TMM - We Own Our Furniture!

It's been awhile since I've posted a TMM (Total Money Makeover) post, but that's mostly because this summer DH had to renovate his rental property, and all of our extra money was going towards that.  But the renovations are over, and as of the end of August, we will finally, officially own ALL of our furniture!! Woo hoo!!!

That might not seem like a big deal to most of you, but for us, it's huge.  When we purchased our first home together, all of the furniture that we had was total crap, except for the full-sized bed that I just purchased two years earlier.  This meant that in order to furnish an entire new home, we would need to buy a LOT of furniture.

It turns out I don't take many pictures of our furniture, but here's the love seat, end table and coffee table

We decided to do it all in one fell swoop and went to Roomful Express.  We took advantage of their 5 years no financing offer and purchased roughly $7,000 worth of furniture.  Items that we purchased include but are not limited to...
- Sleigh bed
- Pillow-top mattress with box spring
- 2 matching dressers and a nightstand
- Sofa
- Love seat
- Coffee table and end tables
- Glass dining room table with 6 chairs
- Wine rack
- Rug

Hmm... maybe that's all. I can't really remember.  Anyway, the furniture was great, and we loved it. But then a year or so later we moved to our current home and we suddenly had an enormous finished basement to furnish as well.  So we went back to Roomful Express and they let us add on a $1000 couch, love seat, ottoman, coffee table, and end tables set to our "free financing" offer so that we wouldn't need to pay for that upfront either.

Murphy enjoying the chair that was part of new downstairs furniture set

I know that financing - whether it's zero percent interest or not - is not recommend at all by financial advisers or by people like Dave Ramsey.  This is one of those areas where - when reading the book - I had to say to myself, "This is what worked for us, and I'm glad we did it the way we did." 

The reason that financial adviser people like Dave Ramsey don't like free-financing deals is because most people don't pay the balance off in time to avoid finance charges.  We are (we like to think, at least) smart enough to do that, so we never paid a dime in financing.  Sure, our furniture isn't worth the same amount of money that it was 5 years ago, but I'm not really worried about that.  We're planning on it keeping it for a long time, and now it's ours, free and clear.

The furniture debt was the smallest debt that we owed on, and we focused on paying that one off first so that we could get it out of the way and then put that money towards something else.  Our next goal - would we should reach relatively soon - is to pay off DH's car.  Although it wouldn't normally be the debt to pay off in Dave Ramsey's mind, we had to prioritize because of a stupid mistake that we made a few months ago.  More on that in the next TMM post!

Garden Fresh Recipes - Tomato Basil Pizza

My basil plant is slowly being knocked over by the gargantuan tomato plants.  So in an effort to use some of it up (and in an effort to continue to use up the fresh, vine ripened tomatoes) I made this wonderful looking tomato basil pizza.  And this is one of the easiest meals to make.

Of COURSE there are tomatoes involved

Garlic and Tomato Basil Pizza

Garden fresh ingredients:
- Fresh basil
- Vine ripened tomatoes
- Fresh oregano

Other ingredients:
- Pizza crust (we use the Boboli original)
- Half a block of whole milk mozzarella (better than the pre-shredded)
- Olive oil
- Garlic powder

1. Heat your oven according to the instructions on the pizza crust (usually 450.)
2. Slice your tomatoes into thin pieces and shred the mozzarella
3. Cut the basil and oregano into small pieces. Or if you're like me, just wash them and then when you're ready for them, I use clean scissors to cut the herbs into pieces directly onto the pizza.

Once everything is prepped, the next steps have to happen pretty quickly, or your crust will start to get soggy from the oil, so make sure that everything is ready.

4. Drizzle olive oil onto the crust (as much or as little as you'd like) and spread with a basting brush until it's even.
5. Sprinkle garlic powder over the oil (or use real garlic if you have it!)
6. Spread tomatoes onto the oil and garlic.
7. Sprinkle or cut basil over the tomatoes.
8. Add the cheese.
9. Sprinkle or cut oregano over the cheese.
10. Add 6 to 8 more tomato slices on top of the cheese (optional, and purely for looks!)

'Lemme break that down for you.

Don't forget to add the oregano to the top!

And Voila!!!

Please excuse the less attractive and less healthy cheese-less buffalo chicken pizza side

And the finished product.

Totally beautiful and just about the tastiest pizza you will ever have.  Of course, I can't speak from experience since I can't eat garlic or cheese, but this is yet another one of those things that I make that no one has ever said a bad thing about.  My husband, who lists pizza as one of his all-time favorite foods, thinks that this particular recipe tastes as good as restaurant pizza.  Trust me, that's a HUGE compliment.

Topes Y Cenotes - Tulum, Mexico Part 11 - Cenote Cristal

We stumbled upon Cenote Cristal completely by accident.  We were looking for a cenote called Escondido, since my notes on my printed map said "good snorkeling" and that's what we were after.  Remember my pre-vacation post about the cenotes? The first picture on that post is from Cenote Escondido.  It's beautiful, and I definitely wanted to check it out.

Apparently I had also looked into Cristal, since there's a picture of it at the very bottom of that post, but it must not have been enough to convince me that we should go there.

Anyway, we're driving along and we quickly noticed that things weren't very well signed on the Mexican rural roads, and although we looked as hard as we could, we didn't see any signs for Cenote Escondido.  (I think I saw it when we were leaving Cristal, but I can't say for sure.)

Rural Mexican highway

(Some tips about driving on the roads of Mexico will be forthcoming in a separate post, but THIS post is about our first cenote!)

We had passed the sign for Cenote Cristal three times by this point, since we were driving back and forth looking for Escondido, so in frustration and the desire to stop driving and DO something, we finally decided to just go there.  Cristal was on my list of cenotes in the Tulum area, but I didn't have any notes about it, which meant that it probably wasn't particularly interesting for snorkeling.  But we were so tired of driving around, and it was overcast and looked like it might start to rain any minute, so we wanted to get moving.

So, we pulled into the parking lot for Cenote Cristal, and for the first time, we felt like we were stepping out of our comfort zone as stereotypical all-inclusive tourists who never leave the resort.

First of all, here is the sign from the road.

This was one of the best signs we saw on this entire stretch of highway, believe it or not.

We walked up to a Mexican man laying in a hammock on a platform with a roof.  Next to him, a fire was burning and putting off a stinky, harsh smoke. (We realize later that this smoke was to keep the mosquitos away.)

My notes had indicated that this particular cenote was $50 pesos per person, but we were pleased when he told us it was only $40 pesos.  So we paid and he pointed us back a long, rocky path.

We saw a sign for the banos, and DH had to use one, so we walked back that trail to find this:


You walk up the stairs and pee in a toilet which drops down into that area right next to the stairs.  After that fun experience, we continued walking back the main path until we came to what we would call from then on "the pond."

The Pond

We walked around the perimeter to explore the entire thing and realized that it was rather quite small.  However, we were only the people there and thus rather excited about the prospect of swimming, especially once the mosquitoes started biting us.  (We were in jungle at this point, after all, but you're not supposed to wear sunscreen or bug spray before going into the cenotes because it's bad for the wildlife and fish living there.)

At this point we were a little disappointed.  I had seen so many pictures of crystal clear, bright blue water and this was really just some dude's pond that we paid $40 pesos to swim in.  But as you can't really tell from the sky in the picture above, it was really quite overcast on this particular day, and apparently you need direct sunlight to get the aqua-blue effect that you usually see in cenote pictures.  In fact, below is a picture of Cenote Cristal from that was on my original cenotes post.

It didn't quite like that on this particular day, but oh well.  We hopped in anyway.

Or, more accurately, I hopped in.  DH is not so fond of cold water, and thus took his sweet old time stepping into the water while I experimenting with our waterproof camera.

Shaking water droplets off of the lens is key to not getting blurry pictures like this one here

The water really was crystal clear...

But I quickly realized that our waterproof camera had a really slow shutter speed (that's what you get for $100, right?)  So, it was challenging to capture the cute little darting fish, thus resulting in some blurry fish photos like the one above.

This was one of those experiences that is hard to put into words, and it's difficult to capture even with a camera.  Under the water the plant life was an electric green, and tiny little colorfish would swim right up to you with no fear.  I had never seen water so clear in my life, and even though it was tiny, Cenote Cristal was a cool experience that I'm glad I had.

Everyone looks hot with snorkel gear on

There were all of these really cool bird nests hanging from the trees, but instead of just making traditional nests, these were almost like bird houses built out of twigs and straw-like material.  The birds were very active, swooping down by the water and then up to their houses.

I'm sad that we weren't able to get more photos of fish that weren't blurry, and I wish it had been sunny so that the water would have looked blue like it does in all of the amazing pictures of cenotes.  But we enjoyed ourselves, and for our first cenote experience, this was a good one.  It was amazing to have the entire place to ourselves.

Just as we were getting out of the water and drying off, it started to rain.  So we took this final video to attempt to help us remember Cenote Cristal, and DH the educator even gives us a little lesson about the difference between ponds and cenotes.

Coming up: The one - AND ONLY - night that DH felt healthy enough to hang out past 10 p.m.  We called it "fun night!"

Autumn in August

For over a decade, I have exclaimed my love for Pittsburgh weather.  Fabulous spring and fall temperatures, hot sunny summers, and mild winters.

But for the past two years or so, Mother Nature has been messing with me.

Take summer 2009 for example.  It felt like fall weather for the entire summer.  We had central air-conditioning and we seriously only turned it on twice.  My summer tan was literally non-existent.  As someone who is self-diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, summer 2009 made me sad because heat and sun in the summer make me happy and that was completely lacking.  But compare that to summer 2010, and we basically had our air-conditioner running the entire months of June and July, and most of early August.  Hot, humid, sunny weather - but so much so that I felt like I was suffocating if I laid out it in too long. Our electricity bills were through the roof, and totally not helpful to our attempts to budget our money.

We all remember this past winter, right?  Horrible, horrible amounts of snow.  I don't mind cold weather.  But I like snow in very small doses and we did NOT get small doses of snow.  Not even one big dose of snow.  Instead, multiple large, oversized, SUPER-sized even.... doses of snow.  I hated it.

I some point in mid-July, I actually said to myself, "Well, I guess I can't say that I love Pittsburgh weather anymore."  Because the one thing that I loved was that it was fairly predictable, and that has gone out the winter the past 18 months or so.

But then things like this happen:

And I forgive Mother Nature for messing with me. 

It feels like autumn in August, and it feels amazing.  Bright sun without the suffocating humidity. Throw in the occasional overnight rain shower for the plants and water sources, and I would be willing to state - for the record - that Pittsburgh would be the most perfect place to live in the world.

Garden Fresh Recipes - Linguini with fresh Tomato Sauce

This particular garden fresh recipe came from a summer 2009 edition of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  (Seriously, I do get BH&G every month in the mail, but only because it was free with my mom's subscription.  Although most of the content bores me to death, they are actually some really great recipes so it's worth it just for those.)

Anyway, this one caught my eye last year because I was trying to grow both tomatoes and basil, two of the main ingredients.  Of course last year my tomatoes were a big 'ol FAIL, so I never got to try it, but we made it recently and it was good.

Linguini with Fresh Tomato and Basil Sauce

10 ounces linguini
1 and 1/2 cups of diced tomatoes
1 cup of whole basil leaves
4-6 tablespoons of olive oil (personal preference)
 3 cloves chopped garlic ***
1/2 cup chicken broth (or pasta water)
Pinch of sugar
Grilled chicken (optional)
Parmesan cheese

1. Heat the water for the pasta.

2. While the water is heating, dice your tomatoes, basil, and garlic, and set aside.

3. Put your chicken on the grill if you want to have chicken, and put your husband (or another person) in charge of the chicken.

4. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet.

5. Add garlic and saute for two minutes.

6. Add tomatoes and basil and stir.

7.  Add chicken broth and sugar. Stir again.

 It should look something like this!

8. Drain pasta.  Add pasta to the olive oil mixture and mix like you're stir-frying it. Stir until it's all thoroughly heated.

9.  Serve pasta on a dish and add the chicken that your loved one just finished grilling, and VOILA!

10.  Add parmesan cheese if you're not lactose intolerant!

My two cents on this meal:

1. Chopping everything in advance and having someone else worry about the chicken was key to making this a quick meal for me.  I was totally stressed and rushed when I did not have these two things in place.
2.  This dish has a relatively mild flavor, but it's also a really authentic, healthy tasting flavor.
3. Next time I make this I will probably double the tomatoes and the basil.  We were really craving more flavor. 

*** If you're allergic to garlic like I am, you'll have to substitute garlic powder, which I am sure is not the same.  It's sad...

Graden Fresh Recipes - Taco Soup

Also known as "A Great Way to Use Tomatoes!"

The tomatoes are all starting to ripen at the same time, and as someone who does not like plain tomatoes, I knew that I needed to come up with a dish that would use up a lot of them.  I have no interest in canning or preserving these tomatoes - I want to eat them fresh.

 Fresh from the garden!

Taco soup is one of my favorite meals, and DH and his brother love it as well.  I usually make a double recipe so that there is a week's worth of leftovers or if I'm having people over since this meal works great as an appetizer as well, and stays hot in a crock pot for hours!

Taco Soup (with garden fresh tomatoes)

1 pound of chicken, cooked and diced into cubes
3 cans beans (I use 2 cans of black and 1 can of pintos)
1 can creamed corn
6-8 diced tomatoes from your garden (enough to fill a can)
1 cup water
1 packet of low sodium taco seasoning
1 packet of Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing mix
Bag of tortilla chips (Scoops work the best, but they're always too expensive, so we just use regular chips)

A visual representation of most of the ingredients

Here's how to make it:

1. Put your chicken in the oven.  While it's cooking, do the next four steps.

 Step 1

2. Pour the 1 cup of water into a pot sprayed well with cooking spray.

3. Add the can of creamed corn.

4. Drain all three cans of beans and add them to the pot. Stir occasionally while you're dicing the tomatoes so that the beans and corn don't burn to the bottom of the pot.
5. Dice your tomatoes (or open your can) and add them to your pot.  I used about a can and a half of tomatoes this last time, since I wanted to use them all up.

Step 5 -  I dice the tomatoes and them put them in the now empty creamed corn can so that I get a full can. Or in this case, I used nearly a can and a half, since I had so many to use

Step 5 part B - Adding the tomatoes to the pot

6. Add the packets of ranch and taco seasoning and stir everything together.

Step 6 - Before chicken

7. When your chicken is done cooking, cut into cubes or shredded pieces.
Add chicken to the pot, stir and cover at a low heat until simmering.

It should look like this.

After chicken

Yum. It looks sort of awful but tastes AMAZING.  Seriously - no one has ever tried this and not liked it. 

Some final notes:
  1. This recipe is for a single batch.  It will make 6 large-sized servings, or about 8 to 10 if you eat smaller portions.  I generally hate leftovers, but this stuff still tastes as good a solid 5 days after you originally made it.
  2. This version of the recipe is my own take on the original. The original called for ground beef instead of chicken and a lot of onions (which I am allergic to.) 
  3. DH's brother added shredded mexican cheese to his the last time we had this and he said it was awesome.  Sounds like a good plan if you're into cheese.  
  4. I've also made this in the crock pot before.  You still have to cook and dice the chicken, but otherwise can pretty much just throw the rest of it in the crock pot and heat on high for about 4 hours. Sometimes that's better if you have all day because you don't feel like you're spending your entire day in the kitchen. 
I love love love love love this meal, and haven't met a single person yet who hasn't loved it just as much after one bite.  I guarantee that if you give it a try, you will add it to your regular rotation of meals.

    Garden Fresh Recipe Series

    Debuting tomorrow, I am excited to introduce... The Garden Fresh Recipe Series!  Woo hoo!
    All recipes included in this series are made using one or more of the fresh vegetables from my finally successful garden!  I am so excited to share some of these recipes that DH and I have been eating over the past couple of weeks!!!

    At this point in the summer, my garden has reached its peak in terms of production of vegetables and now I am struggling (literally) to use and give way all that it is producing.

    In July, when the cucumbers started developing, I had two (sometimes three) Hartmans eating salads, so I could slice cukes right onto their salads every night.  Many people also enjoy just eating plain cucumbers so I found plenty of takers.  Same with the beans.  I think we've only eaten beans once or twice, since I was able to give so many of them away.

    But the tomatoes are a different story.  There are SO MANY tomatoes. 

    And there are about 50 to 75 more where these came from!!!

    Now I know why the first thing that people ask when I tell them that I'm growing tomatoes is "Oh, are you going to can them?"

    I always say, "No way! I'm gonna use them fresh!"

    Ha! Young (ok, not so young) naive, me.  Thinking I could use all of the tomatoes I grow.... foolish.

    But anyway, the first Garden Fresh Recipe will debut tomorrow, so definitely check it out.  It's one of my all-time favorite meals ever!

    Topes Y Cenotes - Tulum, Mexico, Part 10 - A Quiet Afternoon

    After we got home from the Mexican ruins we were totally and utterly exhausted.  And it was only 11:30 a.m.  We ate lunch and since it was too late in the day to get chairs by the pool, we decided to hit up the beach, where there were always a plethora of available beach chairs.

    The breeze on the beach was much nicer so we didn't sweat nearly as much as we did by the pool.  The views were always waaaay better.

    Dave spent some time reading, and I attempting to read but was constantly distracted by my desire to be incredibly nosy and watch all of the interactions at the snorkeling hut.

    I'm not sure if I mentioned this year already or not, but I was terribly disappointed by the snorkeling hut at Dreams Tulum. It's a third party vendor and not actually associated with the resort.  Snorkeling is one of the activities that is supposed to be included in your "all-inclusive" vacation.  But it is not.  You have to pay five dollars just to snorkel on your own around the shoreline.  It was $50 USD for a boat ride out to a reef, and $40 to go to a cenote.  Totally not worth it (as you will hear later on in my cenote post.)

    That night we decided to try out the Italian restaurant, Portofino.  I ordered a pasta dish as an appetizer, and chicken as my main entree.  The past was good although a little bland, and the chicken - as always - was pretty chewy.  I didn't love this meal, but our waiter was great and we left him a nice tip.  This was also the sickest night of the week for DH.  And this meal is why I think it was dairy that left him feeling so ill.

    DH started with a cheese appetizer dish.  He also ordered the chicken, which had cheese in it (I didn't eat that), and then topped off the meal with a tiramisu cheescake dessert (I took a small taste - it was yummy.)

    This not a picture of cheescake. Obviously. 

    After dinner we spent some time wandering around the resort. This was the first time that we had ventured over to the "new" side of the resort.  I was like, "Ooooh.... this is where we could have been staying." 

    It really was a lot nicer.  Like, a LOT nicer.  I was jealous, but at the same time glad that we didn't spend the extra money.  I was extremely torn over the "nice room versus save money" debate after seeing this side of the resort. 

    The is the lobby, which I believe is newer and was part of the renovations.  As you can see in the picture, there were guest rooms on either side of the lobby, which I thought was a little strange at first, but in retrospect decided was a great idea - these rooms were right next to the lobby bar!!! We had to walk a mile to get to any of the bars from our room.  If we were in one of these rooms we wouldn't even have to go outside!!!

    We took a few pictures around the grand entrance to the lobby (which was really under utilized for how nice it was), including this one of the two of us. It's one of the only pictures of both of us together that wasn't taken with my left hand, which is a rare thing for us!

    Then DH's sickness kicked in again (remember? cheese ravioli and cheescake???) and we had to call it a night before it was even dark outside.  I stayed all dressed up for a solid hour sitting in the room hoping he would feel better enough to go back out, but sadly that was not to be.   "There's always tomorrow, right?" I could only cross my fingers and hope....

    Coming Up....
    We finally get the "cenotes" part of the Topes Y Cenotes experience, also known as "swimming in a Mexican man's pond."

    The most expensive stalk of broccoli ever

    I think I paid around $3 at a Home Depot in early May for a tray of 9 broccoli seedlings.  I had tried to plant broccoli in the past with very little luck - I think because I started it too late in the season and broccoli is a cold-weather vegetable.

    This year I assumed that my broccoli was once again going to fail.  Really early on, one of the plants got really thin and "stalky" looking and within days the broccoli that was just appearing flowered (which means it's ruined.)

    It was disappointing, and I basically stopped caring about the broccoli.

    But there's one shining star that emerging out of the 8 remaining plants.  This little guy.

    My first stalk!

    He was yummy, but I have a horror story about that experience as well.

    My mother - two years or so ago when I first told her that I was going to attempt to grow broccoli - exclaimed, "Why would you want to grow broccoli!!?!?? There are always worms!!!"

    "What!??!" I said disbelieving.  "The worms will be killed off when I cook it!!!"

    Well, I'm here to tell you that we were BOTH right. 

    Because, you see, when I was sitting at the dining room table, happily chomping on my first ever stalk of freshly steamed, home-grown broccoli (I was sooo proud! It was sooo tasty!!!), I stopped in mid-chew when I noticed a funny little curled up thing on my plate.  I examined it closely, poked it with my fork, and then gasped.

    "Oh my god."

    "What!?!??!" DH asked, quickly picking up on the note of concern in my voice.

    "There's a worm.... on my broccoli," I said calmly.

    There it was, just lying in all of its broccoli-green-colored glory, dead on my plate. Plump and juicy looking. Like it had been there all along.  It probably had been there all along.  And I was too far off in la-la land to even notice the dead creature on my dinner plate.

    So, I continue to poke at my broccoli.  I rolled over a particularly large floret and there - right on my crown jewel broccoli stalk - was a second small green worm.


    Yuk yuk yuk yuk yuk.... I can't say it enough.  Yuk.

    I don't want to ruin your appetite by posting pictures of worms in case you happen to be eating right now, so I am going to refer you to some sites that have images of these worms, in case you're interested.  I know some of you are probably incredibly curious and thus incredibly annoyed that I am not showing these pictures right on this blog, but the rest of you are thanking me right now.  I can hear your mutters of thanks, I swear.

    So, if you're still curious, go here or here (scroll down to the second half of the page - if you're only going to look at one picture, look at this second one.)

    I explained the situation to DH while I carefully removed the second worm from the broccoli and slid it over next to its mate.  DH gagged and probably threw up in his mouth a little. I certainly did. My stomach was churning as I examined the rest of the florets and determined that all had been removed.  I was not convinced however, that I hadn't already eat one.  So what's a girl to do?

    Well, here's where pride kicks in.  I am too proud and too stubborn to let these two little worms ruin this incredible momentous occasion. 

    I took a deep breath.

    I picked the worms up with a napkin, crunched it in my hand, and rolled it into a little ball.

    I pushed the little ball to the center of the dining room table.

    I announced... "I am not going to let those stupid little worms ruin  my enjoyment of this broccoli."  I picked up my fork, took another deep breath to try to calm my stomach... And then I proceeded to finish my broccoli.

    To be completely honest, those little worms did ruin my enjoyment of that meal, but I wasn't going to let them get the best of me and I certainly wasn't going to throw away the only stalk of broccoli that I was ever able to successfully grow in my otherwise unremarkable existence. 

    And if you're able to forget about everything that you just read, take a look at how beautiful, how green, and how amazing this broccoli looked when it was on my plate, fresh out of the steamer.

    Yep.  That's the most expensive stalk of broccoli ever.  And perhaps the most traumatic.

    A New Year

    *Chirp, chirp*
    Hear those crickets?  That's how quiet it's been around this blog for the past few days.  But it's not because there's nothing to write.  No sir.  In fact, life is moving at the pace of a Korean high-speed rail passenger train.  Crazy fast, that is.

    Working at a university can be an exciting time. This time of year in particular because it's when all of the new students arrive an campus, move into their dorms, and begin an entirely new chapter of their lives that will most likely completely alter the course that their life is currently on. 

    Remember going away to college? Being dropped off by your parents, left in a strange cinderblock room, surrounded by thousands of teenagers that all seemed so bubbly and outgoing and friendly when all you wanted to do was lay down in your cold dark room by yourself and sleep until it as over?  Oh.... maybe that was just me. 

    Freshmen students are so funny.  "What's your major?" "Are you a freshman?"  Ha! Can you believe that used to be a pick-up line?  Classic... And that one little opening line could be the start of a friendship that lasts for the rest of your life.  Life is so crazy like that...

    But anyway, I work at a university and that means that whenever August rolls around it means no vacations and working weekends.  This weekend was particularly taxing. After a full, five day week, including some later nights, I worked all day Saturday and then today from 6:50 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.  Oh yes... your eyes are not deceiving you - you did read that right.  I worked 13 and a half hours today with no formal breakfast, lunch, or dinner breaks.  While eating a danish I scanned through e-mails to make sure that nothing was imploding.  During my small lunch of a turkey sandwich I updated occupancy and capacity reports for our opening day stats.  While eating chicken fingers and french fries at dinner I looked up students who didn't check in to see if we had any other data on them.   My keyboard will probably be greasy for the rest of it's pitiful existance because of that decision.

    And then tomorrow I turn around and do it all over again. 

    It's tough, there's no doubting that.  But believe it or not, the thought of working all those hours is usually worse than the actuality of it.  Don't try to tell me that though - I won't believe you for a second.  Really though, the body does an amazing job of functioning on little sleep, and when you don't get your weekends off for a couple of weeks, Mondays don't seem so bad anymore, because - let's be honest - at this point who knows what day it actually it anyway?  What's important is to know what hours you have to work that day.  As long as you have that covered, you're golden.   When you're here and putting in the time, thirteen+ hours definitely still sucks, but you just do what you need to do, keep your mind from thinking about the hours, and suddenly - before you know it - it's over.  It would help if you have the next day off, but you don't, so you wake up bright and early once again and start all over.  You pretend that you didn't just work over 22 hours in two (weekend) days and believe it or not, that actually works (for me, at least.) 

    And if I am to be honest, this year was as good as I could have hoped for.  Part of my job is meeting and speaking with disgruntled or unhappy parents.  That usually entails just listening to them explain why their situation is special and why they should be given special priority, and sometimes it's having them yell at me because they think we're idiots. 

    But this year, I only had one really angry family like that.  And after years of being yelled at by 10 families all in one day, one family is a piece of cake.  I can handle one angry family.  And having one angry family means that I am finally at a place in my job where I know that I am doing things right.  There were no errors or mistakes made this year, and that makes me feel really damn good.  In fact, I consider one angry family a complete and utter success.

    Because sometimes people are going to get angry whether you did something to wrong them or not.  In this case I think they just needed to vent, and if doing so to me made them feel a little better, then I guess I did my part.   And at the rate that the angry families have been decreasing over the past five years, next year just might be that golden year where the angry family number is zero.

    Here's hoping.

    So, over the next week or so I hope to pick back up on the vacation recap posts (becuase can you believe that I'm only about half-way through our trip!??!?), finish up some gardening posts as the gardening season starts to wind down and a handful of garden fresh recipes.  Don't give up on me!

    Garden Explosion

    I picked all of this from my garden today. Can you believe I!?!?!

    Seriously - if you are reading this and you would like some product PLEASE come and get some!!!

    Two dogs

    I have always wanted two dogs.  I think that dogs are social creatures and that having a companion can be a great thing for dogs.  I continue to tease DH on a regular basis about us getting a second dog (or 3, 4 or 5 dogs for that matter,) to which he is really resistant.  

    This summer has been particularly trying for Murphy.  We've known for awhile that he isn't particularly fond of other dogs.  But I still romanticized the idea of having a second dog - a small one, for sure - that Murphy would instantly fall in love with, be best friends with, and we wouldn't have to worry about leaving them alone for so long during the days because they would keep each other company.

    But lately I've been thinking that I'm not cut out to have two dogs.  The truth is, Murphy enjoys being the only dog and I realized that I may not have the patience for two animals in my house.  I realized this because  DH's brother has been here all summer, and for a large chunk of it, his dog has been here too.

    Meet Dillon

    He looks cute and innocent enough, right?  And really, he is a sweet and loving dog deep down.  He's as nice as you could ask for and good with other dogs.

    But he's big.  And strong, and still in his puppy phase.  If you're holding a toy (or even something that just resembles a toy) Dillon will jump up on your chest and literally knock the wind out of you.  When he steps on my foot, I scream because his enormous toenails dig into my foot.  When Dillon runs, it scares the shit out of Murphy and he usually ends up barking and jumping at Dillon.  Dillon is only 2 or 3 years old, and still has a lot of puppy habits in him. When Murphy starts squeaking a toy, Dillon is immediately all ears, and wants to get that toy.  Murphy then feels threatened and proceeds to lunge at Dillon's throat. (Thank goodness Murphy is smaller than Dillon, and that Dillon doesn't fight back.)  I panic whenever Dillon starts running into the house, because I'm fairly certain that all hell is going to break loose and that something is going to be damaged or someone will get hurt.  Dillon has stepped on Murphy many times and Murphy yelps in pain.  I know that most of the time Dillon doesn't mean it, but that doesn't mean that I don't get frustrated by him on a regular basis.  It's like a mini civil war in my living room, each and every day.

    They look cute enough together, but the truth is, they're brats.  At meal times they are interested in nothing more than the other dog's food.  You'd think they could just trade and everyone would be happy, right?  But no.  Murphy desperately wants Dillon's food, but if Dillon so much as goes near Murphy's bowl, he gets a lunge at the throat.  And Murphy taunts Dillon by leaving between three and five tiny little biscuits behind in his bowl.  Dillon drinks Murphy's water bowl dry, just to piss him off and then runs at him when Murph goes to get a drink at Dillon's bowl.  When I get home from work they're both so excited to see me that Dillon inevitably steps on Murphy, causing a high pitched, sad squeal and subsequently, a lunge at the throat.

    And here's a great story... see that picture above?  DH's brother was playing with Dillon and his only toy (a rubber bone that doesn't squeak and isn't particularly fun, but it's the only thing that Dillon hasn't destroyed yet.)  Murphy watched for awhile, and then decided that he didn't like that Dillon was getting all of the attention, so he climbed into the space between Brother's legs, throwing his head back and just waiting for the petting that was sure to come.  Do you see that look that he's giving Dillon?  Pure hatred, if you ask me.

    I feel bad for both of them.  Murphy hates having his territory invaded, and getting yelled at by us when he defends it. Dillon is in a strange country, just trying to stay out of trouble and only barely succeeding.  All he wants is for everyone to love him and play with him.  Which is really all that Murphy wants too... it's just that they both want it all for themselves.

    I have a love/hate relationship with Dillon.  Sometimes he gives me these adorable looks that just melt my heart, and when he's sleeping he looks so innocent that my feelings towards him soften.  But then he nips my hand while playing, or start charging down the hallway, and I know that if he was my dog, I'd have to make a hard decision about whether or not to keep him.   This summer has made me realize - more than ever - that I could never get a second dog.  First, I'm fairly certain that Murphy would hate me forever and probably never talk to me again.  (Yes, I personify my dog.)  But secondly, I'm not sure that I could give the "other" dog the same love and attention that I give Murphy - I think I'll always be on Murphy's side.  You can't know for sure that dogs are going to get together, even if they're friends at first glance, and I can't take the chance that Murphy might be changed forever.

    Yesterday was Dillon's last day in Pittsburgh, and now DH and I are making efforts at getting back to our normal life... our normal life with ONE dog.  There were rare moments of peace and total cuteness, which makes me think that maybe we COULD have two dogs after all. But then Dillon would pounce, Murphy would lunge for his throat, and I'd be reminded that maybe having one dog isn't such a bad thing after all.....

    My keys to successful cucumbers (and other produce)

    After two failed attempts at growing cucumbers, year three has definitely been a charm.  A lot of people have been complementing me on my "green thumb," and asking what I did this year that I didn't do in the past. There are a few key things that I did differently this year that I think led to my success, and I would like to share them now.  After all, there's no reason why you should waste two years of your gardening life learning what I've already learned.

     'Cuz cukes like this don't grow themselves!

    Key #1 - Poop 
    You already know this one from previous gardening posts, but manure and compost actually help the things in your grow to grow.  It's expensive and it's stinky but it's also a miracle.  Think about it - something else's bodily WASTE is helping to create food for today.  How crazy is that???

    Key #2 - Thinning
    Cucumbers vine like crazy, and if you don't give them enough space, they'll start to strangle each other out.  I am a bleeding heart, and so last year I didn't have the emotional strength to kill perfectly good cucumber seedlings.  But killing some plants is what makes other plants successful. Thinning is hard but it is absolutely necessary.  If it makes you feel better, dig up the seedlings and plant them in another location.  But don't leave them all to grow in their initial spot - they'll just start fighting for space and kill each other.

    Key #3 -Fences
    Did you know that cucumbers like to climb fences?  Most people, when they think of cuke plants, think of spreading plants that crawl along the ground.  This is a great way to plant cucumbers, but ground spreaders take up a TON of room.  If you don't have that much room, try planting your cukes near your graden fence and add additional trellises to allow them to climb onto.

    This saves  you a TON of room in your garden and creates a lot of great shade for your cukes to grow in.  Cucumber plants need a lot of water and a lot of sunlight, but the fruits themselves actually grow in the shade of the leaves (which absorb the sunlight.) The trellis method of growing cucumbers creates a cute little alcove for them to grow in.  Just watch out to make sure that they don't grow in your yard! (Your husband will get mad and run them over with the lawnmower.)

    Key #4 - Water
    As I mentioned earlier, cucumbers need a lot of sun and a lot of water.  The key to our watering success has been a magical computer machine that is hooked up to our outdoor faucet and turns on each and every morning, providing our garden with 20 solid minutes of liquid fuel.  MUCH easier than hiking up that mountain every single day to water our garden.  In the past, the garden was lucky if it was watered twice a week.

    And really, that's all there is to it.  I've harvested about 15 cucumbers so far this summer, and I'll probably get between 5 and 8 more.  I've been giving them away like crazy, and I even have a story about that that I'll save for a future post!