Thursday, September 25, 2014

DIY Bathroom-Tub Surround


Ew!  Right?!


Our upstairs bathroom used to be pretty gross, so we decided to do something about it. Under the current circumstances, we couldn't afford to hire anyone to redo our bathroom, so my boyfriend decided to just do it himself.  I helped him pick out the tiles, and we discussed the design and decided on that together, but he did all of the work himself.  This whole project was his idea.  I'm not one of those women who needs a "Honey Do" list.  It's great!


The first thing he had to do was rip everything out.  Believe me--we were happy to see it all go!  There was a good amount of mildew behind the tiles, but once the wall board came out, damage to the studs was minimal, and the cinderblock was clean. He has replaced what the previous builders (whoever they were!) used with proper tile backing board (cement board, Hardie Backer, tileback, etc.) What was there before was green board, which is not as mildew and moisture resistant. He also added a sealer on top of that (Red Gard, I think it's called.) That should help a lot toward keeping down mildew in our tiny, poorly ventilated bathroom!

I'm currently sorting through the old tiles to see what's salvageable and getting them ready to give away or donate.  There are a lot of them!  So far, I've had them up on Craig's List and on my local Freecycle list, but no takers yet.  If we don't manage to give them away, we'll call around to some of the local salvage shops and see if they will take them.  We will do anything we can not to throw any of the good ones out! Most of them came out very clean.

Since we went from two faucet handles to one, we had to hire a plumber to come in and do the background work for that. We had a relative come and look at it first, but our setup is a little complicated, so he deferred to the plumber.  That job was done within just a couple of hours and for not too high a cost.  We'll be able to install the hardware now with no problem.

That same relative also lent my boyfriend his wet saw, which really sped the job up and made it much easier.  This whole thing has taken about two or three weeks. (Remember:  It's just been him working on it!)  There's not enough space in that bathroom for him to have had a helper, whether it was me or someone else, so I focused on trying to keep the rest of the house humming while he did this heavy work.

Being without a shower for more than a few days is not an ideal situation to be in, but we have managed.  We have a number of friends and family members who have allowed us to visit and use their facilities.  We probably won't be able to use the shower and tub for about another week, but we'll be fine.

Now, the surround is nearly done, and  it's coming along pretty nicely.  All that's left is one more layer of grout, grout sealant, and putting in the hardware after the sealant dries.  The next thing we will need to do is paint the tub. We couldn't afford to have it ripped out and replaced, so we will fix it up and make it do.


As he worked, he made two spontaneous design decisions that were really neat:  He went through some of the tile we have stored away (found and from earlier projects) and found one that was a slightly different color and texture.  He put that smack in the middle of the wall, and it looks really neat! The other element that blew me away was that when he ripped out the wall opposite the faucet, he decided to put in a recessed shelf!  That will be very handy, and it looks wonderful.

DIY is sometimes messy, and it takes a little longer to get the job done and see the results, but in the end, the rewards are many!  The best part, for me, is having control over the whole process:  Sourcing materials, handling and disposing of materials, and changing course midway without a lot of extra expense (though thankfully, we have not done that with any of our projects yet.)  I estimate that we have saved ourselves at least $5,000 by redoing our two bathrooms without outside help.  That's a gigantic reward!

Since we are not finished yet, I don't have the final "after" photos, but I will post them once we are all finished!  :)

All of this said, DIY is not for everyone. In my case, I don't have the time or the physical strength to do most of these projects on my own, though I'm always happy to help out where I can.  Some people are not good with design or project planning.  Others are good with some materials, but not others, and finally, some people just don't want to DIY, and that's all fine.  The key is to know your goals and know your limits.

I think our next project is probably going to be to replace our front door.  It dearly needs it!  We tried going the "using a pro" route a couple of years ago, and that was a fiasco, so we are going to install a new door ourselves.  Fortunately, the frame is fine, so all we need to do is replace the door itself and add a storm door, if we decide to go that route.  We really need to do this before Winter sets in, but I'm doubtful we will be able to.

Stay tuned and see what happens!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Vegan Dilemma: Shoes



Being a vegan is not always easy, and it is a multidimensional kind of existence.  It does not stop with food choices.  As a vegan, I have to not only make food choices that are ethical, but I have to take the same sets of issues into account with every choice and with every purchase.  It is a 24/7 process. I don't get a vacation from being an ethical vegan.

Aside from the fact that I have cats, another area that challenges me greatly is shoes.  Now, I am a woman, and like many women, I love shoes, but for me, buying shoes is a real ordeal. I was not gifted with normal feet.  My feet are extremely narrow--so narrow that I have to buy from specialized retailers or settle (often) for secondhand leather.

Secondhand leather is a source of controversy among vegans.  Here are some links. Now, for vegans with perfect feet, it's true that alternatives to leather exist; however, if you are me and do not have perfect feet, there are not.  You see, a few months ago, I spent literally hours on the Internet, looking for both vegan and "non leather" shoes in narrow sizes.  I did different key word searches.  I emailed back and forth with a few dealers, and I even measured my feet more than once, all of which brought me to the same conclusion:  There are virtually no affordable, vegan shoes for people with very narrow feet like mine.

There are retailers who specialize in shoes in narrow sizes; however, you pay for those shoes.  Even when I can find them in non-leather (and I will allow that there are a good number of non-leather shoes sold by these companies), they are very expensive.  $50 +/pair expensive.  I can't afford that, especially now that my income has been reduced.

Where this leaves me, since most offices won't allow you to come to work in bare feet or in your slippers, is with thrift stores.  I have to say that, over the course of my adult life, thrift stores have been very good to me.  The way I shop for shoes is I first decide what, exactly I need and in what color(s).  I then look for those in sizes that fit me.  By "fit me", in most cases, I mean fit me exactly.  I can fudge on sneakers and boots, but not on work shoes and sandals, with which I will either be wearing stockings or nothing at all.  (With sneakers and boots, I can fudge, because I typically wear them with socks.)  My results have been mixed, and about 50% or more of the time, I come away with secondhand leather shoes.

At least, at the end of the day, I know that I've gone into it with some thought and have done the best I can.  I'd love to just have normal feet, but that's not the Universe made me, so I work with what I have.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Brick Dust: Juicing, Garden Update, Life Update, Links of Interest



"Brick Dust" is a new category I'm trying out for those times when I don't have a lot to say about any one thing, but I have a few topics I'd like to touch on.  You'll find a variety of topics within each post and several links.  I hope you enjoy this new category!

***

In an effort to improve my diet beyond simply being vegan, I'm trying to incorporate more raw foods and more raw nutrients.  A big part of this has been juicing.  The juicer in the photo is a vintage Waring juicer (I'm not sure of the model.)  This thing is amazing!  I remember my dad using it 20 or more years ago, under doctors' orders.  It still works perfectly, and my partner and I are loving it!  At first, we used it every day, but we've tapered that back, mainly due to time and budget constraints.  (You have to keep a lot of fresh produce and herbs on hand in order to juice consistently, and we only stock up about once every week and a half.)

Through experimentation, I've discovered quite a few combinations that I love and that are very healthy.  I have not started to add any of the grasses (wheat, barley, etc.) to my regimen yet, but I'll get around to it eventually. My favorite bases are kale, carrot, and orange.  What I add depends solely on my mood and one what my body tells me it wants.

One key thing I noticed in the beginning is that, on days when I have juice for breakfast, my energy stays strong and consistent, and I don't tend to feel the need to consume caffeine.  (I've mostly cut caffeine out, but I'm not that young any more, and when I have something happening, say in the evening after work, or when I just have a long, busy day ahead of me, I'll add a shot to my decaf.)

None of the items in the photo are from our garden, as that photo was taken a couple of months ago; however, now that our garden is up and going (somewhat--more on that later), I'm using our own kale and carrots when I can.

***

Old garden photo.

Speaking of our garden, it's been a weird, weird year.  Weirder than last year. Our weather in MD has been more erratic than I can ever remember it having been (and that's saying a lot), and many of our plants are struggling.  A few didn't work out at all.  

We had to give up on peppers for this year, for one thing.  Something else bolted, and we are just now seeing our first tomato.  (Yes, I said "tomato", as in one.)  The beets are small, and the kohlrabi is...hesitant.

Our kale, sage, and carrots are thriving, so at least there is that.  

My boyfriend decided to try something different this year, in that instead of clearing the yard, he is allowing ground cover to remain.  The idea is that these plants hold in moisture and keep weeds down.  I do not think these plants are interfering with our garden.  I believe it is solely climate.

I give thanks for what we do have, and hopefully next year will be better.

*** 

I'm happy to report that my mom continues to recover from her surgery. She is currently in sub acute rehab receiving several therapies, which we hope will return her to independence.  Meanwhile, I am still taking care of her house and her cat.  I would just bring the cat to my house if I could, but with our clowder, it's just not possible.  Plus, this cat hates other cats.  Besides that, my mom wants me to go to the house once a week, anyway.

As for my working situation, I am still working the same part time job, and there is talk of permanency. I won't know for sure for a while, but I have received pretty extensive training.  In addition, I'm starting to realize my dream of building a career out of freelance work combined with part time corporate work.  I have picked up my very first virtual assisting client, and that is going well right now.  If all goes well, I won't need another full time, corporate job.  I've come to enjoy the flexibility that I have right now, and in time I hope to be able to fit domestic and artistic pursuits back in.  As Mom heals, that should fall into place.

***

Links of Interest:

-I have recently started drinking kombucha.  It's an acquired taste, but it is very healthy.  It's a bit like drinking carbonated vinegar, but I've found that the varieties flavored with berries are pretty good, and I like a particular brand, which comes with raw chia seeds in it. All I will say is that, when I brought some with me for dinner at a friend's house, my boyfriend and my friends all said, "It's all yours!"

-Humane meat is a hoax. I have always believed this, but I feel this article lays out the issue very well. I hope that people will read this with an open mind, and who knows?  Maybe some minds will be changed.

***

Well, that's all I have this time.  We are on vacation this week.  Hopefully, I'll have more updates for you soon.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ready to Get a Little Personal


I have commented once or twice in the lifetime of this blog that I try to avoid getting too personal on my public blogs.  Well, I think I'm ready to, mainly because it will explain the sporadic nature of my postings here.  Truth is, I love this and my other blogs, and I feel terrible when I can't share my photos, tips, and insights with my wonderful  readers!

Despite the fact that I lost my full time job back in December of 2013 and still have not gotten back to work full time, I find that I don't often have a lot of time or energy to sit down at the computer.  Creating blog posts--regardless of the content--takes more time and concentration than people think.  I don't have a lot of either.  The good news is that, recently, I have started temping part time.  I'm going to continue to try and work just part time for a while--at least the next three months or so.  I both prefer it personally, and I am in need of more flexibility due to some family issues.  As long as I get enough hours and the rate of pay is high enough, part time work is adequate.

My life's journey (and indeed those of my other family members!) has taken a rather serious turn, starting last summer.  Last summer, my dad passed away.  My time since then has been spent helping my mom adjust to her new life.  It has gone pretty smoothly until recently, when she started to have some serious health issues of her own.  I was at my mom's home the whole month of February and for a few weeks from March into April.  That was hard, as I was managing the Little Stone House from a distance.  My partner is a real trooper, though, and he kept things running and took care of our cats.

Currently, my mom is recovering from a very serious surgical procedure.  Prior to that (it took place on Wednesday), she had been living with my sister back in my home county.  I have been managing Mom's house, as well as my own.  Once a week, my partner and I go to my mom's and stay overnight.  Her dogs are with a pet sitter, but we opted to leave her cat at home.  Mom has told me she would want me to go to the house once a week anyway, so after deliberating with the pet sitter (she thinks being at home is better for the cat), we spend time with the cat and refresh her food and water.  It's working out OK so far.  The cat is fine.  I would know pretty quickly if that changed.

As for Mom, her recovery will be long.  She will continue to live with my sister until we, Mom, and her doctors determine that she can return to her home.  I have my own feelings about this, but the bottom line is that, if she can't return to her home, we will deal with that as a family.  For now, we are all being just as positive as we can be, and Mom is very strong.

Through all of this, my job search and my volunteer activities continue.  My volunteer job is sporadic, which makes it easier to fit it in, and the project will end in September.   If the sequence of events with my family had been different, I may not have taken it on at all, but I'm glad that I did.  It has been fun, it has been enriching, and it will look good on my resume.  I have even applied for some temporary, paid work with the organization!

Finally, my little adoptee has come back to us, I'm sorry to say.  :(  The couple did adopt her, and they had her for a month.  They tried really hard to make things work, but they just could not.  Marbles has a very strong personality, and she bullied their other cat very badly.  She traumatized her, I'm sorry to say.  After a lot of back and forth and trying different things, I agreed to take Marbles back, so now our household is back to seven kitties.  The timing is not good, considering my financial situation, but we are making it work.  My partner is in contact with the person who adopted him his cat, and I have fliers I can hang.  We will try one more time to adopt her out, but if that doesn't stick, she will become a permanent Little Stone House Kitty.  I want her to have a good life, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed!  She does OK with our other cats, but she's definitely got a lot of energy and is pretty territorial, so she probably will be best off as an only cat.

As you can see, I am dealing with a lot.  I'm also learning a lot, though, which is what's important, and I'm not losing heart.  Life is hard right now, but it is also rewarding in many, many ways, and I'm still counting my blessings.

Peace.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Frugal Project: Cat Toy Repair -and- A Quick Update


Spring is coming, finally!  It's been a crazy, long Winter, and now that the weather's warming up, I'm sincerely hoping that Mother Nature has made up her mind.  With Spring on its way in and the shock of my job loss behind me, I'm starting to feel a bit more alive, myself.

For me, part of waking to Spring is getting old projects wrapped up.  The first of these was to repair yet another cat item.  The toy is a mat, called a Boogie Mat (TM).  It's a bag with a zipper and an insert.  The insert makes it soft, and you put catnip inside the bag.  Some time back, the zipper stopped working, and the original liner got ruined.  Since I'm frugal and green, and my cat, Sam loves this toy, I decided I'd go ahead and fix it.  

The fabric itself was fine and barely even faded, and I make harvesting buttons, fasteners, etc. from old clothing a habit, I had a zipper on hand I could use.  The liner is from my fabric stash. Polar fleece was the perfect thing to use for this.  I simply measured out a rectangle about an inch shorter than the toy and twice as wide (minus about an inch, so it would fit inside.)  I folded the fabric in half and sewed it to make a nice, cushy mat.  I sewed in the new zipper, and voila!  The cats were quite pleased when I finished it up and brought it back downstairs last night!  (Part of the reason is that, when I pull out the canister to refresh the catnip toys, that means everyone gets a little!)

***

Surprise carrots!

We had a nice surprise yesterday.  My boyfriend came into the kitchen and shoved this beautiful bunch into my face!  It actually took me a second to realize what he was showing me:  Surprise carrots!  Turns out these beauties made it through all of the snow and cold that we had this  year in the DC area!  Most of them are smaller than normal, but even those are plenty big enough!  This little blessing could not have come at a better time!

These will be used for snacking and juicing and will probably last us 2-3 weeks.  Happy Spring, indeed!

***

The beds are in!

We've finally been home enough and the weather has been warm enough to get our beds in for the year!  For a couple of days, it has smelled like we live on a farm, but I just remind myself that it's for a good cause and keep the downstairs windows closed.

Everything is in but the peppers and tomatoes, which have been started inside.  I think it's still too cold for them at night.  The greens, carrots, and kohlrabi were planted today.  My stone (which you can see in this photo) was moved to the corner to make things flow a little better.  It will be easier to get to the plants and to the clothesline without having to step around it.

I'm really hoping for a good growing season, due to our current circumstances!

We've also changed how we compost.  Before, we were using 5 gallon buckets, which we had hidden away (from the HOA) behind our HVAC unit.  My boyfriend used up all of that for this year's garden, and instead, we're using a more open compost bin.  It's more visible to the HOA, but they'll tell us to get rid of it, and we will...for a week or two...then we'll put it back.  It comes apart easily.  We like this setup better, because it's more open.  Air circulates through better, and we can access it more readily.  More fibrous pieces can act as mulch, while the rest simmers.

That's about all I have for you now.  I hope you'll check back often!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Times are Tough







The photo accompanying this post is not meant to make any kind of political statement.  I simply feel it is appropriate for illustrating the content of this post.

Times are getting tough at the Little Stone House. You see, back in December, I lost my full time job.  I have some severance, but that will run out in mid April.  My insurance will end at the end of April.  I will go on unemployment.  I am hoping to start picking up work, but it's tough out there!

My boyfriend and I are preparing the best we can. Luckily, he still has an income, so he'll be able to help out with the bills; however, things will be tight.

We can make some small cuts, and having our little garden will help.  Our tendency to thrift, recycle, and barter will also help to some extent.  I will be putting any found money (unexpected windfalls, tax refunds, etc.) that I can into savings to try and keep my cushion going (It's not a large one. Hopefully I can grow it.)

Even though the job market is really tough right now, for some reason, I am not terribly worried.  I'm simply doing the best I can.  I am hoping to piece together a living from temp work, freelance work, and selling stuff.  I need flexibility in my life right now, due to some health issues in my family, and I feel that, as long as I have a little more than enough to cover the mortgage and bills, I will be OK.  I am not as frightened by my job loss as I would have been in earlier years.

I am volunteering, taking some time to care for myself, and trying to pursue some creative projects.

I really think it will be OK...

Photo Credit:  source unkown

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Update: Outside Kitty--OR--My First Adoption

This is the outside kitty from my last post.

It turns out that, in my last post, I was wrong about a couple of things.  I was wrong, for example, about the fact that outside kitty was reverting to feral.  She's very tame, in fact, and I don't think she actually wanted to be outside.  The photo above was taken during the last cold snap we had here in MD, about 2 weeks ago.  This cat was in our yard, hunkered down in that makeshift bed we'd put out, all afternoon.  She did not leave once.  In fact, she cried the whole time she was hunkered down in that bed.

We went out to run some errands, and my boyfriend and I discussed it and decided, together, that if she was still around when we got home that evening, she'd be coming inside.  Well, she was, and she did.  When we got home, she was hunkered down on our stoop in the yard, visibly shivering.  It was clear she did not have a place to go, after all.

By this time, we'd been feeding her for at least a month, so my boyfriend had given her a name:  Marbles.  She's a tuxedo, but the pattern on her back is broken, making her look, to him, like marble.  (I had been calling her "Pepper" in my head, but did not want to name her for reasons stated in my last post.)

We were able to make a room for her in our downstairs bathroom, and we brought her makeshift bed in with her, to make her feel at home.   We took her to the vet, had her checked out, and put out the word that we had found a cat.  We even went next door to try to talk to them, but they never answer their door!
  
  Marbles, awaiting adoption.

When we realized we would not make any headway, we put out the word that we were going to put her up for adoption.  Now, a couple of weeks later, still no word from anyone in the neighborhood.  No knocks on the door, no response to my email to a neighborhood list, no one answering next door, no LOST CAT signs. I've been conflicted about this, but my boyfriend pointed out that if the owners really cared, we would have heard something (or seen a sign or something) by now.

We had a couple come forward right away wanting to adopt her--a friend of a friend and his wife--so they came to meet her last weekend.  We will take her to be spayed in a week or so, and a week or two later (depending on what the vet says), they will take her home.

We have set and adoption fee, but it's not about making money.  In fact, I don't expect to recoup anywhere near all of my costs.  Asking for a fee is about weeding out the bad element (people who look for animals for fighting bait or sell them to labs or are just sick and do awful things to animals) and about making sure the adopters are serious and committed to the animal for the life of the animal and that they will take proper care of the animal.  It's not about snobbery, contrary to what some people may think. It's about the safety and welfare of the animal.

This is my first adoption ever.  My five remaining cats came with me from an old relationship.  My ex and I thought we'd be rescuers, but I learned pretty quickly that he was not able to let go.  (I have thought back over this, and I now know that I did not have this problem. I would have been OK with adopting them out.)  At my peak, I had ten cats.  I have kept them all, and my numbers have come down naturally.  I do not plan to get to that level again.  

Anyhow, back to my point:  This is the first time I have ever tried to adopt out an animal.  I have questioned myself every step of the way:  Is this the right thing to do?  Is it OK to ask for money?  How long do I keep the animal?  How do I know for sure the adotper will be a good one.  The truth is that, as an individual doing adoptions, you can't know for sure.  You can't control every part of the equation.  What you can control, you do your best at.  It's very important to listen to your intuition, as well.  If anything feels off about an adopter, even if they are prepared to pay the fee and seem to know animals well, etc, you listen to that intuition, and you move on.  Also, while the animal is in your possession, you treat him/her as your own.  You integrate them with your pets. You feed them the way they need to be fed.  You take them to the vet if they need it.  You love them and spoil them and train them just like your own.  ...Because that animal is yours until you find a home.

At this point, we are integrating Marbles.  She comes out in the house during the day when we are around to supervise.  When we won't be around and at night, she goes back in "her room."  In another week or so (pending her surgery), she will probably be out all the time in the house.  She and most of my cats are ignoring one another.  A couple aren't happy with one another, but they will work it out.

...And I know I will cry when she goes to her new home, but I will know that it's the right thing.