Grow a little more yourself, cook it yourself, build it yourself and never stop learning.
Author: The Suburban Homestead Nerd
If you are looking for a survival site to aid in your hardcore prepping, this isn't it. If you are hoping to learn how to harness human waste for electricity or how to build your first home wind turbine out of pipe cleaners and chicken poop, you've come to the wrong site. If you want to learn to cook and can a few things, build some organizational items or laugh at the rotten luck I had today, welcome!
For years friends and family have urged me to write it all down and share my stories a the things I've learned, so here we are.
My name is Allison and I am a married woman in my forties. Most of my adult life was spent on the developmental and manufacturing side of the pest control industry. As crazy as it sounds, I loved it. My company believed in a safer, well-proven route to rodent, mole and insect control. The red tape and good-ole-boy politics were astonishing and the refusal to change from an unnamed entity protecting no one, drove me into early retirement.
My husband and I fostered to adopt two beautiful boys starting on April 4, 2007 and life has never been the same. I couldn't imagine my life without our sons and my husband is a hard-working, good man.
Despite seeming to have it all, depression started creeping in as I hit my mid-thirties and the diagnosis was the end of menopause and the ADHD I had been diagnosed with in my childhood. I realized I had to do more than stick to my daily grind. I had to find new trails to blaze as I had done in my single days before motherhood and I became a self-taught Jack of all trades.
I want to share some basic skills, insights and humor with you. Thank you for coming along for the ride.
UPDATE: For the last four years, I've been lucky enough to work with an amazing convention company, putting on Comic Cons and Anime Shows throughout the Southeast US, as their Guest Relations Coordinator. I have worked with the most amazing people and become part of the greatest family one could hope to join.
I wasn't abducted by aliens, I promise.
It’s that time, for many of you at least- the time to start making comfort, cool weather food- soups, chili, gumbo, etc. Here in Louisiana, it’s still hotter than Hades and just as humid, but I decided to defy logic and go for a hearty meal last week when the temperature dipped down to a frigid 85 degrees (sadly, it only lasted for a couple of hours). Also, now that school is in full swing again and the boys and I are taking some martial arts classes (I’m sore in places I didn’t know existed), I have rediscovered my slow cooker. It has been a huge relief to come home to a meal already prepared on those later school nights. This was a ridiculously easy, successful experiment and was a great way to clear a sliced ham out of my freezer.
Crock Pot Ham and Bean Soup
Prep time: 15 minutes Serves: 4 (with leftovers for the next night)-8
About a pound of cubed ham, or hocks
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 bay leaves
1 TBSP garlic powder
1 lb great northern beans, rinsed and picked through*
7-8 cups chicken broth
salt, pepper and Tony’s to taste
Optional- a dash of thyme
Add all ingredients to the crock pot, stir and cook on low for 6-7 hours or high for about 4 hours.
Discard bay leaves and serve.
I mean, really, it doesn’t get much easier than this. It was a huge hit!
For a fun twist, you can layer canned, uncooked biscuits on top a few hours into cooking for easy dumplings.
I added a little extra broth for more liquid comfort.
*If you live with all males, as I do, be sure to implement the “take it outside rule” not long after serving. You’ve been warned.
As most of you know, our house is on the market. Things have been fairly slow because of first, the massive amount of layoffs from the oil industry this area relies so heavily upon, and then the devastating floods that we are still recovering from, and in some places, still experiencing.
I was so determined to make something happen to sell quickly about a week and a half before the flooding started, so I decided that it was time to update the kitchen. For this house, with the land and the pool in this area, we are within a very reasonable price range, however, my kitchen definitely didn’t have a whole lot of “wow factor.” In fact, I hated it. Stained and cracked old laminate counter tops with no backsplash to break the monotony and nothing to emphasize the window looking out over the yard. I couldn’t imagine other people walking into the house and not feeling the same way.
I ran through my options- granite (not for the $4000 I was quoted on our current income, thanks), tile (meh), Ikea laminate (a trip to Houston isn’t doable these days), butcher block (expensive and no room in the garage right now, even if I wanted to make my own). I scoured the internet, home improvement stores and my own garage, coming up totally empty. Finally, I decided to try something crazy.
Jamie was at work, so I was safe. He couldn’t make fun of me or choke me (just kidding, he wouldn’t. Just eye rolling and wondering what the heck he married because “she’s at it again”) if he wasn’t here.
I measured my counters, headed to Home Depot and purchased the following-
Lots of 1×2 strapping
A few 1×3 straps
Carbon Gray wood stain
1″ nails for my brad nailer
Polycrilic, polyurethane or acrylic resin clear protectant
Plastic Wood filler
A cheap, new sink on clearance for $70 (SCORE!)
A new bargain faucet
Plastic drop cloths
Step 1- Remove old sink (if replacing)
Since we’ve been in this house, people have complimented the old, cast iron kitchen sink, but they have not had to use it. It’s a 3 bowl sink with 1 shallow (3″ deep) bowl in the middle and 2 “larger” (8″ deep) bowls on the sides. Sure, it looked coolish, but try to wash a pizza pan or have your kids wash anything larger than a dessert plate without Niagara Falls on the counters and floor. Totally, impractical and that sucker was coming out.
If you aren’t replacing a sink, skip to step 2. The first step in removing a sink is to disconnect all the plumbing underneath. Have towels and bowls ready to catch drips and start by turning off the water at the wall valves. Then you will disconnect the water lines and the drains. I won’t kill you with details here and YouTube is where I received my instruction. Next, I scraped all the old caulk from around the outside of the bowl, removed old glue from under the lip of the sink and checked for removable clips underneath (there were none).
What I didn’t know was, that what the sink lacked in user friendliness, it made up for in weight. If you every need my help disposing of a huge body, just call because that would be a cake walk compared to getting that sink out of the counter top and then the house. Thank God we have a hand dolly because that monstrosity would have stayed in the middle of my kitchen floor until Jamie came home to help me lug it out to the garage.
Sure, it looks nice and innocent
No turning back now
The heaviest sink on Earth
Before I continued with the demo, I built a frame using 2×4 studs to hold the new sink since it was smaller than its offending predecessor.
Step 2- Remove old counter tops
Anyway, chore from hell complete, I began tearing apart the nasty, laminate counter tops. I debated about purchasing plywood to lay underneath the design I had in mind, but the wood under the laminate looked like it was in good shape and wasn’t going anywhere with all the glue and nails the installer had used. I kept the wood and saved money. This was not a fun job and about halfway through, I started wondering what in the heck I had been thinking. I heard Gob’s voice from Arrested Development in my head saying, “I’ve made a huge mistake,” several times.
If you need to replace the wood underneath, you can simply purchase plywood, but you may have to add 2×4’s to give you stability. For what I did, you will want to eliminate the chance of things falling through cracks into your cabinets and have something to glue and nail to.
Step 3- Cutting and placing
I decided to go with the 1×2 strapping because it was A) $.92 a strip and, B) would give me a look close to butcher block when completed (though I was thinking, “Please, God! Let that be true!” at this point). I opted to cut my strips into 2′ pieces and staggered them similarly to a hardwood floor design, obviously needing to trim edge and corner pieces to fit. I removed my stove to make it easier to work, installed the new sink and began to lay my pieces, first gluing with wood glue, then pulling them tight and nailing with pins from the brad nailer (nail gun). I then used the 1×3 straps to trim the edges and around the sink, setting them in place with Liquid Nails and pins from the brad nailer and was done with construction. I was so frickin happy at this point, but I was only half way there…
Step 4- Sanding, putty and more sanding
By this time, Jamie had been home for a couple of days and was leaving for work again. His demeanor, plus the fact we were washing dishes in the bathtub and couldn’t use the kitchen, did little to convince me that he could see the end result that was in my head. I pressed on, telling myself that my vision would be realized and he would eat ample helpings of crow…I prayed that would happen, anyway.
If you have carpal tunnel, as I do, this is another point at which you will start to question your own sanity. Lots of stretching and ice is recommended. I use an orbital sander and the vibrations can be rough, so be sure to take lots of breaks.
First I sanded the wood after the glue dried. You’ll need to do this because the strapping is cheap wood. It’s hard enough to find straight pieces not full of knots, let alone smooth ones. I strongly recommend building a plastic cage like I did to keep the dust from invading and covering the rest of your entire house. I also put a fan in the window to blow the dust outside and you will absolutely need a respirator of some kind and eye protection. Simply attach strapping to the ceiling with plastic sheeting hanging down and weight the bottom of the sheets with more strapping to eliminate too much movement, like so-
Initial sanding complete, I was ready to vacuum the sawdust that remained and start to fill the gaps with putty. Originally, I intended to only fill the large gaps, but my OCD got the best of me, so I spent a VERY, VERY long time filling ALL the gaps between the slats and the nail holes. The plastic wood I tried this time was the perfect product for the job. It dried quickly and went on pink, drying to a natural wood color. I just prayed that it would stain like wood as the label claimed. I sanded the dried putty and wood slats to a smooth finish, then prepared for stain.
After Plastic Wood application
Dried Plastic Wood
Dried and sanded
Step 5- Staining
This is when I allowed myself to get a little excited, catching a glimpse of the finish line for the first time. I started to stain, brushing it on and wiping it off in a few minutes, and my vision was becoming reality. I wasn’t sure about the color because I had pictured a slightly lighter gray with green undertones (tying kitchen, dining and living together), and would maybe have gone with an ebony if I’d known. The staining was finished fairly fast, but I wasn’t in love. I took a little mahogany stain I had in the garage, lightly ran some over the top of the gray and was happy with the result.
Step 6- Backsplash
I originally thought that there was enough glass tile left from the previous owner’s work in the bathroom to complete a backsplash in the kitchen. I was mistaken. Working on a tight budget, I headed to Home Depot again and realized that there was no way I could justify the cost of new tile for the job. I thought about using some red cedar I had, but it just didn’t look right.
Eventually, I decided to try ripping the 1×2 strapping in half with the table saw (a terrifying job) and at first was discouraged that I couldn’t get all of the pieces to the same width. This was a blessing in disguise because I realized it was adding character to the overall look. I cut these into 12″ pieces, stained them with 4 different stain colors I had in the garage and staggered them, trying a few different variations before deciding on the final layout. I used a lot of Liquid Nails and a few pins from the brad nailer to attach them to the wall.
I’m pretty happy that I didn’t have enough tile!
Cut to 12″
Playing with the design
Step 7- Polyurethane
I only had to wait a few hours for the stains to dry and was able to come back and apply the polyurethane to the counter tops and the backsplash. This would take longer to dry- 2 hours to the touch, 48 hours for light use and a full week until we could roll full steam. I opted to leave the plastic up to keep the cat and children from doing damage, but I was unable to protect it from myself. I decided that 2 hours was a long enough wait before replacing the stove without risk of scratches. It wasn’t.
I touched up the area around the stove, the paint on the cabinets, caulked around the sink, picked up some clearance fabric Andrew chose and whipped together curtains, then finally was able to stand back to view the finished product. I’ll be darned if it didn’t exceed my expectations. Jamie was shocked and really loves it. My friend Sandy, who is also my realtor and tough to please (TOTALLY, KIDDING, SANDY! You’re are amazing and you know it), was very happy with the results as well, even trying to get me to do her counters. It’s still a small kitchen, but it’s a heck of a lot nicer than the old, gross laminate! Would I do it again? Um, I’ll get back to you on that.
Oh, and I should tell you guy that this whole project was around $200!
Anyone who knows me knows that I am resilient. In fact, I am probably resilient to a fault. Take the last few months; my husband was laid off from his lucrative job, getting another very quickly, though making far less money, but we managed to pick ourselves up and are making it work. No complaints. My carpal tunnel is so bad right now that even this post has taken me over a week to write, and our financial situation has ruled out medical treatment for a while. But that’s okay too, because I can do a lot to treat it on my own and I refuse to stop living my life.
There is more, but I won’t bore you with it. The point is that there is little in life that I have allowed to truly bowl me over. The last 2 and a half weeks have been a new experience for me and it’s a sad coincidence that the day I finally publish this post marks 11 years since the horrors of hurricane Katrina…
It’s been over 2 weeks now since Louisiana began battling historic flooding and the struggle still rages on. It’s hard to live in the midst of it and not be blind-sided by a multitude of emotions: Guilt for being relatively untouched, while neighbors not too far down the street are throwing out most of their belongings and some may even have to level their homes, starting over. Fear that we could have been next since the forecast calls for more rain every day for awhile and my emergency alerts would go off when the first drop would fall. Sadness, such sadness, over the loss of life and property. ANGER over the judgmental and ignorant comments appearing all over social media. FURY over the national news media basically ignoring us the first week of this tragedy and really continuing to do so. PRIDE for a state fighting the label of racism it’s worn for so long, where strangers of all creeds and colors are bearing each other up and helping, from clean up to life saving. SHOCK, mostly shock, that something this huge can still be happening in our home state.
Those aren’t just my feelings, but also those of others I’ve spoken to. I’d like to walk you through the last couple of weeks and give you a look around…
It was Thursday night, August 11, 2016 and here in Southern Louisiana we have crazy hot summers, so usually, an afternoon pop-up thunderstorm is a given. It started raining that evening and I thought nothing of it when it poured all night and then all day Friday. School had been cancelled due to expected thunderstorm activity, but I wasn’t worried since this happens sometimes down here.
On Friday morning I went to work in the garage, building a hot tub cover (it’s hideous, but functional) and did the thing I always tell myself NOT to do- worked without a radio. My kids were there, so we talked and worked in comfortable silence.
Yes, that’s a little rain out back
I stopped to take this shot during work
Jamie was due home at around 5:30 pm and I would pick him up in the same place I always do, just a mile from the house. He called to tell me he was almost there, but then told me to hold on. He was being detoured and couldn’t get where he needed to go. Police were blocking the road and he would call me back when he knew what was happening. I assumed some idiot had been speeding on the wet roadway and it was closed to clean up an accident. When he called back minutes later, he told me that he would have to back track 30 minutes to park because he couldn’t get through due to flooded roads being closed.
Below is drone footage of the truck stop he was thinking of returning to park:
Well, perhaps this was a storm to be concerned about… No problem. I told him I’d call the Walmart 2 miles from the house, get him permission to park there and be right over to pick him up. Eventually, he was able to find roads open to get him there and I hopped in the car to go retrieve my man.
Every road out of our neighborhood was flooded and there was no way I could get to him. He was forced to sleep in his rig in the Walmart parking lot with other truck drivers in the same boat (no pun intended). 2 miles away! My concern over what this storm could bring us went up a few notches.
I wasn’t scared of the storm, but the fact that roads were flooding and Jamie was a mere 2 miles away, unable to get home, rattled me. Alone with 2 kids, during 90 degree heat and horrible storms, with power failure likely…Ugh.
Luckily, our power failure lasted less than a minute, but because the T.V. antennae we ordered couldn’t be delivered with the road closures, I was forced to rely on the internet for my news. Let me tell you, that sh** is slow during storms!
What I could glean told me that towns around us were starting to flood and tons of roads were being closed. Sleep was hard to come by that night and my kids were scared, despite my assurances that we live on one of the highest spots in the parish and that I would be up all night checking on things.
The boys and I woke early, Andrew delighted to tell me that he had heard me go out every hour to check the property and water levels (I didn’t tell him that it wasn’t every hour). The rain was still pouring, harder and more constant than I’d ever seen, and I’ve lived through several hurricanes, including Andrew (the storm, not the child, in this case).
For the first time since we moved into this house 2 years ago, the pool was overflowing, as was the hot tub I’d emptied days earlier. Thankfully, whoever built this house was a drainage genius and we were still dry.
Jamie decided he was going to walk home from Walmart. He would make his way down the railroad tracks near our home, but would first have to wade through hip and chest deep water to reach the tracks. He later told me he was able to “balance beam on some concrete construction barricades in the manner of an Olympic gymnast” to keep mostly dry. He must have been pretty scared for us, but didn’t let it show, as only he can do. He had been watching the news in his truck and felt like he had to get home to us. Though I’m so glad he did, it had to be pretty scary news to make him leave the safety of his dry rig, risking serious injury or worse, to walk home to us. My knight in shining, soggy armor.
Being the concerned and loving wife I am, with a dash of tomboy thrown in, I suited up to go get him on the 4 wheeler, rather than force him to walk the full 2 miles. Sadly, he had moved the keys (why do men do this?!?) and it took me over an hour to find them (on the lawnmower. Huh?), and as I was preparing to head out, he walked in the door.
He was soaked, but home safely. He told me that the entire area where he parked was under anywhere from a foot of water to 5 feet and that he’d hardly seen a soul. There were no cars out because people couldn’t get anywhere without a boat at this point.
He took a much needed hot shower and then we braved the moments where the weather changed from heavy downpour to hard drizzle briefly to drive across the street to check the flooded roadways surrounding our home. If, God forbid, evacuation orders came, we needed to have a way out.
The road across the railroad tracks, driven every day by thousands of people, was more of a raging river than a flooded roadway and a large section of it was washed away. Somehow, this really conveyed the magnitude of what was happening in our area.
Mandatory curfews started going into effect and the rain just kept on coming. Something so many of the Judgy-Joes don’t seem to understand is that a large portion of what was flooding was not in a flood zone. We are not in a flood zone, but this is what our highway looked like:
I’m not sure how many thousands of shares this video got when I posted it to our local news station’s page, but I know it’s not because of the awesome quality or commentary. I think it was people trying to wrap their heads around what was happening here in our own towns, our own communities. It was happening to our families, our neighbors and our friends. It wasn’t those poor souls in New Orleans or Baton Rouge- close enough to leave us shaken, but far enough away to give us a sense of safety. It was happening to all of us.
I believe the death toll at this point was at 9 and there were still people and animals being rescued. The destruction we saw on the internet was mind boggling.
By Sunday morning cabin fever was starting to set in and I worried that my husband would swim to his rig, if need be, to retrieve some things out of it, so I was thankful that one lane on an alternate highway had opened up. We rode in stunned silence, taking in the destruction our non-flood zone area had been dealt. Debris and standing water were everywhere, people with hollow eyes passed us by, watermark levels on buildings were a few feet high in areas and some homes and businesses still had water coming through the doors. These are just pictures from our neighborhood:
2 houses down our street
A neighbor’s yard, 2 houses over
My boys made the best of flooded streets
Another neighbor’s Yard
Jamie surveys a flooded highway near the house
The scope of our situation became clearer as the rain began falling hard again, so Jamie ran into Walmart, grabbed a T.V. antenna and we headed straight home.
The neighborhood kids made the best of things. Mine took out an old boat with friends and sank it repeatedly, while some of the older kids in the neighborhood rode up and down the street on 4 wheelers, pulling each other in the ditches on knee boards. I’m sure most of us saw this video my cousin’s friend posted as the storm was getting geared up (before the severity of the situation became clear) since the Olympics were on:
Maybe because our television viewing was limited, as was phone and other service, plus we had a rare opportunity to have all of us together as a family for more than one day, but I still didn’t really understand how big this thing really was and was glad for the time spent connecting without technology. Or maybe the shock was kicking in and my overactive self-preservation instinct was protecting me, but it just didn’t seem real.
That night I hooked up our antenna and again delved into the internet due to a bad bout of insomnia. I was again shocked by all that I saw. Interstates closed and washed away, homes under water, to the roof lines in some cases, people being saved seconds before drowning, livestock and pets in peril, 11 dead at this point and lives changed forever by mother nature’s power. For the first time, I was pretty scared, but I saw some things which restored my faith in my fellow Louisianans. This video in particular made my heart swell with pride:
All creeds, all colors, all orientations had become “one people,” and I think it’s a tragedy that these examples of unity were not front and center in the national media every day!
And let’s not forget those awesome folks in the Cajun Navy who have rescued thousands when others couldn’t! Have tissues handy.
Monday, Jamie was able to go to work and left early, leaving me with a growing fear and sense of powerlessness. He had to go, and believe me, I am grateful he is such a diligent provider. I just meant that the full force of what was happening was starting to hit me hard. Rivers were rising all over, some not set to crest until days from then and already 6-10 feet over major flood stage.
The schools were cancelled and the rain kept falling, but the people of Louisiana rallied around each other unlike anything I’ve ever seen personally, outside of the horrors of 9/11. Some shelters were asking people to stop donating certain items because they were overstocked and my friends at Animal Aid For Vermillion Area were wading through chest deep water to rescue cats, dogs, horses, llamas and more.
The Cajun Navy had had hundreds of boats on the water at all hours, rescuing trapped people and animals and delivering needed supplies. I didn’t speak to anyone who wasn’t out helping or donating their time, supplies, or just simply their prayers.
That night, I again made the mistake of searching on the internet and social media for evidence that our story was getting national attention from the press and found very little. What little I did find was peppered with comments from ignorant people wondering why we would bother to rebuild in flood zones, or saying that the rich people losing their $300,000 homes were being introduced to karma, pictures of floating caskets, people saying that this “red state was sure not opposed to big government now,” many jack wagons stating that the caskets were old news and not part of a 500 or 1000 year flood because they saw that during Katrina, and moronic, judgmental zealots saying that the wrath of God was falling on this state. My blood began to boil.
I may not have mentioned this, but much, if not most, of the flooded areas ARE NOT IN FLOOD ZONES AND HAVE NEVER FLOODED BEFORE. EVER. The amount of rain that fell in a short period of time has rarely been seen since Noah’s days. In fact, the Baton Rouge area, which was incredibly hard hit, was where many people who were evacuated from Katrina were taken for rescue. It’s been estimated that 90% of Denham Springs was damaged. The people who were saying that we all just need to pack up and move don’t seem to understand the whole flood zone thing, but more importantly, don’t seem to understand the whole Louisiana cultural pride thing and love of the area which keeps so many here.
If you follow this blog, you’ve seen the pictures of the beauty we are surrounded by. What I can’t show you in pictures is how many of the people here live in the same neighborhoods as their parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. I can’t photograph their traditional weekly dinners, their time together sipping drinks on the porch or the weekends they go as a family to a fais do do in the park together. I don’t have pictures of the gumbo they cook for one another during sickness or surgeries, and I can’t provide evidence of the lines of family generally waiting outside hospital rooms when the need arises. These are not easily walked away from in the best of times and it’s far harder when you know you are needed.
As for people being unimpressed with caskets floating and the amount of water our “laughable 1000 year flood” brought us, a thousand year flood doesn’t mean it only happens every thousand years. It means this 1,000-year event has a 0.1% chance of happening in any year, Pretty good odds, I’d say. Katrina was hell on Earth and the loss of life was horrible, but that was also a much smaller area than the 20 parishes (counties) now declared disasters. Roughly, 110,000 homes are estimated to have been damaged, but the number is climbing and the death toll stands at 13. Estimates say that the damage stands at about 21 billion dollars, but of course this can’t include businesses losing money until they can get back on their feet again, if ever. Again, many people who survived Katrina moved to these areas to escape the odds of a repeat and have now lost everything once again.
People went to bed Thursday night and woke Friday morning to literally feet of water encroaching upon, or in their homes. Preparation was not an option and I ask you to imagine how most areas would handle this kind of rainfall?
Here’s a map showing the parishes declared disasters, but keep in mind these are only parishes declared disasters. Remember that the surrounding parishes sustained heavy damages as well and some are still flooded and this flood was an equal opportunity destroyer. It didn’t just take the rich, it took the poor, the middle class and all in its path.
To the wrath of God people I would say that more people communed with God and represented him over the last ten days than they themselves will ever hope to see or achieve in a lifetime. Take a seat, judgers. Whether or not you believe in God, compassion and love have reigned here.
Many on social media asked, “Why is the president playing golf instead of visiting Louisiana when Bush was berated for just flying over after Katrina?” Others insisted it was because the governor told him he’d just be in the way and take away much needed manpower. Whichever side you choose, people weren’t too concerned with what Louisianans thought, and just days, or hours in, were already using our tragedy to further their political and other agendas.
No one was bothering to ask the people here in Louisiana what we thought. Had they done so, they would have heard that the prevailing opinion was “keep the government out of our way. We have first responders, police and each other. We’re good and there isn’t time to waste.” I began to think that people who weren’t in the thick of it and had the strong opinions I mentioned above, should take long walks off short piers.
Over the course of the first week, the water in many places rose and more people flooded. I was in the towns of Kaplan and Abbeville on Thursday August 18 and got the following photos. What the photos don’t capture, and people don’t usually talk about after flooding is the smell. Rot, decay, fish and more horrible odors surround you at all times. They say smells conjure the most powerful and deepest buried memories, that olfactory is the strongest sense. I’ll never forget the smells and you know people trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered dreams will cringe at the slightest hint of those odors for the rest of their lives.
Flooded home in Kaplan, LA 8/18/16
Flooded home in Kaplan, LA 8/18/16
Donation overload at the Shelter in Abbeville, LA 8/18/16
Homes being emptied of destroyed possessions in Abbeville, LA 8/18/16
Kaplan, LA 8/18/16
The number of people in shelters was going down a bit, but there are, as of today, August 29, 2016, still thousands unable to go home.
Sunday, 8/21, the boys and I went out to try to help a little. All we could do was hand out ice cold drinks and snacks to first responders and people doing clean up. That is what I’ve done all week (my stupid health issues), so don’t think I’m any kind of hero. There are thousands of real heroes out there gutting flooded houses, rescuing and more. I just felt like I had to do something or I would go crazy. Survivor’s guilt? I don’t know, but I also wanted the kids to understand what was happening. Looking at pictures and walking amidst the devastation are totally different. Praying for the suffering is great, and handing someone a cold drink or a bag of chips might seem small, however seeing the tired, but grateful smile on the face of the suffering homeowner who’s lost everything, or on the face of the exhausted first responder, after this small gesture, is a lesson in loving others not soon forgotten by a child…or anyone.
We were shocked that main roads were still flooded and to see a lot of water still standing. Mosquito breeding grounds were everywhere and talk of Zika and West Nile Virus were already hitting the news. Things looked like they could be drying up, but it was still devastating.
Andrew talking to the officer on duty
A St. Martinville, LA highway still closed 9 days in
Flooded in St. Martinville, LA 8/21/16
A displaced visitor in the pool 8/20/16
Visitor rescued and skeptical of my intentions
Other visitors didn’t mind the rain
On Monday, August 22, I dropped the boys off at school and headed to the town that my family hales from. St. Martinville (the highway closed in the above picture is the main way into town) is an historical and beautiful place in which the local residents take much pride. Main Street and the downtown area looked pretty good, but soon I came to other flooded roads and was shocked that a large portion of homes still couldn’t even think of clean up, let alone rebuilding, because they were still flooded. I returned on Friday, August 26 and found that most of these places were still flooded. This was 2 weeks after the nightmare started.
10 days in St. Martinville, LA 8/22/16
No wake zone signs on the side of the road
A home still flooded in St. Martinville, LA 80/22/16
A home likely not expected to flood, but precautions taken and then abandoned. St. Martinville, LA 8/22/16
Lake Martin Bird Sanctuary St. Martinville, LA 8/26/16
Big alligator on the side of the highway eating an armadillo
The fact that there are still thousands of people living in hotels, with friends or family and in shelters right now, makes it very hard to understand why the situation is almost, once again, being completely ignored by the national media. There are areas like Loreauvile, where flood waters won’t subside for a month and kids are getting from their homes to the bus stop by paddle boat…if their homes are liveable. I get that this is an election year, that Ryan Lochte was an idiot and I have no interest in a political, or any debate, but I would ask you why? Why is the media focusing on the issues that divide us- politics, race, religion, etc. Not too long ago, all eyes were on Louisiana for very different reasons, but now that we have managed to destroy our differences and come together, there is barely a camera to be seen. Is good news in the face of devastation that boring? Is the unity we are all professing to fight for not that interesting when it actually happens? Yes, there will always be small-minded, racist morons in the world, but they seem to have lost their voice in my home state. That’s news in and of itself, people!
I write this asking you to remember Louisiana today. Remember us in your thoughts, your prayers, your donations. Adopt a pet who was displaced during the storms and know that we are still here, still helping each other, but still hurting. Reach out to those in need-hundreds of thousands have been touched by this in some way! The end of this one will not be for a long time, if ever, for many people.
I leave you with another video and an article. The video captures the tragedy of the last few weeks and the tenacity of the wonderful people. The article captures the humor and again the tenacity of the Louisiana spirit.
Tens of thousands of Louisianans have had to throw away much, if not all that is precious to them-baby pictures, photo albums, wedding dresses, rare books, furniture, everything down to the studs. It started like this-
And yet in the midst of the growing racial tensions in our country, one of the most notoriously racist states in the country shed its reputation, found love and was virtually ignored when we did this-
When the rain stopped, thousands faced this-
Many homes are still flooded, so they wait for the water to subside, check on things from time to time, pray, and do this-
If they were “fortunate” enough for the water to subside, they had to do this-
Now they wait for insurance adjusters or FEMA and live like this-
While their suffering continues, the national media still ignores their plight and focuses on this-
I do not suggest that none of the above are important. Obviously, most are, but come on, folks! We are one nation and there are stories which need to be told to raise awareness as to what is a continuing struggle fortens of thousands in Louisiana. They still need our help and I thought all of the fighting and focus of the press was to spotlight suffering and to bring about unity… My 2 cents.
I’m back! It’s been a wonderful and grueling summer at the same time, so I think I am rested up enough to tell you what is in the works around here. The last month and a half has been spent in a frenzy of work on our house, patio and yard. Since Jamie’s layoff, he’s been freed from the bonds of his oilfield salary and we’ve reflected on what we want our next chapter to look like. Together we have decided to sell our house here in Louisiana and head north to Ohio, where he was born and raised. For the 12 plus years we have been married, we have always lived near my family and now it is his turn. It’s time for our boys to get to know his family better. They are a close-knit group of wonderful people, so I am totally excited!
Louisiana is beautiful and I love my family here, but we all miss the seasons, though many people call me crazy for this. That’s okay, because I can think of few things as wonderful as watching it snow over a hot cup of coffee, a cozy fire, chili, soups and gumbos on cold nights, white Christmases, autumn leaves, hay rides and trick or treating while not sweating and being swarmed by mosquitoes, rain that cools rather than creating oppressive humidity…and so on. Yes, I love many things about Louisiana, but I miss the northern part of this beautiful country and I want my kids to know it now that they are old enough to remember it all.
Anyway, the boys and I drove up to Ohio a few weeks ago and looked at some properties:
a fish farm,
a retired dairy farm,
a beautiful bed and breakfast,
Jamie’s best friend’s mother’s remodeled century farmhouse,
and more. There are several possible places in which we can see ourselves building a life where we are able to live off the land and teach our kids the value of a good day’s work.
My kids are amazing, but let’s face it, we live in a society teaching them to stare down at their phones rather than look up at the stars. I should note that my kids don’t have phones yet, but all of their friends seem to, so it’s hard to live in a suburban area and teach them what we deem important.
The thing that really struck me while we were up there was how different things were because of the environment. My boys have cousins their age there and played outside with them from almost dawn to dusk. They built a fort, rode scooters, caught fireflies, explored and more, all with no fear of total dehydration, snakes, fire ants or being carried away by mosquitoes. Here in Louisiana, it’s been such a hot summer that, unless they are in the pool, I’m reluctant to leave them playing outside for too long. They rarely want to go out anyway, so it’s a constant chore trying to keep us busy in the air conditioning. Even at night, where it might actually cool down a little, I’m running to shut the chicken coop like I’m being shot at because of all the mosquitoes.
Anyway, we are looking at a simple efficient home with enough acreage to be able to grow most of our own food and perhaps earn a little money from the property. I can’t do that here in Louisiana because I seem to be unable to fend off the pest of the month in my garden and, though I’m not opposed to using neem oil, seven dust, DE, etc., I feel like we would all glow in the dark if I used what I needed to for successful pest control. Yes, people have offered help and advice, but I am willing to admit that, other than the basics like tomatoes and cucumbers, I’ve given up. Besides, once I can grow more things AND I have a basement, LOOK OUT! Canning paradise!
So after much, much, much work and flirting with being institutionalized for exhaustion and almost losing it, we finally listed our house last week. Now we can only sit back and pray that it sells quickly. We’ve done a ton of work and this place has a lot to offer, so even though it will be sad to say goodbye, I think we might just pull this off. We are in a desirable neighborhood with great neighbors, close to amenities and have more acreage than is normally available here, so fingers crossed!
Now you know. I hope to be much better at posting now that we are in the “wait and see” mode, but I have a few projects in the works. Hopefully, I will remember to take before and after pictures for you this time!
Good morning, world! I am happy to announce that I awoke feeling vaguely human today! I may have have overdone it a bit and am starting to regress a little, but I am taking a break and clinging to the hope that tomorrow will find me totally human again.
Luckily, I was given this easy, and I do mean easy, recipe by my amazing mother-in-law a couple of years ago and it has quickly become a favorite. My youngest was sick with me for a few days, but managed to avoid the sinus infection, so we have done a lot of Ramen over the last week and a half. I finally dragged myself out of bed and showed the boys this simple, yet delicious gem.
I like to serve it with olive oil and garlic sprinkled french bread or naan and celery, but I suppose that tortilla chips would work nicely as well. I used 2 cans of cooked chicken (I know, a crime) because I didn’t have it in me to cook my own, and it was still fantastic. Doesn’t get much easier than that! The vultures descended so quickly that I was unable to get a picture of the finished, baked dish, so I hope these shots will suffice.
Buffalo Chicken Dip
2 cups cooked chicken, or 2 cans cooked chicken, drained
1/2-3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2-3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/3 cup Franks Red Hot Sauce or Cajun Chef hot sauce
1/3 cup blue cheese dressing
8 oz cream cheese
Mix all ingredients together and bake, covered, at 350° for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Nope, I haven’t been abducted by aliens. I have been down with the mother of all colds which has now moved into my sinuses. I always say, go big or go home, but I didn’t necessarily mean in all areas…
Anyway, the contractors are starting today and I have a few minutes of free time, so I wanted to share the magical recipe I stumbled upon last night. This weekend, thanks to my incredibly generous neighbor, Ms. Darlene, the boys and I picked about 4 gallons of blackberries. Now I love a good blackberry jelly, but 16 jars should tide me over for quite a while, so I was left with deciding what to do with the remaining berries. I love a good sorbet, but as sick as I’ve been, that seemed like a lot of work (it’s not), so I decided to use the jalapenos I just harvested and jazz things up a little. My boys have already killed two jars of this stuff because it is so yummy!
If you are new to canning, it can all seem a little daunting, but it really is easy and very addictive. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.
The first thing you’ll want to do is soak your berries in salted water. This will coax any critters out and you can rinse everything away before cooking. Rinse in a large colander and pick out any shmutz you don’t want in your food; grass, leaves, dried berries, etc.
I am not a huge fan of seeds in my spreads, so I always make juice first, milling out the seeds. There was just enough pepper to give you a hint of the flavor, but I may use another 1 or 2 next time. Here we go…
4 cups blackberries
3-4 cups water, to almost cover the berries
Mash the berries in a pot with the water and cook for about 20 minutes over medium high heat, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and cool, then strain through a food mill, sieve or cheese cloth to remove seeds.
Blackberry Pepper Jelly
1 (1.75 oz) package powdered pectin
1/2 cup + 3 & 1/2 cups white sugar
4 cups blackberry juice
3 small jalapeno peppers, minced
1/2 tsp butter, if desired, to minimize foam
6 half pint canning jars, lids and rings
Boil enough water in a large canning pot to cover jars with one inch of water and submerge jars, lids and rings to sterilize.
In a large sauce pan, whisk the pectin and 1/2 cup sugar with the blackberry juice until well combined then add the butter and jalapeno and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop when stirred) for 1 minute.
Add the remaining sugar and return to a rolling boil for an additional minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, continuing to stir while removing jars, lids and rings from the canning pot. Scoop away any foam (foam adds air to your jelly which can promote bacteria growth).
Ladle jelly into jars leaving 1/4 inch head space and top with lids and rings.
Boil five minutes in a hot water bath to seal.
Serve over cream cheese on crackers or enjoy by itself. So good!
Well, it’s about to get really crazy around these parts. A miracle has happened and I finally found a contractor to do the three big jobs we need done! I can’t even explain the joy after almost a year of searching (with brief breaks when Jamie says he’ll just do it himself). I promise to post at least once a week during the chaos!
Anyhoo, last night I was feeling lazy and in the mood for Oriental food without the work. This is a really easy recipe, though it may not seem so with the long ingredient list, and my kids love it. It’s also a great way for me to sneak mushrooms into a dish unnoticed. I make a big batch because they love it so much and once in a blue moon, we get leftovers. If you are cooking for light eaters, halve this recipe.
Chicken Lo Mein with Portobello Mushrooms
1 package linguine
2 TBSP cornstarch
2 cups chicken broth
2 TBSP rice vinegar
2 TBSP honey
1/8 cup soy sauce (you may want to add more to taste)
1 tsp salt
1 & 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
3 TBSP sesame oil
3 medium carrots, sliced or grated
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cups baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
3-4 cups baby spinach, chopped, if desired
Boil water and cook linguine. Drain very well and set aside.
In a bowl combine cornstarch, broth, vinegar, honey, soy sauce, salt and ginger and whisk until smooth. Set aside.
In a wok, or large skillet, stir fry chicken pieces in 1 TBSP sesame oil for 4-6 minutes, or until no longer pink. Remove from heat and keep warm.
Stir fry the carrots and onion in the remaining sesame oil for 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes, until veggies are crisp tender and spinach is wilted.
Slowly, stir in the cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil, stirring for 1-2 minutes until thickened.
Add chicken and linguine to pan, stirring to coat everything and heat through.