Monday, August 29, 2011

Burpee XL Pro Tomato Cage

In February, when it seems like I can stand winter no longer, a bright ray of spring enters my mailbox in the form of the Burpee catalog.  This year, because I was tired of those flimsy tomato cages from Lowes and Home Depot, and because I was I didn't want to spend 36 dollars for an extra sturdy cage at Western Gardens in Sandy, I bought the XL Pro Series (sounds like a car not a tomato cage) on sale from Burpee for about 35 dollars for three cages.  

That may seem like quite a bit of money for three cages.  But I tell you, I was tired of the other cages falling over with the weight of the tomatoes.  Even when I doubled them up!  Now really, you don't have to be an engineer to know that a narrow base and a wider top is not that strong.  That's why the box store brand of tomato cage doesn't work.  

The Burpee brand comes shipped flat.  Once out of the box it opens up to 18 inches on each side and it is 58 inches tall! My tomatoes grew like bushes this year even when I trimmed them back.  The best part besides eating a fresh tomato out of the garden? The cages did not budge, bend, or fall over!  So very cool.  I take pleasure in the little things. Next year I am ordering three more with the extenders. Now I can't wait for February! 5 out of 5 stars.

Enjoy pictures from my garden. 

Tall tomatoes!



Friday, August 26, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett in Book Form

My co-worker recommended this book to me shortly after it came out, but I didn't read it until last weekend.  I wanted to read it before I saw the movie and then compare the two. I flew through this book.  I loved all the characters and found them believable.  By the end of the book, I wanted to know more about them, how their lives played out over time.  Especially Miss Celia.  Did she continue to come into her own after the snobby ladies of Jackson excluded her from their circle? 

Even though the author, Kathryn Stockett, grew up in Mississippi with a black maid, many reviews have both praised and criticized her for the way she wrote from two of the black maids' voices.   I cannot speak to this as I grew up in an area where I had very little exposure to diversity.  I found their voices believable.  I got caught up in the characters no matter from what voice it was written.

As much as I loved the story, I have two criticisms.  The author wanted to show how Miss Celia, one of the white employers, was gaining in personal and emotional strength.  So she added an episode where a random exhibitionist finds his way out to her secluded country estate.  Minny, the maid, tries to go out and scare him away while Celia calls the police.  Celia eventually comes out and fights him off showing that she isn't the lazy little mouse that she used to be.  But an exhibitionist? Really?  A burglar could have worked.  A pushy salesman.  A drunk. A dog. There were better choices for this scene.  Also, the ending for Skeeter, the white woman writing a book about the maids' experiences, was a cop out.  She got her dream job with Harper and Row in New York for writing a book about the maids. Just as things are heating up in Jackson because of her book, the maids, Minny and Abilene, give her their blessing to take the job and not stay and help through the trouble her book created.  The white lady did her Civil Rights duty, caused a much needed ruckus, and gets a "get out of jail free" card.  This was a bit too contrived for me.  

I'm not one of those people who haughtily refuses to like a book just because it's popular with the masses. I full on admit that I loved this book and I give it 4 out of 5 stars.  Can't wait to see the movie.

Skoy Cloth and Dryer Ball From Get N' Green

This summer while visiting Bozeman Montana, I came across a great store on Main Street called Get N'  The store was filled with earth friendly and sustainable products for your home. My children and I had a blast looking around, and the kids thought the pads of paper made out of panda poop were hilarious.  The store had a huge section of waste free lunch products so that you aren't throwing away baggies every day.  I opted not to buy these as there are several patterns on-line to make your own reusable baggies.  Just do a Google search and more free patterns will pop up than you ever need.  Have I made them yet? No.

I did buy two products.  The SKOY cloth is a super absorbent cloth made from wood pulp.  Each four pack is said to be the equivalent of 60 rolls of paper towels!  What sold me on them, however, was that the owner of the store, Gregg McMan, told me that it wouldn't have a sour sponge smell.  And you could compost it, and it would break down in your composter within 5 weeks.  Sold!

Does it work?  It absorbed all the rain from off the picnic tablecloth in two swipes.  It did get smelly though, but the instructions said to either wash it in the dishwasher, washer, or put it in the microwave for two minutes.  Voila, all three methods work. The smell stays away for weeks on end.  

I also bought a ball of wool yarn that you throw in your dryer to eliminate static and to make clothes soft.  This eliminates the use of dryer sheets.  After I bought it, I wondered why I had spent six dollars on a ball of yarn.  I could make these myself if I could figure out how to get them to not unravel.  Would I make them?  Probably not. See the above comment about reusable lunch bags. 

This little item worked.  My clothes were soft and there was no static.  Unfortunately, my clothes, although clean, did not smell as fresh as when I used dryer sheets. So I've been environmentally unfriendly and have gone back to the dryer sheets.

Skoy cloth: 5 out of 5 stars-way better than a germy sponge.  (I still use a paper towel to dry apples. Shhhhh.)
Dryer ball: 3 out of 5 stars--works but is too pricey and doesn't add a nice scent.  
Get N Green 113 East Main Street, Bozeman, MT: 5 out of 5 stars. Great forward thinking, environmentally friendly, shop with great customer service.  Plus you can shop on line.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cowboys Vs. Aliens

Everyone likes a good cowboy movie.  Everyone likes a good alien movie.  What a cool premise.  Cowboys saving the world from the technically advanced aliens.  So why didn't I love this movie?

There were just too many plot flaws, conveniences, and unanswered questions.  For example, why did the aliens need to move that paddle boat 500 miles from the nearest water?  And why did the aliens fight so well in the blinding sunlight when they weren't supposed to see well in daylight?  And how convenient was it for Jake, the main character, to have an alien weapon?  I can't fail to mention the "good alien" all decked out like a 2011 model in 1875 western dress who told the humans how to destroy the bad aliens.  Convenient.

So I didn't have a willful suspension of disbelief.  But if I did, I would say that Harison Ford and Daniel Craig were fantastic as the cattle baron and the outlaw.  It did have those touchy feely good moments when the outlaws, Indians, and cowboys came together to defeat their common enemy.  There were some humorous lines that kept me entertained. By far the best part of the movie was the cinematography and spectacular scenery.  Overall, the action was good and I wasn't bored.  I just can't think about it too much. 3 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

McCall's Pattern M5142: The Perfect Fit Jean

Many sewists not only shy away from making jeans, but from sewing pants in general.  I have been sewing for 30 years and I finally decided to give it a shot.  I picked McCall's pattern M5142, The Perfect Fit Jean.  This pattern was design by Palmer and Pletsch, two fitting experts who have written numerous books on fitting patterns and have put out several DVDs and other products on the subject.  I thought that would make it easier to really get the right fit.

I noticed that on the pattern pieces there were several fit markings that had no explanation.  For example, there were "flat back tuck" lines that I had no idea what to do with.  I knew from reading other books on fit that if you have a flat fanny and a round tummy you can cut a smaller size in the back, which is what I did based on my measurements. However, before I cut into the denim, I made a muslin to test the fit.

Thank goodness I did this before I cut the denim.  I learned that I needed to cut a smaller size, take in the yoke quite a bit, and did not like how much of a boot cut there was.  

I cut the denim according to the changes I wanted to make and I sew the first step, the front pocket.

Ooooo!  This was so exciting when the gold top stitching was all finished.  It looked like a jean pocket.  I hadn't screwed up so far.  I was off to a good start.  

Everything went fairly smoothly until I got to the fly.  This was the most difficult part and the instructions were not clear.  Especially for a person like me who has never set in a fly before.  I kept looking down at the jeans I was wearing until finally I just took them off so I could see how the fly was sewn.  I found that the instructions needed to have more pictures for me to understand.  When all was said and done, the left front zipper should have been set further back into the fly, but I didn't notice until I was much farther in the construction of the pants.  It would have taken too much seem ripping at that point to fix the problem.

The back pockets, back yoke and side seams were straight forward.  I  basted the side seams and tried on the pants so I knew that the crotch fit correctly, but both the yoke and side seams needed to be taken in.  My daughter said that the pockets sat too low on my hind end.  Again, I didn't know if I wanted to rip all that top stitching out to change the pockets.  I learned a lesson here.  I did not set the zipper in the fly or put the pockets on the muslin.  I should have done everything on the muslin and those two mistakes would have been avoided.  

Finally, the waist band.  It was a straight band and it went on easily.  Unfortunately, after all my work on the muslin, adjusting the side seams and yoke, it still gaped in the back.  This is a huge problem even with commercial jeans.  Unless you are wearing hip huggers, and nobody really should, pants need a contoured waist band. There are some tutorials on the web showing how to use elastic to fix that problem without looking like you have an elastic in your jeans.  That would just be uncool.

Overall, the jeans turned out really cute.  Sorry no skinny jeans for me.  I was disappointed that "The Perfect Fit" pattern didn't have more fitting explanations or tutorials.  When learning a new skill, I really need to practice everything on the muslin first.  The muslin did however, save me the frustration of cutting into a size that was too big for me.   I will wear them as soon as I get the jean button in place.  I even thought that they were nice enough to post a picture with me in the jeans--even from behind.

This picture looks a little baggy, but they are wide leg jeans.  Or maybe I should have taken them in a little more?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Aspen Campground in the Ashley National Forest

The first place we took our cool new trailer was the Aspen Campground in the Ashley National Forest.  I have to be honest when I say that I didn't even remember there was an Ashley National Forest.  I must have been asleep in Utah Studies when I was a kid.  Or looking at a cute boy. Or writing a note.  No, not texting kids.  The 80's were old school.  In any case, Aspen Campground is close to Hana.  Oh wait, no one knows where Hana is.  It's up the road from Tabiona.  That should clear things up.

The campground itself shady and quiet.  There was hardly a soul there.  We had a deer walk right through our camping spot.  

While we were there, the Department of Fish and Game came and we watched as they stocked the river with rainbow trout.  Of course, a few minutes later I caught the biggest fish of the camping trip.  Of course, we didn't have the camera.

We also brought our mountain bikes, and my son and I zipped around the campground dirt roads and in between the trees.  Up the road there was Defa's Dude Ranch that offered a little store, cabins for super luxury camping, and horse back riding.  There are also hiking trails close by.

The down side? Pit toilets, no showers, and no running water.  I don't care about that.  Did I mention I have a furnace in the tent trailer.  So it's all good.  Camping is better than working!

New to Me RV from Motor Sportsland

When I was a kid, my dad took us camping all the time.  He was a licensed river guide for Don Hatch River Expeditions back in the day when Hatch was the only commercial river running company around.  When we camped we really roughed it.  Dad threw a blue tarp on the ground, tossed our sleeping bags on the tarp and called it good.  If it rained, another blue tarp was thrown on top of the sleeping bags.  Rarely did we go to a campground, but often found out of the way public land off of a remote dirt road to call our camp spot.  Anyone else who camped any differently than we did were wimps!  It wasn't until I was thirteen that we bought a three-man spring bar tent for our family of five!

So I find it a great luxury to have purchased a used 2006 Fleetwood pop-up trailer from Motor Sportsland on 4001 So. State.

We had been looking for a long time so this pop-up appeared to be a great deal.  We found that people think a lot of their used goods in the on-line classifieds.  I'm  just not going to pay 10 thousand dollars for a rusted out 1973 pop up trailer that doesn't pop anymore!  Justin, the salesman,  was helpful, friendly, and threw in a hitch for the car and got us set up with a brake light system between our car and trailer.  They also included a 25 dollar gift-certificate at the RV supply store.  

Justin also told us that each used vehicle came with a thorough inspection and cleaning.  Imagine our surprise, when at the beautiful Aspen Campground in the Ashley National Forest, the water that we poured into our trailer tank came pouring out just as quickly.  There was a hole in the hose under the trailer.

When we returned home, I called and took the trailer to the service department.  They were courteous and professional.  My trailer was repaired in the same day.  

I really wanted to give this company 5 stars because of the great service, personal attention, and because I was just so excited to have a trailer at a reasonable price. But then the water leaked.  I loved the service department, but I shouldn't have even met them this early in my RV ownership.  So Motor Sportsland RV receives a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

By the way all you tent campers, do you know how wonderful it is to sleep in the cold mountains with a furnace?  Sorry dad.  Not roughin' it your old school way anymore!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Beautiful Montana

The Good and the Bad of Eating Out on Vacation.

The good part about visiting Hebgen Lake each summer is that I have a place to stay where I can prepare my own meals.  This is a bonus since the dining options in West Yellowstone are limited.  However, just as if I were at home, it is a nice break to go out every once and a while.  

The Canyon Street Grill is a darling diner decorated in fifties style with bright red vinyl seats.  The walls are covered in pop culture memorabilia from that era.  The food, well, not so hot. My sister and I thought we would get something light and slightly more healthy than the deep fried options.  We chose a cup of chili and a side salad. The salad was from a bag with a teeny tiny sliver of tomato, and the chili from a can!  I could have done that at home for about 7 dollars less.  Talk about lack of flavor.  The kids, however, liked their selections.  My kids got fish and chips.  Of course they liked it---deep fried.  My niece ordered the Wolfman Jack Burger which she loved and which did look delicious.  I would give this restaurant one star for my food selection, but because the decor is cute and the kids liked their meals, I will give it 3 out of 5 stars. 

One of the best parts about West Yellowstone is Eagle's Store. There is an old style soda fountain that I have been visiting since I was a kid.

Huckleberry shakes were the order of the day, but I got the chocolate sundae with homemade chocolate sauce.  The shakes were delicious, but the chocolate sauce is not to be beaten. It is thin and not gloppy like Hershey's, and it packs a flavorful punch.  The kid behind the counter was friendly and visited with us about the life of the locals when it is no longer tourist season.  For delicious treats, good service, and sentimental value, I give Eagle's Store soda fountain 5 out of 5 stars.  

Nothing says Mexican Food like West Yellowstone, Montana, right? Wrong.  So I was surprised when my cousin recommended the Mexican Food bus down the street from Eagle's.  

The restaurant is called "Mexican Food" as far as I can since that is the only sign near the bus.  I ordered the Pastor Enchiladas.  They were deliciously spicy and saucy.  By far the best of our family's order were the Enchiladas Verdes.  I loved the tangy flavor of the tomatillo verde sauce. I saw one woman eating a fajita style dish with corn tortillas which are, in my opinion, better and more flavorful than flour. I was pleasantly surprised by delicious flavor of the Mexican food in Montana! 4 out of 5 stars.  Cash or check only, no debit or credit.