Friday, August 31, 2012

Lanterns light the way...

I've been "paring down" since we moved a year ago.  In Florida, they build homes with these lovely plant shelves, though I'm not sure why they call them plant shelves.  Ours were so high, there's no way you can get up there to water the plants--yes, I tried--unless you drag out a 10' ladder weekly, and the air stays warmer up high, especially in Florida, so yes, they need water weekly.  I'm not a fan of fake plants, though I think the options available now are beautiful, I'm just not much for dusting them, and I despise seeing dusty fake plants.  So, my dust catchers in the shelves--lanterns.  Like so many people, I have a thing for lanterns.  I don't know why.  They light the way.  They are of old.  There are so many shapes, sizes, colors, options.  I tend to go for what either looks like it washed ashore or would withstand a hurricane.  I mentioned earlier that I had 22 and had downsized.  Right after I wrote that post, I immediately came to grips with the fact that I didn't love all of them.  In fact, I really only love those on the entertainment center Dad built us.  Isn't it gorgeous?  I gave him a photo from Pottery Barn, and he built it.  I love it.  In fact, every time I walk through the garage entry door into their laundry room, I see the plans for the piece on the wall.  That's what Dad does.  He draws the plans, hangs them up in his workshop, which will soon no longer be the garage (after 35 years--yay! dad!) and builds it.  Ok, I digress...

I took down the lanterns I was parting with from my "decor" closet (these are wonderful things to be fortunate enough to have, and I'll post on that one day, but they are also completely unnecessary, especially if you move every 3-4 years).  I dusted them off, and took photos and posted them on Craigslist.  No response for one week.  I've learned to be Craigslist savvy, so I edited them after a week to bring them to the top of the postings.  This is important if you want to be seen.  I realized that there were no lanterns in the section I posted in, so a couple of days ago, I changed the category.  That night, I received an email.  Typical of Craigslist, it read, "would you take less than what you are selling for?" not in those words, but basically this is what it read.  I thought, here we go...Craigslist can be a wonderful tool for selling (& finding) stuff.  However, everyone wants to barter.  That's fine, so do I.  But I'm one of those people who, when I sell it, it's priced for wayyyy less than it's worth to start with.  (I sold an Apple Cinema Display 20" or 21" for $50 and it was selling refurbished for $200 on the internet...$50 was all I had in it.  Call me dumb.  I just needed the space on my desk.)

So, I reply, "sure, I'll take $X for them."  I figured I'd never get a response.  Had that happen with a separate item this week too.  A guy emailed me like 4 times about a camera...I candidly and promptly answered every request.  He tells me he'll buy, and I never hear from him again.  Go figure.  I hope he's not ill or otherwise.

So, the person tells me they'll get the lanterns Saturday.  Ok.  Here's my phone number.  Today, I get a call that the person can't get them today.  Fine...then I get the line, "I'm a landscaper."  She has no idea that I'm dancing up and down, excited that I've found another plant person in this world.  We chat for a minute about pick up of the goods and I mention that I'm taking gardening classes, and we instantly go on a tangent about landscaping, gardening, having college degrees in some random other field, but being called to do this--GARDENING!!  Yay!  For the second obvious time this summer, fate has dropped in my lap a gentle reminder of, "Brando, you are supposed to be teaching people how to grow something other than turf grass."

Not really sure where this kind meeting of gardening souls will take me--perhaps just a dirt-diggin friend, perhaps a new career adventure that neither of us knows yet, but I feel the calling growing stronger and stronger every day.

Oh, the other calling...I'll bore you with that tomorrow.

Point to my post, I was hoping to get rid of some more of my life's clutter--things I've wasted money on that don't bring me joy.  Things I had to work to keep up with that didn't give me anything in return.  Given the amount of things I've donated to Goodwill lately, I don't really know why these didn't make it into the donate bin (7 other lanterns did), but I now feel like it was money well-spent.  I bought a hidden product in those lanterns--hope--light--a kindred spirit, a friend.  I never knew four years ago, that I'd be in Virginia, sinking with the desire to garden and change life for me and those around me, that I'd be giving away half the things I once thought I wanted and needed...I never knew I would be able to function without a corporate job, without a "net" so to speak.  I never knew I'd find solace in having an empty room in my house, the one I'm sitting in right now, clad in only a rather worn and tattered couch (the most comfortable couch in the world--it's been known to solve world crises) and a dog food bowl.  But I did, I am, and I couldn't be happier.  And that moment that I picked up my phone today and sold some stuff, well, those little lanterns lit up my life, gave me hope again that what I'm doing--pursuing my dreams, even if they are dirt--are very real and very attainable.  And that I have another supporter in this area.  Yay me!  Yay my new friend!  Thank you for wanting my lanterns.  You have no idea how bright they shine.

Decisions, decisions...

I know, I know...I promised to revise this layout by now.  Trust me, IT'S ON MY WEEKEND AGENDA...yes, I'm that boring.  I read my blog as one of you the other day.  SHEESH!  It's awful.  I can't see the links, and there's no way to share things....I really need to "get with the times".  So, painful as it may be from a Mac (shame on me for saying that and I'm so glad B doesn't read this), I'm going to force myself to fumble with it this weekend from the Mac and get up to speed and give you something new (*and pretty*) to look at.  In the meantime, I think I mentioned in a previous post (a couple of weeks ago) that I was thinking of new directions....well, I am.  I *intend* to leave this blog my Florida blog--I'm due for a trip down South in two weeks (lots of dancing in my seat right now).  But I want a new that focuses on....what to focus on?  I need your help, your opinion...

I'm very interested in a variety of topics, and many of you who know me, know that when I find something I like, I tend to throw myself into it for awhile, until something else peeks my interest.  Currently, those things are (in no particular order):

"Less is More"
      translation:  I'm learning and embodying a clean and organized lifestyle.  Nothing new, right?  But, I'm trying to learn to be more frugal and simple.  I figure after going for 14 months and counting of not working, frugality is becoming a) a necessity while maintaining payment for two homes and b) easier for both me and B.

Plants and my quest to become a master gardener
     Please note I'm not trying to gain any kind of endorsement in this statement.  Even if I weren't in a Master Gardener program, I'd be trying to become a master gardener.  I'd like to share the learnings with you.

Job hunting and networking 101
     I once thought I was good at this...I'm finding out, in an area where there are a ton of high paying jobs which I'm not qualified for, that I need some help.  Who doesn't?

    Don't get me started.  To me, this is a foreign concept here.  Time to change that, and hopefully educate you along the way

Saving money
    I suppose this goes hand in hand with "Less is More", but to me, it's a separate topic.  I have tried to be a grocery couponer!  But when you eat organic veggies and local produce and grass fed meat, and the occasional quinoa or whole wheat pasta side (heaven forbid I mention DeBoles pasta), I find it difficult to coupon.  I've learned a few other tricks and I'd love to share.

Learning to craft
     Just look at my pinboards on Pinterest...I *want* to learn to do everything.  I've yet to learn most of the things I've pinned, so why not hold myself accountable and try some and show you what I'm doing.

     I love food.  Let me say that again.  I love food.  As I drove to the grocery store to pick up our organic whole roaster chickens today for tomorrow's smoke fest at the Belue residence, I was starving for lunch!  Insanity has nothing to do with that!  NOT!  Anyhoo, yes, I texted B like 5 times from downstairs (to upstairs) about what to eat for no reply.  So, I thought and thought and thought and hunger overcame creativity and I settled for a organic peanut butter/almond butter/banana sandwich on sprouted bread.  Have I lost my mind?  Quite possibly!  But it hit the spot, and 5 hours later, I'm still happy, but I also know I'm having roasted elephant garlic atop a nice grass fed filet tonite...and some yummy sauteed brussel sprouts.  MMMMM, I think everyone should be eating good whole food, and I was not long ago the queen of take-out and bleached pasta.  So, I'd like to share with you how to do this economically and quickly.  Yes, I've learned it's possible, especially if there's a glass of wine at the end.

So, my question to you...please, please, please!  Should I do all, and rotate the days/subject.  Monday Menu, Tidy Tuesday, Who-do-ya-know Wednesday, etc or dedicate a month to one particular subject, or would you rather hear about just one, and which?

By the way, we all know what I'm doing this weekend...eating lots of chicken and learning to deal with my Mac/blog.  What fun is in your life?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Loaded Baked Potato Soup Recipe

B and I have been eating a low-carb (read = paleo diet) menu for quite some time.  First, we are not fanatical about it.  If we want to eat pizza today, we will.  However, we've been trying to consciously reduce our sugar intake.  We've converted to a more organic diet than I ever thought I could afford.  Thank you Trader Joe's.

To sidetrack, we have also both been involved in a pretty rigorous physical training schedule.  B is running...something I just can't bring myself to do now that my beloved Chancey has developed arthritis.  I have been working pretty hard doing the Insanity work-outs.  If you need an intense cardio-tone-your-body work-out, please invest.  You won't be sorry, and yes, you will be on the floor sweating, breathing so deep, you want to's awesome!  I can't say enough about how life-altering this workout is.  And it's short--usually I am done well within one hour. 

Moving on, yesterday was a particularly cool, rainy day.  B was home (YAY! small victories), and we were carb-starved.  We decided that we would really enjoy some potato soup.  Not wanting to dig through my folder of recipes, yet to be organized, I did what is routine for us when searching for something good to eat,  Hello Google.  Type in potato soup, and you'll get this response.  I give credit to the 4th link down the page,, for giving me Baked Potato Soup V.

Credit:  Dianne, Baked Potato Soup V
However, as I read the recipe, "did that really just call for nine (9) large baking potatoes?", my eyes started to bug out of my head and I almost fell into a pre-carb coma!   Ok, so I modified it a bit.  If you don't want to try and read my recipe (read=babbling) while cooking, refer to the link and use my measurements.  My recipe is this:

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

2 Large baking potatoes (roughly 2 pounds)
Raw Bacon (however much you like, and preferably uncured)
1/4 c bacon drippings (you can also use 1/4 c butter--use real butter)
1/4 c all-purpose flour
3 c skim organic milk (set this out at least 30 minutes prior to the soup-making part)
salt (I pour it in the palm of my hand until I see enough, then dump in soup)
Bacon Pieces crumbled (however much you like, leave some for topping)
Green onions chopped (I put 5 or 6 in and reserved a cup for topping)
Shredded Sharp Cheddar (again, a handful, no measuring, leave some for topping)
Sour cream (real, no nonfat here, that only adds carbs, I've learned)--a dallop
Crutons (we make our own, instructions below)

Wash potatoes.  Preheat oven to 400.  Place potatoes on aluminum foil.  Cover with olive oil and sea salt, wrap.  Place in oven; bake until soft (took mine 1.5 hours).  Remove and unwrap.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Then slice in half.  Allow to sit another 5 minutes.  Skin potatoes and mash the potatoes slightly. 

Sometime while the potatoes are cooking, cook bacon...have I ever told you how delicious bacon is baked in the oven at 400F, 20 minutes if it's cured, 10 if uncured. Mmmmmmm, and you don't have to clean up a huge mess later.  Fortunately, we have two ovens, so we can cook bacon in one, and potatoes in another, or whatever.  Regardless, cook bacon.

Take a saucepan, large enough to accommodate 6 cups, and add bacon grease drippings 1/4 c.  If you use butter, allow it to melt and simmer before adding the flour.  Next add 1/4 c flour.  Stir this with a wisk for approximately 1 minute.  Then add milk with stirring, 1 cup or so at a time.  I don't really measure, I just pour.  You're making a roux, and you don't want to add too much liquid at once, or it breaks the roux.   Once the mixture is consistent (free of as many lumps as possible) and starting to look like it will boil, add more milk.  Repeat this until you have added all the milk.  Bring just to a boil, and reduce the heat.  I use stainless steel, so I can almost turn off my stove eye at this point.  Bottom line is do not continue to boil the mixture!  Now, add bacon pieces, green onions, cheddar cheese, and potatoes.  Stir.  Allow about 15 minutes or so (I don't time very well either), and then add your dallop of Daisy (I love saying that...yes, I'm singing).  For those of you that don't know, dallop of Daisy=sour cream.  Dallop=what my big wooden spoon will scoop out of the container.  Dissolve the sour cream.  Your soup is ready to serve.

We have one of those nice stainless ladles.  Two ladles (more than enough) is one bowl for us.  The entire batch made 5 bowls.  Yay for leftovers.  Top with bacon, green onions, cheddar cheese, sour cream, crutons, pepper, more salt, whatever you like at this point.  Bon appetit!

Homemade Crutons (credit:  Gina Underwood)

Disclaimer:  I've altered whatever she told me to do to fit what I have on-hand...

Cut a few slices of bread into squares.
Toss with any of the following (or whatever you like):  olive oil, butter (liquified), Italian seasoning, garlic salt, McCormick Garlic Bread Sprinkle--heaven, roasted garlic...

Place on baking sheet.  Bake in oven at 375-400ish (can't recall, so I just used 400 today, since everything else was happy cooking at that) for approximately 15-20 minutes.  Today, I used Texas toast from the freezer from a few months ago (yes, it's old, now you know what I do with old bread, sans mold), olive oil, garlic bread sprinkle. 

Monday, August 13, 2012


My dear friend, Kenny, posted this on Facebook this morning:

One can be deceived by three types of laziness: of indolence, which is the wish to procrastinate;
the laziness of inferiority, which is doubting your capabilities;
and the laziness that is attachment to negative actions, or putting great effort into non-virtue.
                                                        ~Dalai Lama

It must have struck a nerve somewhere deep inside me because as soon as I read it, I walked into B's office and scanned some documents into digital files--something I've been putting off for far longer than I care to admit.

Then I walked into my office (or lack of--that's a post for another day) and began to cull books from my "gardening" book collection--another something I've put off. The average person could still look at the modge podge of books on my shelves and say, "Brandy, you're still a hoarder." Well, yes, I am, but I'm in recovery, though. Isn't the first step to recovering from addiction to admit that we have one?

Where am I going with some quote from the Dalai Lama and decluttering my bookshelf? Glad you asked. I realized that I've been saying I would return to blogging for just shy of two years now. Yet, I've found every excuse under the sun not to:
1. Didn't have my camera
2. Didn't have time between a full-time graduate course load in business school and working full-time
3. Killed my laptop and lived off of a netbook for 6 months (which may I say is no easy feat when trying to complete your capstone courses for your MBA)
4. Suffered from career burn-out (call me a wimp, when you've been there, you'll relate to how big of a number this deserves on the list)
5. Moved away from my much-loved tropical environment to Virginia (I'm still learning to cope with that)
6. No longer had a garden to blog about
7. Converted to Mac--of which I still cannot use iPhoto other than to upload photos from my camera (pathetic, I know) ANY POINTERS WELCOMED!
8. Spent some very boring time (well, not to me, but not much to write about) in Mississippi
9. Got caught up in hanging out with my family (B, Chance, and Yoda) roaming trails and not touching a computer of any kind for months
10. Couldn't decide what to blog about.

In reality, all of this could be summed up in one word, a very nasty word, a four letter word, one that we all call ourselves, but would fight anyone who called us this word to our faces: LAZY

Yes, I've been lazy. Don't get me wrong...I firmly hold my position that some of my laziness was deserved, earned, and much needed. However, when that time drug on from 6 weeks to now 54 weeks (how long I've been unemployed not how long I've been absent from blogging) became a rut which I was stuck in.

Make no mistake, I've enjoyed my past 54 weeks of not working: I've learned to cook--really cook, not like 15 minute meals, but meals in which each flavor bursts in your mouth, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. I can actually make rue now, along with poached eggs, and a whole host of other wonderful things (read: tamales, real scalloped potatoes, crab cakes from scratch). I've gotten back to spending a lot of time hiking.

I've decluttered our home to a minimalistic state I haven't seen it (or myself) in since I was 18 and could live out of a backpack for weeks on end. No, we won't be living out of a backpack anytime soon (maybe a suitcase and the 4runner), but we definitely don't need a McMansion to house our junk. We can park two cars in our garage, if we wanted to. We have 3 rooms in our house virtually empty. I know that when friends visit us, they wonder why I don't decorate those rooms, or fill them with stuff, or perhaps feel pity that we don't have more "Keeping up with the Joneses" items. We actually have chosen not to add to our collection of junk just to satisfy filling a room for the sake of decoration. In the end, we want to move to a small house by the water.  Junk is usually a limiting factor in the size of a home people purchase (over what they can afford, isn't that ironic?)

Decluttering was no easy feat.  Do you know how hard it is to donate items to thrift stores?  Do you know how much time and effort it consumes?  And did I mention that I am a hoarder? A collection hoarder. Just ask Melissa. She helped me pack the house when we moved from Benning to Tampa. I don't just acquire a lantern...I acquire 22 (which as I type that number tells me I need to let go of 1, keep things divisible by 3 or 5). I don't just have 1 wooden carved bird, I have 6! Hey, give me some credit...there were 14. I let go of 8 of them.

So, while I've been lazy, I've also been very busy. I've modified my behavior from shopping, collecting, hoarding to being content with enough. Lila, Kerry, Melissa, Gina, Cara--I don't have a bazillion Christmas trees and ornaments anymore. (Other readers--yes, trees, don't ask, and no, I won't blog about that one day.) I still probably have more than the average person, but I plan to let a lot of those go when I decorate for Christmas this November (wow, is it really that close?).

And my study of living with less has been soulful for me. I've learned a lot about myself and why I shop, eat (that's another post for another day--I hope one of you are keeping a list of what I said I'd post later and sending it to me), hoard, and am OCD about being organized (yet another post--what are we up to 3 or 4 now). I've learned to let go. Just because my grandma (aka Maw) gave me a quilt every year for the past 10 years does not mean I have to keep them, especially in the wake of her passing. I've seen what my mom and her sisters have gone through to deal with my Maw's things that she kept, and I realized that I don't want anyone to have to do that when I depart. Plus, at the rate me and B are moving, we'll have no one to do that for us, unless Al and Annie take up the challenge. It's not the stuff that matters, it's the memories.

Hmmmm, did I digress? Yes, oh yes, laziness. I am lazy. I've made excuses long enough. For the past month I've been telling myself (and others), "I'm going to start blogging again." And I have lots of ideas, but I can't seem to force myself to sit down and just do it. Part of that is the iPhoto excuse, yes, but a valid one.  Guess I need to buy another how to book, or take a class, because going back to Windows is not an option in my household (I'm singing "another post").

I once had the dream that I'd write books one day, but a writer is not a writer without a written word.

So, if you're still reading this, thank you. Thank you for sticking it out and getting through one of my blog posts. I promise the next one won't be as long, or if it is, it will contain pictures. And I promise to update my blog regularly and change the graphics a bit, and answer your comments.

Today, I kicked LAZY to the curb and let the Brandy I've always been so fond of hating back into my life. The one who is a perfectionist, who never stops, who is active and vibrant and innovative. Why do I hate that? Because it's exhausting being those things, but that's who I am. Sitting at home is not who I am. Vacation is over. Time to go find a real job--a career...time to do a lot of things, perhaps the first on the list is to suck it up and go see doc for a cortisone shot, because this poison ivy is driving me nuts!! 

And no more excuses (that means I now have to get up and go downstairs and eat my frog--Insanity workout) and then polish up the ole' resume.

We all feel lazy sometimes in life.  Mine has lasted far longer than I care to admit, but it's benefited me in many ways.  I've grown as a person quite a bit (wonder how I can fit that in as a skill on my resume).  What have you learned from your bouts with laziness?