I love life!

Hi, I am Jo and this is my blog about my life. Here you will find entries on cooking, gardening, food safety and the interesting things happening in my search for an inexpensive and healthy way of living. My home is located in North Florida and I am relearning how to take care of myself at almost 50. This is the deep South so my garden and season may be a bit different than yours. I look forward to seeing what you have to say as time passes. Read on and have a beautiful day!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Living Within Your Means

It is one of the things that makes the world go round. For many people it is all that makes their world go round. Earlier in my life with idea of how to handle money there was little doubt or concern about how much spending built up on my credit cards. At one point in college I was forced to rely on my credit cards to pay for groceries as my income as a student barely covered my rent let alone extended to food.

My early thirties brought with it the recognition that my credit was shot and the realization something had to be done - and fast. Out I went to purchase every book on money saving that could be found. (Anyone else see the irony in this?) Books like: Die Broke by Steven Pollan, Live Well on Less Than You Think by Fred Brock, The Best of the Cheapskate Monthly by Mary Hunt, Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin and The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczn. Everybook was read and in some cases re-read. They are still on the bookshelf in the back room and get referred to fairly often.

The spending came to a grinding halt. Payment plans were set up for all debt and a rapid repayment schedule was implemented. In the beginning the process was agonizingly painful. No Starbucks Lattes, no expensive treats at Whole Foods, no trendy new clothing, no hour long calls to friends out of state, no extras period.

Sure, I slipped. Then the guilt would set in and I would refocus and move ahead with renewed vigor. Cable TV did not exist in my apartment, no cell phone (they were just getting trendy), no haircuts (I actually cut my own for a while- that is not recommended), the library was my friend and my only splurge was a gym membership. It was the one time in my life I religiously used the gym. The "no cable" might have had something to do with it. I was broke but my body was smokin' hot.

Having tried a variety of things to save money, cooking from scratch, using coupons, making my own laundry soap, freezing my credit cards in ice (that will slow you down!) as well as building up to a full pantry, I can say it all helps. Every penny saved helps to move away from debilitating debt.

Living within your income can be challenging but it is much easier than sleepless nights over the amount of debt that as been accumulated. It involves sacrifice and a great deal of perseverance.

After the holidays is a great time to sit down and reassess where we stand financially. This weekend will bring a review of credit cards, a reorganization and inventory of the pantry as well as an assessment of financial goals for the upcoming year.

How do you live within your means?    


Monday, December 17, 2012

Where do we go from here?


The news has been simply overwhelming the last several days. Photo's of Sandy Hook and its poor victims are plastered on every newspaper and t.v. station in the world. There is no real respite from the chaos and sadness.

My eyes have filled with tears countless times- when the innocent faces appeared or the names were mentioned I cried. Many others across this nation have cried as well. We are crying in sympathy to those who have truly lost what is most precious and innocent. We are crying at the loss of not only those children but the loss of a bit of innocence of our own children and grandchildren. After all we will have to explain about "bad men" and being safe when you are away from mommy and daddy.

Is it guns? Is it mental illness? Or as some have so ignorantly stated to be expected as we have taken God out of schools? Posts on facebook scream personal views on the subject. Guns will be taken away! Bring God Back! Get rid of all guns! More money for mental health! Just focus on high powered weapons! and on and on.

Simply stop! Take a deep breath. It is a sad tragedy. Focus first on getting through this terrible time. Focus your thoughts and prayers on the families of those so tragically affected by the actions of a very disturbed individual. Send your prayers to the family of the shooter as well. They too are mourning the loss of a mother as well as suffering guilt from the actions of the shooter.

The discussion needs to happen to, if nothing else, clear the air and give those affected a chance to speak.  But now is not the time. When the information from the investigation is complete and there is are answers to why then solutions can be found. Until then we are guessing. My feeling is there are several causes but until the information has been gathered my thoughts are simply more noise in the chaos of the week.

Yet, I do know. Saying God was not in Sandy Hook shows a gross lack of respect to the families touched by this despicable tragedy.  Are you simply trying to keep your name in the headlines? Students are allowed to pray in school. School sanctioned prayer is what is not allowed. Prayer can happen anytime, anywhere- it does not have to be sanctioned to exist. It matters not the religion of these children only that we recognize that they were innocent and full of a promise not to be realized.
It matters that we who are left behind, honor what they represented and when the time is right work to ensure this tragedy is never duplicated.

So until the facts are in pray to your version of God, the universe or simply send loving thoughts to those affected.        

Friday, December 7, 2012

Eating Local and Food Safety - Part 1

Eating local is an awesome statement of a persons beliefs translated into a positive action.

Eating local helps artisan craftspeople, small farmers and boosts the local economy. Shopping local requires less energy for the food to arrive to your table and it is normally fresher than anything that can be purchased from a major retailer. However, many food items available locally do not fall under any kind of regulatory authority.

That means that these food items are produced in facilities that are not inspected for sanitation and safety. No one is checking to ensure that these foods are wholesome and not contaminated or that they do not contain allergens that could adversely impact consumers.

There is a push right now to limit regulation of foods produced in private homes and allow them to be sold in small amounts to the general public. These laws called "cottage foods laws" have been passed in many states including the State of Florida.

Some states allow baked good with non potentially hazardous fillings and frostings to be produced and sold due to the low water activity of these items. That does not mean they can not be contaminated in other ways. How are consumers to know if the person producing the item washed their hands prior to packaging or that their corgi did no lick the bag as it sat on the unclean floor? Did they wash the pans and bowls properly? Or were the leaking shells from the raw eggs sitting on the counter as the muffins were turned out of the pans?  

This scenario may seem extreme, however, after several years of doing food inspections I can state with complete honesty that poor food handling occurs in permitted firms. When we are not on site for extended periods of time safe handling practices slip and when we do inspect the results can be disturbing. Permitted facilities that I have been in have had dogs in processing areas, small children playing in kitchens, no hot water, foods out of temperature, rodents, roaches and a plethora of other critical issues.

If those issues are present when we inspect who is to say that issues will not be in an facility that does not undergo inspection?

For the record I am not against cottage foods, I am against them not having to meet safety guidelines. In Florida people producing under the cottage foods law do not even have to take a food safety class. Additionally, producers make assumptions on what is acceptable to make and sell. Just because someone thinks their product is safe does not automatically make it so.  

So until the next post if you are at a Farmers Market, Green Market or Flea Market ask where the product is made and what ingredients it contains. Do not be afraid to ask after all your health is just as important as eating locally.

Coming Soon: Local Food Raw Dairy and Canned Goods

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hope in the Garden

Walking through the garden after work it was easy to see where parts of it were finished while others were just beginning to put forth the offerings of the season.

The Heirloom Serpentine vines are wilted and the frosts have not even begun. The dry weather has taken a toll and soon they will need to be pulled and will in turn become compost to nourish later crops.
Eggplant is still producing yet the harvest is slowing and the plants are no longer as vigorous as a week ago. The bright green has begun to fade and the lower leaves have begun to dry and wilt. The bean vines have long been dried with the dried tendrils still clinging to the trellises and swaying in the warm fall breeze.
Baby Broccoli
On the other end of the spectrum the broccoli s growing, the turnips are beginning to take shape and the kale is almost ready to be picked. The tomatoes are still going gangbusters as well as the arugula and the bright lights swiss chard.

In the garden the cycles of life are apparent. Always, something is dying as something else is springing forth. Rich thick compost is produced from the spent plants and becomes nourishment for those still thriving in the beds. It is a cycle that shows the balance of nature in an environment. Yet that is not the only lesson.
The lesson is that no matter what we do we can only extend the life of plants for a finite amount of time.  We can fertilize, water, coddle and prune. Yet that will only prolong the inevitable. Eventually, they too will expire and move on to another stage in the cycles that surround us.
So why garden then if all will eventually fade away? Hope. Planting a garden is a never ending belief that all will be well. This year the tomatoes will elude the horn worms. The squash bugs will not appear and water will be abundant- though not hurricane abundant. The veggies will thrive and the flowers will be awash in riotous blooms. It is that hope that keep me buying seeds, dreaming of bushels of produce and sweating in the sun.  

That hope in the garden translates into hope in other parts of my life filling me with joy and a feeling of expansion.

May you be hopeful and have a beautiful day!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Gratitude and Thanksgiving in the Garden

My garden in my place of refuge. When life is tough and the days seem to become a never ending relentless grind the garden is my quiet place and peaceful haven. My refuge from both the real and imagined tragedies of life.

It is in the garden that my mind can release my demons from the day or week. Those petty hurts, those mistakes made in haste and the painful frustrations of expectations not met. Those things that can   relentlessly eat at you all begin to dissolve into the warmth of the rich brown soil we have worked years to build. As the dirt runs through my hands a new beginning flowers and takes shape in my soul. For here I can have absolution and move forward into forgiveness of self and others and eventually into gratitude and grace.

The garden clears my head and puts the priorities of life into perspective. When issues seem tho have become intractable or so cloudy that there is no end in sight, no resolution to be sought, the garden offers clarity. The scents of earth and flowers or fresh dew and clean air can clear away the haziness of uncertainty. Answers slowly rise to the surface as if magically born on the tender leaves of the vibrant green plants.

The talks I have with the women who shaped me, my grandmothers, while digging and planting remind me of a loving childhood. I tell them of my day, how everyone is doing, ask them for help and then imagine the advice they would have given. A sense of oneness with those who have given their love to support me in the past envelopes me while working under the warming rays of the sun. Gardening for my grandmothers was part of life and survival and it makes me wonder if the garden gave them the same respite that it has afforded me through the years.

Gratitude. The garden allows gratitude to flow. The soil and sun give me an abundance of food and a place of comfort. It allows me a place to give thanks for beauty and to contemplate my life and the things in it that are cherished beyond all measure. My list changes as do the seasons and the weather. Yet my gratitude allways includes the love and forgiveness of my wonderful husband, the beauty of my grandchildren and children, the ability to see the grace that surrounds me every day and most of all the love of extended family and those that have left this earth and watch over me in the setting sun.

May everyone have a "gardening" place in their lives and enjoy Thanksgiving with those whom they love.



Monday, November 12, 2012

Pickled Peppers, Sauerkraut and Kimchi

Saturday was a busy day! After working in the morning the afternoon was spent making kimchi, 12 Quarts of pickled peppers and 4 pints of sauerkraut.

Could I manage to find my recipes for any of these items. Nope. Luckily, the Ball Blue Book worked for all but the Kimchi.

The recipe for Kimchi can be found at the david lebovitz living the good life in Paris blog. The address is here:  http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/02/a-kimchi-recipe/
Talk about a great post with awesome pictures!!! It is an easy to follow recipe and since there was no daikon in the fridge it was omitted.

It was awesome the same day and even better today. Thus my mom, who loves Kimchi, now has a quart finishing fermenting at her house. Though it must be admitted a small amount is stashed in the garage fridge.
The beer can smell the Kimchi but not me with my milk.

Sauerkraut is fermenting in the back room. Lovely, for hot dogs and pork later in the year.

The peppers, however, took 4 hours and a 15 year old food processor to make them happen. Let me just add 1 bushel of cubanelle peppers is A LOT!!! Latex gloves are a necessity!!!!

Plans for this week include starting dill pickles and bread and butter pickles.  Attempts for later this year include caponata ans spiced rum!


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Voting in Florida

Voting in Lee County

For those of you that do not know I live in Florida. Specifically, Lee County, Florida.

The one and only state where election time is chaos.This is my Florida and the situation is appalling.
My wait to vote was short. A mere 2 hours start to finish. It took less than 5 minutes of those 2 hours to fill out my ballot.

Seriously, it is Thursday and the count still has not been finalized and certified. Our county supervisor of elections, Sharon Harrington, did not plan for any contingencies.

According to the Ft. Myers News Press,50 count them, 50 voter machines in Lee County sat unused on election day. They had been programmed for training and for early voting and apparently Ms. Harrington felt they were not necessary thus did not reprogram them in time for the election. Collier County reprogrammed their machines. They had the highest voter turnout in S. Florida and maybe even the state and with minimal wait times! We had a lower turnout than in the 2008 election and several percentage points lower than the rest of the state.

Our polling station had ONE scanner. Roughly 3000 people in the precinct and one scanner. Polls were open from 7 am to 7 pm. It takes almost a minute to scan each ballot. That is 3000 minutes or 50 hours.  So if a large portion of the population voted early that would help, right? Wrong!
Even at 1500 voters that is still 24 hours needed with one machine. Even at less than a minute per ballot    it is still almost 18 hours in some places.

Basic math people!!! Get a calculator!!

Thus we had polls closing at 7 p.m. and people voting at 1:30 a.m.. Everyone who waited deserves praise! That is taking your vote seriously!

Sharon Harrington stated earlier today in a News Press article that she was not aware the ballot could be shortened by changing the format. Two things: 1) It is your job to know Ms. Harrington, and 2) You have been on the job 9 years. How could you not know?

I do not have proof to charge voter suppression and am just going to say that if that is not what it was then it shows the highest degree of incompetence. Though looking at the areas that had the most disenfranchised voters, mainly low income areas, it is an easy stretch to suppression. The rest of the state is not being addressed here - only Lee County.

This is not the only place where my views will be given and I encourage you to speak up as well. EVERYONE regardless of race, religion, political affiliation or income level deserves to vote. It is our duty to ensure that occurs.  

A very angry voter!


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Garden Giveth.....


The garden is rocking and rolling just as I am getting ready to leave again for yet another training class.

Today I picked a pound of cherries, a large lime and yet another squash.

Seriously, swimming in Italian Serpentine Squash.

They are an heirloom that does exceedingly well in this area. Mine are currently being ravaged by crazy winds from Hurricane Sandy but we have already picked roughly 18 lbs.

The hubby took one to work today that was almost 4 feet long!
Apparently, everyone was suitably impressed- goodness knows what the jokes were.

Year to date we have gardened our way to nearly 26 lbs. of produce with plenty more to come!

Dear friends in the neighborhood, should errant squash show up on your front stoop I know not where it came from!!!

Hope your day is as lovely as mine!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Breaking Bread

In case you may not have noticed all of the t.v. ads, mailers and radio interviews- it is election season.

We have two opposing parties covering a spectrum of beliefs and vastly different views of where our nation stands and what it stands for in the world.

I sit back, listen and am appalled. Before you get excited and say "I am too! Can you believe what they (meaning the other party) did?" Stop and think. How did we become a nation of people willing to blame the "other party"? Even if the "other party" holds a portion of the blame "our party" does as well.

It is easy to sit here and spout things I have read without investigating nor even researching the opposing viewpoints. We have closed ourselves into communities of like minded individuals uninterested in exploring diverse views or differing opinions. Look around you. With whom do you associate? With whom do you break bread? Most likely these people share the same value structure and there is nothing wrong with that and in fact it is healthy. Do you read journals geared to your interests and political leanings? Where do you get your news?

Now ask yourself, "Can I discuss politics with someone who holds an opposing view without arguing?" Be honest. Can you sit and listen while sharing a meal? Can you break bread with someone who holds views that you can not tolerate on say abortion or taxes? Can you remain calm if the other person becomes obnoxious? Can you still respect a person who holds differing views?

Recently, a coworker and I shared lunch at a local sandwich place and, of course,politics came up. we are, most definitely, not on the same end of the political spectrum. However, we managed in spite of opposing views, to have a civil conversation about why we believe what we do. Did we agree? No. Did we listen to each other and at least try to understand? Yes. Did we change each others minds? Probably not but at least we talked. Then we found out, surprisingly, that we agree on the necessity of taking responsibility for ourselves. And in that we found action and ways we can work to support each other in the future.

Currently, there are no real unscripted conversations. There are "zingers", blame, distortion, outright lies and candidates vying for a position of dominance, many times with little substance. People are not researching or thinking critically. the party line is good enough.

We blame the poor for losing jobs and shame them by drug testing prior to allowing them assistance. We blame the 1%, the 99% and the 47%. We blame the other party for the economy and for inaction in D.C.. We blame and shame women for wanting safe abortions. We blame liberals for gun control and war hawks for Iraq. We blame everyone but ourselves and those with our belief structure.

Wake up! If we do not start having conversations instead of accusations nothing will change. We as a nation need to break bread with those we do not agree. We need to listen. Strong decisions come from assessing all views, the positive and the negative.

We are a nation truly split into two camps. It humbles me that we have come to this level of petty behavior and division. So my suggestion is that we do what we can in our own small spheres. That we reach out to those who differ and listen before we talk. That we give of our time to make changes that impact the world in positive ways around us.

Worried about climate change plant a garden. Poverty, volunteer to mentor a child. Gun rights, teach an  NRA class. Education, volunteer in a school.  Stop blaming and start doing!

Or simply break bread with that wacky neighbor with the obnoxious political sign in his front yard.  You may be surprised at what you learn!      

And don't forget to vote!!!




Saturday, October 13, 2012

Quiet Days

Today was a quiet day. A lovely, blissful and calm day. Days like today are few and far between, but oh, so necessary for sanity and health.

Yesterday was chaotic and crazy. My work computer locked up and accidentally dumped a complete USDA audit. This forced me to retype the entire report. Sigh! Thus lengthening my day and getting me home over an hour after the planned time.

In contrast today began with a sleep in followed by a late breakfast and a lovely chat on the phone with Rob after his long training run. Laundry was done and hung out to dry. Seriously, out as in outside. Work shirts were ironed and bread was baked ( GF - new recipe and it was so so). GF sourdough starter is starting and the garden is going gangbusters. Most of all nothing was done that I did not want to do.

Everyone needs to recharge. Everyone does it differently. Some through hard work and others through peace and quiet in places that they love.

May everyone have a day to recharge full of peace and love!!!      

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


My time lately has been spent working in the garden. All of the beds are planted and it is thriving full of lush green plants and the promise of a full pantry in a few short months.

Since writing last we have gone on vacation, started renovating the bathroom, painted the house and I have traveled not once but twice for my job. It has been crazy and hectic and royally messed with my schedule. My routine is in shambles and today it came at me full force.

You see, I have PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There it is- out there for everyone to stare at.

There have been many factors causing mine- per a previous therapist. Combat - never been there. Unlike soldiers mine was not acquired in a war zone. However, mine was partially acquired serving in the military. The biggest factor behind my PTSD was being raped while serving in the Marine Corps.  Having an ex-boyfriend try to choke me while I was sleeping is also in the running, followed closely by a foster brother holding a knife to my throat when I was 13.  My brothers handled the last one and the other two sat in my subconscious for years.        

In grad school, years after all of it- my life became comfortable and safe and the nightmares came in droves. My screams would cause my roommate to come running and shake me to wake me up. She later told me the first time it happened she thought someone was in the apartment murdering me. It was just my psyche unloading years of repressed anger, fear and pain and reliving the trauma. After only a few nights it became apparent that serious help was needed. I could not function,my concentration was at zero, my anxiety was high, and the slightest noise caused me to jump.

That precipitated a round of phone calls to local therapists until one was found who could fit me in the next day and take my insurance. Even better she was directly across the street from where we lived. Thus began 2 years of intense therapy and a running program to help me cope. And it helped the nightmares abated and life slowly began to have that happy warm feeling again. I still cried at crazy times and the anxiety would roll over me in waves when stress came around but I was living again.

After school I moved to Florida and was good for a while. Running was out- the heat killed me and I couldn't breathe. Yoga became my substitute. My job was crazy, chaotic and I had psycho co-workers.
repeat the Grad school scenario minus the screams. Repeat therapy and this time add antidepressants. Again life is warm and fuzzy. Stop therapy and wean off meds. Ahhh, relax.

Do more yoga and change careers completely. Life is good. Only one blip (one day last year) until today.
I haven't been sleeping well and been having unsettling dreams. Ok, nightmares. My yoga has almost stopped as I no longer feel comfortable at my old studio. Looooong story and they employ a former coworker who broke the law.

So this morning, my work computer was booted up, I opened my e-mail,  burst into tears and could not stop. Prior to that I almost bit my husbands head off for no real reason. For days I have been jumpy and anxious but did I get a clue- nope! Now is the time to note that depression is not an issue here though it could happen and I am NOT suicidal in any way. My poor boss had to listen to me blubber trying to explain why I could not work. I think I stopped making sense before I even picked up the phone.  

Thus my day was spent using a lot of Kleenex, riding my bike and trying to figure out what triggered it this time. I have an idea but I do know that I need my routine.

I need to know that I am eating breakfast at 7, working from 8-4:30 and doing yoga or riding my bike until time for dinner and in bed by 9:30. Not flying all over for races and work while consuming crap and not taking time to take care of me.

Really, I have managed to get control of my wicked ass asthma through yoga, diet and proper medication.  This too can be handled. Will it pop back up- You bet. But does it get easier. It does. And if it gets too bad I still have the name of a great therapist nearby as well as an awesome hubby who stay calm through it all.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Getting Ready to Garden

Kiri hanging out .

Today, my first day feeling normal, was spent clearing out garden beds and digging volunteer sweet potatoes. Did I mention it was HOT and humid ???

The online weather almanac said it was 93 degrees. Nope, more like over 100. The temperature right now is 84 degrees and with the heat index that makes it over 90 degrees.  Roughly, 35% humidity. Sigh- South Florida Summer.

The tomato plants were started last weekend as well as assorted herbs and peppers. By the time I am back from my trip in 2 weeks they should be ready to be moved to the garden or at least to larger pots. There are 4 kinds of tomatoes; Brandywine, Floramerica, Amish Paste and Lemon Boy. Part of them will be placed in raised beds and the rest will be moved to 5 gallon buckets. I did not think I would have so many plants as some of the seeds were 6 years old. Amazingly, there was almost 100% germination.

The herbs and assorted flowers are going into a herb bed at the front of the house. My amazing hubby got the idea to rip out the standard Florida landscape bushes and replace them with  herbs. We bought the pants for the first planting a few months ago and the next round will be coming from seeds. Big money savings.

So much more to do. Luckily, this year there is a plan :)

Happy Gardening Everyone!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Wet RV and Picking Cherries during a Tropical Storm

This morning it was absolutely blissful to sleep in knowing that it was the first day of our vacation. The hubby went for a nice long run and I curled up and slept for a couple more hours getting up only when I was wide awake and could not stay in bed a moment more. Our plan was to get our second hand, much labored over RV packed and ready for our trip to GA tomorrow. 

Unbeknownst to us, a tropical storm was moving in off of the coast bringing a deluge of water and more work than we had planned. This is proof that, maybe,just maybe, we should consider a daily newspaper or actually watching the local news. Opposed to being earth friendly and frugal and reading the national headlines online daily.

Sadly, the RV leaked. Yes, it leaked. Getting the mattress wet and causing a considerable amount of unplanned work. It didn't leak when we took it to the local state park camping and it rained!!! Tropical Storm Debbie turned it from a cute little RV into a sieve.

It rained, and rained and rained. Sometimes coming down in sheets and at other times a slow drizzle. While it was coming down we ran errands and attempted to mitigate the damage. Buckets, a fan, paper towels, a beach towel.... all tools in our endless battle to keep the RV dry. Sadly, our efforts limited but did not stop the water from coming in. We can not fix the leaks ( yes, plural) we found until it is dry. SIGH!  

The mattress came in and is now dry in the back room. A small fan is in the RV drying the damp couch. The air purifier is pumping away. We even managed to load everything else we needed for our trip this week. The new plan is to fix the leaks when we get to GA as we bought everything today to do so but are unable to due to the continuing rain.

While taking the scraps from the kitchen to the compost pile the cherry tree appeared to be full of ripe sweet fruit. After getting a plastic bag from the kitchen I went out to pick the cherries. The storm had let up considerably. The rain was now a gentle steady dripping of large drops feeling cool against my warm skin.

Our tree was covered in bright fragrant barbadoes cherries. The smell of cherries was rich in the air accompanied by the soft aroma of summer rain. Breathing in deeply of the scents surrounding me the stress of my day simply melted into nothing. For a short while the rain continued to fall, and I kept picking. Rainwater ran down my arms cool and soothing washing. It hit my hair and splashed down my neck causing me to shiver in the warmth of the tropical storm. All too soon the cherries were picked and my time playing in the rain was over.  I was calm. Relaxed. A feeling so rare in our stress filled work oriented world. 

Slowly, I walked to the house and toward a warm shower and a glass of bourbon. The cherries are in the freezer waiting to be jam when the limes and calomondines are ready to be picked and we are relaxing until we leave in the morning.         

Happy Vacation! 


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tropical Gardening

Lately, my time has been spent working, traveling for work or simply not being home. At least until  this weekend. This is my first weekend with lots of free time and time to relax. No rushing anywhere, no babysitting and no going to a triathlon. Just down time. Lovely.

My ideas for the blog were overflowing until actually sitting down to type today. Poof all gone!  Thus my writing will be what I know. My Garden.

My garden is in Zone 10.  Having grown up in Zone 5, it can honestly be said that this is a whole new world of gardening. In the gardens first year I remember reading when to plant tomatoes and peppers. We bought bags of topsoil and built a single raised bed. The plants were never thinned and the peppers grew gangbusters. The tomatoes grew lush and green and once they set and the tomatoes started to turn a light red color they all succumbed to blossom end rot and god knows what virus.  Overnight my lush garden turned into a bedraggled mess. It was almost enough to make me give up.

In the seasons since there are a few things that have stuck with me and have helped me through the past few years.

1) Raised beds are a priority. With nematodes as an ongoing issue raised beds are a must. You will get one year of good tomatoes on a new bed. Then you must solarize the soil to kill both nematodes and pathogens or fumigate the soil.

2) Varieties that grow up north may not grow well here and in some cases they may not even grow at all. Summer squash, may not do too well.  Italian cocuzzi has been a prolific item as has crookneck squash.

3) Rhubarb- not going to happen. We get no chill time and the nights are exceedingly hot. Add that to the humidity and it rots in the ground.

4) Onions. Bunching onions are the onion of choice in this climate. Short day length onions are an option and my success has been limited thus far. Northern onions will not grow here as the day length is not long enough for the length of time necessary for the onions to bulb.

5) Spring planting does not apply. My garden goes in throughout August and September. A second planting can go in during February or March. Hot months the options are limited but one can grow sweet potatoes, collards, some peppers, and some tropical vegetables. Herbs do well year round if they are protected.

6) My garden grows items that can't be grown in the north. It contains persian limes, calomondines, barbadoes cherries, figs, carambola and avocado. There will never be apple, plum or pear trees in my yard.  

7) Beans grow like crazy here. Italian flat, Pole beans, Purple Pole Beans, Asian Yard Long Beans...they all grow well in this climate. So much so that my husband groans toward the end of the season when they are on his plate for dinner.

8) Plants in the bug box stores are not bred for this environment nor are they in the store at the proper growing times. Last week they had cabbage in Lowe's. Really??? That goes in the garden in December or January.  

Gardening in the tropics forces you to learn a new way of thinking about the food you eat. New varieties are a must. It has made it easier to try one or two new items each season to figure out what exactly will grow in the climate. Doing so also gives me time to figure out how to cook the new items properly an the hubby time to determine if he likes it or not.

July will mean getting seeds started for the upcoming planting season. Then the whole cycle begins anew.  And I can't wait!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Republican National Convention

2012 Republican National Convention Logo.png
The RNC has wreaked havoc on my life. But, you say, the RNC is not til later in the year and has not even occurred yet.

Yes, it is the same RNC. It is The Republican National Convention and it will be just North of here in Tampa.
But how can it be affecting my life already you ask??

These are important people of whom a large percentage are currently in the business of running our country. Scores of people are working behind the scenes to ensure these men and women will be safe the entire time they are in Tampa. As these are the people who will  be determining the Republican delegate for President of the United States. Not to have you think the Republican Party is the target of my angst. The DNC is happening in Charlotte, NC later this year as well. The preparations for both are similar.
Democrats.org Obama for America

The preparations can not be discussed but know the food supply will be safe.  We train year round on food inspection. We train on Agroterrorism (Yes, I laughed when signing up for that one). We train to work with other organizations in case of emergency. And we are a mere low budget State organization.  

We train, the federal organizations train and anyone even marginally involved is put through their paces
(read me). So even though my affiliation is not Republican my job involves protecting the public. They are the public and ethically I am bound to do so. Unfortunately, many in congress so not feel the same obligation, And that is in both parties.

But I digress.

The RNC has added roughly a week of work to my schedule and that is just til now. Can you imagine ho much time is added to the people who are not marginally involved? Spread that across facilities security, security of personnel as well as anti-terrorist intelligence, traffic control, air traffic safety and countless items that one can not even begin to consider. That means thousands of people in local, state and federal capacities are working extra and costing the nation more money. This to ensure that those involved in our political process and the families that will travel with them will be held safe from harm. ( What? It is in Tampa - do you think the family will pass up some time in sunny S. Florida on the gulf???)

The question becomes, "Does the convention bring enough money into the local economy(ies of Tampa and Charlotte) to offset the expense to the public? I have no earthly idea.

Any insight would be appreciated.

Just thinking........

Friday, May 4, 2012

Turning 44 in Immokalee

This has been an absolutely crazy week! I spent Monday and Tuesday playing catch up from being in Tampa the previous week. Wednesday and Thursday I did re-inspections in Immokalee and Ft. Myers. On Wednesday I also found out that my boss nominated me for a national award ...and I got it. I am still a bit stunned.

Today is my 44th  Birthday and I spent the day doing re-inspections in Immokalee. Sounds crazy but it just seemed right. Seriously, places like where we were today got me a national award and have kept me in bread and butter the last 3 years. Even crazier, I normally do not mind working in tough locations. My boss has trained me well and every one of them can be a challenge. After all almost anyone can inspect a Publix or Sweetbay or a 7-Eleven. How many people get to inspect places that have both turkey vultures and chickens on site at the same time??  And yes, this was a grocery store.    

In my job I see places and a side of America that at times seems like I am in third world country. Not like I am less than an hour from Naples, one of the richest places in Florida. The places are colorful, loud and at times a bit smelly. The people, for the most part, are like most of us only they speak different languages and have not have the benefit of our education system.

I have watched the buses roll in at sunset coughing out sweaty, weary field workers in front of the bodegas while loud accordion music blares from the bars up and down the street. The workers are tired, most likely hungry and covered with the evidence of hours of toiling in the sandy soils of South Florida. Sunrise brings a reverse with the workers somewhat more subdued loading onto the buses to head out to the tomato fields or orange grove or whatever crop happens to be ripe for the picking that day. They are the ones who ensure we have beautiful produce on our grocery shelves when we are to busy to grow our own.

At one of the last training sessions I attended a woman from University of Florida IFAS spoke. One of the stories she told was about the shortage of field workers with all of the laws enacted to stop illegal immigration. The local farmers needed hands to plant the strawberry crop and could not get the usual workers. In an attempt to plant the crop they hired local hourly labor. Most workers did not last 8 hours and many who did last did not return for a second day of work. It is hot, sweaty, backbreaking work. We want the fruits of the labor but do not want to recognize the labor that has produced our food.  

So at the end of my day I drove the hour home. Back to comfort and the world of Publix and 7 -Eleven. I filed my paperwork, checked my Facebook and grabbed a beer. (Gluten free of course.) Rob will be home soon and we will have pizza and relax. I guess for my 44th I got a new perspective on Immokalee and a whole lot of gratitude for the gifts from my family.    

Hugs to all!!!  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Good Agricultural Practices

Photo from The Coalition of Immokalee Workers website.

The last week has been spent in Tampa for an FDA course on Food Outbreak Investigations focusing on the fields where produce is grown. Since it was for my job I can't write about all of the awesome stuff I learned. I can say that if it is information that you are interested in learning about you can look up, "Good Agricultural Practices" online. There are "Global Gaps" and "Gaps for the Garden". All great information!

The top link is the hard core sciency info and the second link is the easier to read guide for home growers of fruits and vegetables. Both are full of great information! The last link is to the CIW website where I obtained the above picture. Enjoy!




Friday, April 20, 2012

As some of you may have noticed, I have been away from the blog for a couple of months. Life had gotten a bit crazy and something had to give. It was the blog.

I wish I could say that while I was a non blogger amazing insights burst into my subconscious and somehow the meaning of life became clear. No such luck. I am still me, I still have the same job and life is still lovely. My garden is chaos, my work fulfilling and my health is better than ever before. Life still throws hiccups at me and I still freak out about deadlines. Yet what I did learn is that sometimes you need to step away to see if something really matters enough to continue putting forth your personal effort.

In the past I have done the same with yoga ( still going strong), a couple relationships (that didn't usually work out well) and a couple of sucky careers ( Guess how that worked??). Blogging drew me back. Maybe no one will ever read or care about what I write. Maybe I may not write often. It is an outlet for me when the frustrations of my life build and I can't call my boss and tell him I am done. I can simply log on and escape onto writing about life and food.

So here I am. Back to write and hopefully have some fun along the way!!


Monday, February 6, 2012

Nature Break

How cool is this?
This little guy was hanging out while I was exploring an empty property in the neighborhood.
If you click on the picture it will show up in greater detail on your scree. Enjoy and have a great day!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Final Kitchen Pictures - Love it!

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the new kitchen 

The kitchen is done. Or as done as it is going to get for now.  

Rob rescued the oak pantry, artwork, and the bar stools from  a thrift store. Granite counter tops were a free find from Craig's list and the top cabinets were recycled. The deep sink was a steal on Craig's List. The new items; lower cabinets, lighting, and back splash were all clearance items or discounts. The dining table is one we had and the table cloth is new but from recycled plastic. The floors are the same ones we have had and we did not need to change the as we stuck to the original layout. I will be paying to get the grout cleaned since we are keeping the tile in place. The curtains were from clearance fabric that I made both in the dining area and in the kitchen. The same fabric was used to recover the dining chairs so it all ties together. 

Rob worked so hard on this and I couldn't be prouder of him and what he has accomplished.    

Extra counter space with oak pantry.

View from the living room.

Sink area , ignore the mess.

New oak bottom cabinets. 

New Craig's list sink.

Dining area.

In living room looking towards window. 
Here is the link to when we had first started the process. I am amazed at the difference! http://justjojo1.blogspot.com/2011/09/new-kitchen-almost.html

Farmer's Market - Part 2

It does not happen often but today I woke up unable to face working the farmers market. Being yelled at on a weekly basis  can wear on a person. Rather than go and just go through the motions I called my coworker and cancelled. My mind would not have been in the game and it would have been easier to make a critical error in an inspection. Rather than risk it we rescheduled for next week.

I understand about the perception of government interfering in people's lives. Really, I do. I have read Joel Salatin and Sharon Astyk and grasp the concept of the informal economy. A farmers market is a "grey area".
Many of the items do not need to be regulated, soaps, crafts, whole produce and a myriad of other items.  However, if people are going to consume it and it has been cooked, cut, packaged or processed in any way you need a permit. There are exceptions- non potentially hazardous baked goods, honey, jams and jellies do not need a permit. Everything else- PERMIT required.  Most of the people at the market do have proper permits and are in compliance. The paragraphs below apply to those who are not permitted or are permitted and simply want to do their own thing.

Please, don't tell me about how other countries don't make people get permits. We are in the United States and we require permitting here. Until the laws change permits will continue to be required.  Please, don't argue with me by "sharing" your superior knowledge of biology, microbiology, medicine, intestinal flora and food history. I try hard not to be condescending to you in an inspection and believe it or not we inspectors are pretty well versed in pathogens specific to the foods in question. Many foods that were considered safe 100 years ago are no longer regarded as such today. Non pasteurized Apple Juice, for the young and immunodeficient, is a prime example of this due to patulin spores in the juice.

Please, please, please allow me to explain why you need a permit or why you need to change anything before coming at me with guns a blazing.  I know you are threatened. I know I am asking you to do something differently and change is scary. I am also aware that these changes may cost you money. In fact we normally try to help you figure out options that cost as little money as possible.

Please, pretty please, don't ask me to ignore the law.  I can't. No, honestly, if you are doing something illegal I can't be just as illegal and not deal with it properly. Looking the other way so you can operate is just as illegal as you not acquiring the proper permits or following safe handling practices.  

What it comes down to is this; People selling foods need to be educated on food safety.  Proper holding temperatures, why hand-washing with hot water  is essential, knowledge of the pathogens specific to the food being sold, awareness of allergens specific to the food being sold and protecting food being sold from contamination. By ignoring any of these you can make a consumer ill, very ill and in some cases- especially allergens, even kill them.

It always amazes me the number of people who do not wash their hands after handling cash and then they turn around touch the food you will eat. Studies have shown e-coli, and staph can not only be transferred by money but also can remain alive for up to 72 hours on paper money. The following link explains the study:      http://journals.lww.com/ajnonline/Fulltext/2011/12000/Original_Research__Survival_of_Bacterial_Pathogens.22.aspx

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Oven Dried Tomato's

There has been an increase in tomato production in the garden over the course of the last couple of weeks. What to do? What to do?..... Oven dried tomatoes of course. I made these last year and they have been - heavenly.

Simply quarter or halve the tomatoes depending on size and place them in your oven on a low heat. Then walk away for a while. It may take anywhere from 8 to 10 hours for them to dry.Why not a dehydrator you ask? Because mine does not work well on tomatoes and they get moldy before they are dry.  Silly Florida humidity.

When the tomato quarters are dried and slightly chewy dip them in (about 1/4 C.) balsamic vinegar you have simmering on the stove. Then pack into jars with a garlic clove that has been simmered in the vinegar as well.  I like to add fresh marjoram and fresh rosemary as I am packing the quarters into the jar.  Pour in the vinegar and then cover completely in olive oil, cap and refrigerate.

The post below says you can seal them and they are shelf stable. I prefer to keep min in the fridge. Oh, and the oil is awesome on pasta and pizza!      

    When needed simply remove from the jar and use on pizza, salads and pasta. So yummy when only store bought tomato's are available and there is no comparison!!!!

This explains it a bit better- Enjoy!!!!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Farmer's Markets

After having surgery in December, then the holidays rolling in I was a bit stretched to blog often. Last week I swore I would post something and did I ...nope. I spent a large portion of my week end listening to "Mamaw Jo Jo!" from two very precocious two year old's who garnered a great bit of my time. Needless to say one whole day was needed for recovery.

Today I worked inspecting a farmers market. It was the usual conglomeration of non local produce vendors  mixed in with the legit produce vendors trying to sell non local produce to unsuspecting buyers. I don't inspect them but I know where they get the products that they sell to the seasonal residents who are none the wiser. If you are at a farmers market ask where the food comes from. Ask if it is organic and ask if it is in season. Chances are you may be surprised with the answers you get.

I can't post about the places I inspect due to a conflict of interest but you should ask if foods are made in a permitted facility or if they are produced under the Cottage Foods Laws. Cottage foods are foods that can be produced in a persons home. Usually non hazardous foods with little water content cakes, cookies, brownies, and breads - provided there are no cream fillings or butter-cream icing.  Honey, jams and jellies also fall into this category due to the high sugar content. Pickles, relishes and jarred salsas are not cottage foods as they do not meet the ph requirements set out in Florida's laws. You can look up your states information online by simply typing cottage foods and the name of your state. DO NOT BELIEVE information that is not from a state source. Misinformation abounds. I have seen really scary interpretations of our laws on Facebook. Anyone can post on Facebook. For that matter anyone can blog so take what I say at face value and do your own research as well.  

Unscrupulous vendors aside Farmers Markets are great places to get local produce, baked goods and even homemade soaps and crafts. One may simply walk through a market and enjoy the sights, aromas and sounds of the market without the annoyance of muzak or the beeping of a cash register. You are outdoors under the sun mingling with people who support local businesses.  All in all not a bad day!