A Fan of Walmart?

It’s become hip to hate on Walmart. People complain about long checkout lines and  messy stores. They ridicule the shoppers. There are plenty of Walmart jokes, many poking fun at overweight customers with curlers in their hair or those sporting low-slung, butt-revealing pants.

Walmart Store

I admit it: I laugh too when I read stuff online like “Just a reminder: Walmart will be closed on Christmas Day so both cashiers can be with their families.” Or “You know you’re at Walmart when you see a guy wearing a bath towel poncho” with a picture of a guy pushing a cart while wearing what looks like…a poncho made out of a bath towel.

But hey, I’m not here to pile on. I know Walmart isn’t as upscale as its competitor Target, but there is stuff there that I can’t find elsewhere. At least not at Walmart prices.

Take this pretty outdoor pillow in a fall pattern. Only five bucks. I may go back and get another. I’ve had two five-dollar summer outdoor pillows from Walmart that have lasted for two seasons now, so I expect this seasonal pillow will make it through a few falls. And again, only five dollars. Available in a big bin in the garden department.

fall pillow

Speaking of the garden department, another positive about Walmart versus Target (in my town anyway) is that I can pick up plants while I’m there. I bought two lovely small mums for $1.27 each the other day. It was a start to replacing my summer flowers in my backyard pots.

purple mums

The best deal I’ve gotten at Walmart recently, though, was a big-ticket item. My husband and I were shopping for a ROKU television (part of cutting that cable cord business I talked about in last week’s blog). Our son-in-law, wise in all things related to electronics/television/Internet, told us the exact model to buy from Walmart.

TCL - 50" Class - LED - 4 Series - 2160p - Smart - 4K UHD TV with HDR - Roku TV - Front_Zoom. 1 of 12 Images & Videos. Swipe left for next.

Not only did we get a great deal on this TV ( a 50 inch for $268), but the guy who helped us in the electronics department was friendly and knowledgeable. He and my husband even had a nice little chat about college football while he was ringing us up.

I know Walmart isn’t as pretty and yuppified as Target. I don’t catch a whiff of Starbucks coffee when I’m there and the aisles don’t seem as wide and shiny as those at Target.

But I look around my house and see lots of stuff that I’ve bought from Walmart over the years: a favorite set of sheets, toys and games, Corelle dishes, picture albums, candles, workout clothes…. So it would be mean of me to talk too badly about Walmart. I’ve gotten so many good deals there.

And as for those long checkout lines? I’ve discovered self-checkout, where I usually breeze right through.

scanner

Am I alone in liking Walmart? What’s been your experience?

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Cutting the Cord

My husband and I have declared our independence from at least one cable company. After years of griping about the ever rising cost plus poor customer service, we’ve finally cut the cord. We’ve canceled our TV! Take that, Spectrum!

cutting the cord.JPG

That’s a cable box you see in the picture above, but my husband is not really, actually cutting the cord. Oh no, I had to find a UPS store and mail the box (with an undamaged cord, of course) to the cable company so I wouldn’t continue to be charged a monthly equipment fee. Actually, there were two boxes…and two remotes.

To be fair, I didn’t pay for shipping, but still, how inconvenient to have to haul in equipment to quit the cable company.

Spectrum, formerly Time Warner (which, I swear, still owes me money but that’s another story), was the cable company at our house at the beach. Those ugly, cumbersome boxes were part of how the system worked. We had to have one for every single stinking TV set to work, and we were charged a monthly fee for every stinking box. At one time I had four until I cut back to save money. That meant I then had non-working televisions.

Spectrum is still our Internet company at the beach (can we say “monopoly” here), since we can’t live without our iPads. But my husband and I have discovered a whole new way of watching television.

Ta da! Subscription TV!

Sling tv

Maybe a year ago (two, three?), I heard about Netflix. I wanted to watch the series “Orange Is the New Black” since I’d read the book.  It aired only on Netflix. I got online, Netflix at the time was just $10 a month, and I signed up.

Image result for orange is the new black

After a season of female prisoners, I moved on to shows I could watch with my husband: “The Crown,” “Breaking Bad,” “Better Call Saul,” and “Stranger Things.” We’re currently in the middle of “Halt and Catch Fire,” a series about the early crazy days of the personal computer industry (the ’80s). Wow, some great television and NO commercials.

Having an Amazon Prime membership, we learned, qualified us for Prime Video television. We’ve enjoyed “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and are eager for the next season of this show. And I’ve watched a bunch of Masterpiece Theatre.

Image result for mrs. maisel

The one gap, though, a big one for my husband especially, was sports. That’s where cable had us. Until we heard about Sling TV.

Labor Day weekend found us at the beach desperately attempting to order/subscribe/install Sling TV. We wanted to watch the NC State versus East Carolina football game. We learned not only did we have to sign up for Sling TV, but we also needed the Sports Extra add-on.

Fred and Wilma Flintstone (a.k.a. my husband and I) succeeded with only minutes to spare before the noon kickoff. The game was a bust for us Pirate fans, but hey, we did have a victory in that we’d said adios to the cable company.

At least at the beach. We haven’t yet cut the cord with Suddenlink, our cable company at home. We probably should–we’re finding we watch more stuff on our subscription channels than we do on cable!

Cable versus subscription TV: what are you doing?

 

 

 

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Storm Prep–Sorta

As I write on this late Thursday afternoon, September 5, it’s begun to rain where I live in the coastal plains of eastern North Carolina, but there’s no significant wind yet. We’re not to be fooled, though, according to the weather forecasters who are babbling nonstop on the local channels: Hurricane Dorian is coming.

Sooo, I’ve prepared, sorta. There were a dozen bales of pine straw I felt compelled to spread this morning to cover the bare earth left by a recent building project. My husband thinks this task was unnecessary and jokes that pine needles will be flying into the neighbor’s yard. My theory is the rain will make the pine straw heavy enough that gale force winds–should any arrive–won’t disturb it. Looked nice when I finished, don’t you think (other than the dead grass)?

fresh pine straw

On to more traditional hurricane prep, I took flower pots, chimes, and an orange bird house off my baker’s rack and plant stand on the porch. I gambled on not toting items to the new storage building or the garage but simply set everything on the porch behind the brick.

items on porch

When there’s no wind stirring, it’s hard to imagine wrought iron chairs and a big gas grill becoming projectiles. I decided to leave the outdoor furniture and grill where they were and hope for the best.

chairs on porch

I got a text from my candidate of choice for Rocky Mount City Council, Ward 5, asking that campaign yard signs be put away during the hurricane. I have complied. Don’t judge my messy garage.

Lige sign

And of course, I made a final grocery run. I’d already stocked up on milk and bread, but forgot water. Why do we need water? I really don’t know. Even during the worst of Hurricane Floyd, the taps worked. We had all the drinking water we wanted and just as important, could flush the commode. Still, the hurricane prep experts tell us to stock up on water, so I bought a 24-pack.

final grocery haul

The rain’s picked up some since I started writing, and my cell phone just emitted a shrill tornado warning followed a couple of minutes later by another shrill flash flood warning. This morning, it was hard to believe a hurricane was approaching as I looked out over my peaceful backyard, spying an okra bloom under the crepe myrtle.

blooms

I hope as you read this, my hometown has been spared the brunt of Hurricane Dorian and my half-hearted preparations have proved adequate.

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A Kid Goes Fishing

It’s a place called Fishing Creek. The name fits since Grandson Charlie, age eight, loves to throw out a hook there. Recently, he caught a big bass in its rain-muddied waters on a late Sunday afternoon.

Charlie with his bass

Yeah, I know this picture is huge, but so is Charlie’s smile. Just this summer, he’s discovered the joy of fishing. He’s as hooked as this fish. I’m delighted that he’ll pause the Minecraft and Fortnite to go outdoors. For right now, there’s nothing he’d rather do than fish even though he insists on throwing  back everything he catches. Yep, even this bass that his grandma would love to have had for supper.

The above bass is not the first one he snagged at Fishing Creek. A few days earlier, he’d pulled in an equally large one only to have it escape before he could quite land it. To say he was upset would be an understatement. Eight-year-olds don’t always deal well with disappointment.

But Charlie learned a few lessons that day: Wanting something to happen doesn’t mean it will. Even attempting something doesn’t always guarantee success. Oh, and always be prepared.

If he’d had a net that day, the fish could possibly have been hauled in. From now on, when my husband takes him fishing, my dad’s old net (recently repaired by me) will be on hand.

net

Charlie also learned the value of perseverance although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know the word. He lost a big bass on Wednesday and then caught a big bass at the same spot on Sunday. He had to try again. He had to wait four whole days for the gratification of catching a fish.

Video game gratification comes instantly. I’m glad he’s learning to be patient. And to try again. And to appreciate the great outdoors.

Charlie and his dad get a lot of their fishing equipment at a place called Nash Rod & Reel.

Ray's

Charlie calls it Ray’s, after the name of the owner, Ray Matthews. Inside the shop, there’s a bulletin board where kids can post pictures of themselves with their big catches. It’s been Charlie’s goal in life to have his picture on Ray’s board.

Ray's Board

His granddaddy took his picture, the one I led with today, and I had it printed. I thought he’d want to rush right down to Ray’s and pin it on the board.

Not so fast, Grandma. Seems there’s a picture of a large catfish Charlie caught that’s in contention for a spot on the board. Charlie’s got to mull over which to put up. I had to listen to the merits of each, how hard a catfish is to catch versus a bass, what a catfish looks like versus a bass, etc. etc.

The catfish picture or the bass one? It’s a big decision. Something to think about other than video games.

 

 

 

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Bye Bye Pool, Hello School

I’ve been trying to put my finger on the source of my low-level anxiety this week, and I’ve figured it out. School’s starting back! The buses are rolling. It’s time to say good-bye to sweet summer.

school bus

It’s been six years since I started a fall semester as a teacher, fifteen since I sent a teenager to senior year of high school, ten since I packed up a young adult for the final year of college. So what’s up with my school anxiety?

Part of it is due to my DNA. You don’t spend 30 years teaching, plus all those previous years being educated to teach, without it leaving a permanent mark. For me, the new year will always begin in late August, not the beginning of January.

I see back-to-school supplies for sale, and I have to buy something myself. I feel like I need notepads to do lesson plans. Besides, what former educator can resist composition books for 25 cents apiece?

back to school supplies

Another reason for my back-to-school jitters: the grandchildren have returned to the schoolhouse this week. Like a good grandma, I empathize with their uncertainty about the new year–although they look pretty happy in this annual first day of school photo posted to social media.

back to school grandchildren

I don’t have very many first day of school pictures of my children–no Facebook to post to back in the 80’s and 90’s–but I did unearth this photo of my youngest daughter set to depart for day one of kindergarten in 1991.

Yes, that’s a much younger me, kneeling on the floor beside her. I’d need help getting up from that position now!pj kindergarten

She was one of three daughters my husband and I helped through elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. A lot of time, energy, and money went into those years. Packing lunches, carpooling, supervising homework, attending sporting events, paying tuition–the list goes on and on.

There were good years, wonderful years, and quite frankly, some mediocre ones. But we –the girls, their dad (the lunch packer), and I–persevered. Young parents, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: one day they graduate! (Youngest daughter again, seventeen years later)

pj graduation

School is wonderful–I spent a good portion of my life there–but it’s also a little scary, especially at the beginning of a new year.

school zone

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She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain

Remember the North Carolina tourism slogan: Variety Vacationland? Our state reaches from the coast to the mountains. Something for everyone!

Living in the eastern part of the state only two and a half hours from the Atlantic Ocean, my something has always been the beach. Until this summer.

My husband and I sold our Charlotte condo and invested the proceeds in a modest mountain house in Beech Mountain.

mountain house

My daughter has a mountain home just a footpath away, so we decided to ignore the five-hour drive it takes us to get here from our eastern North Carolina home and enjoy the highland experience for a change. And the two young Charlotte grandchildren who walk through the woods to Grandma’s house for ice cream!

As you can see from the picture above, the front yard is full of plants (native ferns and other unidentified stuff), but I think I need a pop of color. Maybe next spring, I’ll put in some of these daisies I see growing all around Banner Elk and Beech Mountain. Evidently these flowers are one of the few plants the abundant deer here don’t eat.

yellow daisies

One of the features that sold us on the house was the nearby mountain stream. We can sit on our back deck and hear the water trickling. There’s even a bedroom in the house where the soundtrack through the open window is this running stream.  I call it the Tranquility Room.

the creek

My favorite indoor feature is the stone fireplace in the living room. I’ve propped a picture with similar colors on the mantle to break up the vast expanse. I’ve also enjoyed arranging my books and knickknacks on the shelves to the right.

stone fireplace

I need a bigger piece of furniture (and my husband says a bigger TV) to the left of the fireplace. I’m thinking some big old oak sideboard repurposed as a television stand would look cool there. I love an excuse to hit the secondhand antique shops. The farm truck bookends below came from such a store in Wilmington, NC.

truck bookends

I’ve done some painting to perk things up. The front door was a dull green that didn’t seem to match the house and did nothing to set off the stained glass insert. I went with a fun yellow, maybe to match next year’s daisies! Three coats later–which I applied myself, I’m proud to say–I have a happy door. Uh oh, is that my reflection in the picture?

yellow door

A rusted weathervane came attached to the front porch. I went even funkier painting it. Hey, it’s a mountain house. Anything goes.

weathervane

Yes, that’s a gravel road in front of the house. I feel like I’m kinda semi-camping in this house with no air conditioning–not really needed at our elevation- and abundant ferns everywhere I look.ferns

Jan Karon wrote the popular Mitford series featuring Father Tim, an Episcopal rector in a small mountain town loosely based on Blowing Rock, which is only a half hour or so from Beech Mountain (http://www.mitfordbooks.com/).

I often think about the lovable Father Tim and his parishioners as I enjoy my simple life in a blue house on a gravel road atop a North Carolina mountain.

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Okra…And More Okra

It’s been called the delicacy of the South, and garden experts say it thrives in the scorching heat of humid summers. My husband would disagree that okra is a delicacy, but I can vouch for the fact that it does indeed flourish in hot, humid weather.

For the second year in a row in these steamy Eastern North Carolina summers, I’ve had a bumper crop of okra from just four seedlings. It’s so fun to grow! Last year’s plants were even taller than these.

okra plants

As noted above, I’m really the only okra lover in my house. My husband will eat it fried, but I don’t fix it that way very often because (a) it’s not the healthiest way to eat it, and (b) I’m lousy at frying it. The batter always falls off in the pan, and I wind up with a great big mess.

So, what to do with all this okra coming off these four plants?

lots of okra

I’ve been looking for recipes and found one submitted by Silvermarigold on allrecipes. Creole Okra calls for sautéing sliced okra with onion, green pepper, and tomatoes in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Spices to add include dried thyme, fresh parsley,  cayenne pepper, and garlic.

I rummaged through my pantry and refrigerator and found enough ingredients to make a modified version of this recipe.

In a large skillet, I sautéed the following in 2 tablespoons of olive oil: 1/2 large chopped onion, 1/2 thinly sliced green pepper, 1 tomato cut into chunks plus half a small carton of cherry tomatoes (again, what I found in the fridge; I put these in whole).

Here are the spices I added: 1 teaspoon of minced garlic (the kind in a jar),  3/8 teaspoon dried thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. I let all this cook for a few minutes until the onion and pepper were close to tender. Then I added 6 okra, sliced into half-inch rounds. I cooked the whole shebang another few minutes until the okra was tender. The final product looked really pretty in the pan.creole-okra.jpg

It tasted good too. I’d planned to use the gravy from the country-style steak I cooked on my rice, but instead poured the Creole Okra on it. That’s sautéed squash as another side dish…and another story.

on-the-plate.jpg

I still had LOTS of okra left over, so I googled “Freezing Okra.” The process was easy. First, I boiled the large pods for 4 minutes and the smaller ones for 3 minutes.

boiling-okra.jpg

Next, I quickly dumped the okra into an ice bath, letting the pods cool for several minutes.

icing-okra.jpg

It’s important to be sure the okra is completely dry before bagging it for the freezer.

drying-okra.jpg

I used quart-size freezer bags. The instructions said the okra will be good for 6 to 8 months, so I  need to cook it sometime before next summer. Maybe try my hand at a gumbo in January or whip up another pan of Creole Okra?

ready for the freezer.JPG

My mother used to can and freeze vegetables all summer. Our family had a huge garden behind our house out in the country. I have only a small plot in my suburban backyard, but I bet Mama would’ve been proud of me for “putting up” okra.

And, not to be bragging, but I do think my Creole Okra recipe beats just steaming the stuff the way she used to do. My husband ate his entire serving!

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