Stress, leg day, wins for the cat cafe, taste testing and EZ Pass Drama

In 45 minutes, I need to leave for work. It’s Thursday and I feel like I haven’t stopped moving all week. I’m behind on my own commitments and starting to feel panicked.

The pop up kitten cafe fundraiser for Feline Urban Rescue and Rehab is this Sunday.

Although it has required effort from many people, in the last few days this has become my baby.

In the last 24 hours, we received commitments from Just Born candy and Target #2536 (the same Target where I used to work and that experienced a fatal shooting in the parking lot last weekend).

This brings our list of supporters to:

  • Many individual bakers
  • Easton Baking Company
  • Philly Pretzel
  • Wawa
  • Wegmans
  • Giant Food Stores
  • Keystone Snacks
  • Chocolate Works
  • Target
  • Just Born

Today the teenager and I will be heading to Keystone Snacks to get the Veggie Chips donation.

So that’s the fundraiser but meanwhile real-life goes on. I haven’t worked on William Prystauk‘s upcoming novel in his Kink Noir series, Bondage, in several days. Our personal cat, kitty cancer survivor Opie has a very goopy, wet eyes. This is very unusual for Opealope so I gave him a couple treatments with a chamomile tea eye wash for cats grown and prepared by our fellow foster, Granola Cat Lady.

Despite all this (and only 5 hours sleep from sharing my bed with the teenager’s dog, F. Bean Barker), I still made it to Apex Training for leg day and some warm-up core work. My body was very stiff after that, not really from the workout but because my period is late and doing things to my body.

Although I have to admit I fell on the way to the gym and broke the screen to my iPhone. After 3.5 years I now get to test my SquareTrade insurance.

The other big news is that the teenager installed a new toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom. The old one had screws so stripped it kept falling off while you were sitting on it. Bad news is: our bathroom is 1950s Flamingo Pink. The new toilet seat is white— the only one they had. I hate white toilet seats on colored bowls but I also hate “falling in.” And now that she’s seen it, the teenager agrees.

I finally tried my Emmi Roth cheddar cheese snacks from Hungryroot which were supposed to be for tuna artichoke melts but I couldn’t bring myself to use such fancy cheese on a grilled cheese sandwich. A colleague and I were talking about snacks & cheese so I brought her some and we tried it at the Bizzy Hizzy.

She loved it so much she googled where to buy it. Apparently it’s only available in Wisconsin and Switzerland. It literally melts in your mouth.

After work I went to Sheetz and ordered a pina colada lemonade with immunity boost with my bonus points. It tasted like candy, too thick to be refreshing but definitely very summery. I added some mango vodka when I got home. (Here’s a video if you want to see me talk to myself in a parking lot at midnight.)

And finally, not sure if I mentioned it on the blog, but I’m another step closer to resolving the great EZ Pass Drama of Summer 2021. Did you ever procrastinate something so long it bit you in the ass?

Yeah, so that’s what happened to me.

So, our Nissan Ultima (oh how I loved that car) died suddenly. My husband and I were still together and only had one car. He replaced the Ultima was a used Nissan Juke— a car he had wanted for a while. We moved everything from the Ultima into the Juke.

I had ordered an EZ Pass when I started work on my master’s in world history at West Chester University and was driving down the turnpike at least once a week.

So I knew that the EZ Pass was connected to my car— the Ultima— but I never really used it. I forgot about it. And then I bought my Jetta because I hated the Juke. Our family didn’t really go anywhere. I worked retail so I never really got time off. I had stopped working on my master’s as money got tight and my marriage continued to fail.

I neither returned nor updated the EZ Pass.

My husband returned the box of random things from the Ultima and I, with other things on my mind, tossed the transponder in my car hoping to remember to update it.

I never did.

At this point, I don’t even remember how to access my EZ Pass account.

This summer, the teenager took her grandmother to Cape May. She pulled up to the first toll booth and the toll collector yelled at her for trying to pay the toll.

Being a dutiful child, she trusted the toll collector who told her she had an EZ Pass.

Two weeks later, we get two violations from NJ EZ Pass. $30 in missed tolls and $55 in administrative fees. My daughter and I send a check, but I also send an email stating that I understand I hadn’t updated the EZ Pass, but my daughter had tried to pay the toll and the toll collector yelled at her.

They cashed the check.

Then a couple weeks after that I get a letter from PA Turnpike EZ Pass stating I had insufficient funds in my account and they were threatening to ticket me. Now, my EZ Pass was on a credit card. That credit card expired one month before my daughter’s trip.

I call the number. Because I don’t know my account pin or my transponder number, I am forced to leave a message and they say they will call me back. That was Monday.

A couple days ago I get another letter from NJ EZ Pass. They claim I didn’t pay one of the two violations. I send another email and send them a screen shot from my banking app of the cashed check.

It’s now Thursday. I go to PA EZ Pass and try to remember all my account info. I easily succeed. I look at the “insufficient funds.” $5.37 cents. They also demand $35 to load my account fully. Even though I haven’t used it in three years.

And you can’t just pay what you owe.

I then go to the “manage vehicles” tab, add the Jetta and delete the Ultima. That took five minutes. Had I done that years ago, I could have avoided the whole drama.

“Review”: Pick-Your-Own-Bouquet Outing at Terra Fauna Farm

This one brings to mind memories of my mother’s flower gardens during my childhood— her lovingly tending her petunias, impatiens, zinnias and marigolds. I begged for straw flowers, snap dragons and “blue angels.” I thought of my mother’s gifted green thumb while frolicking in these fields.

Last week, knowing my teenager had left me home with no car, my sweet friend Joan had invited me to a pick-your-own-bouquet workshop at Terra Fauna Farm. Joan is a member of their CSA.

For those who don’t know, like the teenager, let me explain the concept of CSA or “Community Supported Agriculture.”

First, some history. Our area (the Lehigh Valley/Slate Belt of Pennsylvania) is traditionally primarily rural, with a few small cities scattered here and there and one of the largest cities in Pennsylvania on the one side (Allentown) and the Poconos on the other. New Jersey lies to the east and more rural areas to the West.

I once served as an advisory board member for the Penn State University Cooperative Extension. I completed six years, many of those as Secretary. I never realized how passionate I was about the area’s agricultural heritage until I had this opportunity. I took it for granted.

I grew up in the rural Slate Belt in the 1980s where most of my neighbors were dairy farmers. One literal neighbor had a green house business. And our school bus route cut through a pig farm. Pig farms smell bad, by the way.

Corn fields. Horses. 4-H. Farm Shows. Future Farmers of America. Horticulture and Agriculture as high school science electives. I took horticulture one and it was an amazing exposure to organic gardening (in 1990 before it became trendy), flower arrangement, and gardening. You haven’t lived until you’ve washed a greenhouse of poinsettias with lye soap to kill the white flies.

At that time your parents were either farmers or blue collar workers. My dad was a diesel mechanic.

During the last two decades, farm land has given way to suburban developments and warehousing.

And to compete with large commercial farm and maintain some smaller farms as viable, farmers have embraced the CSA model.

In a CSA arrangement, when selecting his crops and ordering his seeds, the farmer also contacts those who have expressed interest in supporting the farm. These supporters then purchase a share of the season’s crops by sending money in advance. There’s usually a “full share” customarily enough for a family of four and a “half share” for those who don’t have a family or are timid about how much produce they can use.

The farm typically shares what crops they want to plant and the supporter can usually cater their share to their likes and dislikes.

The farmer uses that money to buy his supplies and pay his bills until the crop is ready. And has a guaranteed market for some of his crop.

Terra Fauna (located in Northampton, Pa.) planted a flower and herb garden on what I believe they said used to be their cow pasture. For $5, you can pick a bouquet.

As I mentioned, they had planned a workshop for last week but the heat and the threat of thunderstorms made them postpone until July 5.

Joan took photos and the teenager and I indulged our witchy senses and gathered blooms and herbs from the rows.

We spent $26.50 on extras— a farm fresh cucumber, two zucchini, a quart of new potatoes, a pound of local honey harvested this past Saturday, some garden herb cheese spread and a coffee flavored yogurt smoothie which I think tasted like a milkshake.

The teenager came home and spread her cheese spread on some crisp fresh cucumber and for the sandwich effect added “chicken in a biskit” crackers I bought over the weekend. The juxtaposition of ultra-processed and farm fresh was not lost on her.

Perhaps before the end of the summer, Joan and I can “do lunch” at the farm on one of her weekly CSA pick up days. Which, as a country girl, let me tell you this one truth:

The only way to eat sweet corn is fresh off the farm. If you’re buying sweet corn at a local big box grocery store, I’m sad for you.

Coffee musings: Review of Folgers Black Silk

I love dark roast coffee.

My current favorites are Target’s Archer Farms Mosaica and Wegman’s whole bean espresso roast.

My neighbor prefers Starbucks PPR (Pike’s Peak Roast) to brew at home and I enjoy it when I have my amazing coffee mornings with her, but I don’t believe it is worth the money. But I also don’t begrudge anyone their favorite coffee— I prefer to get my Mosaica when it is on sale or on the Target Circle app, and if that is not available I go to Wegman’s as it is normally $4.99 for the bag. I don’t recall the exact ounces of the bag, but it is the small bag that typically lasts me a month at one cup of coffee a day.

But recently Target had ridiculously low prices on my allergy medicine so I decided to see if my coffee was on sale.

It was not.

So I did what I do— I stared at coffee options and price points for 20 minutes deliberating.

I purchased a massive plastic bin of Folgers Black Silk, their dark roast, for $5.99. Today I opened it.

Perhaps I bought this for the bucket and it came with free coffee inside…

Now, a few basic facts before we continue:

  1. I hate Folgers coffee. This whole experiment rests on the idea that I can remain objective.
  2. I love the buckets Folgers coffee comes in. Household tip: save it. I keep one by the sink for a composting bucket. The lid is easy to open but as the company promises, keeps the freshness (or in this case rottenness). Also a handy small cleaning bucket as the container has a handle. So if you need a small bucket of hot soapy water to carry around the house, this is a great bucket. AND it goes into the dishwasher for easy cleaning. Perhaps I bought this for the bucket and it came with free coffee inside.
  3. I do not brew my coffee in a standard coffee pot or even a snobby French press. I used to make the perfect cup of coffee grinding my Wegman’s beans and putting them in my French press but I have forgotten how.
  4. My husband got the coffee pot in our break-up, and that was by necessity, as he and the coffee pot had an intense relationship whereas I have videos proving that the teenager, at the tender age of four, had to teach me how to use it.
  5. Instead, I consume my caffeine via the espresso machine. My first real boss— my first white collar, grown up job—gave me a $50 Boscov’s gift card when I got married. At the time, I thought that was ridiculously extravagant of him. I did not start drinking coffee regularly until after the teenager was born. To do justice to the generous gift from my boss, who was a coffee drinker, I purchased a tiny espresso machine (with steamer) and coffee grinder. I thought I had arrived in the world. I use this to make my coffee. Yes, I am putting commercial Folgers into my espresso machine.
  6. I do not sweeten my coffee. I use real half and half to lighten it, and *spoiler alert* this coffee did require extra half and half to make it the color I prefer.
  7. Finally, a note on my coffee preferences. I prefer Dunkin to Starbucks, on the taste of the coffee alone. I find Starbucks bitter. Not intolerably bitter but bitter.

And yes— that is a Pyrex measuring cup. The carafe broke. What do you want from an espresso machine more than 20 years old?

And now finally the tasting…

It’s more akin to Starbucks PPR than the coffees I prefer. Bitter, but after the first few sips, the bitterness is forgotten.

I must ask my neighbor to use some the next time we have coffee together. Meanwhile, for the price, this economical option will tide me over until I regain my financial footing and start making money in my “side gigs” or attain a job.

The odd pepper

The teenager planted primarily an herb garden this year though we have a huge red tomato currently in the fridge and a good size eggplant still in the yard.

A pepper also seemed to have reached its peak size. I grabbed it and the tomato and set them on the railing of our deck while I hung the rest of the wash.

I forgot them— so by the time I retrieved them they were hot. The pepper had burned on one side and smelled fiercely like a jalapeño.

I thought the teenager had planted red bell peppers.

I went to show it to her later and realized that it had the characteristics of a bell pepper and the shape of a jalapeño.

So we all ate some.

The teenager said it tasted like a jalapeño but was sweet like a bell pepper.

I thought it tasted like a bell pepper with a kick.

Her dad had some, but I can’t remember what he said.

We all agreed that we have no idea what we are growing.

Unwinding (vacation day 4, grilling day 2)

I woke today with no clear idea of what I wanted to achieve today except that I promised my teenager that we could go to Lidl and get supplies to grill again.

I even called my blind friend Nan (who’s now on twitter and just published a NASA poem as a tweet) and got her shopping list.

  • Macaroni salad
  • Peanut butter cookies
  • Riced cauliflower
  • Ice cream

I got up and fed the menagerie. One quietly sad little leftover tidbit of having formerly feral kittens is that sometimes they really do eat anything.

Fog, who was on his own a month longer than his brother Misty (Mistofelees), tends to eat the cockatoo’s kibble.

But I do feed them— as I grind my whole bean espresso blend and feed it into my little espresso machine.

This morning I started laundry, washed the bathroom floor and reassembled it now that it’s been thoroughly scrubbed. I had my last birthday cupcake for breakfast.

I saw a got the last of my anticipated packages, a shirt and necklace from Doll’s Kill. (Unboxing here: My last birthday package.)

I also got two pairs of slacks and a purple tunic from White House Black Market. I thought the necklace would look amazing with the tunic. (Another unboxing here: New Pants)

My Goffin’s cockatoo, Nala, had her morning talking session and woke the teenager up at 11 a.m.

The teenager and I went to Lidl and the Dollar Tree. Our finds at Lidl included super cheap scrapple and super cheap hot dogs and super cheap maple breakfast sausages. We got two bags of instant light charcoal. Dill pickle pita chips. Some varieties of veggie burgers. Provolone because it was on sale and the teenager adores provolone. The teenager even got break and bake chocolate chip cookies to make in her father’s new toaster oven. (His apartment does not have a stove/oven.)

At the Dollar Tree, I got tuna. A vase because for the life of me I can’t find the one I made in college that I use to display my roses. Frozen appetizers. A can of corn so we can make my mother-in-law’s corn bake. A can of Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli because it might be the second time the teenager ever had it. Some grill utensils. Matches. And Ajax. Because the teenager wanted Comet for cleaning but the Dollar Store only had Ajax. And instant decaf coffee. Because Lidl didn’t have any decaf coffee and I need to detox.

Nala got really hot this afternoon and started swimming in her water bowl.

The teenager started the grill again. This time we were more determined than ever to succeed. Read about last night’s attempt here: Yesterday’s BBQ

We even invited her dad for dinner. And do you know what? Those cheap hot dogs were really good.

And I had a library board meeting at 7 p.m., so I poured a Diet Coke and mango nectar.

I can feel my tension fade away and it feels delightful. I ate well today, though I’m hungry now. I even had a ton of fruit. A serving of cantaloupe. An apple made in the grill like at Girl Scout camp. And probably 8 pieces of watermelon.

My compost heap makes me happy

When my teen daughter still attended elementary school, I liked to garden. I have a small yard in an urban setting but it was enough to hold some herbs & a few vegetables.

I noticed quickly that my soil was mostly clay. To rectify this, I started composting.

I turned the area under my deck into my pile of decomposing refuse. I took a plastic coffee can with a lid and collected the compostables from our kitchen.

Now that plastic bucket gets stinky. But nothing a session with the hose can’t rectify.

The soil that this makes is so rich and dark.

It’s satisfying.

But it’s the “turning” that makes me happy. That’s when you periodically dig holes and bury your freshest fruit-and-vegetable bits to the bottom of the pile.

I have my own shovel and I love to dig and rearrange and mix all the different stages of compost.

It makes me happy.