Shopping Your Pantry + A Foolproof Formula for Amazing Stew

Shopping Your Pantry + A Foolproof Formula for Amazing Stew

Food is probably the most danger-prone area of our household budget. Once upon a time, we lived in a really fun neighbourhood full of amazing restaurants. I cringe thinking about the thousands of dollars we spent on Thai takeout and burritos. Thankfully, we tend to be a bit more conscious of our spending (and our caloric intake) these days.

When we first started living together, we shared a really tiny apartment. And I was really terrible at cooking. I mean, I made an effort, and whatever I made usually tasted good in the end. But I really didn’t know how to make anything without a very specific recipe. Sometimes I would spend hours scouring the internet for a promising recipe that I could make with the ingredients I happened to have in my ill-stocked pantry. Other times, I would choose whatever sounded appealing and rush to the grocery store to buy $60 on condiments I would only use once.

The truth is, this is the way most of us cook. It’s the reason why we end up buying things like frozen pizzas and pre-made soups just to make life a little easier. Finding a recipe that matches the ingredients we have on hand is stressful and time-consuming. Rushing out to buy specialty ingredients is stressful, time-consuming and expensive.

After a few years of wasted time and money, we have finally figured out what works for us in terms of stocking our pantry and planning meals:

  1. Buy a deep freeze. We resisted this for so long, because we thought we would hoard food and never eat it. But once we finally got a small chest freezer, we couldn’t believe how much time and money it saved us. We freeze a lot of meals, so the freezer compartment of our fridge gets full pretty quickly. Check kijiji—you might find a great deal.
  2. Only buy meat on sale. When you don’t have the freezer space to store your meat, you end up buying it at whatever price the grocery store is charging that week. Don’t spend $6.99 on chicken breasts. Just don’t. Spend $200 on a simple chest freezer, and I guarantee it will save you $200 within a few months.
  3. Stock your pantry. A [well-stocked pantry] has been key for us. We buy non-perishable food in bulk or on sale, and keep an eye on which things are running out. We don’t clutter our cupboards with premade garbage (like canned soups, Kraft dinner, etc.), so it’s pretty easy to see when we are running low on diced tomatoes or flour. It helps to keep a good supply of spices and herbs on hand. Pro tip: the international food section of big box grocery stores often sell larger packages of common spices for much cheaper than the little glass bottles in the spice aisle.
  4. Stop following recipes to the letter. I understand that this is a really tough one when you’re just learning to cook. It really is worth picking up an authoritative cooking reference book so you can learn basic cooking techniques.
  5. Shop your pantry. Running to the grocery store for the specific type of cheese a recipe calls for or for another type of dried herb is a waste of your time and money. Once you learn to cook without a recipe, it gets easier to substitute ingredients and avoid unnecessary errands.

Basic Formula for Meat Stew

We make a lot of stew. It freezes great and is usually a welcome supper after a busy day of work. Plus, making your own rich stocks and broths is a fantastic way to use up leftovers like meat scraps, bones, and even vegetables that have passed their prime. After a lot of trial and error, I have finally cracked the code on improvised stew.

Formula

  • 1 ½ to 2 ½ pounds of meat (Cheap, fatty cuts are fine, but trim any excess fat)
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ to ½ cup white flour + more as needed
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil or butter (or a combination)
  • Onions (as many as you have or can stand to chop. Onions are non-negotiable)
  • Aromatics (try shallots, garlic, ginger, leeks, etc)
  • 6-8 cups of base liquid (Try a combination of beer, wine, homemade or store-bought stock, a couple of shots of whiskey or cognac, etc. You can also use water in a pinch)
  • Something spicy (try cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, sriracha, etc.)
  • 30 mL of something acidic (I usually just use white vinegar, but try lime juice, white or red wine vinegar, a tiny bit of balsalmic vinegar, etc.)
  • Something sweet (Try a tablespoon of brown sugar, white sugar, maple syrup or even ketchup)
  • Something “umami” (Try a combination of Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, parmesan cheese/rinds, white or red miso paste, or gochujang (Korean fermented chilli paste), mushrooms, yeast extracts like marmite, celery, fish sauce, soy sauce)1
  • Herbs (Try oregano, rosemary, sage, summer savoury, basil, etc. Summer savoury is my go-to)
  • Root vegetables (Potatoes, turnip, carrots, parsnip, sweet potato, etc.) Quantity depends on your taste.

Method

  1. Cut meat into bite-sized cubes (I usually do 1-inch cubes), sprinkle with salt and a generous amount of pepper, and dredge in flour. It’s helpful to use a big ziplock bag for this step.
  2. Chop onions. No need to be too picky about the size—they will cook down into the stock.
  3. Heat oil/butter in the bottom of your stock pot. Brown meat (in batches if you need to), and remove to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
  4. Add a little more oil to the pan, and sauté onions until golden
  5. Add other aromatics and sauté another minute
  6. Return meat to stock pot
  7. Add your base liquid.
  8. Add your spicy, acidic, sweet, and umami ingredients, followed by the herbs.
  9. Simmer forever. Seriously, give it 2+ hours on low, until the meat is fork-tender and the gravy is thick. Depending on the cut of meat you used, this could take more or less time, but eventually the low, slow heat will break down collagen, which is what makes meat tough. If the gravy is still too thin, mix some flour with a little water to make and whisk it in.
  10. Peel and chop your root vegetables into bite-sized pieces and add to the pot1.
  11. Bring stew back to a boil and cook until vegetables are tender2.
Notes
  • Umami”, or the “fifth taste” after salt, sweet, sour and bitter, is the key to good stew. Have you ever spent a day making stew only to find it tasted bland? Ever tasted a really great stew that tasted somehow meatier and more savoury than usual? You can thank glutamates. In the simplest terms, umami actually comes from glutamates and ribonucleotides and a group of chemicals called ribonucleotides, which also occur naturally in many foods. When you combine ingredients containing these different umami-giving compounds, they enhance one another so the dish packs more flavour points than the sum of its parts. So don’t skimp on the umami ingredients. Your stew will taste just as delicious as a Big Mac at 3 am, except without the chemicals and the grease hangover.
  • Carrots and turnip take longer to cook than potatoes and sweet potatoes. You may want to add these first and let them simmer a few minutes before adding the rest of the vegetables.
  • If you won’t be eating the stew right away, keep in mind that the vegetables will continue to cook and soften in the gravy as the stew cools. To avoid soggy disappointment, try removing your stew from the heat earlier, before the vegetables are fully cooked. This is especially important if you’ll be freezing the stew as we often do. If you’re freezing the stew, potatoes are a poor choice. For freezer meals, you can always freeze the meat and liquid separately and keep a baggie of chopped, raw vegetables in the freezer so you can toss them together quickly in a saucepan when you’re ready for it. It all depends on how much you hate overcooked root vegetables.

Problems That Happen When You Are Making Other Plans

Problems That Happen When You Are Making Other Plans

It started innocently enough.

Having mostly finished Bathroom #1, and having had excellent success repairing the water damage in Bathroom #2, I decided tonight after work to get started on the rest of the work in Bathroom #2, by stripping the wallpaper and taking care of any sanding that needed doing, in preparation for painting tomorrow evening.

I certainly knew there was mold in spots, so I was prepared with my tilex, my sandpaper, my bleach and my fungicidal paint.

What I was not prepared for was that when I took off the strip of wallpaper next to the shower, a three inch chunk of wet, moldy sheetrock would come right with it. A little finger and screwdriver poking revealed an entire chunk of wall that was really…not. Unfortunately I broke my screwdriver and so I bought myself a nice new racheting one.

While I was down on my knees performing a wallectomy, I noticed that the subfloor under the tiles was also…not so much. So I ripped up the relevent tiles. (The previous owner was nice enough to make the moldy strip be a separate piece of flooring for easy removal. Wasn’t that nice?)

The next sheet of wallpaper I pulled down showed a touch of mold…

…and when I poked it with my finger, my finger went through.

One hour, a crowbar, a whole lot of rusty screws and a big honkin pile of debris later, I now have this:

This was, to say the least, not the plan. Especially because on Monday our tub is being reglazed, so that bathroom will be out of comission for 48-72 hours.

So now the timer is ticking on this job…

House Renovation Resolutions

House Renovation Resolutions

On a similar theme to my last post where I set down (rather formerly) some thoughts on home renovation. In this one I’m going to make some resolutions.

This time of year doing home renovations thinking about the renovations planned is at the forefront of my mind. Let’s look back on the list of resolutions I compiled last year and see how much of it has been done.

Kitchen

Tear out everything that is there and replace it. This is huge. This is exciting. This is messy beyond all levels of messiness and inconvenient beyond all levels of inconvenience. I will want to complain about it every day, but will try to refrain and look on the bright side of not having to cook. We actually needed quite a few different tools (it’s amazing how fiddly kitchen fitting can be) and we found a site Home Tool Helper (https://hometoolhelper.com) to be super useful in getting the right ones.

(This was just recently completed. And it is everything I hoped it would be. I love my new kitchen. And, yes, I did complain every single day while the renovation took place.)

Finish painting and trim work in the dining room

YES!

Finish painting the odd random bits of trim in the foyer

YES!

Well, except for one small piece of trim that I noticed when I was decorating for Xmas. I’ll have to get to it soon. Soon being relative, of course.

Refinish wood floors in foyer and dining room

YES!

Landscape the front yard

Uh, no. Not one thing did we do to the front yard. We did get estimates, but in the end decided to spend our money on the kitchen renovation.

Rebuild front porch

Why did we buy a house with such a large wrap around front porch? Oh yes, so we could sit out there on our porch swing and sip our mint julips. Maybe when we are 90 we will be have some free time.

No. Just ran out of time this summer. And money.

Anyway, that is just the tip of the iceberg. The bigger of the projects that we have in mind. There are lots of smaller ones too like replacing doorknobs in the house (DONE!), hanging new light fixtures (DONE!), cleaning out the gutters (Mostly DONE!). But those are the sort of projects we tend to do on the spur of the moment. The ones that make us feel like me are actually accomplishing something on our weekends. The sort of projects we add to our list after we have done them just so we have the pleasure of crossing them off.

So what are other DIYers resolving to do this year?

In February of last year, The Stevens Family posted their home improvement resolutions for 2007. I am eager to see their post at years end to find out how they did.

Eye on Howard Hall Farm posted their short and sweet list which includes restoring an old beehive oven in their home in time for giving hearth cooking classes. Wow. I just want shiny floors.


Casa Caudill
 is looking to replace all of the windows in their house. I am weeping tears of happiness for them while I listen to my old wood windows rattle in the breeze. I also like to tell myself that they are original to the house and feel somehow happy about it, but really that is just how us old house renovators like to feel good about bundling up indoors. She also has resolved to pick a color for her kitchen. As someone who struggles with the choosing of paint colors I realize the enormity of this resolution.

Aimee writes her resolutions to spruce up her outdoor living area with a deck. We don’t have a deck, instead a screened porch, and I love it. It ranks up there as the best thing we have spent money on. I could probably just sip my mint julips out there and let the front porch fall down.

At the ever famous Houseblogs.Net, Jeanne asks everyone what their resolutions are for 2008. Read the comments and become inspired. Or perhaps strengthen your resolve to never buy an old house.

I hope they all post a recap and let us know if they accomplished what was on their renovation list. And how many of the projects will be carried over to this year.

Still Crazy After all these Years

Still Crazy After all these Years

While withdrawing some cash this afternoon to tip the movers tomorrow morning, I noticed that my bank account had suddenly shrunk in size quite a bit overnight. Alarmed, I went inside the bank and told a teller I wanted to double-check the amount in my account. She took my name and account # and said, “You have [very small amount] in your account.”

“But that can’t be,” I said. “I just checked it yesterday and I had [still a small amount, but decidedly more than I have today and definitely enough to pay the moving company tomorrow].”

She went on to tell me that two debit card purchases had been made early this morning for pretty big amounts of money.

“Those aren’t mine!” I said, freaking out, “I didn’t make those purchases!!”

“Did you make any purchases after 5 last night?” she asked.

“No!” I said, “I haven’t made any purchases in the last week except for $80 in groceries! And maybe some lipgloss, but come on, a girl needs her lipgloss.”

“Well, there were two purchases made with your card sometime between 5 PM last night and noon today,” the teller replied.

Suddenly realizing that my identity was probably stolen–or at least my debit card number–I turned white as a sheet and started hyperventilating.

“Oh my god!” I wailed, “Someone has definitely stolen my identity! I cannot believe this is happening. Someone has stolen my identity and is charging up all my cards. Oh my God!”

“Don’t worry, calm down, it’s going to be okay,” the teller said. “This happens. We’ll put a freeze on your account and we’ll close the card. You can dispute the payments from this morning and file a report with the police. It’ll be okay.”

“I’m going to be sick,” I replied, “I have to go home and be sick.”

My apartment is just half a block from the bank, so I ran home, threw up, splashed cold water on my face and went back to the bank. The teller closed my card and put a freeze on my account and again told me everything would be fine and I needed to just calm down.

“But I’m not going to have any money to pay the movers tomorrow now!” I told the teller, “I don’t know what to do. If there’s a freeze on my account and I can’t get into it and there’s hardly any money in there now anyway, what am I going to do? They won’t give me my stuff! I need my stuff! I’ve been without it for almost 6 months.”

Then it dawned on me. I’d already paid the movers. I gave them my card number last week. Those two transactions from my account this morning? One had to be for storage and the other was for the move. I hadn’t realized they were going to process the payment before they delivered my things so when I saw a shrunken bank account, I freaked out. And by “freaked out,” I mean I closed my card, froze my account, claimed identity theft, and threw up. Because my bank account was so small.

You know how I was so embarrassed the other day when I had to ask a stranger where the Dance Dance Party Party room was? Yeah, DOES NOT EVEN COMPARE.

Now I Am REALLY Home, For Good…

Now I Am REALLY Home, For Good…

or until the next trip.

In the Wall Street Journal there was an article once about Dooce. Ever heard of her? I know, me neither.

In the sidebar there is a list of blogs that are “blander than Dooce, less humorous and significantly less profane.” And yes, I am one of them. Thank you to everyone who emailed or commented to tell me about it. I would never have found it otherwise.

New Jersey did let me out, but it was touch and go for a little while there when I sat in a traffic jam for an hour as soon as I got on the highway. The panel was great. I spoke with Mom in the City, and A Baby Boomer Woman’s Life After 50.

I did end up complaining about my hotel room and they took the porn charges off of my bill. Just kidding. They did take the internet charges off my bill, you know being tethered to a desk isn’t enough, they have to charge you for the privilege. And also the $10 pot of coffee I had brought to my room in the morning, that apparently I am lazy enough to order.

Tonight after I got home, I was snuggling my baby, shut up he is so, on the couch tonight when I felt something on his little head. A TICK. A TICK on my baby’s head. So I did the only thing that I could do. Freak the hell out. And then go after it with tweezers. Yes, I did snap the body off the tick leaving the head embedded under his skin. I know I should have left it for Rob to do. I know this. And yet when I see wiggling tick legs sticking out of my baby I can’t help but try and pull it out right then. How could I possibly leave it in for several more hours?

Oh, you know you want to make these cream cheese and jelly turnovers. Or get your kids to make it for you. Sadly they are not allergen free. So please go eat them for me.

When I arrived home my 7 and 9 yr olds were just back from baseball practice and they had their little baseball outfits on. They looked so unbelievably cute I wanted to eat them. Except they were all dirt streaked and we all know how I feel about dirt. They began talking and telling me about their day in excruciating detail, while I nodded and made comments to show I was interested like, “Wow!” “Cool!” “No Way!” Their voices getting louder and louder because they both like to talk over each other. My 7 yr old immediately had to reenact when he threw a ball to a kid on his team and the kid screamed and ran away. I am not sure the actual event could have been as dramatic.

My 13 yr old son is helping the coach with the little kid team. I asked him how the practice went. He looked over at his little brother, a smile spread across his face and said, “He was really serious about it. It was cute.” Then he shrugged and walked away. I knew that if I mentioned it again he would in all likelihood deny having said it. But he said it once for me and that is all the matters.

It’s good to be home.

The Boy Who Ceased to Exist

The Boy Who Ceased to Exist

My thirteen year old son is going through that phase where he hates having his photo taken. Virtually every photo I take of him features the back of his head. Or his hand in front of his face. Or a book. I tease him that when grows up he is going to wonder if he even existed at all during his thirteenth year. Or wonder if perhaps that was the year we kept him tethered to the basement water pipes.

Today I was taking photos when he unceremoniously informed me that he no longer wants me to write anything about things he does. Or doesn’t do. Or photograph him. Or show other people the photos that I do manage to get of him. I should just pretend that he doesn’t exist.

He probably wouldn’t want me to tell you that today I let him go into the grocery store all alone to buy a few things. it isn’t that he has been itching to do this. It has never really come up before, but today we were running errands and I needed to go to the store next to the grocery store so I asked him if he wanted to go in alone.

He definitely wouldn’t want me to tell you that as he walked away I shouted, “Don’t let anyone kidnap you now!” When he found me a little while later in the neighboring store he seemed to walk taller. Some imperceptible change had happened and suddenly I could see the future.

As we were driving home, his seven year old brother in the back seat decided to count. With each number he got louder and more enthusiastic. My 13 year old son looked over at me and said, “My god that is the most annoying thing.” I agreed, but instead of saying anything I reached over and turned the radio off.

“No sense in competing. We may as well embrace the counting.” I laughed.

“Doesn’t that annoy you?” he asked.

Rather than answer, I reminded him of a time when he was about the same age and he decided to count by tens all the way home from his aunt’s house. A house that is over an hour away from us.

“I remember that!” he said.

“Do you?” I asked, in between the shouts of FIRTY-FIVE… FIRTY-SIX… FIRTY-SEVEN…

“Yes. I don’t remember it being so annoying though.” He laughed.

Of course you don’t, I wanted to say.

And so if I don’t mention this son anymore it isn’t because I don’t have things to say about him. I do. It isn’t that I don’t love him. Because man, do I love this child young man. I am proud of who he is growing up to be. I am fairly confident these days that he won’t grow up to be a career criminal, a serial killer, or a Republican. Oh I kid. I just threw that last one in there for my husband. Some of my best friends are Republicans.

Sometimes being a parent means keeping your mouth shut and embracing the moment silently. Not matter how annoying it might be.

The Bends

The Bends

Once upon a time my son complained about his hip hurting. And he dramatically limped around the house. Because I like to play a doctor, I assured him that his hip (and then knee) hurt from playing so much baseball. It had been All-Star season and he was out there running, sliding, throwing balls, for hours every single day. Of course you would fee achy. Then he got worse and I brought him to the doctor. We had blood work done and had to wait for what felt like FOREVER to get the results. Turned out he had Lyme disease. I felt horrible. He took antibiotics for weeks (months?) and dropped 10lbs off of his then already skinny frame.

If you think that would have caused me to turn in my Google M.D. license, you would be wrong.

So more time passed. This time my son was complaining that his jaw hurt. Well, duh chewing all the gum will do that to you. What? You haven’t been chewing gum? Well clearly you are grinding your teeth at night or something. Don’t worry you will get better soon. Just lie down and take a nap. Sleep is always good for what ails you. The next day he could not open his mouth wider than a centimeter or two. I brought him to the doctor and he had tonsillitis and had developed some sort of secondary infection in his jaw. OUCH! He had some antibiotics and began to feel better. I drank some wine to soothe my guilt.

But still I could not turn in my medical degree.

Last week my son was complaining that he had a sore throat. He had no other symptoms of being sick. No fever, no cough, no stomach ache, nothing that stopped him from inhaling vast quantities of food. I chalked it up to allergies that are causing everyone to have sore scratchy throats. Yesterday afternoon he came to me and said it felt like there was something in his throat. I made him open his mouth and shined my handy pen light in. “Holy mother of god!” I shouted. He had a huge abcess in his throat. I almost fainted from looking at it. Off we went to the doctor. Turns out that this is a viral thing, so no medication is necessary. We ran a strep test just to be on the safe side. We are dosing him up with tylenol, numbing mouth rinse, and soft food.

Last night I was googling my own medical symptoms. I have diagnosed myself with decompression sickness. I realize I have not recently, or ever, been scuba diving. Small details.

Weekend in the City

Weekend in the City

For my 16th birthday, my mom took me to New York City. For a girl who had never been on the other side of the Mississippi River, this was a Big Deal. My little sister came along, and my mom took us to the usual sights — the Met, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State building, Times Square. She did such a good job of taking us to cool places. I’m pretty spoiled now, too, because I live close enough to NYC that both business and leisure allow for short, frequent trips to the city.

This weekend my mom, sister, and I reunited in NYC together for the first time since I was 16. Each of us had been back, but never all together. It was just what we needed. In no particular order, here are the 10 Best Things from the weekend.

1. The High Line

The High Line is a new-ish park build on an old, elevated rail line that runs up along 10th Avenue. It was so super fantastic that we walked half of it one day, and went back and walked the other half the next day. It’s a great way to see the city from a different vantage point, plus it’s interesting to think about urban architecture and do some people watching.

2. Wicked

This has been on my wishlist for years and I finally got to see it on Broadway! (Thanks, Mom!) It was crazy good and I’m in love with Elphaba. I want to buy the soundtrack and play Defying Gravity on repeat.

3. Shopping. My sister bought me a long, pretty gold necklace from Artists & Fleas at Chelsea Market. It was like Etsy-In-Person so I pretty much wanted one of everything. I’ll snap a photo of the necklace as soon as I’m wearing it with a cute outfit.

4. Our little Chelsea apartment

Thanks to Airbnb.com we had a lovely apartment. We were perfectly located to be able to walk downtown (on Saturday), uptown (on Sunday), and up 60 stairs (every day — it’s on the 4th floor). We had plenty of room for the three of us, plus a kitchen, internet, TV, etc. I love staying in apartments and living like a local. We walked so much each day that each night we ended up back at the apartment early for a little couch time piled on each other.

5. 9/11 Memorial.

Still under construction, but allowing visitors. I’d like to see it again when it’s all finished and the trees are blooming.

6. Catching breakfast with a friend

Before I boarded my train home on Monday I was able to meet up with one of my oldest friends. Every Monday should begin with a cappuccino, a biscuit, and a dear friend, don’t you agree?

7. Speaking of breakfast

We had real NYC bagels on Sunday morning. I brought some back for my freezer for a weekend treat, too.

8. Banana cake with cream cheese frosting from Billy’s Bakery.

The thing that tweets and dreams are made of. We loved the first piece so much we went back for another piece the next night.

9. Shopping, part 2.

I walked into DSW wearing old, stinky, ratty shoes that I L-O-V-E, and walked out with a brand new, exact same pair, purchased for 50% off. I slipped on the new pair, tossed the old pair into a trash can on the sidewalk, and walked another few miles.

10. Just hanging with my mom and sister.

Sister + Mom

Thinking of Renovating Our Home

Thinking of Renovating Our Home

We have long wanted to make some significant improvements to our living space. Plus many of the rooms just look a bit tired and need a face lift if not significantly more. Anyway, I’ve been giving the matter some thought and wanted to put down some of the things I have researched, mainly to make sure it is orderly in my mind.

Renovating a house can be a difficult project to undertake because of the various details that you have to consider. However, it can also be very rewarding for both homeowners and investors. For investors, they can find a house that is in bad shape, make some renovations and then potentially sell it for a substantial profit. For homeowners, they may be able to increase the value of their home.

Let us first take a closer look at the various advantages and disadvantages of renovating a house before you start planning for it.

The Advantages of Renovating a House

The most obvious benefit of renovating a house is the gain in equity or value. Improving the kitchen, adding a bathroom or bedroom, or improving the landscaping could greatly increase the price of your home. You can add to this the fact that this capital gain would be tax-free. This tax break is available even if you do not reinvest your gains into another home or trade it with a higher-priced property.

You can even increase your profits further by helping in the actual work. And after the renovation is done, you can enjoy the fruits of your project if you do not plan to sell the home. For example, you would be able enjoy your new kitchen with its advanced appliances and devices after you have renovated this favorite part of the house. This is not possible with other kinds of investments such as stocks or bonds.

The Downsides of Renovating a House

One disadvantage of renovating a house is that you will be taking some risks. However, risks have always accompanied investments and you are able to minimize them with careful planning. Nevertheless, unexpected things may happen that may not even be your fault, such as the rerouting of traffic or the cancellation of a highway project that could cause a substantial drop in the value of your home.

Another disadvantage is that your usual daily activities will disrupted as a result of the construction work and there will be accompanying inconveniences such as a temporary loss of water or power as they work on the plumbing or the electrical wiring.

Another downside to doing a house renovation is that it would be time consuming for you. You will need to determine what needs to be done and to draw up the plan. You will also need to come up with the specifications and choose the contractor. You will also have to monitor the progress of the work being done and ensure that everything is being done properly and the right materials are being used.

Planning the House Renovation

The first step is to plan and prepare. You will need to familiarize yourself with the building regulations in your city or town and the applicable standards. You will need this information when you are preparing your budget and in selecting the proper contractor.

If you are an investor, it would also be advisable to get the services of a professional inspector to make sure that you know everything that will need to be done. If you are not experienced in inspecting a home that you plan to buy, there is a good chance that you might miss something. For example, you may not even notice that termites have infested the wood structure.

After these preparations, you can now draw up the specifications for your renovation project. You will need to ensure that you have listed everything that needs to be done so that the contractor will be able to properly estimate the total cost of the project. This could be a difficult process because you will need to specify exactly what materials would be used because costs could vary by a wide margin with different materials. You may want to consult a home designer or architect about your specifications and the materials that you plan to use. You will then need to apply for the required permits for the required construction activities.

Choosing a Professional Contractor

Before selecting your contractor, make sure that you have thoroughly checked his references. Try to interview his former clients. You may also need to verify the materials that he plans to use. When searching for your contractor, you may consult the local newspaper or you may drive around your neighborhood and look for homes that have been newly renovated. You can ask the owners regarding their contractors and you can also ask for referrals from the home designer or architect.

Possible Activities When Renovating a House

The first activity is to protect various parts to ensure that they are not weakened or collapse during the renovation work. You may need to strengthen carrying beams, joists and weakened walls. You may also need to replace or repair the roof or the foundation. You will also need to check if there are any damaged windows or siding and if there are, you will have to replace them.

After completing the above, you will have to carefully demolish those parts of the house that will be renovated. If you are living in the house, you will need to plan this carefully to minimize the disruption of your daily activities. Make sure to exercise caution when demolishing older homes that have used lead-based paint. Check on the proper procedure for disposing of the waste, particularly the debris containing hazardous materials like lead.

The sequence of activities will then start with structural carpentry work. This will be followed by works on plumbing, electrical wiring, and the ductwork for the air conditioning and heating systems. After this, you will then need to put in the insulation. And before you close the walls, it would be advisable to call in an inspector to check on the plumbing and wiring.

The next step is to put in the drywall and then the flooring, and then the windows. After this, you can focus on fine carpentry work, such as moldings, baseboards, closets and bookcases. After completing this, you are ready for interior painting, installation of wallpapers, and other finishes. You then install the sidings and gutters. Lastly, you can do the exterior painting and any auxiliary building, such as a swimming pool or sun room.

The Epic Camping Weekend… 27 hours stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere

The Epic Camping Weekend… 27 hours stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere

I’m going to apologize in advance for the length of this post.  Some friends of mine recently went on a camping weekend break and had quite the adventure. I have anonymized the story but I think it’s still compelling enough to get you to read to the end.  Both my friend and my husband will tell the story, I mark where each of us is narrating.

My friend:

We like to camp. We’ve already planned out camping trips all summer long- at least one a month.  The first one was supposed to be the weekend before Memorial Day weekend- but we got rained out. When it looked like Memorial Day weekend was going to be mostly beautiful we decided to take advantage of it and head to Topaz Mountain.  We hadn’t been in exactly 3 years.

It’s one of our favorite places to camp.  But it’s usually rocks and dirt.  There will be an occasional flower, but not often.  This time when we went to Topaz it was covered in knee high grass and wildflowers because it’s been so wet everywhere. The first evening of camp was beautiful.  Pitched tents, started a fire, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, sat under a sky full of billions of stars… It was perfect.  Put the kids to bed in their tent and both of us headed to bed in our tent shortly after.

The next morning we got up and went on a mountain bike ride with the girls. We pulled over by a meadow of grass and wildflowers where the girls made ‘nests’ in the grass and we made flower wreaths for their hair.  We played for an hour or so before heading back to camp for lunch and to go to a reservoir that was relatively close by.

This is an important point to remember- we spent the afternoon playing on the beach and the water. We cleaned up as it started to get a little chilly and make the hour drive into the middle of no where back to camp. As we drove it started to rain and rain and rain some more.

By the time we got back to camp the rain was freezing cold.  We’d started a movie in the car so my husband jumped out and started a charcoal fire for our tin foil dinners and jumped back in to warm up  while they cooked.  We fed the kids quickly under the easy up (pulled halfway down to protect a little from the freezing rain and wind blowing it sideways) and made hot chocolate to drink in the car while we finished the movie.  By this point we’d been running the car to keep warm for a while and decided to just go to bed for the night.

We have three tents.  One really nice one that my husband and I sleep in, one not so nice one that that girls were all going to squish in this trip and then our ‘old’ big family tent that the zipper on the door busted at scout camp last summer.  We decided to put all three up and use the one with the crappy zipper as a ‘changing room’ for the girls so their tent would only have sleeping stuff in it.  When we told the girls to go to bed and they went to get jammies on they discovered that anything not in suitcases was wet.  We figured it out and my daughter crawled into the sleeping tent.  She immediately started to cry-anything that had been touching the edge of the tent was wet.  So in the pouring rain I started running all bedding from the girl’s tent to my tent – and then my husband started running the girls from the changing tent to our tent so their jammies would stay dry.

We stood in the tent trying not to get any wetter, or get anything dry wet and the girls were done.  They were wet and cold and it was late.  We sorted out what was wet from what was dry (we were down several sleeping bags and blankets and a whole stack of clothes) and my husband started running all that stuff to the car to lay it out flat over night. I told the girls about the time as as camping when I was little and we were trying to put up tents and it was so windy they just kept blowing away, and the time we drove across the country and slept in a rest stop and my dad and brother laid out on picnic tables to sleep and got woken up by sprinklers turning on at 5:30 in the morning.  They started to chill a little and giggle and not feel quite so upset at the situation.

We decided to just make one giant bed so we could maximize blanket and sleeping bag usage so my husband slept on one side, I slept on the other and all four girls slept in between.  This meant that not only did my husband and I sleep closest to the sides of the tent (where it’s coldest) but we also had the least amount of blanket coverage.  I told the girls some more stories (how my husband and I met, our first kiss, naughty things we did as kids etc) and then when everyone had finally calmed down and was happy we tried to sleep.

The girls seemed to sleep just fine, my husband and I however, did not.  I was freezing cold all night, as was my husband.  At first light he started getting out of the tent and I asked him if he was going to go start the fire/make some hot chocolate.  He said he was going to the car to turn on the heater and sleep some more.  This sounded heavenly, but then he told me every seat but the driver’s seat was covered in suitcases.  I tried to sleep some more but was only successful for about 30 minutes.

I’d noticed that the wall of the tent next to where my husband was sleeping was dark- like it was fully saturated with water- which isn’t supposed to happen with our heavy canvas tent.  When I got out of the tent 30 minutes later (when I had to pee badly enough to go from a little chilly to really cold) I realized that the tent was dark because the wind had been blowing that direction all night and the side of the tent was frozen with ice and SNOW!  (Remember that we were SWIMMING the day before!)

The saddest looking tent in that picture was the ‘dressing room’, it didn’t make it through the night and has now been cannibalized for parts…

I got in the car and went back to sleep with my husband and the heater running for another couple of hours.  Eventually the girls woke up and we fed them and decided to go see some stuff that my husband had looked up to do if we got caught in the ‘chance of rain’ that we were supposed to get on Sunday. 

We started out at Fish Springs wildlife refuge.  It’s a wetlands in the west desert of Utah.  We drove about an hour and a half over bumpy, windy dirt mountain roads through absolutely no civilization to get there. Once there we drove around and saw a lot of cool birds and even something that looking through binoculars looked like either a small wolf or a large coyote.  There was not another soul at the wildlife refuge.  Even the rangers were gone.

When we were done my husband had one more thing that he wanted to see out there- window rock arch.  But as we finished at Fish Springs he commented that we were low on gas.  We could probably *just* make it back to Delta to get gas but it would be cutting it close. But if we were to see the arch then we wouldn’t have enough gas to get back for sure.  Looking on the maps that we had we saw that there were some towns just past the arch- so we decided we’d go see the arch and then drive to one of those towns for gas and then head back.

We drove another 15 miles to a fork in the road.  If we went straight we’d hit a ‘town’ called Callao.  We turned left down a road that would take us to the turn for the arch.  We drove 1.5 miles to the turn off and then  onto another dirt road that took us up around a mountain to where the arch was supposed to be. That road was also dirt, although it was still raining- as it had been all day and all night the night before (unless of course it was snowing). But the road seemed pretty good.  We’d hit a little wet spot- but then we’d hit a dry spot and it seemed like there were more dry spots than wet spots.

We were supposed to go 2.8 miles to see the arch, by 3 miles we’d seen nothing even close to the pictures we’d found online when the car hit a muddy spot and we slid into the mud bank of the road.  We tried to get out to no avail to drive the car out so my husband and I got out to see what we could do.  It was slick, thick clay type mud.  We thought maybe if we put some rocks under the wheels of the car that would give it enough traction to get up onto the dry part of the road again- we spent a while in the rain doing that and it did no good.  We tried to use the jack to put rocks directly under the tires but the jack just sunk lower and lower into the mud.

Nothing seemed to help.  We realized at this point that we were literally at the end of the road.  A couple hundred feet in front of us was a fenced off cow pasture. No one would be coming up here for a very long time.

These pictures are from the next morning…

End of the road

Miles from anywhere

Evaluating the situation this is what we had with us in the car: my husband, me, our four girls ages 12, 8, 7 and 6 (in two days). We had a small lunch cooler with melting ice, sandwich meat, cheese, peppers, pickles, lettuce, onions, cucumbers, four capri suns and 4 water bottles full of water.  We had our ‘dry food box’ with bread, peanut butter, crackers, marshmallows, chocolate and some other misc foods.  All of our suitcases were in the car since we were drying out clothing, there were two dry swimming towels, a small blanket and a random twin sheet. We had 71 miles until empty worth of gas.  It was still raining and now my husband and I were covered in mud and wet.  The water and gas situation seemed most urgent.

We decided that he’d walk for help and the girls and I would wait in the car.  Our best bet was that he would hopefully not have to walk far before being able to flag down a car for help.  In our drive from Fish Springs to our current resting place stuck in the mud behind a mountain we’d seen one other car. That was hours and hours ago.  We had a vague map with no mileage info on it but it showed two “towns,” one in each direction.  We past a road sign on the main road, but couldn’t remember which was the closer town.   The choice was between Calleo and Trout Creek and Trout Creek was on the path to a ‘main’ road- so we decided that he’d better go left toward that town when he got to the bottom of the hill in hopes of running into a car.  I handed him a sandwich and a bottle of water and some candies and he started walking down the road in the rain and mud.  It was 4:00. I thought that it might be the last time I saw him.  There are so many stories that end badly that start with someone walking off into the desert to get help… never to be seen again.  I was struggling to emotionally hold it together for the girls.  I didn’t want them to be scared and if I broke down sobbing that would certainly be a reason to be scared.

Luckily my girls have rather good imaginations and managed to entertain themselves pretty well in the car.  We did do some reading and read the first 90 pages of Alice in Wonderland (thank you Nook for having a library to choose from at my fingertips).  We had dinner of sandwiches and tried to stay warm.  I found that if I turned the car on for 15 minutes it was long enough to warm it up really good and used 3 miles worth of gas.  I tried to only start it every 90 minutes when it got really cold. About 8:30 it was starting to get dark so I had the girls get ready for bed.  We sorted through suitcases and put on every article of clothing we could to stay warm. The night before it had been cold enough to snow.  The car temp was at about 44 degrees most of the night.  We were getting settled in places to sleep when Annika said, ‘I see Daddy!’  It was 9:00 and dark and there had been no headlights.  Sure enough my husband was standing outside the car, dripping wet and exhausted.  I was a combination of relieved to see him and disappointed that he’d not brought help. I was so happy I didn’t have to spend all night worried about him.  (It didn’t occur to me until later that maybe we should have weathered the night and then sent someone out for help…)

Backing up a minute for the husband’s turn:

It started raining the night before and continued to rain though out the day.  It was not a hard rain, just a constant drizzle.  We were driving around on the dirt roads, all the roads were dirt, and there was no pavement for 100 miles, looking for the arch rock formation we had read about online.  We tried to follow the directions we had and turned off the main dirt road hoping to we picked the correct turn to find the arch.  The road was a little slick in a few places, but it always seemed to be solid after just a second or two. 

Then after about 2 miles, around the time when we should have been able to see the arch, the road started getting very muddy and slippery and I was getting a bit nervous and thought about turning around.  But we were almost there and the ground became solid again, so we kept going another 300 yards or so, when it became really slippery again and suddenly we were sliding from one side of the road to the other and then stopped going forward. 

I quickly threw the car in reverse to try to get out before got stuck and were able to go about 4 or 5 yards and got stuck again, so I put it back in drive an tried going forward again, and nothing.  I tried going forward and backward a couple more times, but it was no use, we were stuck.  When I realized how stuck we really were my first thought was that someone was going to end up taking a long walk. 

My second thought, which occurred only a split second after the first is that person is going to be me.  With these thoughts running through my head, I wanted to start cussing, but held my composure.  I was nervous because we had not seen but 3 or 4 cars the whole day we were out and the likelihood of seeing any more were very slim as it was a Sunday afternoon leaning toward evening as well as being Memorial day weekend, so any people that may live in the area would likely be having dinner and enjoying a quiet Sunday evening at home or might be visiting family or friends some where else. 

We finally decided the rain was not going to stop so my wife and I decided not to wait any longer and got out in the rain to assess the situation. 

The road dirt was a grayish beige and with all the rain was the consistency of wet clay or play dough.  The road was carved down about a half foot from the rest of the landscape and the dirt near the road was also had a squishy clay like feel especially where there were no rocks or vegetation, although not a squishy as the road. 

When we stepped out onto the road, our feet sank in an inch or two and the clay would stick to our shoes making me feel like I was wearing elevator shoes, slippery elevator shoes. We decided that we would try to find rocks to put under the tires to see if we could get some traction.  We spent about an hour finding rocks and placing rocks under the tires and under the car in a row to have a place to drive on.  I asked my wife if the vehicle was front wheel or rear wheel drive and we decided it was front wheel drive, so that is where we placed most of the rocks.  Once we were good and wet and muddy, we decided it was time to test our work.  There was no good way to clean off the mud so we just climbed in, muddy shoes and all.  The carpet on the floor of the car quickly turned gray.  I turned the engine on and put it in gear and nothing.  The wheels just spun.  I decided I would get out and let my wife try and I would watch from outside to see what the car was doing and what we needed to fix.  That’s when we discovered that the vehicle is rear wheel drive and then spend another half hour to 45 minutes moving the rocks to the rear tires.  I am not sure why we did not realize before that it was rear wheel drive as that is where the tires were dug into the dirt the most. 

Rain continued to come down and began to puddle in the spots where the car had made grooves and divots in the dirt which made it all that much more difficult.  It was now somewhere between 2:30 to 3:00 pm.  I again started the car and attempted to drive out and again the tires just spun.  At this point I was a little scared and very frustrated and tired.

My wife was talking about one of us needing to start walking to go for help.  We had a short conversation about what we should do next and then I asked, her “when you say one of is going to need to start walking to try to find another car to get help, is what you are really trying to say that I need to start walking and you stay will the kids in the car?”  We both agreed that is what she really meant and that I would need to start walking soon.  I really didn’t like that idea, and so had one last idea to try.  I got the jack out of the back and started jacking up the tire in hopes that I could get it high enough to put some rocks under the tire.  Well after about 20 minutes of that the tire was off the ground but was not exactly up very high.  The tires had dug into the dirt at least 5 inches and so even when jacked up, they were not above ground level.

Well, I tried my best to dig it our a little wedge rocks under the tires in hopes that I would not have to start walking, but needless to say, my hopes were not very high at this point.  Well guess what, it didn’t work.  This wouldn’t be much of a story if it had.  The tires again just spun or didn’t move at all.  It was now sometime around 3:30 or later and this whole time the rain had not stopped coming down. 

We got back into the car and I just sat there with my head hung low knowing what was coming next.  We looked over and reviewed our resources.  We had brought our food box with us so that critters would not get into it back at camp, but had only brought enough water for driving around with. 

We did not plan for getting stuck or for taking a hike.  We only had 4 or 5 water bottles and the ice in the cooler that could be drunk when melted.  While I had made the attempt to jack up the tire, the kids had already made sandwiches and had eaten.  While I sat there with my head down my wife made a sandwich for me and handed me a bottle of water to take with me.  We looked at the vague map we had gotten from the fish/bird refuge and decided that I would go left at the bottom of the road toward the “town” of Fish Creek.

We wanted to have a plan of the direction I was headed in case they were rescued while I was gone, or in case I got lost so they would know which direction to look for me although we did not discuss this second part, but I think my wife and I both thought it.  Sandwich in hand and water bottle in my pocket, I put my jacket on and began walking in the rain, mud, and clay.  I walked slowly in the beginning for the first 10 minutes or so, as I was also eating the sandwich, for which I was grateful as I don’t think I would have the energy for what came next with out it.  As soon as I finished eating, I began to walk much quicker.  In my mind I pretended I was in a speed walking competition.

Even so, I was unable to go very fast as the ground was so slippery and the mud kept sticking to my shoes and I was really trying to avoid falling.  In the few patches when the ground seemed more solid, I attempted jogging to go a little faster, but I didn’t do that very much as I didn’t want to waste all my energy. 

We had clocked it when turned on to this road and so we knew it was a 3 mile walk back to the next road.  I timed myself so I could know how fast I was going and how long it would take me to get where I was going once I found a sign that could tell me how far away anything was.  The map we had did not have mileage distance on it.  It took me 1 hour to walk the first 3 miles, so I used that as my gauge.

Once I got down to the turn off, I felt like I should go right rather than left like we had discussed, but I thought it would be better to have my wife know which direction I was headed, so I went left.  I had a hat on with a brim all the was around so it kept the rain off my face, head and neck and as I was walking I even started to get a little warm even though it was rainy and windy and the temperature was probably in the 50s.  Up ahead I could see telephone poles that looked like they intersected with the road, so I set a goal to reach the first telephone pole before I took any breaks or even looked at my watch.

I didn’t want to keep looking at the watch for fear it would make time feel like it was going even slower that it already felt.  As I was walking along the road, I felt like I was hearing a car and hearing voices, audible voices, not just in my head, and I would look up ahead and back and see nothing but desert.  This would happen every time a breeze would blow past my ears and happened more that a few times.  (He told me this when he got back and I thought  he was going crazy!)

Well I finally reached the telephone pole and looked at my watch and it had been another hour, so I figured I had gone about another 3 miles. 

I thought about taking a short break, but there was no where to sit down, the dirt was all mud and there were no rocks large enough to sit on, so I decided to just keep going.

I had only taking a few sips of water, but did not feel overly thirsty, but that may be because I was soaking wet from the rain.  My shirt was damp and my pants were completely wet from the knee down, my socks were totally water logged and my shoes were wet inside and out.  I could feel my socks bunching up on the bottom of my foot and I tried to pull them up, but they were so wet they wouldn’t move and I knew for sure that I was going to end up getting blisters, but I didn’t want to think about it or it would slow me down.

I continued to walk as fast as I could, but I could feel my self slowing down a bit.  My legs were starting to ache from walking full speed for the last 2 hours, but I continued on.  I walked past a couple of random road cones marking areas where the road was starting to wash out and was a little excited to see signed of any type of civilization, but there was still no town or anything else in sight.  I walked over a cattle grate in the road and never realized how far apart the bars are.  It was difficult to walk over and I had to be careful not to slip and hurt my leg or ankle. 

Off in the distance to the south a couple of miles I could see some small lakes or ponds and began to fear that the Fish Creek on the map was not a town at all, but was just the ponds and creek that I could see.  It seemed like I walked forever before I finally past the ponds and finally came to a cross road and there was a large road sign.

I was really excited at this point and wanted to run there to read what it said, but I was too tired, so I just continued to walk at the same pace I had been.  When I reached the sign, I looked at my watch again and realized that what seemed like forever had only been one more hour and so I estimated that I had now walked about 8 ½ to 9 miles.  Well what came next was very disheartening.  The sign had arrows going in all 4 directions and the closets town was still another 12 miles away.

It was 10 minutes to 7 pm and I had already been walking for 3 hours and at best, while I was still in good condition and not completely exhausted had come maybe 9 miles.  I just wanted to cry.  I had not sat down, taken any kind of break or stopped walking for 3 hours and I was just spent.

I then realized that if I had listened to the feelings I had when I came to the first turn and when right I would only be 5 or so mile away from the closest town and could easily muster up the strength to walk that much farther, but 12 miles at this point seemed like an insurmountable journey.  The sun was starting to go down and I knew I only had another hour, maybe 2 of day light and I needed to decide which direction to go next.

Knowing that I would not be able to go the same speed I had for the first 3 hours, I estimated that I would not reach anywhere listed on the road sign until some time around midnight or later, so I decided my best option would be to head back to the car.  I also decided that I wanted to try to get back to the car before it was completely dark as I was not sure what animals were in the area, but I know earlier in the day while still driving in the area we had seen a large coyote and the day before we had seen a rather large fox.

But I knew I was tired and was going to be slower that before, and that it would definitely be dark within 2 hours or less, so I decided that rather than walk on the road back, I would follow the telephone poles.  I knew they would take me to the road the car was on because I had passed them when walking down the first time.  I began to gain some courage as I followed the telephone wire line and could see the road getting further away.  I was hoping to save at least ½ an hour and maybe even an hour off of my walk back. 

Walking through the desert was very different that walking on the road.  Even though the road was rough and slippery with the mud, the desert area was harder.  It was not a slippery but still just as muddy and the ground was not as flat and would go up and down in parts, not like over any hills, but just though small desert creeks and little rises and the ground was more rocky.

After a while I noticed that I had been looking more at the ground to see where I was going and had not been paying very close attention to the telephone poles and had wondered quite a way north of the poles.  I could still see them, but they were at least a half straight to the south, but I figured as long as I could still see them I was ok.

Well I had been walking for at least an hour and I could see an out cropping of rock and I was north of it and thought for sure I would find the road before then as I didn’t remember passing it on my walk there, but I been walking the road on the way there.  The sun had gone down by this time but there was still a little bit of light left in the sky and I thought for sure I would reach the road soon.

As I got closer and closer to the rocks and hill I realized I had gone too far north and I would need to go around the rocks, taking more time.  At this point I was again getting a little scared and I don’t know if my eyes and mind were playing trick on me or if I was actually seeing things move, but I decided that I would pick up a couple of rocks just so I had something to throw if I needed to. 

Up in the rocks I could see quite a few holes and small caves and though surely there were some kind of animals in them, so I walked even further out of the way so I didn’t get to close.  I didn’t have a flash light with me, but the moon was out and even though there was still cloud cover and it was still raining, it managed to shed enough light so that I could still see the ground. 

About 9 pm I finally reached the road the car was on and I was never so relieved.  It was still another mile or so to the car from that point and I was so tired, I could hardly move.  I walked as swift as I was able, which was not very fast, and was actually quite slow.  The mud on the road was worse than the mud in the desert and it began sticking to my shoes again making it even harder to walk.

It was about 9:30 when I reached the car and I was cold, sore and tired.  I had not sat in so long and I felt so stiff I was not sure my body was going to bend that way.  I just stood there out side the car for a minute.  It was dark inside the car but I could hear voices talking.  Then I heard my 7 year old scream out, “Hey there’s Daddy” and my wife say, “No, Daddy went to get help” and then my 7 year old say “No, he is right there.”  I then reach out and opened the car door and slowly climbed inside to driver seat.  I still had about a fourth of the water bottle left and asked my wife if it was ok if I took another drink and proceed to finish the bottle. 

Now that I was sitting and not moving I could feel the blisters that had formed on my feet.  Taking of my shoes was painful.  I stripped completely down and my wife handed me a fresh set of clothing.  We were also blessed to have left our clothing bags in the car, so I could put on dry clothes and we all put on additional clothing to help keep warm for the night as we only had one blanket in the car which on of the kids used, and we also had a towel that some else used as a blanket. 

We folded down the middle seats and I attempted to lay down as flat as I could to sleep.  I say flat as I could because there was a space between the seats so it was very uncomfortable to lay any part of my back over that area and as kids were squished into the seats surrounding me the would periodically stretch out and I would be kicked in the face or elbowed in the side, etc.  Also as it became chilly through out the night, my wife and I would wake up and one of us would turn the car on for about 15 minutes, just long enough to warm up again and then we would turn it back off and fall back asleep. 

We didn’t want to leave the car on too long as we were quickly running out of gas to add to our problems.  Sometime in the night it finally stopped raining and when morning came the ground began to dry out.  By 10 am the clay in the road had begun to get hard, it was still soft under the surface, but was becoming more solid, which gave us hope.  As we ate granola bars for breakfast, I began to realize that my left foot was hurting and not just from blisters.  I didn’t twist or sprain my ankle or anything, but I thing it was bruised from the walk through the desert. 

When we got out to reassess our situation I notice that I was having a hard time walking on it and would not be able to walk very fast that day.

We thought that now with the rain gone and the ground drying out, we might be able to just drive out, but the ground under the tires was not drying out and was still very slick and our tires just continued to spin.  I had an idea to put the jack up on a rock so that it would start higher and we could jack to tires up high enough to actually reach under and put rock under the tires. 

We managed to get the left side up and get rocks under and then get the right side up and put rocks under, but when I tried to let the jack down it got stuck and would not whined back down, so now the right tire us stuck up in the air.  It definitely was not going move in that position.  my wife and I tried to just rock the car back and forth to get the car to just slip off the jack and eventually the kids joined in, because it looked like fun to them, so we rocked the car back an forth while I hit the rocks the jack was on as well as hit the jack with the tire iron and we eventually knocked it off the jack, Hallelujah. 

We got in the car thinking that for sure this time it would work.  We had fully put rocks underneath the base of tire and the ground around was drying out, there was no way this was not going to work, and there was no way I was going to be able to walk to the nearest town.  Well guess what.  I put the car in gear and tried to go and the rocks we put under the tire just shot out like bullets and the wheels just continued to spin.  At this point we could not even make a 2ndattempt as the jack no longer worked.  We were getting desperate and decided to try to just rock the car back and forth and put our 12 year old in the driver seat with instructions to step on the gas peddle when I said go.  That of course did not work either.  So with my inability to walk very well, it was now my wife’s turn to walk to try to get help. 

We decided that our 12 year old should go with her and the two of them made themselves some a sandwich, grabbed one bottle of water to share and began walking.  They left around 1 pm and this time we decided the were going to go right at the bottom of the road as it was about 10 miles closer according to the road sign.  I was a little freaked out about sending my wife and oldest daughter out in the wilderness to find help.

Friend again:

When the last attempt didn’t work I knew that it was my turn to walk next.  I started making some sandwiches for my daughterand I and putting some stuff in the backpack to take with us.  We put on sunscreen and I gave my husband a hug goodbye.  I started to cry a little then- I’d done really well at holding it together and putting on a brave face- even though I was feeling quite scared, but now I was actually walking away.  I knew that I was our last chance.  My daughter and I had to walk until we found someone or someone found us. We were down to two bottles of water.  We took one and left the other for my husband and the little girls.

The road had dried quite a bit but was still rather hard to walk on.  The top had crusted but as soon as you stepped down it would break through to the muddy underpart and your foot would slip.  I was afraid that one of us was going to twist an ankle pretty badly.  It took us a little over an hour to get to the bottom of the hill.  We decided that every hour we’d take a little drink of water to try and make it last.  It wasn’t long before we were hearing the same voices and sounds of distant cars that my husband had heard the night before. Turns out he wasn’t as delirious as I thought!

We were walking towards the fork in the road when we saw a truck slow down at the fork. I thought ‘this is it! They’ll save us!’ We were about a 1/2 mile or so from the fork so we started jumping up and down and screaming and waving our arms- but they must not have seen us and after slowing down to read the sign continued going straight. We were pretty disappointed but kept going.  When we reached the fork we heard gunshots in the distance and realized that whomever was in the truck was target shooting in the desert.  We could see a dark spot in the distance on the road and realized it was their truck.  We started walking as fast as we could- but the road was so muddy at spots that we walked in the ditch next to the road because there was at least plants to walk on.  There were also gnats that were everywhere.  They were constantly flying in our faces and biting us.  My daughter had one fly in her ear at one point.  We saw movement at the car and realized that they were getting in.  We were further away this time than last time but tried screaming and jumping up and down… but we didn’t get their attention and they continued to drive away.

By this time we’d been walking three hours without a break and were pretty exhausted.  We sat down and rested for a few minutes on the side of the road in a relatively dry spot.  We had slowed down considerably by then also and seeing that truck drive away about crushed our hopes.  We got up and started walking again and were playing 20 questions for about another hour when I saw a car coming towards us in the distance!  I was so excited! I pointed it out to my daughter and she asked, ‘what if they don’t stop?’  The road we were on was a 1 1/2 lane dirt road.  I told her we were going to stand in the middle of the road and their choices were going to be to stop and help us or to run us over. 

We stood in the road and waved them down.  It was a giant old beater Suburban from the 80’s.  The driver rolled down his window and I walked over and started sobbing, barely getting out the words, ‘we need help.’   He looked at me with an astonished look on his face and said, ‘honey, where are you walking to?’  I told him we were out of gas and stuck in the mud and we were trying to get help in Calleo.  He answered, ‘Oh hun, there’s nothing in Calleo, just a couple ranches’.  I sobbed harder.  ‘Get in!’ he told us.  His  teenage daughters jumped in the very back seat to make room for My daughter and I.  His wife immediately asked if we needed a drink, they had a cooler full of water bottles, soda and a box of snacks.  I was so thirsty I just wanted water.  He asked where we were walking from, I told him ‘the top of that mountain’ and he asked how long we’d been walking, which by that point was about 4 1/2 hours.  He told me to tell him where to go and he’d get us out.

There was no hesitation on his part or the part of his family.  We needed help and they were going to do everything in their power to help us.  I was expecting to have to hire a tow truck and pay some big money to get out of the situation we were in. But they pulled up and pulled us out like it was no big deal. They gave us more water, more gas than they had to give and restored my faith in humanity in a big way.

Meanwhile back at the car still waiting…

I made lunch for the other 3 kids.  They complained about being thirsty, but they understood there was not a lot of water.  They were playing happily, so I decided I would try to take a nap to calm down and stop freaking out.  I dozed for about 45 minutes, but did not sleep very well.  I told the kids to climb the small hill right next to where we were stuck and I slowly followed after them.  I was bored and trying to keep occupied so I wouldn’t worry.  It was now about 4 pm and I was tired of waiting, so the kids and I slowly walked down the road.  I just wanted to get far enough to be able to try with our binoculars to see the bottom of the road.  We walked very slowly for about ½ an hour when I decided it was time to go back to the car.  We still couldn’t see the end of the road and I was not feeling like walking any further and my feet were getting sore again. 

We had only walked for about 15 minutes, about half way back to the car when I heard a noise like a car engine and wheels on dirt, but thought it was just the wind again playing tricks on my mind.  But then I though, who cares and looked back anyway, and it really was a car.  An old 4 wheel drive Suburban and in the back was my wife and our 12 year old.  I was never so happy to see a stranger in my life and even more so, to see that my wife and daughter were safe and ok.  They were the nicest people.  They were able to pull us out of the mud and even gave us some gas.  The followed us a little while and when we stopped, they gave us some water.  I don’t remember their names, but I do remember their faces and that they were from Tooele, UT, and the most kind people.

We still didn’t have enough gas to make it back to Delta the way we’d come- and knew that there was nothing between where we were and Delta that had any hope of having gas.  But after talking with our new friends from Tooele it turns out they’d been in a similar situation out here before. They assured us that they’d stopped and asked for gas and most of the ranches in the area between where we were and Hwy 6 had gas available and were kind and helpful people.  We parted ways and started heading towards Hwy 6  and the town of Border where there was gas for sure. We were cruising along feeling pretty good about being on our way but pretty apprehensive about the gas situation when we passed what looked like a school with some mobile homes next to it, and then came to a fork in the road again. The fork appeared unmarked (turns out it was marked but we’d missed the sign) and my husband just went right.  I insisted we go back to the school and see if someone there could give us directions and/or gas.

We pulled onto the property and were immediately greeted by dogs. my husband and I walked up to the first home that had cars by it and knocked, from inside a man called, ‘come on in!’ We stood there until he came to the door.  When he opened it he realized he didn’t know us and immediately said, ‘come on in!’  Remember we’d both spent the better part of two days laying in the mud, digging in the mud with our hands, walking in the rain etc.  We were quite a sight. We explained our situation and although they didn’t have gas they started calling neighbors to see who did.  There was a toddler asleep on the couch and his wife came out with a tiny little baby.  She asked if we had kids in the car and said to bring them in.  They got us more water and the kids all used the bathroom.  Turns out that he is ‘The’ elementary school teacher.  That became evident when he talked to our kids.  They found a neighbor with gas who gave us 5 gallons, filled our water bottles and sent us in the right direction.

We made it to Border, NV an hour later- which wasn’t really a town either.  It was a gas station/convenience store/ snack bar/motel/casino/bar/restaurant/arcade all in a relatively small building.  We were just thrilled for real food.  After filling up the car and trying to wash up in their bathroom we ate dinner in the restaurant- best food I’ve ever had, at least it seemed like it.  We let the kids play a couple arcade games and then made the trek back to Delta for a quick stop to pick up some more pull ups right before the grocery store closed and then pulled in back at camp at 11:30 pm Monday night.  The girls were all asleep and so we left them in the car, turned on the brights and picked up camp and packed up for home.

We made it home at 5:30 am on Tuesday and were so tired we didn’t even bother showering the camp smell off before crawling into bed. We were just glad to be home and safe.

The next day a neighbor asked what had happened after Megan had kind of told her about it.  I told her the whole story and she said Megan had told her she wasn’t scared at all, ‘it was just some mud’.

Yes Megan, nothing to be scared of at all.

I asked the other girls what they thought about the whole situation and if they were scared and these are the responses of the other three.

Daughter – “At first I thought Daddy was just joking, that we weren’t really stuck. When you guys got out in the mud and the rain I knew that you weren’t joking. Then I was scared because I thought that there wouldn’t be anyone to help us.”

Daughter number 2 – “I wasn’t really scared, there wasn’t that much animals that came out and we got to stay in the car when it rained.  We just saw butterflies in the morning and flowers and walked around.”

Daughter number 3 – “I wasn’t scared.  There weren’t any scary animals, just cows, and cows aren’t scary.”

Hope you enjoyed it.