Monday, August 30, 2010


sol·ace/ˈsälis/Verb: Give solace to.

Noun: Comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness: "she sought solace in her religion".
As seems to be the case all too often here lately at High Cotton Home, things have happened in the past few weeks that have left me a bit sad, a tad reclusive, and once again seeking solace in time spent quietly at home with family. I apologize for leaving you all behind without a real explanation or anything else for weeks... Here is my resolution, to try to begin posting regularly again, whether it's something little or something long... just begin posting again. From our home to yours... thank you and here we go again... together this time!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dog Bed, Schmaug-med...

Who needs a dog bed when you have luggage you haven't unpacked yet?  Dogs and kids, always keeping you on your toes and helping you see the world in a whole new way that you never imagined... Thank you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sometimes Nature is just a little too... Natural...

Wellington looking a bit nervous...

It's been a long and busy week here at High Cotton Home and I was happy to see the weekend come... but it was as busy as every other day this week! Saturday was spent helping out with a transport for English Springer Spaniel Rescue Society of two adult dogs, Wellington and Jessie, and two ADORABLE puppies! The puppies have retinal dysplasia and they will be blind by the time they are a year old so they need to hurry up and get to their new homes so they can find their way around before they loose their sight completely.

Jessie, my over-the-shoulder "backseat driver!
The two tri-colored spaniels were just so stinkin' cute that I had to take one out and cuddle with him for the last twenty miles... and then cuddle with his brother... I almost hid the little brown one in the trunk and claimed, "Second pup? What second pup? I don't know what you are talking about!!" when I got to the next stop on the transport. But I was a good kid... and didn't steal a puppy! ;P
Wouldn't you be tempted to steal one too?
For some reason I had a crazy case of insomnia of Saturday night so I read a book until 4am, napped a little, and then got up when it was light out and started working on homework for school this coming week. I can't believe it's the fall semester already... CRAZY! It's still so hot out and yet it's "fall!" But it is my favorite time of year, so I can't wait for the cool autumn chill to kick into high gear, even if we are in Florida! But Sunday I woke up and Cali was really feeling sick; hiding, shaking, just looking terrible. I couldn't figure out what was going on with her, but I went outside to investigate if she had eaten something she shouldn't have.

It was stormy and ominous outside so I was trying to do a little detective work, turn the compost pile and get back in the house as soon as possible. I found some mushrooms so I was certain I had solved the mystery but then I saw this hole next to the garden and I noticed a cord dangling down into the hole. Now here's where I admit that, though I documented all of this in photos, I had the camera on the wrong setting and once I figured out what was going on I was too shaken to check the photos and they were all lost. So I see this weird, banded cord hanging down and I think, "Cali... if you ate the in-ground plumbing, I may just feed you to the gators..." but I pulled on the cord and something was just not right. "Wait, a minute... this kinda looks like..." I peaked over the edge of the garden and I had been PULLING ON THE TAIL OF A DEAD SNAKE!!

I literally almost threw up (and I'm someone who likes non-venomous snakes... really... I used to take the snakes in the Biology lab home over Christmas breaks in high school) but no one else was home and I had to do it. The snake was all intertwined with bird-proof netting and I didn't want to touch him really (when I tried to pull him loose, a scale flew off and hit me in the arm and I just couldn't take it...) so I decided to cut him out, along with a nearby stake and the watermelon tendrils that were there. After I got him out, I pulled a little C.S.I. Panhandle and determined that I thought he had probably died because he was being chased by Cali, got all caught up in the netting and then as she dug and chomped on his tail (which is why it had a blunt end and looked like a cut cord), it was all over for our intrepid little garden visitor. I felt kinda bad for him, but the whole situation still made me want to vomit. Honestly, sometimes nature is just a little too... natural. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Guilt is absent when the act is justified.”

Scout feels the need to be in literally EVERY photo....

I have had two rescue dogs and I have raised two purebreds from puppies... the rescue dogs are infinitely easier and better dogs from the get go, hands-down. But in one aspect, my purebreds take the cake. My rescues have no conscience. None. Not even a glimmer.

Not even the least bit chagrined...

This morning I woke up looking for my flip-flops (cheap ones that my mom knits padded straps for out of organic, bamboo yarn.... HEAVENLY)... rather, looking for the one that wasn't sitting by the back door where I'd left them. And I finally found the missing mate, who ended up being on top of the dog bed, missing part of its top and bottom due to someones teeth. 

The victim...

Now, because I've never lost a shoe to a dog before (and I've had my other dogs for two and four years respectively) and since I have a new rescue in the house who likes to destroy little cloth animals, my powers of deduction tell me it was Cali. Beyond that, my two spaniels have what my best friend likes to call "An over-developed sense of guilt" which means they will confess to just about anything... both of them will confess to pooping in a hotel room when it was clearly only one dog... the pantry door fell off its hinges and both spaniels confessed even though they were both clear across the room and had nothing to do with it. I worry that I am a bad mom that comes down on them too hard, but I think that it's probably just a symptom of the breed... Springer Spaniels are worriers, through and through. Anyway, Cali gave me a blank look when I asked about the shoe as did the spaniels, so either my new rescue has no conscience as well... or I have a phantom chewer...the mystery deepens...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pay No attention to That Dog Behind the Curtain

Always the economical home remodeler I try to do everything on a budget... and by that I mean I try to do everything I want/need to for our home while still keeping us afloat, eating food, paying bills, saving money... etc, etc. My husband and I jokingly watched "The Money Pit" when we bought this house, laughing at Tom Hank's antics and the wild adventures of his fictional home ownership.

The living room while the home belonged to the previous owner...
 a little crowded, no?

Now, two years into being home owners, we've: replaced the same ceiling twice; found out that half of our second floor was leaning on a non-load bearing wall and causing our home to slowly implode; ruptured a well pump; nearly had a jacuzzi tub fall through the ceiling from our master bath into our living room because all of the floor joists had been cut by a previous owner (why, Geoffrey? WHY!?!); walked on bare concrete and tack board for three months due to a carpet mix-up; overflowed two backed up air conditioners flooding an entire closet below (which I tried to fix with ingenuity and pots & pans but botched horribly in my husband's absence) and generally suffered a host of other home related maladies and disasters. It's not a joke people. The money pit is real.

Knocking out the archway. You can start to see where we are going with the project.

   Anyway, in the few rooms that I feel are getting close to finally being "done" after two years, my living room has been limping towards completion for about nine months now. It started out as two rooms, a formal sitting room and a family room, and we knocked a huge archway out; stenciled the walls; and put down new carpeting. The windows were a problem because, now that we had a great room, you could see from the street directly through the house especially once we had some awesome recessed lighting put up to light up the place. I had thought I would be remodeling the dining room first, but due to a massive water leak, the living room moved up the priority list.

Walls painted (soon to be stenciled) & carpet waiting to go down...

     I'd bought goldenrod curtains on clearance from JCPenney's for a shockingly good deal, but due to only having two windows in the dining room I'd only bought four panels and the new living room had three windows. Undeterred, I created one "giant window" flanked by one panel on either side for one set of windows and devoted the other two panels to the remaining window.

The curtains in between stages, after we added the extra silk at the top.

Oh, and did I mention the curtain were way too short for the living room and the curtain rod hole was much to narrow for my "$60 marked down to $9.99 plus a 20% Off coupon" wooden rods from Bed, Bath & Beyond, so I had to get Mama to add a 4-inch tube of chocolate silk to the top of each one? Yeah... miserable...

The finished product...

    Now, to the problem of sheers. I bought sheers from JCPenney; they were awful, so I returned them. I bought clearance sheers from West Elm, they ran out mid-shipment and I only received four instead of the six I needed; returned as well. And then I lusted after these sheers from West Elm for months... months... and finally last month I thought, "Every budget, and every wife, has their breaking point" so I logged on (thankfully they were running a special for $10 off each panel... it's the little things) and finally more than $200 later I am pleased. I know it's not true economy but sometimes, you can only be so thrifty and still keep your sanity.

"Ugghh... these curtains are really cramping my style..."-Atticus

   The only downside to the new curtains is that Atticus, our oldest spaniel, likes to use the front window as a vantage point to lay down and observe passersby with the sill as a chin-rest. These new curtains really put a crimp in his style and he was none too pleased.... "Can a dog catch a break around here?" he says... nope, sorry... Mama needs her sanity... and her privacy... but I still love you, Atticus. A lot.
"You're killing me, Smalls..."

Across the Plains...

I have been wanting to visit my parents for awhile now and I decided to see how hard it was to drive to their house with all three dogs to discover if it would be a doable adventure in the future for holiday trips, with our kids one day, etc.
Roadside U-pick peaches somewhere in Missouri... best peaches ever...

With a car packed to the gills, the pups and I headed north towards Canada (our destination, Grand Forks, is only 75 miles from the Canadian border!) for over 25 hours of driving... that's not 24 hours of travel. That's 25+ hours of straight foot-to-the-pedal driving. Yea, you can be impressed now. I know I am!

So sleepy, Mama... Cali napping on the drive...

I have to admit, I didn't really plan out the trip before I left, I just punched my parents address into the GPS and drove. As a result, I didn't really know what cities or places we would hit before we arrived, and each road sign held a new surprise! We crossed through Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and then finally North Dakota. I swear I thought Missouri would never end... EVER... South Dakota was full of pipeline workers for the oil spill and all of the bikers heading to Sturgis which left me literally bidding for the last hotel room in town (then I had to sneak the pups in and out the backdoor of the hotel, because of course they didn't take dogs... that was an experience in and of itself!)
Gorgeous sunset on the road...
Anyway, for the next few days I will share some of my roadtrip adventures with you all so that you can appreciate all of the beauty (and boredom!) to be found traveling 1700 miles across middle America!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Grounds for Your Garden

Yes, we all know that Starbucks (like Wal-Mart) is an evil cooperate giant and we should shun them whole heartedly. But you know what? Everything in moderation of course, but when I am stranded in some airport, my flight six hours delayed, no sweater to protect me from the incessant AC chill and all of my family and friends a million miles away and completely unreachable on the phone... honestly, the only thing that can instantly calm my soul is not a glass of wine, it's a toasty grande chai with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. Oh... or that amazing caramel apple cider that they make that transports me instantly to fall in Seattle with my best friend, Rachael. So, yes, I know Starbucks is the devil. And, yes, a couple times a year I do give them my hard earned dollars to fund their cooperate empire. I am an enigma.

Anyway, one thing I do love to see when I go to Starbucks to steal free Wi-Fi or to Target (with the Starbucks conveniently located inside) is their "Grounds for Your Garden" program. According to the Starbucks website,
We introduced Grounds for Your Garden in 1995, which offers customers complimentary five-pound (2.27-kilogram) bags of used coffee grounds to enrich garden soil.
Now every time I am in Starbucks or Target, I pick up a few bags of their used grounds and throw them into my compost bin with the other "green" material and let them go. You can also add the grounds directly to the soil around nitrogen and acid loving plants. When I went to get a bag to take photos for this post, our local Starbucks only had the little bags sitting out (of course!), but I went yesterday to another store and scored 15lbs of free grounds! Whoo-hoo! The "instructions" for use can be found on the label of the Grounds for Your Garden, shown above. Happy hunting!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Slices from Heaven: Sweet Potato Chips

“Smell brings to mind... a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years.” -Diane Ackerman
Nathan left for a trip a few weeks ago and for his last meal I wanted him to take some great memories of home with him so I made him two of his favorite foods... a whole roast chicken and sweet potato chips. Both are super tasty and (in the case of the chicken) pretty impressive for being so easy to make! I wanted to share my favorite sweet potato chip recipe with you as we are starting to get into prime season for these tasty tubers and I feel everyone else should benefit from the lessons I've learned about these tasty treats! This recipe is courtesy of our local CSA, Off the Vine Produce, from one of the recipe sheets they included with our box one week last year. Enjoy!
Fried Sweet Potato Chips
Servings: 4

-Vegetable oil, for frying
-2 large sweet potatoes, washed
-Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder (Ed note: I skip a step and just use garlic salt... DELISH!)

In a large sauce pan, heat oil to 350 degrees F. Thinly slice potatoes into round disks, about 1/4 inch thick. Fry for 1 and 1/2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle with Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder or sugar, to taste.
Fry, baby, fry...

Making Deli-Style Dill Pickles: Part One

Hunger is the best pickle.
-Benjamin Franklin
The cucumbers from last week's post have finally started the process of becoming deli dill pickles (well, six pounds of them have... the other half are off to become cucumber chips). This is my first foray into pickling anything, though I have canned in the past, so this should be quite the adventure!

You need to prepare the pickles and then let them stand in a cool, dark place for three weeks (skimming scum off the surface daily... hopefully this process isn't too gross!) so below is the preparation before the three week wait.
My recipe for dills comes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which has been an invaluable resource for teaching myself how to can and preserve a variety of foods. The first step is choosing the cucumbers which, apparently, was my first mistake! I waited to pick the cucumbers in my garden until they were ripe, and huge and there were some yellow areas (overripe spots) here and there on the skins. Once I started cooking I read that I should have picked the cucumbers when they were still very dark green with large bumps on the outside of the fruit, and zero areas of light green or yellow. Whoops! Apparently my pickle "crispness" will suffer as a result... (See update at the end of this post for Perfect Pickle pics!)
I decided to make the pickles anyway and I gathered my supplies (see spices, sugar and salt above. I also used organic dill from a local grocer) for both the dills and the cucumber chips. For the dills, I used store bought pickling spice (the lime green bottle above) and for the cucumber chips I used the other spices shown to make my own pickling spice. After chopping up the pickles into 4-inch spears, I added half of the pickling spice (a heaping 1/3 cup) and a large bunch of dill to the bottom of an enamel pot and dumped the sliced spears on top. Ensure that the spears have at least 4-inches of clearance from the top rim of the pot. It's important to use only stainless-steel or unchipped enamelware for all pickling tasks because other types of cooking wear (utensils as well) can cause discoloring of the final pickle products that is unappetizing and can be dangerous.
I created a brine by boiling 1.5 cups of pickling salt, 2 cups white vinegar and 16 cups water and then letting it cool to room temperature after stirring to dissolve all of the salt. Once it cooled, I ladled it over the pickles. Once the pot was full (the pickling brine ran out exactly at the top of the pickles... that's why I love these recipes, they always work out perfectly!) I dumped the other bunch of dill and the remainder of the pickling spice on top. Place an inverted plate on top of the pickles (to keep them all submersed in the brine) and used a filled and sealed mason jar of water on top of the plate to weigh it down. Store it in a cool dark place for approximately 3 weeks (to let them ferment) and skim the surface daily for scum.
Now, five days into dill making, the dills are pretty fragrant when I take the plate off for my daily check (in a good way, just a lot of spice and vinegar!) but no scum that I can see has formed yet. I am waiting for the pickles to become "translucent" and ready to can. I am hoping they will be finished by early August!
     I also made cucumber chips through a different method (I only have to wait 24 hours for them to be ready to can instead of three weeks!) to compare the quality of the two products with the amount of labor and time involved in each. Look out for a post in the future with my reviews of both methods!
Update: Here are what the pickles should look like before picking to make "the perfect pickle"... Look for dark, firm skin and obvious bumps on the outside of the fruit. Avoid any fruits with light green or yellow areas of the skin.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Making Deli-Style Dill Pickles: Part Two

Finally, after weeks of fermentation our dill pickles are ready to can! At this point the pickles should be thoroughly flavored with dill and translucent throughout.
When the pickles are ready, strain the contents through a colander, removing the pickles and collecting the brine from the pot in another stainless steel/unchipped enamel pot. All of the spices and dill should be caught by the strainer, leaving you a pile of sorted pickles (if there are any that didn't "make it" pick them out and discard them now) and a pot of brine.

Bring your brine to a rolling boil on the stove and boil for approximately 5 minutes; allow to cool to room temperature before filling jars. Simultaneously, process your jars and lids in near boiling water to prepare them to use for canning.

Fill jars with pickles, ensuring the jars are full but not packing the pickles in too tightly. Fill jars with the cooled brine, leaving a half-inch of head space at the top. Use a tongue depressor (or other skinny flat object) to move pickles around slightly and free any trapped air bubbles in the jar. Place lids on jars, screw down bands to fingertip tight and place jars in water to process for 15 minutes (with the lid on the canning pot).

Remove lid and let cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing jars from water, placing in an out of the way spot on the counter and covering with a towel. Allow jars to sit overnight; check them the morning to ensure all jars are properly sealed (make sure the lid is "sucked down" and doesn't pop or move when you press on the top of it).
Congratulations! You've finished your dill pickles!! Grab a burger (or a pregnant friend!) and enjoy one now!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Dirty Paws McGee- Part 1: Coexisting Cleanly with Pets

I hate a dirty house. A messy house (clean laundry to be folded, mail on the kitchen table) I can deal with, but an actual dirty house... with dishes in the sink, hairballs in the corners and spots on the floor... drives me nuts! Having three medium-to-large size dogs, and one medium-to-large sized husband, presents its own set of challenges to keeping the house clean on a daily basis. Here are a few high-tech and low-tech tips to keep your home clean and keep your furry friends there too!

#1. Wipe Paws Here!: As my dogs come in from outdoors, especially in the mornings when they have been out in the dewy grass, I have them sit at the backdoor where I always leave a towel to wipe all four paws before they come inside. They resisted at first, but soon it became routine and now they pause and lift each paw for me when they get to the door, almost like a horse having its hooves cleaned! Even when their feet don't seem dirty, they are bringing in just a little bit of sand or mud each which multiples over three dogs, ten potty trips a day, seven days a week... Wipe their paws and you'll be surprised at how much they leave behind!

#2. Furminator Brush: The Furminator brush used to be very expensive (and it still is $50+ in stores like Petco) but now you can find it new for less than $12 on! They even have a version for cats! Make sure to buy the size that corresponds to the size of your pet (or larger... my medium one that we bought has a pretty small comb) and then just brush your pet as you would normally. This product manages to pull out TONS of loose undercoat (without hurting your pet) which cuts down the amount of hair that ends up on your couch, floor, dog beds, etc. I don't know what makes this brush work so well, but my mom bought a knock-off brand brush and it was awful, so this one is worth the money, especially now that they are on sale! 5 stars out of 5 stars!
#3. Dyson Animal Vacuums: The Dyson Animal vacuum that we have had for two years is the DC-17 Animal. Before we bought our D-17 refurbished off of for $299 (here is a similar deal on, we were burning up cheap $50 vacuums about every 3-4 mths. I had put off buying the Animal for months, despite my best friend's rave reviews about how well it was picking up the hair from her three cats, because of the price. A new Dyson can run about $600, so buying the refurbished model essentially made the vacuum half-price! It was remanufactured at the factory and it came with all of the attachments and manuals, and even some carpet freshening beads, that would come with a new vacuum. I have not been able to tell a difference at all from a new vacuum!
Pros: The amount of hair this vacuum is able to pick up is phenomenal and we have never had any problems with broken parts or anything else, despite the extreme use it gets.
Cons: My only complaints are about the bagless system (which I support because it produces less waste) and the hose. In the bagless collection tank, hair tends to get stuck up at the top of the cylinder, causing you to have to bang the tank against the side of the trash can to dislodge the hair clump. This is problematic indoors because of how much dirt the vacuum picks up, so I have to take the detachable cylinder outside to the big trashcans to dump the dirt so I don't create a dust shower all around my kitchen trash can. Also, the DC-17 is really hard to use on carpeted stairs because the hose isn't very long and so it is necessary to haul the vacuum up stairs as you go, using one hand to hold it on the stairs because the vacuum base is wider than your average tread.
    There is a Dyson Animal handheld vacuum that I think would be perfect for stairs, but at only $80 less than my full upright, I think that will need to wait awhile. I would like to upgrade to the Dyson Animal Ball, at $379 for a refurbished model... anyone want to buy a slightly used D-17? Despite the high price, I really see this vacuum as a good investment, and therefore give it 4.5 stars out of 5 (taking off .5pt for the price).

#4. iRobot Scooba: If you've heard of the Roomba, than the Scooba is its floor washing cousin. You fill the clean water tank with fresh water and about a 1/2 cup of either Clorox cleaning solution or white vinegar (they even have a line on the cup that you fill the tank with for vinegar, yea for corporations supporting green cleaning solutions!) You turn "her" on and let her go (my apologies, it is literally impossible for me not to anthropomorphize a robot, especially one that can actually communicate its needs, if only in a series of beeps)! Now, the initial purchase provides one battery-powered laser "wall" to keep your Scooba in a smaller area so that she can clean better (she tends to go off on long tangents and if you don't keep her confined to an area the size of a small room she can't cover the entire area well enough to really get it clean).
Pros: It vacuums and then "mops" the floor everywhere it goes and does a good job (it will make additional passes if it senses the floor is still dirty in an area); It saves me from having to mop, which is one of my least favorite chores!
Cons: It can't get into corners so you tend to end up with piles of hair in the corners of an otherwise clean room because it didn't get sucked up; Even with a coupon, free shipping and a sale on QVC where I purchased my Scooba, it was almost $200... that's awful expensive for something that doesn't clean perfectly!; You have to monitor Scooba to make sure it doesn't get stuck, move it when it finishes with an area if you have a large or oddly shaped room to clean, and to empty and refill the tanks - you can't just set it up and leave the house; we have already sent two back from Ebay for being duds and sent one back to QVC for electronic problems in addition to our current Scooba being finickyabout working sometimes (troubleshooting doesn't seem to help) and you just have to leave her alone and come back to try again in a few days - no rhyme or reason for it!
Overall, I enjoy using my Scooba and find it useful, but if I hadn't already paid for it, I definitely wouldn't invest the money again. 2 stars out of 5.

More Eco-Friendly Cleaning with Pets Tips Next Week!
Furminator & Dyson Photos Courtesy of

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Beach of Brotherly Love...

I don't believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings, gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood and brotherhood is a condition people have to work at. ~Maya Angelou
Two of our dogs, Atticus and Scout, are brothers though they are several years and many litters apart. Just like human siblings, they are very similar and yet they are each so unique. But when they play together, they are pure magic and they never cease to make me laugh with their matching "smiles" and sweet loving eyes. Our recent photo shoot at the beach left me nostalgic for their puppy days after watching them play together, so I thought I might share some of their brotherly love with you all...

Look at those faces! And their matching stances!
Who wouldn't love a Springer Spaniel?


Catch me if you can!

There are those loving eyes...

Our little snorkler... I think he's going after tiny fish? Or crabs?
Either way, it makes me laugh...
Related Posts with Thumbnails