Sunday, June 29, 2014

More Berries

The raspberries continue to produce well, so far I've frozen 2 gallons of them and eaten almost that many fresh. I remembered to walk down and check the wild blackberries the other day, and was rewarded with the first ripe berries. Although not quite as prolific as they were in Oregon, the wild blackberries seem to grow most everywhere here. It is a problem with cultivated raspberries as "they" recommend you keep them far apart to prevent cross pollination and I try to be ruthless about mowing them down within the yard itself. The wild area behind the house heading down to the bottom of the holler is another story. They are everywhere down there, encroaching on the path and stretching out to grab you as you walk along. If I though raspberries were well-armed, then these blackberries are the ruthless kings of self defense.

The branches sport thorns that are razor sharp, carefully angled to cling and tear flesh and cloth, both when reaching into the brambles and when trying to retract your hand/arm from the tangled mess. Even the underside of the leaves have an arsenal of thorns making picking the fruit hazardous at best. You think you can just reach out and gingerly pick them from the stem? Not so fast... the 6-10 foot long canes arching over your head react to this assault by whipping around and securely stabbing into the offending intruder as soon as a berry is plucked. Combine that with the steep angle of the hillside they're growing on and it's a major chore to try and harvest most of them. I'm hoping to be able to pick and freeze a good number of the ones growing right along the path, as long as I don't collapse from blood loss.

This little chipping sparrow chided me the whole time I was carefully picking the blackberries. When I moved from one spot to another it would flit 5 or 6 feet ahead and continue to scold me.

The apricot tree and the two cherry trees bloomed this spring, then the blossoms promptly froze in a cold snap so no fruit this year.  That's not so bad as they are young trees planted just 2 years ago, but now tent caterpillars have moved in at the top of the apricot tree. I have no way to reach them to destroy the nest, so I'm just hoping the damage isn't too great.

The poor peach tree isn't faring much better. Last year was the first year it produced, so there were not a lot of peaches and they succumbed to brown rot. This year there is more fruit. But if you look closely, you can see the bad ones.
Brown rot is a fungus which can live in the soil for a very long time. The tiniest bit of damage to the peach allows the fungus a foothold to grow. It takes mere hours for the entire peach to become covered with nasty brown fuzzy spores and to rot. I pick off the bad ones on a daily basis, and with luck I may get enough fruit to make a small cobbler like I did last year. I could spray a fungicide at blossom time and again just before they ripen, but I'm seriously considering cutting the tree down and planting a variety that has more resistance than this one does.

At least the little blueberry bush is doing well. I ate the first 6 blueberries a couple days ago, and there may be a gallon or so ripening if the birds don't get them first.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Do you ever marvel at just how few of the items sold at an average American grocery store are actually food? Now, I realize I'm not the typical American shopper. Most of my adult life I've grown my own food. When the kids were small we had almost an acre of garden, plus butchered our own chickens, turkeys and hogs, and we were about 80% food self-sufficient. We bought  honey, dairy products and grains/flour along with beef - a hog carcass will fit in an old refrigerator to chill, but I never had a way to chill an entire beef.

It always amazes me to look around the store and realize how little of what is offered for sale is actually edible. It seems the typical store has about 6-8 rows of food, food-like items and empty calories masquerading as food, the rest is stuff you can't eat. Charcoal, cat litter, toothpaste, plastic silverware and blow up pool toys, birthday cards and cheap t-shirts with tacky sayings, motor oil and chicken feed, kitchen utensils, toilet bowl cleaner, paper towels and mylar balloons fill the remaining aisles which outnumber the "edible" aisles 2 to 1. Even much of the "edible" stuff consists of things which you probably should not eat... GMO grains, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup and more fill the ingredient labels with a list of things you can't pronounce and which the human body doesn't need or want.

The local Kroger is a small store in a small town, but they have a fair amount of organic produce along with some frozen and canned organic foods. I make the one hour drive to Trader Joe in Nashville once a month or so to buy organic eggs and orange juice and some of the harder-to-find-locally items. There is also a Whole Foods in Nashville, but I don't care for the store much and avoid it whenever possible. What I really miss is a good food co-operative. I found that there is a co-op in Knoxville, but that's a 4 hour drive one way. The food coop in Sioux Falls burned down earlier this year, but I am told they're up and running in a different location so I will be able to buy foods, grains and spices in bulk while I'm up north. 

In the meantime I buy what I can when it's on sale and freeze it for later use when its out of season and the price is triple or quadruple. I am looking for a good food dehydrator that I can use for fruits and veggies as they weigh much less and will take up less space in the RV when dried as opposed to canned or frozen. I currently have an ancient round dehydrator, made entirely of plastic, which I use reluctantly for drying the almond and coconut meal left over from making coconut milk and almond milk. Here's a fresh batch of coconut milk from this morning, posing in front of the workhorse Vitamix blender. A liter of milk leaves me with 1 1/2 or 2 cups of coconut meal.

 I hate plastic anything, especially when it comes in contact with my food which rules out many of the dehydrators on the market. Excaliber is usually rated quite high, but they use plastic trays and the interior of the stainless steel case is also lined with plastic. I found the TSM brand a few days ago, and I'm seriously considering buying one in spite of the very high price tag. It's ALL stainless steel, including the trays, and the customer service is said to be outstanding, plus they're made in the USA. I need to call the company and ask about the feasibility of installing one where a microwave would normally go in an overhead RV cabinet. If they say it will work, I'll likely get one. That way I can dry the coconut and almond meal and also put up a lot of fruit and veggies, and I never use a microwave anyway. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gas Money

A person commented that I drove a lot of miles. It's true, I do, but I've always loved to drive or to ride motorcycle long distance. I've also always tracked the fuel mileage I get with whatever vehicle I'm using. Several times a sudden drop in mileage has pointed to a problem that hadn't shown up yet at the dealership when I had the truck in for oil changes, like when the fuel pump was starting to go bad. It also let me know that adding the bed cover two years ago gave me 2- 3 mpg better fuel economy, and it shows that using ethanol decreases my mileage by 12-15% as does the winter fuel mix up north.

I used to use a computer based program to track the  mileage, but back in April of 2009 I discovered I just sign in, input the odometer reading, gallons of fuel purchased and the price per gallon and Fuelly does all the calculations, plus you can customize it to show lots of different statistics. They even have a mobile app so you don't have to wait until you have internet to add your fuel-ups.

I had filled up the tank on the truck a couple days ago, and since I don't have a smartphone I went online to add it. I happened to click on the All Time Cost Analysis and  this is the shocking chart that came up.
Seriously, $24,000!?! That's more than I paid for the 5 acres of land and mobile home here in TN! It's double what I paid for the 6 acres in Minnesota with a house and a couple outbuildings! Either I spend way too much on gasoline or I buy really cheap real estate.  LOL

I really love my Tundra, and it actually gets good mileage for a 10 year old truck with 175,000 miles on it. If I'm not hauling I get right around 18 miles per gallon, and have had several tanks over 23 mpg. It's the hauling that kills me, the mileage can drop as low as 9 or 10 mpg if I've got a heavy load and/or large trailer. The lifetime average since I bought the truck in July of 2008 is 14.9 mpg, and I've been towing or hauling over half the time. That's still better than the 4-6 mpg I got with the Class C with no toad. 

When it comes time to buy a new truck I'll do a ton of research, cost of ownership, number of repairs, etc. I'll also check on Fuelly to see what kind of fuel economy different makes and models get in real life. We all know the estimated mileage stickers on the window are not accurate unless you're a professional driver going 45 on a closed track with no accessories running and a good tailwind. LOL In a perfect world the rebuilt Caboose weight will come in low enough that I can continue to use my current Tundra, but I'm afraid it may end up too heavy.

Friday, June 20, 2014

North Carolina

Whew! Last weekend was crazy! My almost-son-in-law accepted the job offer in Utah, so he is moving. He had a storage unit full of things he hadn't sold yet, plus all the belongings he wants to move to Utah. He's been living in my small travel trailer for almost a year while looking for a 5th wheel, and so I also needed to get the camper home. We figured it would take 3 trips, and time was short. His new job starts July 7th, and he and my daughter wanted to take the scenic route through Minnesota and South Dakota to visit family and friends on the way.

She and I headed out at 4AM last Thursday morning for Marion, NC. Right off the bat the trip was crazy. The little town of Manchester TN, population about 10,000, was a traffic planner's nightmare as 100,000 people were arriving for the annual Bonnaroo music festival held here. It's a 4 day event, and for those 4 days there is an extra exit off I-24 for people getting to the farm where it's held. Manchester normally has 3 exits, 110, 111 and 114. People arriving from the west are directed to proceed to exit 127 then come back west to exit 112. Signs on westbound I-24 direct Bonnaroo traffic to use the shoulder. The gates are opened late Wednesday afternoon, and at times the cars on the shoulder can be backed up for 15 miles. I've heard horror stories of sitting on the side of the interstate for 10 or 12 hours waiting to get in. This was the scene about 4:30 AM somewhere around mile marker 120. Law enforcement was everywhere, and the event traffic was creeping along slowly.
Sorry for the lousy photos, they were taken with my ancient cell phone.

Luckily once we were past exit 127 things cleared up nicely and we arrived in Marion around noon. We went directly to the storage unit and proceeded to pack the truck as full as we could, and got the load tarped well since rain was forecast. SIL took us out to eat at his favorite Mexican restaurant, a little place called el Jalapeno in Marion, and after a quick nap in the camper and daughter and I headed back to TN. We got home, unloaded everything into the small storage shed here and slept for a while. After waking up we headed back to Marion, taking both the truck and the Prius. This time the packing took longer, getting the rest of his things out of the storage unit, then helping pack up everything he'd been using in the camper. It was starting to look like we might actually be able to get everything in one trip, instead of having to come back for the camper. We put the heaviest boxes in the cars, packing them to the ceiling. The lightest items stayed in the camper, and the rest was paked in the back of the truck.

The campground where he had been living had fairly large lots, but the camper was parked tightly along a tree on the road side so I was concerned about trying to wiggle it over in order to have enough room to back it out onto the street. It turned out that the neighbors across the greenway/alley behind him had a fire ring that we were able to move and I could just pull the camper forward between the other two campers. Yay! It was starting to get dark, and I was worried about heavy traffic when I got to the construction area before Knoxville. They're redoing a bridge, and it's one narrow lane with concrete barriers on each side. I planned to stop at the first rest area and nap for a bit so I wouldn't hit it until late night when traffic would be light and I could creep through it as slow as I wanted.

I-40 has some steep, twisty areas so it was a slow drive. I was usually in the truck lane going 35 on both the uphills and the downhills due to the weight I was hauling. The kids had spent some time saying goodbye to friends and neighbors, but they caught up with me around the NC/TN border and we stopped at a rest area and napped for a couple hours. The timing was perfect, by the time I hit the narrow bridge there was almost no traffic, and going through Knoxville and Chattanooga was a breeze before the Monday morning rush hour picked up. Going through Chattanooga I noticed the signs for Bonnaroo again. The flicker makes it hard to read, it says Special Event 24W Near Manchester 66 miles. It changed to say Stay Alert Be Prepared To Stop. Nothing like warning people far in advance.

Once I got away from Chattanooga it was getting quite light out and the Smoky Mountains lived up to their name.

There was a recent rock fall in one spot, I'd hate to be driving past some of the higher cliffs when a bunch of that limestone let loose. Some of the cliffs are quite high and very close to the road.

When we had all made it back to Manchester mid-morning we unloaded the back of the truck and the cars, and lazed around the rest of the day, with very early bedtimes. Tuesday was spent unloading the camper and getting everything stashed in the tool shed.  These boxes and totes are the things SIL wants in Utah. It's a good thing I wasn't planning on doing any work around the house here, since I can't even walk into the shed let alone get to any tools which are all on the far wall.  LOL The kids took off for points north on Wednesday, stopping in Metropolis IL to visit Superman, and then on to Chicago. SIL had never been to Chicago, so they're doing it up right, staying downtown in the historic Palmer House hotel. They plan to drift over to MN in a few days and visit family and friends, then slowly meander westward taking in some sights along the way and visit family and friends on Washington and Oregon. The plan is for them to get to SLC around the 3rd, while I will rent a U-haul trailer, load up his things and meet them there. Boy, am I a great MIL or what?!  LOL Actually it gives me a great excuse for a road trip, and I'll stop and visit some friends in Colorado on the way home once I've gotten rid of the trailer.

My daughter isn't staying in Utah yet, she'll be coming back here once they've found a 5th wheel and a year-round campground and gotten somewhat moved in. There is still some discussion about whether she will fly back to Nashville or if I'll drive the Prius out to Utah to get her. Last minute plane tickets are not cheap. Then I get to come back here to TN and hook up my camper, and the summer will officially begin for me. Better late than never I say. :)

Monday, June 2, 2014


I went to Kroger today to pick up a few things, and noticed the organic raspberries they had for sale, priced at over $4 for a half pint. I didn't buy any though,  I have raspberry canes growing here and they're just starting to ripen. When I got home I went out to the garden and picked these to put in the freezer. I also ate more than I brought in the house, but that's the joy of having a garden.

Raspberries  have always been one of my favorite fruits, and when I was a young married woman I got terribly spoiled. My father-in-law, Grandpa Ernie, had been a dairy farmer, and when he retired he had planted about a few raspberry plants along the fence at the edge of the old cow yard. Those raspberries spread like wildfire in the rich soil over the years and eventually there was nearly an acre of ground filled with the canes. I don't know what variety they were, but they fruited once early in the summer, took a few weeks off, then they came back with a vengeance and bore heavily until frost killed them off for the winter. 

Grandpa Ernie's five children tried to talk him into opening a U-pick patch, saying it would supplement his Social Security nicely each summer, but he didn't want other people wandering through the patch and damaging the canes.  Instead, he went out each and every day and wandered through the maze of paths that criss-crossed the raspberry patch, picking the plump juicy berries. These were given out to friends and the local nursing homes. One day each raspberry season he would call a child and say "Do you want raspberries? Come tomorrow to pick if you do, and bring your own containers." So early the next morning you loaded up the kids, grabbed the bug spray and a long sleeve shirt and headed to the farm with a stop at the grocery store to pick up cardboard flats and shallow boxes. 

It was almost always in August when the call would come for our one day of raspberry picking, and in southeast South Dakota that means HOT and humid.  It was also prime mosquito season, and those little blood suckers LOVED the raspberry patch filled with helpless, captive victims. These raspberries growing in the fertile soil that had been formed by the decayed manure of several decades in the old cow yard towered well over your head, so any breeze there might have been was effectively blocked by the dense canes. These same canes intertwined with each other something fierce, although by the time he called kids to come pick he had made narrow, winding paths through every bit of the thicket. The canes didn't surrender their fruit easily though, and the long branches were heavily armed with thorns up and down their entire length, just waiting to scratch and jab and draw blood. All the while a thick cloud of mosquitoes whined overhead and made frequent sorties down into the patch to draw some blood of their own. A heavy long sleeve shirt and long heavy jeans along with generous doses of Off! were  necessary evils in the heat to keep you from looking like you'd been run through a paper shredder.

Our kids were pretty young at that time so they weren't a huge help with the picking. Oh, they picked all right, but they ate more than they put in their buckets or boxes, and after an hour or so they would slip away and find a cool spot in the huge, shady grove to play. At noon Grandpa Ernie would stop work and invite us in for lunch and some homemade grape juice or lemonade, and we'd cool off and rest a while before heading back out to pick for several more hours in the stifling afternoon heat. Slow and quiet conversations took place in the raspberry patch, mingled with shout-outs to the kids to make sure they hadn't wandered too far off. On those hot, muggy summer days, picking berries, detaching the barbed canes from my clothing and waving away mosquitoes, I learned much about my father-in-law, life on the farm in years gone by, and my ex's large extended family.

 Eventually we would pack up the kids and drive home towards evening with a massive load of fresh, organic raspberries. I would usually freeze about 100 QUARTS of them! That was in addition to all the raspberry jam I canned. We used raspberries in everything;  homemade raspberry ice cream, added to jello, in salads and salad dressings, in milkshakes, in cereal both hot and cold, in desserts, it was such a glut of raspberries I sort of took them for granted. Gradually Grandpa Ernie's health declined and he moved into town, The farm was bought by one of his daughters who had health problems of her own, the raspberry patch got old and run down, and a myriad of squirrel-planted black walnut trees were allowed to grow up and those cast too much shade for the canes to survive. Years later when the farm was sold out of the family, the entire glorious raspberry patch was gone. 

I think of that raspberry patch and Grandpa Ernie, and my children as youngsters every time I pick my own raspberries. Lots of great memories of family and good times.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Some time ago I mentioned having multiple websites, getting rid of two of them and starting the one I have now. I had the other two for hosting photos for my eBay business, but I stopped selling back in late 2009. I had joined eBay in early 2001 and at one point had 5 different selling ID's, I sold clothing and crafting supplies and antiques and collectibles successfully for a long time, but gradually I became fed up with Bay's constant changes. Like not allowing sellers to leave negative feedback for buyers, even if said buyer didn't pay. Or not allowing sellers to accept money orders or personal checks from buyers and instead having to use PayPal, which eBay owns, and pay PayPal fees on top of the eBay fees.  Or including the shipping cost in their Final Value Fees, a percentage of what your item sold for. I was still making money, so maybe it was as much about being burned out as anything else.

Fast forward to now, with my down-sizing efforts and trying to figure out what to do with all the "stuff" I have sitting around, not to mention fund-raising for the Caboose restoration. I do have a small booth at the local flea market, but in this area and at this flea market  people don't want to spend much for anything. Antiques don't sell hardly at all, and the folks want to dicker down to pennies for the yard-sale type items that do sell. That's okay, I have a bunch of yard sale stuff to dispose of, but the vintage and antique stuff is a problem. I could get a booth at an antique mall either here or up north or both, but those are hard to maintain if you're in a different area of the country and not able to restock and clean at least monthly. Craigslist can be good for some large items, but I hate having to deal with all the scam emails, and it's frustrating setting up meeting times for people to come look at stuff and then they don't show up. When I've listed on CL in Nashville the site is so large that an item is on the second or third page in just a day so not a lot of people see it.

After much deliberation I've decided to get back on eBay. Wow, have things changed! Not only on the eBay site, but also in my own life. I no longer have the checking account that I had linked to eBay and PayPal, my address has changed, my shipping address has changed (ok, so there's like 4 shipping addresses depending on which part of the country I'm in at the time) and my phone number has changed. I spend an entire day getting everything up to speed, confirming bank accounts, etc. I had always used eBay's bulk listing tool TurboLister, and that had about a zillion updates to download and install. I had to dig through the storage shed and find my scale for weighing packages, and find all the USPS Priority Mail boxes for shipping items. I did still have about 60 gallons of packing peanuts, but also ordered another batch of them. I ordered a new cable for my printer, so that now works but needs new ink cartridges.

I've been working on setting up a good spot for photographing items, that's still a work in progress. The lights I used are currently in MN, which is also where the bulk of the "stuff" I need to sell is at. I do have a pretty good bunch of stuff here in TN that I can list though, and I actually got one item listed a couple days ago just to see if everything was working right. Despite not having any feedback in the last 4 years people are bidding, so I'm happy.

For now I will just list auction style, and try and figure out a way to make an eBay store work with traveling around the country.  I have a 30' x 50' shop building up north that is packed to the gills with leftover eBay inventory, so obviously I can't haul it all with me as I move north and south seasonally. In a perfect world everything I list in an auction would sell so there would be no reason to carry inventory in a store. Wouldn't it be great if the world was perfect?  LOL

I'll leave you with the Rose Breasted Grosbeak who hangs out at the feeder in the yard. Handsome fellow, isn't he?