Monday, October 20, 2014

How to Survive a DIY Home Renovation

When we were discussing our plan to add on to and renovate our home, I went a-Googlin' for tips to survive a home renovation-- specifically an almost wholly DIYed home renovation. There was a dearth of information out there for home renovators. LOTS of blogs on home renovation, but few about actually surviving without having a complete nervous breakdown, so I thought I'd create a list for you. This list is by no means an exhaustive list, nor have we completed our renovation by any stretch of the imagination, but to date, here is my list of tips for surviving a DIY home renovation.

1. Embrace the dirt
Drifts of it will settle on everything. Floors, shelves, windowsills, your dishes, you name it. Minutes after you vacuum or sweep, dirt will show up again. I'm not kidding. This photo was taken almost immediately after I swept and mopped our kitchen: 


And this one is of the dirt that settled overnight/during the work day when no one had been in the house (and I had vacuumed and mopped the night before);


To soothe my jangling nerves, I like to quote Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas to myself: 

"Don't think of it as dust. Think of it as maybe the soil of some great past civilization. Maybe the soil of ancient Babylon. It staggers the imagination. [It may be] soil that was trod upon by Solomon or even Nebuchadnezzar."
Perspective. So soothing. 

2. Let go of the notion of curb appeal
In the movie The Money Pit (which I find myself quoting more often than I care to admit) Walter Fielding pulls up to his destroyed home and says "Ahh. Home, Crap Home." I have a lot of these days. In fact, I once described our house to someone as the following: "just look for the house that looks like squatters have moved in and might be cooking meth in the back." 




Just roll with it. Your house won't look like shit forever, they say. It is all temporary.

Bonus? My 6 year old has pointed out we don't need to decorate for Halloween this year because our house already looks scary and spooky. 

3. Understand that accidents happen
What's that? You accidentally smashed a hole through the living room wall with a sledge hammer? The living room wall that is supposed to remain intact? No biggie. It isn't like our child was sitting on the couch underneath said hole and the photo frame that you knocked down landed on his head... 

Like I said, no bigs.

4. Invent and embrace a new style of home decor
I call ours "Rubble Chic." It involves a lot of plywood and gaping holes. Plywood is so hot right now. 


5. Learn to scream internally/throw up in your mouth when making large purchases
Generally speaking, home improvement stores don't really appreciate it when people have full-on panic attack freak-outs in their aisle. Just do your level best to swallow the terror. 

I find smiling like a deranged beauty queen helps. Sure, it unnerves the clerk a little, but it is much better than being hauled out of the Home Depot in a straight jacket. 

6. Create a Sherlockian Mind Palace
This is your happy place. The place where your house is perfect and lovely and tranquil. Mine is mostly comprised of Pinterest pins and Houzz ideabook photos. 


It is designer perfect and always smells like freshly baked brownies and sunshine. Go to your Mind Palace when you are on the verge of losing your shit. SO HELP YOU GOD. Retreat to your bathroom, lock the door, enter your mind palace.

7. When all else fails...

Drink.


Friday, October 17, 2014

My Little Brony: A Tale of Heartbreak

Yesterday, the Cluttered Family took our weekly sojourn to Target (yes, weekly. I have a problem, remember?). This was supposed to be a fairly nondescript trip to the store. My list was comprised of things like toothpaste, mac & cheese, underwear for Duckie, and a shower curtain tension rod. Super exciting.


So after picking up the items I needed, Duckie, Little Man, and I made our way to the children's section to pick out new underwear. This is a fairly novel thing for me. Little Man is small for his age and, quite frankly, has only out-grown one set of underwear since he potty trained at 2 years old. Duckie is tall for his age and insists on growing. Since his 2T-3T underwear had turned into low rise plumber pants, I figured maybe, just maaaaaaybe, it was time to get some new ones. He was super amped up about getting to pick his own underwear. This is exciting stuff when you're 3.

As we rolled down the sock & underwear aisle, Duckie yelled "MAMA! STOP!!!! I thee my unners! MY WITTLE PONY UNNERS!!! I want them!!!!"

I stopped the cart, picked up the package of My Little Pony underwear and examined them. As I quickly scanned my brain for the way to navigate this one, Duckie was proclaiming "I WUV them! I WUV My Wittle Ponies." 

Before we go any further, I want the following information noted: I'm pretty gender diverse in my parenting style, opting for mantras like "we like what we like, and that is okay," and "toys/colors are for everyone" as opposed to using the hard and fast delineation "that is for boys/that is for girls." If my boys like something, I roll with it. I'm not trying to make a political statement, I'm just trying to raise kids who feel loved, supported, and confident in their own "okayness."

My trouble with the MLP panties had nothing to do with them being "girl" underwear, but everything to do with fit. Granted, I know that at this age, boys and girls' undergarments are practically the same. I have fond memories of my then two year-old niece CJ (who is also small for her age) running around my mother-in-law's house in a pair of Little Man's hand-me-down Buzz Lightyear underwear, because they were the only underwear my sister-in-law could find that were tiny enough to fit CJ at the time.  But I also know that Duckie likes his underwear fit to be more spacious. In fact, 90% of the time, he has his underwear on backwards so as to provide ample room for his boy bits. So, after mulling it over for a few moments, I broke the news.

"I'm sorry buddy, I don't think the Pony underwear will have enough space for your penis. They are made for girl bodies, and girl and boy privacy parts are different, remember?" 

Duckie's lip turned downward the way it does when his heart is about to break. "But I wuv them."

"I know baby, but I'm afraid they'll be too tight for your penis. If you really want them, we can try,  but I don't know if they will squish your penis or not."

"WHY do they make unners that will squish my penuth? Do they have My Little Pony for boys that won't squish my penuth?" asked Duckie mournfully.

"I don't know. Let's look down here at the underwear made for boy bodies and see if they have My Little Pony underwear with room for your penis."
(I think this is the most I've ever discussed penises in the aisles of Target-- or on this blog, for that matter!).

Unsurprisingly, Target doesn't stock My Little Pony briefs. All Duckie wanted was some underwear that matched with his favorite TV show, as would be the case if his favorite show was Jake & the Neverland Pirates or anything Marvel Superhero. But, it's not. Right now he's obsessed with MLP-- especially Applejack and Rainbow Dash. This is great for me in doling out warnings and consequences ("Please do xyz or you will lose Pony privileges"), but crappy when all a little boy wants are some MLP britches. 

His little heart was broken when he learned there were no MLP underwear for him. He bore the look of devastation all throughout the underwear aisle of Target.

For me, this begs the question, why DON'T they have MLP underwear for the littlest "bronies"? (For the record, I hate the word "brony," but haven't been able to come up with a better term. Suggestions are welcome). A quick search of Amazon for "My Little Pony underwear" produces a host of underwear for little girls, but also MLP boxers for men. If the underwear powers-that-be can make MLP underwear for grown men, why not for my little guy? How difficult could that possibly be? I'm guessing there is a market for them, considering how many little "bronies" there seem to be out there.

C'mon underwear companies. Get it together for my little guy. I can only take so much weeping in Target (and I reserve that for me at check-out)

Sometimes all you need is a little love from Rainbow Dash 

(FYI-- We managed to quell the sadness and repeated asking of "why they don't have My Wittle Pony unners with room for my penuth, mama? Why?" by finding Frozen underwear that did, in fact have room for his "penuth" and then visiting the MLP aisle in the toy section.)

Friday, October 10, 2014

I'm Angry

I don't normally write about celebrity news/gossip. In fact, I don't normally really think much about what celebrities are up to. But there is something I feel compelled to write about and I figured that this is as good a platform as any.

I want to talk about the recent allegations against Stephen Collins. I do not purport to be an expert in the case, not by any stretch of the imagination, but over the course of the last few days a couple things have stuck in my craw regarding the situation. No, I don't want to moan and complain about how "my childhood is ruined" by the recent revelation that Collins allegedly molested several children. I want to talk about two specific things that I find deeply upsetting in this case: the leaked tape and the timeline.

The legal intricacies of covertly recording a private therapy session are not ones that I know or understand. I don't know whether Collins' wife, Faye Grant, was in the right there. I don't really care. If Collins did, in fact, molest those children, I hope that the legal process serves him with swift and due justice. What I find most disturbing is that this tape was leaked to the press, who have then splashed the recording around as a hook to lure people onto their websites and into watching their programming. To me, this is a re-violation of the victims.

What these children have gone through is hell enough. To have the voice of the man who (allegedly) molested them played all over the news and internet, detailing what he did to them is a violation. Regardless of whether or not the names have been redacted from the public recording, these children know who they are and know what happened to them. In my estimation by listening to and sharing and re-sharing the recording, this is the general public contributing to the re-violation of these children and it isn't acceptable. It isn't okay.

I keep thinking of what Jennifer Lawrence recently said in Vanity Fair regarding the posting of her nude photos online: "Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody's mind is to make a profit from it. It's so beyond me."

Make no bones about it, celebrity "news" sites know that this recording, this bit of "gossip" will drive people to their sites, thus boosting their revenue. These kinds of things are their bread and butter. They are profiting from the sex crime that was, allegedly, committed by Collins. I understand that this is a news item. I don't think Collins should be shielded from that because up until a few days ago he was a beloved actor. Rightly so, people should know about this-- especially people whose children interacted with Collins over the years. But, to me, the recording being bandied about as a hook is just too much. I feel for the victims who have to hear it and to know that millions of Americans have now been privy to the details of their molestation. This is not okay. It is not right. This recording should never have been put out for the general public to hear. It should have gone to the hands of the authorities and left at that.

And speaking of the recording getting into the hands of the authorities, we have come to my second problem with this whole situation. The timeline of when this tape was recorded and when it was given to the proper authorities to investigate. I do not know what was Grant's motive for recording their therapy session. I am not even going to begin to speculate on that. What does seem to be apparent is that it was recorded in 2012.

TWO YEARS AGO.

Your husband, with whom you are in therapy as your marriage ends, confesses to molesting children and you record it. Then you sit on it for two years? How? Why?

From my understanding of the situation, Grant went into that therapy session planning to discuss and record Collins' confessions of child molestation. She claims to have known about his behavior prior to this therapy session, which is why her lawyer encouraged her to record the confessions. So, she got what she went in there for. A recorded confession.

Seems to me, that Collins' confession should have been handed over to the police immediately. Not two years later. Not on the eve of their divorce proceedings, but IMMEDIATELY. In the two years that passed between when the alleged confession/recording occurred and when it ended up in the hands of the authorities (and the media), Collins was able to go about his day-to-day life, which included interacting with underage actors/actresses. If Grant KNEW he was a child molester-- not just suspected, but had his confession-- why would she ever give him another 2 years where he had access to other children. Why?

This angers me to no end.

While I cannot imagine the shock and horror of learning that a person you once loved and trusted is a child molester, I'd like to think that it would take me MUCH less than two years to go to the authorities. Not because I am up so high on my moral high horse, but because I would not want another minute to pass where a child molester had access to other children. Especially not one whose career cemented him in the minds of the American public as the quintessential dad.

And that, my friends, is why I’m angry today.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Addiction

Here’s the problem with DIY projects. At first you start with simple things, maybe Pinterest inspired you to make some mod podged coasters out of tiles and scrapbook paper, or-- in the pre-Pinterest days-- TLC’s Trading spaces inspired you to help a friend silver buff the tacky brass frames of her mirrored closet doors. These projects are fairly easy, you get good results and a boost of praise for your DIY genius. In this buy it/hire it out day & age, the fact that you did something for yourself is, for many folks, nothing short of miraculous.

But these small projects are just a gateway drug. They are the first hits of DIY reefer, and before you know it, reefer madness has set in. 

You see, rolling on the high of that first hit of success, you start jonesin’ for more. Eventually, cutesy tile coasters and refinished 80s brass aren't enough. You start looking for the harder stuff. You start trolling the aisles of Home Depot, daydreaming about projects. "I'm just browsing" you tell the Home Depot employees. "Okay," they say, "but you should check out our free clinic on [insert DIY project here]." They know how to get you hooked on the hard stuff. "Just try it one time. It's free. What could it hurt?"

Then you do it. One day you lay your first laminate floor, or hang and mud some drywall, or assemble some kitchen cabinets (or all of the above) and suddenly, you have slid headlong into the DIY abyss. Before you know it, you find yourself floating travertine tile in a chic pattern in your wholly DIYed, halfway renovated bathroom. A project which involved the removal of a wall. Weeks of your life have been consumed by the project. You’ve taken numerous showers with only cheap drop cloths between you and the exposed studs of your shower stall.

When it is finally finished and you have collapsed into a quivering heap of exhaustion, you tell yourself THIS is rock bottom. THIS is as far as I’ll ever go. From this day forth, I swear I am NEVER doing that again. 

And for a while, you mean it. You sober up. “I’m done chasing the DIY dragon” you say, and you try to mean it. You putter around the house, trying to ignore the projects that could be. To soothe the DIY itch, you try taking up some crafty hobbies, like scrapbooking and crochet. You make pies from scratch. You repaint the occasional bedroom, but nothing seems to work. The itch is still there. Then one day, your husband (who never “got clean” and but instead parlayed his DIY addiction into a side business, the pusher) brings you to see a “new” house. A 1950s Cape Cod style house with “loads of potential for a handy family.” You WANT to resist, but you can’t stop seeing the potential. The PROJECTS. The someday glory. You WANT to see it as a rundown building with a thrashed roof, terrifying stucco, and decaying wood shake siding. But you don’t. You are utterly defenseless against the DIY dragon's charms.

“There are original hard wood floors under that laminate” whispers the dragon in a seductive voice. 
You bat it away. “NO. We don’t do that any more. Turnkey houses, only” you say. 
“But, just look at the adorable roof line” it purrs in your ear. “This yard is ENORMOUS. Just think about all the gatherings you could host on your hand built deck.”
Try as you may, you are seduced by the raw potential. Time and finances and sanity be damned, you must have this house.

So, you buy it. You replace the roof. You reclaim the original hardwood floors upstairs (and they are glorious). You rip out chain link fences, you re-landscape your yard, you build a beautiful deck and host a party. People “ooh” and “aah” and marvel at your skills. The dragon sits smugly at the back of your brain, eating up the compliments like Pez.
“What’s next?” they all ask. 

What’s next, indeed.

The yard is lovely. The house is livable. You could do some decorative projects, you tell yourself. Bookshelves could be built…

But the itch remains. You find yourself howling “Why can’t I quit you?” at the dragon. In a final act of desperation, you concede that, yes, a completely DIY addition and renovation on the house is just what the doctor ordered. 

And so begins your descent to DIY rock bottom.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Raising Adults: Packing

Last week, the Cluttered Family went on vacation. The boys went up to Cowboy Grandma & Grandpa's ranch while Diesel and I went to Vegas for our anniversary. Of course, a huge part of going away on a trip is packing. I hate packing. I love travelling, but I hate packing.

A few years ago, I realized that my packing load was more than it needed to be. While Diesel will pull out his clothes, it falls on me to ensure that clothes, toiletries, and other sundry items for our family of 4 (5 if Rockstar is going with us) make it into the suitcase. 

Then I had a major Oprah-style "Ah-ha!" moment. Little Man, at 4 years old, was more than capable of packing his own suitcase. 

I know some of you just had the record needle scratch moment and are thinking "Cluttered Mama, do you mean to tell us that you let a 4 year old pack his own suitcase unsupervised?" 

And the answer is, yes. Sort of. 

I started creating a pictograph checklist for Little Man, which details all the items he needs to bring on any given trip.


As you can see, #1 I'm not an artist. #2 I include the number of boxes equal to the number of each particular item he needs to pack. This makes it easier for him to keep organized. After the first suitcase, I stopped checking his work. And so far, nothing has been forgotten.



Teaching him to be responsible for his suitcase is just one step in my goal of raising my boys to be self-sufficient adults. And the bigger upside? At 3 years old, Duckie is starting to want to pack his own suitcase.
Little Man packed just what he needed.
 Duckie packed a stuffed polar bear, a stuffed parrot, 6 books,
1 t-shirt (belonging to Little Man), 1 bed sheet (also his brother's),
1 pair of pajamas (shirt is his, pants are his brother's),
4 matchbox cars, and a giant pine cone

He doesn't always get it right, but it is the thought that counts!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Life's a Garden, Dig It!

Today I am giving you a photo tour of all the things we’re growing around The Cluttered House. I popped out this morning and shot some photos of our burgeoning suburban farm. Please excuse the mess. Unlike gardens & yards on Pinterest, ours isn’t all that photogenic-- but we love her and she’s come a LONG way, baby!


On our deck:
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Blueberries & Lemon grass

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San Marzano Tomatoes, Purple Cherokee tomatoes, lavender, cilantro, red Russian Kale,  a grape plant, and one hopeful Rockstar (he loves nothing more than to eat produce).

Sadly all of this will have to come out soon because we have to tear out the planter and move the deck in advance of our giant life-eating home renovation and addition (more about that later!)

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Clockwise from the left: Lemon grass, some kind of collard (I think), red Russian kale, Lemonbalm, bolted lettuce. And Rockstar’s head. He’s such an attention hog!


By the tent (our temporary “garage”-- again, because of the renovation):
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We have one grape plant, and then two sets of “growing shelves” for tomatoes. Diesel built them out of recycled materials from around the yard. As soon as our baby plants are big enough, they’ll get moved out here to live.

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Grape close up! (sorry so many of these photos are blown out, my camera has been being wonky). I get so excited to see all these plants growing-- baby produce is ADORABLE!!


The “Orchard” as we affectionately call the back garden:
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These two photos are the yard as viewed from the deck. Pay no attention to the trash can full of weeds and other crap around my yard… (also, my thrifty side wants to point out that both the playhouse and the climber were acquired for FREE… woot!). Our grass is a little worse for wear, what with two boys, a dog, and a drought. Last summer, when it was new, it was quite gorgeous


Orchard up-close:
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Cinderella pumpkin (grown from seeds I exchanged with a friend, hooray for free seeds!!!)

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Howden pumpkin-- a jack-o-lantern pumpkin for the kids!


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Peppers galore! The one on the left is a jalapeno (I think), on the right is a white bell.


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White pepper up close


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Lots of kale and broccoli in front of the wall. Behind the fence from L-to-R: plum tree that produces 3 types of plum, a papaya (non-GMO), tree collard, Valencia orange tree, another tree collard, Black futzu pumpkin, mandarin tree, and some more peppers (we’ll see those up close later!)


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Also in front of the wall is a pole bean (with no pole) and a fairly ragged basil. Organic gardening= difficult pest control, which means our leaves are not always as pretty as I’d like them to be! It also means I kill a lot of stuff with my gloved hands…


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Fresno chile (central valley, represent!), Poblano chile, and Chipotle chile


Another KEY part of our little pseudo-homestead is located in the orchard area:
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This is the dirt pile. My boys spend 90% of their backyard playtime out here digging, making mud, and a whole host of other dirt-y activities. It is their favorite. I highly recommend installing a dirt pile in your yard.


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Onions by the barn


We built a lovely trellis that connects to the top of the barn for our vining plants:
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Right now we have a baby Moon & Stars watermelon (not pictured), a couple spaghetti squash plants, and one cucumber plant that survived the onslaught of predatory insects as a baby plant. Also, we have flax growing here too…


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Ants in a cucumber flower. Ants are my mortal enemy. Ants, aphids, caterpillars, and keeled treehopers. They are all bastards and I will kill them when given the chance (seriously, if you know a good, organic, non-ecosystem disrupting method of getting rid of any of the aforementioned jerks, I’m all ears… )

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Baby cuke. It is so cute I want to die!


Okay, now we are going to head over to the actual garden. Full disclosure, when I designed this space in my head, it was going to be a sweet, productive, Pinterest-worthy garden. The kind that has a whimsical water feature and a bistro table situated amongst the cool, tranquil greenery. Where I could retreat each morning to sip my coffee and gather my thoughts before heading inside to fix my children their homemade and ever-so nutritious breakfast, which they, naturally, gobble up with no complaint and with chorusing “thank yous” before scampering off to do their morning responsibilities without being reminded.



Needless to say, my once blank slate:
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looks nothing like I envisioned.


You see, several months after we built our cute little garden and had stuff growing, Diesel approached me with the idea of starting a “small” hydroponic garden. I agreed, excited that he was so interested in growing stuff, and assumed that he’d be building something small and Pinterest-worthy.


Diesel doesn’t understand the importance of Pinterest-worthiness. I should’ve also asked him to clarify what “small” meant. Over the last few months, the hydroponic garden grew into an aquaponic garden-- complete with fish we can eventually eat. It is cool, it impresses people, but… um… it ain’t pretty. Nor is the disaster area that we call “the garden.”


So, without further ado…
The Garden:
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The “small” aqua structure… Diesel is quick to point out that it has water AND fish, thus making it a water feature. We grow most of our greens here. Lots of chard and lettuce and kale and broccoli and what not. Please don’t ask me how this works. I don’t know. basically fish poop and pee and it feeds the plants… or something. The gutter on the second level is where our seedlings live right before we put them out in the big yard. 

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Our growbed- it is just like any other raised bed, only instead of dirt it has water and some kind of media.

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Strawberry & pepper tubes attached to the front fence; they are also part of the aquaponic system.


The garden boxes have become a jungle. I just really need to get in there and prune.
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It’s a fennel jungle in there…

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Also, since I’m being all honest, warts and all… Here is how the main walkway looks:
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Soothing. Calming. Tranquil. Doesn’t it just make you want to sit in here and sip some coffee?


Yeah… me either! (Good news? People are coming to see our garden this weekend, so we have to clean it up!! Hopefully I’ll have some “after” photos for you!)


OH and last but not least I want to show you  the old lemon tree which was on the property when we moved in. Sadly, it is in the way of where our addition will go, so we may lose it. The lemon tree has made a “friend” too-- a random passionfruit vine has taken up residence amongst the lemon tree’s limbs. No idea how that happened!
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So that’s it, folks! You have seen my “farm.” Questions? Comments? Let me know!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tomato Paste

Our tomato plants, which until recently have been neglected, have started producing like crazy. Last week I picked about 6 lbs of tomatoes from our various plants. On Saturday I picked another pound and began the process of making my first every batch of tomato paste.


I roasted them  in the oven for about an hour. Then I pulled them out and lightly pureed with my immersion blender, and then began the tedious job of pressing them through a sieve to separate out the peels and seeds.


Yeah. I really need a food mill. This part SUCKED.

Then I spent a gajillion hours reducing my paste. Until eventually it was Sunday morning and I had about 16 ounces of tomato paste to can up.

That is right folks... 5 lbs of tomatoes + hours of work = 16 ounces of paste.
I have FOUR of these 4 ounce beauties now...

But, it was worth it. And I was only 2 hours late for a party.