Monday, July 27, 2009

Sharing

SHARING

"Meow", a dilute calico paw reached out and tapped Sean on his cheek. As he slept. "Meow"

"Go away Lizzie I'm tired" Sean grumbled.

"Meow", a single claw now protruded from her paw as she tapped his cheek again, scraping his curly beard as she drug her claw through it..

"Liz!" he said as he opened his eyes, then "oh okay Liz that's nice, real nice"

As he looked at the dainty dilute calico cat that set on his chest he gazed straight into her huge amber eyes. Then he realized why her meow was muffled. Hanging out of her mouth was a live mouse.

"Meow"

"That's okay Lizzie I don't want it, you can have it, thanks anyway."

The paw reached out and tapped harder. "MEOW" and she dropped the mouse on his chest. The mouse immediately dashed under his covers to join him in the warmth of the covers.

Lizzie pouncing after the rodent, before he could stop it Sean found him self tangled in bed covers with mouse and cat rushing around his bare legs.

"Whoa!" Sean shouted as he leaped from the bed just as Lizzie caught the mouse again.

"Meow" she glared at him as if to say "I gave you a perfectly good mouse and did you take care of it? Nooooo,"

"I'm sorry Liz I'm not a good mouser like you."

"Meow", then as if to give him a mouse play lesson she laid the mouse gently on the covers of his now abandoned bed and began to play with a mouse as only a cat can. Every so often the amber eyes would turn toward the red headed man as the cat murmured "meow".

After a period of time the mouse played dead. Lizzie looked at Sean and said once more "Meow"then tapped his hand with her paw. Then tapped the mouse.

"Meow,"

"Oh okay" Sean said and poked the mouse with his finger. The mouse jumped up and ran off the bed. Delighted Lizzie sprang after the mouse, with a gleeful "Meow" over her shoulder to Sean as she and the mouse both darted out of the bedroom.

Not exactly the ending Sean had planned for his nap today, that is for sure.

Jan who laughed so hard at Sean as he was telling his story she nearly wet her pants in OK

Saturday, July 18, 2009

CAMPING DAYS 1-2, THUNDERBIRD LAKE, NORMAN, OK

June 25-26, 2009

To say we got a late start would be an understatement. We were suppose to arrive at Thunderbird Lake on the 24th but I got a last minute job opportunity and ran into problems in getting away for various reasons. We could have left about dark on the24th but we hate going into a campground we don't know after dark. So we decided to try for an early get away on the 25th and still do numerous mystery shops after setting up camp.

Only things didn't go as planned then either. Three days earlier I had heard a noise in our supposedly empty #2 brooder in the big coop while checking on Elf. We had things stacked in front of the brooder so I couldn't get to it.

I did manage to see a nest of abandoned duck eggs and one lone black Muscovy duckling who had defied all odds and had hatched out with just the extreme summer heat we've been having.

I had no idea how long he'd been in there, but I knew he needed food and water so I went to get one of the guys to help me get to him. By the time Gary, my dear husband- often to be referred to as dh in the future, went to rescue him he found the little guy had climbed the hardware cloth and fell four feet to the floor. He, knowing a feathered backside was suppose to be Mama, was now following Sonya our blue Turken and her brood around.

By the end of the afternoon we had to get the little guy because Sonya didn't know what to do with a duckling and he was nearly succumbing to the heat.

Just as Elf did after one final escape to be with his Mama. We could not save Elf, but we did save Dorf, so named because of the way he walks and keeps low on his tiny feet. But we knew he needed a duck mama.

So the day we were to leave I got delayed in helping Sean, dear son=ds, trick Trudy, a white and chocolate Muscovy into adopting him. It worked, but it was time consuming. Then there were all sorts of "just one more thing to pack" items and it was nearly noon before we left town.

Our first stop was at a car dealership to cash in our rub off mailers we had received in the mail for a contest they were having. Everyone gets these things in the mail, but most do nothing with them.

These said the smallest prize was a Wal-Mart gift card. We knew they would be $5 each from past experience. We considered it the same as a mystery shop and stopped long enough to collect our $10, which we would put in the gas tank later on that day. After all $10 was worth more than $10 if you use their gift cards you get $.03 -$.05 off per gallon when you purchase gas.

So there was $10 to help pay for our travels.

When we arrived at Lake Thunderbird we quickly discovered this state park is not big on signs of any sort.

We first turned in at the South Dam campground only to find it was tent camping only. We pulled into the boat ramp area to consult the very limited map supplied by the state of Okahoma on line and found we needed to be just a few more miles down the road to the Calypso Cove boat ramp area.

When we pulled in there we again found NO SIGNS about anything. Not where to check in, not rates, not anything.

I must say the campground looked gorgeous, all brand new looking level concrete pads, nice big lantern hooks, shade trees scattered about, and then we started driving in. They need to put some serious work into the actual roads of that campground.

We drove through three times looking for a camp host, an indication if there were certain areas you parked for certain facilities whatever. Nothing, so we finally pulled into one of the pull through sites and set camp up.

While Gary was sitting up camp I threw together a lunch which we ate quickly then headed for Edmond to do a shop there. We completed it and two others before it became too late to do so.

A note I should make here, it's one I'll repeat on and off. I, not Gary, do the shops. On the ones he cannot be with me he either drops me off and I do it alone OR in the case of certain fast food ones I drop him off somewhere safe and comfortable, go do the shop and back to get him.

I am the one that is contracted to the companies, not Gary. We follow the rules exactly. There are not enough mystery shopping jobs in any one area to support two of us doing them as heavy as we do. So it's me that does them.

Gary spends his time waiting applying for jobs on line, scheduling shops for me, setting up the gps and other such jobs. He is actively busy with our "business" while I do the actual shops and follow up paperwork.

Once back at camp, around 9:00 pm we were startled by a knock at the door of the camper. It was the camp host there to collect the fees. I didn't realize it at first, but then later we realized we had been VERY over charged.

From the state park website the fees are:
Base Rate
$10.00 per night/per site

Utility Fees (where applicable)
Water Service: $2.00
Electrical Service (30 or 50 amp): $6.00
Sewer Service: $3.00

We were at a site that had NO sewer, and we had no plans of using their water, Gary had filled our fresh water tank at home to avoid the water fee. .

Therefore our fees should have been:
$10 for the base rate
6 for the electric
___
$16
2 discount for senior citizen
____
$14 per night

We were charged: $21, after the $2 discount! We were charged a ps fee, that we later determined was a premium site fee. Only it had no sewer! We were not allowed to say no water either.

So we were charged $14 extra! I'll write the state of OK and tell them, but I figure they'll not even bother to respond.

So if you are a person camping on a shoestring BEWARE they do not go by what is on the website there and be prepared. If they start adding extra fees on, call them on it. We will in the future. She told us that they do take Good Sam's there, but that they only gave a $1 discount for it. Hmmm, and I thought Good Sam's was 10% of the total cost, hmmmm. Shouldn't that be $2.30?

Oh, and when I asked about not finding a camp host they said they always just come around AFTER 5:00 pm up to 11:00 pm to collect. You know, after you are all set up and it would be a pain the backside to move your camper off of an UNMARKED premium site. We felt it was just another ploy to get more out of the campers.

Another thing we discovered as we took our evening walk was they charge $.25 per 3 minutes to use the showers! Seriously, think about it. One man said they'd been camping there a while and they'd got it down to $.75 a night per person to get thoroughly clean, but it had really put a crimp in their budget when showering five people every night!

If you are camped at the campground you can use their dump station for free, guess that's why we got charged a sewer fee when there was none. If I remember right, sorry I didn't not write it down, it's $5 to dump if you aren't paying camping fees. But there is NO one anywhere near the dump station to pay or any signs posted that you are to pay, the price or where to pay.

The next morning we were up and going quickly, grabbing bagels from the fridge and off we went for a long and fast day of nine shops. We discovered much later that evening it should have been ten, but we had a communications problem between the two of us and one shop just flat didn't get put in the schedule.

Lucky for me I have a VERY understanding scheduler and she said not to worry about it, she had someone else who could pick it up for her the next Monday and for me to go on to Davis, where she had a LOT of shops she really needed done.

We were up late, so we slept in late. One kudos I will give this campground is you can stay until just before 5:00 pm if you want, without an extra fee.

It's a pretty campground, I'd show you photos, but they accidentally got deleted from the camera, it is limited on it's services, and it can be a bit pricey if you don't watch the fees better than we did. We'll learn. I guarantee you it won't happen to us again there.

The sites are concrete pads, level and clean each with a nice picnic table, lantern hook and campfire ring.

We left there before noon because we had three shops to do that day, along the way.

Camping fee $42 total for two nights–waaay to high for a shoe string budget.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Preparing for the trip-food

PREPARING FOR THE TRIP-FOOD

Before leaving we spent a lot of time discussing the pros and cons of this trip. It needs to be profitable, but it also needs to be fun. We need to save money at every opportunity. So there are many, many things to consider.

Let's start with food. In a camper you have limited refrigerated and frozen food storage space. So you really need to plan exactly what works best for you and what you will truly eat. No room for experimentation. You also need to pack things that travel well.

Then there are the following to consider:
Weight: If packing up everything from home will truly be cheaper when you consider the extra weight to pull along with you. After all weight does affect gas mileage.

Storage: Do you have space for it and will you be forced to purchase ice to maintain it. That cost must be considered.

Price: If you live in a lower cost of living state and will be traveling to one where groceries cost more. Then stocking up would be a smart option. If the reverse is true the you might want to wait and buy as you go.

Convenience: Who wants to leave camp to go get a gallon of milk? If you want a cookie you want it NOW!

Availability: The type of milk I drink, lactose free, is not always readily available. My favorite brand is definitely not always available. So if you will only eat XYZ peanut butter from a certain health food store then by all means pack enough for a LONG trip. If on the other hand you'll eat any brand, then a small jar to start with will do you.

Perishing: It does no good to take 10 pounds of bananas with you if you'll eat only one pound before they find a new home in a dumpster. Same with milk, no one is going to drink blinky milk.

So we discussed all of this, ruled out big amounts of some foods, multiplied others we eat a lot because we had bulk quantities in food storage at home. Why buy more if you already have it?

I froze ice in water jugs ahead of time for the one small ice chest we would be hauling with us. Block ice keeps longer, plus the water was drinking water when it thawed. We also bagged ice from the refrigerator ice maker while home to avoid buying any. We knew we would be only using the ice chest for 2-3 days and could prepare enough at home that buying ice was not a budget concern.

I spent the two week time at home planning and cooking. Here's what was hiding in our tiny camper freezer when we left home: (recipes and instructions to follow as time goes on)

2 containers of Moo Gurgle the all purpose taco filler
1 package of home cut rib eye steaks
1 package of home cut boneless pork chops
1 package of home cut boneless pork ribs
1 package of home cut pork for stir fry
2 packages of chopped rotisserie chicken
1 package of sliced rotisserie chicken
2 packages of chopped ham
2 packages of smoked brisket, shredded
2 packages of pre-cooked multi-use meatballs
1 package of pre-cooked spaghetti meatballs
1 package of ham steak
1 large blue ice pack that came with my refrigerator
1 medium sized blue ice pack I purchased a long time ago
2 small blue ice packs from the $1 store
6 individual servings of fruit juice
6 cans of frozen juice
8 pre-made at home hamburger patties
2 pounds of raw ground beef
4 packages of homemade biscuit mix
1 package of homemade frozen bread dough balls.
1 package that contains a rotisserie chicken leg, thigh and 1 wing

In the refrigerator section there are:
3 gallons of 2% milk
3 half gallons of lactose free milk
1.5 pounds of butter
2. pounds of dairy free margarine
1 dozen eggs
varius condiments
1 container of chocolate syrup
soda pop (I know we shouldn't drink it, but we are addicted)
bottles of water
two types of lunch meats
1 package of wieners
4 packages of bagels
1 loaf of bread
1 package of hot dog buns
1 package of hamburger buns
several 2 slice packages of breads like rye, multi-grain, whole wheat, pumpernickel
some chocolate candy for special treats
1 large container (ziploc's large rectangle) of home cooked pinto beans
1 container of jalapeno cornbread casserole
1 large package of flour tortillas
1 large package of corn tortillas
1 package of cheddar cheese
1package of pepper jack cheese
1 package of mozzarella cheese
1 package of soy pepper jack cheese
1 container of homemade garlic butter.

Then you add the pantry that contains the vegetables and add on ingredients to turn this all into meals to feed two people for a VERY long time, including desserts. Much of this is homemade, or home cut. That really saves money too.

The home cut meats are from purchasing larger pieces at Sam's Club and cutting them into the smaller pieces just like the butcher does only at home. The savings per pound is huge when you do this.

All the pork products, except the ham, came from one large pork loin. The smaller end is cut into "boneless ribs", the wider end becomes boneless pork chops, at home in the freezer is the center part pork loin. Scraps from doing all the cutting produce the pork for stir fry.

A large boneless rib roast turns into rib eye steaks, a perfect for two small roast, and beef for stir fry..

A purchased rotisserie chicken is actually cheaper than I can purchase a raw bird and cook it. So that was purchased, we ate one meal and some sandwiches off of it at home. The rest was deboned and packaged up and frozen for meals and sandwiches on the road. The skin from it went to the dogs, and the bones went to the maggot bucket for the free ranging birds.–I'll discuss this sometime in the future.

Instead of purchasing individual juices for in the car as we have done in the past I made up frozen juice at home and filled several flip top bottles that I already had.. These I froze. They will be refilled as used from more frozen juice concentrate as we travel. They make great cold packs for the daily lunches we pack for shopping. More on this another time as well.

I'll spread the recipes out as time goes on. The one I'll include with this post is the "Smoked" Brisket. It's one of the easiest ways to cook brisket to make it tender and tasty that I know of. You do it in the crockpot or on a campfire in a Dutch oven..

Start out by purchasing large brisket when they are on a great sale. Even if you don't want to cook one right away. Buy the biggest and best looking one you can afford. Mine came from Sam's Club and I nearly had to drag it behind me.

Once home you cut it into pieces that will fit your crockpot when wrapped in foil. Don't forget you can go up, so if your crockpot is deep and not wide cut two sections for each cooking spree and stack them. Unless it's EXTREMELY fatty don't trim the fat. Trimming too much of the fat off will make for a very dry brisket.

Once you have the meat all cut up package, label, date and freeze the extra sections. I often will get two or more crockpots going and simply cook the whole thing up that first day. I didn't this time because I broke my biggest crockpot and have not found one at a thrift store or garage sale YET. I will, eventually. Or someone will run a great sale on one. In the meantime I'm down to my medium sized one and two small ones. So I could only cook one section of the brisket this go around. The rest was flash frozen then vacuum sealed and is stored in the freezer at home.

To cook the brisket either at home or to leave cooking in the camper while you are out having fun.:

SMOKED BRISKET
1 brisket your choice of size, most of the fat still on it
Meat Tenderizer, I use Adolph's no MSG one myself.
1/4 cup Liquid Smoke, whatever brand you choose. I use the Liquid Smoke brand
heavy duty aluminum foil
crockpot or a cast iron Dutch oven (if you are cooking on a campfire)

Using the aluminum foil make a large X of foil big enough to totally enclose the brisket for cooking.

Sprinkle the brisket with the meat tenderizer. Pierce the brisket with a fork in several places to help get the tenderizer down in the meat.

Place the brisket in the center of the foil X, fat side up. Fat side up is important to help keep the brisket moist.

Pull the foil up to form a bowl around the brisket. Pour the Liquid Smoke over the top of the brisket. Seal the brisket in the foil then place the entire bundle in the crockpot. Put the crockpot lid on and start the crockpot.

Cooking times: Low 5-8 hours; High 3-4 hours. If cooking in a Dutch oven cook as if you were baking biscuits by sitting it on coals and having coals on the lid for 3-8 hours depending on the heat of your fire and the size of your brisket. You can also wrap it in a double layer of foil and pit roast it all day..

MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR COOKING TIME: If my brisket does not fill the cooker completely up I will often add these items to the top to take full advantage of the cooking heat. After all the better you use your cooking heat the lower your over all cooking bill.

Foil wrapped frozen ears of corn that I have buttered and salted.
Foil wrapped potatoes for baking.

Place these on top of the brisket when you first start it.

We generally have a meal from the brisket when we first cook it. The rest is either sliced or shredded depending on how I plan on using the leftovers. Packaged, dated, labeled and frozne for future meals

The real trick is to plan ahead and make the most of your home cooking. Include a lot of variety for your meals on the road. .

If you only pack hamburgers and hot dogs, within a very short time you will find yourself at a restaurant feeding your family because you can't take the same old same old again.

We definitely have variety and with what I packed combined with the meals mystery shops we will do we are in good shape.

Jan who scratch cooks, but also uses some convenience items when it's cheaper in OK