I applied for a loan at my bank - denied.
I bought a lottery ticket - just one - and yeah, well, we all know how that worked out.

I'm in a weird place with my credit. It is way better than it was a couple of years ago, but it's not good enough to qualify for much of anything. A cosigner won't help either - I already looked into that option.

So needless to say, I'm frustrated. I'm angry.

I'm depressed. There. I said it.

I just want to get someone to watch the kids for a day or two so I can go and curl up in the fetal position on my bed and cry and get it out of my system and get over it. But of course, that's not an option. Life must go on, van or not.

Instead, I will work my ass off to get things done around the house, and I will get all of these sand plums turned into jelly, and I will get all of the laundry and cleaning done and I will take care of my kids.

I'm not posting about this to get pity. I'm not looking for a handout or for atta-girls. I just need to get it out somewhere before I lose what little bit is left of my mind. I know that it's all going to work out at some point, and I know that there's some sort of big life lesson to be learned here. I just haven't figured out what it is yet. I'm trying to be patient and I'm trying to remain optimistic, but sometimes it's really hard to do.

So for now, I think I'm going to go figure out something for supper for the kids, and then I'm going to attempt to relax.

We'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A quickie

So it's late, and I'm just getting started on this, because I've had a million and one distractions today.

First off, I had a request for a picture of my "bucket garden" so here it is...super simple. Take a couple of old laundry detergent buckets, scrub them out really good, drill some holes in the bottom for drainage, fill with potting soil, plant some plants, and voila! A bucket garden. My plants don't look so hot in this picture because they had wilted and hadn't quite recovered after being watered and before taking the picture....and again, it's been really hot here.

As the tomato plants got to be too tall to stand, I just tied them to the porch railing. It might look a little ghetto, but it works. I can't plant anything in the ground here because my neighbor has walnut trees and apparently the nuts release some kind of toxin or something into the soil, and it makes it nearly impossible to grow anything. Plus, I don't have any sort of outside water source on my house - so every day, I'm carrying huge cups of water out to dump in the buckets. It's a pain, but again, it works.

I was finally able to make arrangements with the car dealership to get my van in there to get it diagnosed. It's been more than 3 weeks since it died, and I want it back. And running. Anyway, a friend of ours came over and he and The Dude towed it to the dealership this evening. Hopefully they'll call tomorrow with a nice verdict. I don't want an ugly verdict.

And finally....apparently this is what the boys think I mean when I say "go potty, brush your teeth, and go to bed". Not quite what I had in mind....yes, they are asleep. Yes, Alex is sleeping while he is half standing up. And yes, they are both snoring.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Random Thoughts and Stuff

I have a bunch of stuff on my mind right now. Too many things on my plate, too many things that I have to get done, too many things that I want to do, and not enough time or money to do any of it. I feel like I've spent the entire day on the phone - and I *hate* to talk on the phone. I really do.

The stress over trying to figure out how to get my van fixed is really starting to get to me. We've run into issues getting it to the dealership to get it diagnosed, but hopefully that will happen in the next day or two. Then once we know what's actually wrong with it, I can stress over how to fix it.

But on a positive note, my "garden" (which consists of two empty laundry detergent buckets and some jalapeno and tomato plants) is actually starting to produce some goodies!

I sort of started working on the sand plums last night. It wasn't really intentional, but I was on the phone last night (again, what's with the phone calls? but this one was long overdue and worth it) and I can't stand just sitting around on the phone doing nothing, so while I was talking I went through all of the sand plums and pulled all of the stems off of them. That's one of the most tedious parts of making the jelly, so at least it's done.

I don't know if Daniel isn't feeling good or what, but he fell asleep early tonight - way earlier than usual. So Alex and I hung out for a while this evening, and then I gave him a much needed and very overdue haircut.

I have spent most of the day trying to clean and do laundry and just get things done around the house. I know that the next few weeks are going to be busy with canning jelly, getting the kids ready to go back to school, trying to get the van fixed, and taking care of all of the normal stuff that I have to take care of on a daily basis. I'm just feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, so please bear with me if I seem a little cranky or irritable. Not to mention the whole lack of caffeine/nicotine......blah.

I need to make some lists. But I think before I do that, I need sleep.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sand plum picking: Round 1

The Dude, Daniel, and I went on our first plum picking mission of the season today. Although I've scoped out the areas where we are planning to pick, I still wasn't too sure about what we would find. The heat has been brutal this summer, but we did have a fairly wet spring, so I was trying to be optimistic.

The first area that we got to was a new area for me. It's on the same piece of property where I picked last year, but in a different spot - but it still had the seemingly obligatory old car in the middle of it! From the aerial maps and from talking to the property owner, I knew that there was a pond behind the patch - so once we figured out that there weren't a whole lot of plums to be picked, we went exploring to try to locate the pond.

We did eventually find the pond. Or, we found what's left of the pond. Did I mention that this summer has been brutally hot?

We just explored that area for a while, then drove back out to the front part of the property where I had seen more ripe fruit the other day. We were not disappointed, and The Dude got his first real taste of sandplum picking! I had tried to warn him about it - in spite of the 102 degree heat, we were both wearing jeans and long sleeves, along with boots, in order to protect ourselves from the branches, but it was still difficult. The thickets have grown in considerably denser since last summer but we found so much fruit! There is still so much that is not ripe yet though - we spent about 2-3 hours out there and got one bucket full, which ended up being about 23 pounds!

For now, all of the fruit is in shallow pans on my kitchen table, where it will sit for a few days until it all ripens up just a bit more, and then I'll start the actual jelly-making process. If I remember to do it, I'll take pictures as I go, and actually post the directions as well just in case anyone who has access to sand plums wants to try to make some jelly!