Planning for Puerto Rico

I love to travel. George loves his dog, his farm animals, the farm and the garden. We’ve taken road trips together and try to get to southwestern North Dakota once a year for about a week. The North Dakota trips are great and take 14 hours of travel time one way. We’ve taken other road trips too. George likes to drive and doesn’t think twice about driving from Wisconsin to Atlanta, Georgia straight through, staying for a night, and turning around and coming home. Unfortunately this has left me feeling like our vacations were mostly driving with only a little exploring or visiting. George seems antsy too, with his mind on the farm.

Day 1 “I wonder how the dog is.”
Day 2 Perhaps arrive at destination late in the day. “I hope the cattle and sheep are liking the hay I left for them.”
Day 3 Explore and/or visit. Start to head home. “I hope the [whatever] is working for [the super kind neighbor who is taking care of the farm].”
Day 4 [more specific concern about home/animals/farm] continued until home.

Old farm buildings on a winter day with snow and geese
Farm scene December 29, 2018

I heavily encouraged George to get a passport when one was required to enter Canada. I want to be prepared for travel when the opportunity knocks, not when the process of getting a passport is complete. George eventually decided it was in his best interest to get a passport rather than listen to my pleas.

The next step was to decide on a destination. George had an answer, “the jungle.” No further details were provided. Anywhere with a jungle would work.

We decided that we needed a vacation with some sort of project. George needs to keep busy. I’ve traveled to work with Habitat for Humanity and volunteered for Caretta Research Project and loved the experiences.

Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge August 12, 2015

The trip had to be fairly short. At least short enough that we would still be married even if our plans flopped.

About a month before Hurricane Maria in September 2017, I tried to contact a farmer about working on his farm in exchange for housing. Hurricane Maria then decimated Puerto Rico. Wanting to be a help rather than a hindrance, we set the plans aside.

This winter I we were ready to go! With help from Rotary connections, we were able to plan to volunteer with HEART 9/11 in their Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico Response Project.

In summary, our travel plans included 1) the jungle 2) a short time span and 3) a project. Look out word!

The best time in a long time

George cheerfully came into the house with a huge smile and exclaimed “That is the best time I’ve had in a long time!”

I’m for taking joy anytime and anywhere you can find it, but we were just in Puerto Rico last week. Yes, the travel was hard. Yes, we worked on replacing a roof. Yes, it was hot and humid, one of my least favorite combinations. But it was a really, really good time for both of us. So I had to question him on his claim.

“Yeah but this was even better! I drove [the neighbor’s] tractor and it was great!”

A little background on the tractor situation. None of our tractors is running. George has been trying to repair one in very cool temperatures the past few days. Yesterday’s low temperature was -26F and the high was -5F. Wind gusts were measured up to 20 mph. [As reported at for Green Bay, Wisconsin.] This can equate to a windchill as low as -56F. The repair has not worked. The cattle and sheep need to be fed round bales weighing about 900 lbs each, requiring a tractor.

Photograph of tractor radiator sitting on the recycling bins
The old radiator that apparently needs to live on our recycling bins until it is repaired

“The heater in the cab was too hot and I had to turn it down! The hydraulics work great!”

May you take joy anytime and anywhere you can find it.

The battery charger and battery in the entry way. When the house is the only warm location they need to come indoors.

Saving soap scum

Do you reuse the soap scum from your shower or bathtub? Great! Neither do I.

For some time now I have been keeping those slim bars of soap that are almost ready to turn into scum. You know the ones, the kind you set down into the soap tray that turn into a sloppy mess by the time you pick up your washcloth. I’ve been keeping the soap slivers in a container in the back of drawer that holds the new bars of soap. My thought was that I could turn them back into a bar and prevent soap scum (at least some of it).

This all stayed in the theoretical project stage until my favorite brand of bar soap has refused to go on sale. For quite some time too, since I have a whole drawer for hoarding soap in.

It was time to get serious and chop up those slivers of soap and make them useful!

After chopping, I got my hands wet and packed the soap together to form a ball. I needed to wet my hands after each layer and found that packing the soap too loosely would create a crumbling soap-scum-super-starter.

Ball of packed soap flakes

If you have any small plastic toys laying around, they can be covered with soap flakes for a shower surprise at a later date. I am fortunate enough that I can surprise myself these days.

Plastic snake waiting for a soap shell

Laundry Soap

You could come to the conclusion that “sampling it all” means “sampling all the food.” Which it does, but I do sample a few other things too.

IMG_6784 (2)

Laundry soap

1 c (or 2/3 of a bar) Fels Naptha soap
1 c washing soda
1 c borax powder
1-2 T essential oil (optional)
16 quarts of water
5 gallon pail with a cover

Chop or grate Fels Naptha and add to 3 quarts of water. Heat and stir until the soap has melted. Pour 2 quarts of hot water into your pail. To the Fels Naptha and water add washing soda, stir, and add borax powder, and stir. When all ingredients have dissolved, add to pail with hot water and stir. Add an additional 11 quarts of water and stir. This will likely look like soapy water with a few bubbles and possibly some globs of gel. Add essential oil if desired and stir. This is laundry soap! The laundry soap may gel more as the solution cools off.

Use 1/2 cup of laundry soap per load. It works in both vertical and horizontal (HE) washing machines.

I’ve used a mix of soaps in place of Fels Naptha with good success. It is especially pleasing to chop up marine-animal-shaped or heart-shaped decorative soap and use it. The little bits of bar soap that are hard to use work great. Homemade soap works. For chopping, it works best if the soap is dried out. The smaller the soap pieces are, the less time and energy it will take to melt them.

I don’t bother to stir the soap once I’ve made it. Some soap has more gel, some has less. I haven’t noticed a difference in the cleaning.

Some people, such as my mom, will find that using this soap makes them itchy.

Keep the soap covered and away from children and pets to avoid everything from drowning to messes.

My box of washing soda has become a hard mass, perhaps because it is stored above the washing machine. I should try put it in a moisture proof container next time.

You can find safety information for Fels Naptha, Borax, and washing soda from the US Dept of Health and Human Services.

So busy

I’m so busy that I barely have time to read a blog from another busy person.

Using three sewing machines at once is keeping me very busy.IMG_6783

That’s right folks; edging, strait stitching, and buttonholes all at the same time. It would be really efficient if I didn’t almost cut the project in half with the serger.

Much too busy to vacuum the floor or clean-up projects around the sewing machine. So busy.

In the words of a wise woman “Moral of the story. We are all “busy” in our own way. #dontjudge #priorities

Banana bread with coconut and lime

Bread ingredients

2 T butter
2 T  or 1 oz cream cheese, softened
1 c sugar
1 egg
2 c flour
2 t baking powder
0.5 t baking soda
0.125 t salt
1 c banana, mashed
0.5 c milk
2 T rum or 0.25 t rum extract and 2 T water
0.5  t lime zest
1 t vanilla
0.25 c pecans, chopped and roasted
0.25 c flaked sweetened coconut
cooking spray

Topping ingredients

0.25 c brown sugar
2 t butter
2 t lime juice
2 t rum or 0.125 t rum extract and 2 t water
2 T pecans, chopped and roasted
2 T flaked sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cream butter, cream cheese, and sugar. Add egg. Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Combine wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Incorporate all three bowls of ingredients together. Stir in pecans and coconut last.

Spray an 8″ x 4″ loaf pan with cooking spray. Pour in batter and bake at 375 F for 1 hour. When the bread is done, let it rest in the pan for 10 minutes. (Not 9 minutes or 11 minutes because the loaf will stick to the pan.) Cool bread on a wire rack while preparing the topping.

For the topping, combine brown sugar, butter, lime juice, and rum in a sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and stir for 1 minute. Add pecans and coconut and spoon over the loaf.

This Jamaican banana bread was first made in my circle by Donna, for a Wisconsin River canoe trip. Published in Cooking Light by Abby Duchin Dinces.

Chunk-o-Cheese Bread


I don’t remember a time when mom didn’t make chunk-o-cheese bread. It’s great not only for the chunks of cheese, but the almost sweet, savory flavor of molasses, and wonderful density. Chunk o Cheese Bread crop

This recipe has been used a time or two. With thanks to the Advertisers, here is my version of the recipe:

Chunk-o-Cheese Bread

1.75 c water
0.5 c corn meal
2 t salt
0.5 c molasses
2 T butter
2.25 t dry yeast or 1 packet dry yeast or 1 cake fresh yeast
0.5 c warm water
4 – 4.5 c flour
1 lb cheese cut into 0.25″ to 0.5″ cubes
butter to grease the pan

Cook water, corn meal, and salt in a pan until boiling. This mixture should stiffen a little. Remove from heat and add molasses and butter. Allow to cool until slightly warm.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the yeast in water and then stir in the corn meal mixture. Do not overheat the yeast, which will kill it. Add flour bit by bit until a stiff dough forms. Sprinkle the tabletop with flour and knead the dough there until it is smooth.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a clean dish towel, and allow to rise until double in size. The time to rise will depend on the strength of the yeast and temperature, about 1 – 1.5 hours.

Grease two 9″ round pans or equivalent area sheet pans. Work the cubed cheese into the dough. Divide the dough and shape into two round loaves. Place on greased pans and cover with dish towels. Let rise until double in size, about 1 hour. Bake at 350 F until deep brown, about 45 – 55 minutes.

Free advice

Mom’s advice is not to use aluminum foil because it can stick to the bread, which does not taste delicious. Greasing the pan with butter is adequate. Try to bury all of the cheese chunks in the dough. Oozing cheese sticks to even a well greased pan. Getting all of the cheese into the dough will not be easy, but well worth it.

Grandma Elma’s advice is to scrape the butter off the wrapper before using the wrapper to grease the pan or throw it out. I try to scrape every measuring cup and bowl clean as I mix because what isn’t used ends up down the drain or in the compost.

Adding too much flour to the bread can make it tough. Keep the table dusted with flour while starting to knead the dough. Cover your hands with butter or oil to prevent the dough from sticking to them. When the dough inevitably sticks to the table or hands, rub flour on it to release it and then reincorporate it into the dough. Think good thoughts.

A warm, but not hot, location such as a warm radiator or the stove top when it is being used for other cooking or baking is ideal. If your home is very cool, a heating pad can be used under the bowl or pan to warm the bread.

My advice is to use sharp cheese because it makes such a nice contrast to the slightly sweet dough. There is (almost) never a good reason to use American cheese as the original recipe indicates.

Cut this bread in generous slabs and butter accordingly. This is a nice sturdy bread, which makes it great for picnics and carrying in your day pack (at the top).

This blog has gone advertisement free. You are welcome.


Cowboy beans

1 pound ground beef
1 c chopped onion
1 c chopped green pepper
3/4 c ketchup
3/4 c barbecue sauce
6 T packed brown sugar
3 T molasses
3 T prepared mustard
1.5 t salt
1.5 t pepper
2 (16 oz) cans pork and beans
2 (16 oz) cans kidney beans, drained
1 (16 oz) can butter beans, drained
1 (16 oz) can pinto beans

Brown the ground beef. Add onions and green pepper and cook until tender. Place in slow cooker.

Add remaining ingredients to slow cooker. Cook on high for 1 hour, reduce to low and cook 2-4 hours.

I could add 30 oz of more beans and still have a favorable meat-to-bean ratio, however my slow cooker does not hold that much.

Rhubarb sauce

My friend BFW inspired me to make and can rhubarb sauce for the first time. Here are some quick notes:

I used a recipe from the University of Minnesota Extension found here

The only ingredients are rhubarb and sugar!

We combined 14 quarts of chopped rhubarb with 7 cups of sugar to make 15 canned pints and one scant quart of sauce for immediate use.

Both Mom and George lead me in the canning process. Mom helped out with the harvesting and washing. I’m pretty good at chopping, provided I have a good knife.

I haven’t opened any of the canned sauce, but it appears to be a success thus far.