Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Brick Dust: Winter Update

First snow of 2015

Just some bits and scraps from the past few months.  Life has definitely not been boring for us at the Little Stone House!

-Ultimately, our garden did not fare all that well this year.  As I've said many times, I attribute it to the weather.  That said, my partner has decided that we will not continue to grow tomatoes at our current location. The yield was down in 2013 and absolutely abysmal in 2014.  We ultimately harvested less than a dozen of them.  He thinks it's because our yard does not get enough direct sunlight.  We only have it for half or less of the day.  If it hadn't been for the fantastic yield we had back in 2011 or 2012, I'd agree with him. I still say it's due to the weather we've had.  In any case, that patch will be used for something else.  Since our yard is so small, we'll stick to foods we know we will eat. Greens and root veggies do well for us, as do some herbs. He's looking at laying some brick pathways through the yard this Spring, as well.

-I'm still working part time and still as a temporary employee, but I'm happy.  I don't know when a decision will be made regarding my status, but I do know that I'm doing well in my current position and that they want to hire me.  This makes me happy. If hired, I intend to stay part time, though. Between my recent refinance and our frugal ways, we are making this work.  We splurged a little over the Holidays, but we had extra money with which to do so.

-I'm learning a lot about elder care and about coordinating doctors' appointments for someone with a complicated medical situation. My mom is still at the sub-acute rehab, and we don't know yet when she will be discharged or what the plan is for afterward.  I know she wants to return to her home, but we don't know for sure if that will happen.  We just have to wait and see.  in the meantime, I am managing her home, keeping up with repairs and maintenance, and looking after her cat.  (She is at the house, and we set her up for a week at a time.  I'll do another post on that kind of thing later.)  Her two dogs are with a sitter.  We have not been able to visit them yet, but I understand they are doing well.  I'm hoping to do more than just an overnight visit to the house, so that we can go see them soon.  It's pricey, but the sitter gives my mom a discount, which helps. Despite all of the amazing technology at hand, I'm finding that with a complicated situation like this, a good, paper planner is still my best friend!  I have one with a pocket, which I carry with me everywhere.  Important reminders still get programmed into my phone, but being able to look at things on paper really, really helps me to map out my plans for whatever projects come along.

-We are ramping up the raw.  Well, my partner is, for sure! He announced yesterday that he is doing a totally raw month in January!  I was not prepared, so he did not pick me up any regular food--except for the couple of items I asked for. After looking around the pantry and fridge, though, I realize I may be able to get by without spending much this month. I may go to the store once or twice, but I have plenty of dried beans, leftovers, and canned foods.  Plus, I will be sharing in most of his suppers.  As for me, I'm going to wait until Summer, but I am doing my twice-a-year raw cleanse this month, starting this Sunday.  Our eating habits really backslid during the Holidays (don't everyone's?) so I'm ready to cleanse and move on.

That's all I have for now.  I have some ideas for more in-depth posts.  Hopefully, I can get some of them up soon.  My previous post was one I'd had waiting for a while.

Stay warm!  Stay safe!

Photo credit:  (c) 2015 Jennifer L Moore. Do not duplicate.

A Surprising Color Choice



Once upon a time, in a relationship far, far away, I had a room in my home that was painted black.  When my ex first suggested it, I worried.  It's not that I have any issue with the color, black.  Indeed, I love black!  I wear and use it frequently (but not at the Little Stone House. It wouldn't fit with our current design.)

Rather, I worried that the room would look dingy and dirty--that dirt would show up too much.  I worried that the room would feel too small.  (We used it in a large room, which was a smart move.)  I worried, also about its effect on both our moods and on any visitors we had.

Still, us both being artists, another part of me thought it was a really cool idea, so we went ahead with it, and you know what? It was really, really cool!  The art we hung on the walls really popped.  The room did not seem smaller at all, despite the fact that it did not get a lot of direct sunlight.  In fact, it gave the room a very pleasant, calming feel.  It became our "cave".  (It was the master bedroom.) 

I felt like a queen whenever I spent time in that room, and I slept deeply.

What I would say from my own experience with using the color, black, in my home is to use it wisely.  Make sure the room gets outdoor light, because without some light coming in from outside, it can feel oppressive and depressing.  Use it in larger rooms.  Furnishings should coordinate, if not completely match, because a black room can feel messy or weird without something to give it cohesion.  Even using art pieces that complement one another will help.

Where we are now, and possibly in the next house, I don't see us using black, but it was fun to have a black room.  It certainly led to a lot of interesting conversations, but it also inspired a lot of writing and art on my and my ex's part.  If you feel like you have a home that could accommodate black, go for it!

Photo credit:  / 123RF Stock Photo 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Raw Stuffed Peppers

 Raw stuffed peppers

I made these just last week, and I have to say that, although my boyfriend and I originally wrinkled our brows at the recipe, these tasted very, very good.  I also learned that the recipes in the book I chose to use mostly only serve one person.  (Well, that or we're not used to the portions recommended yet.)  Next time, I will double the recipe.

The recipe is very simple.  In fact, I'm finding that most raw recipes are pretty simple.  The base is sunflower seeds, celery, herbs and spices, and flax meal (I didn't have any, so I just used flax seeds and ground them the best I could with a mortar and pestle.)  Oh--and lime juice.  We don't have a food processor yet, so I blended the filling in a blender.  The idea was not to liquefy it, but to make it "lumpy", like a regular stuffed pepper stuffing would be.

When using any nuts or seeds as a base in a raw recipe, they must be soaked (how long depends on the nut or seed used.  The sunflower seeds soaked for about eight hours) first, so that they are soft enough to process.  Pulling the ingredients together and chopping them (pre-processing) and preparing them can be time consuming, but actually putting the dish together took less than half an hour.

This particular filling was very reminiscent of tuna salad, of all things, so if I ever decide I want a vegan version of that, I have a good place to start!  (Not likely, as tuna was not my favorite, even back when I was eating meat.)

This process was a lot easier than I thought it would be, and the result tasted much better.  I used to think that "eating raw" just meant fruits/veggies, but now I get it. Maybe it's because I'm easily bored or because I consider myself a foodie, but I get raw "cuisine" now.  Fun!   

Monday, October 13, 2014

Brick Dust: Raw Foods, Garden Update, House Stuff

Radishes of garden past

 Our raw foods journey continues.  This week, I will be trying out my very first raw recipe:  Stuffed peppers!  Admittedly, raw "cuisine" will take some getting used to, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.  At the very least, I'm looking forward to trying something new.  Nothing I've seen so far looks difficult--just different.  A lot of raw recipes call for the use of a blender or food processor, and for raw "pasta", a spiral cutter is recommended.  (Alternatively, you can shred the pasta veggies, which is the route we will go.)  I can already see that I will be making modifications to most of the recipes I try, but that's why I enjoy cooking so much:  For the opportunity to be creative.

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"New" bathroom
Our "new" bathroom is mostly finished and is fully functional!  It has been for at least a week now.  I realize that I have promised true "after" pictures, but not supplied them.  I will get those up over the next few days.  I have been distracted with other things lately.  
The result is very nice!  The bathtub/shower seems larger, and the colors of the tile we chose work very well with the rest of the bathroom.  We are using different strategies to keep the bathroom dry after use, and so far, they seem to be working.  For one thing, we got rid of our heavy, cloth shower curtain and now use only the liner.  We felt that the cloth curtain was actually holding moisture in.  We also do not use the shower bar to dry laundry as much.  A few pieces here and there, sure, but we no longer hang a whole, small load.  When we do use it for drying, we keep the fan on.  We have a laundry rack and are making heavier use of that. That's what it's for, after all!
The only thing left to do is to sand and repaint a couple of patches on the ceiling.  Not a big deal.  It's just nice to have my bathroom back!
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Tomatoes and collards

 
Our garden has been an absolute haven for greens this year!  The collards and kale have exploded!  We've been giving the stuff away, we have so much.  The tomatoes, however, were both late and sparse.  The ones we've gotten have tasted very good, but not as good as past crops.  As I've said before, I blame the strange weather patterns we've had this year.  It could also be our soil or the placement of our plants, because I've had other people say that their tomatoes have done well. 
We've used the same bed two or three seasons in a row, and I think that may be part of the issue.  I try to emphasize crop rotation with my BF, even in our tiny yard, but he's the one who makes the garden schema each year.  If we had a bigger yard, I've even insist on leaving one bed fallow each season, but I only have so much say.

We did not have peppers of any kind this year.  He started them indoors, as always, but they just did not thrive once we put them outside.  Due to space constraints, we grow our peppers in pots.  I'm not sure what he's going to do next year about peppers.  Our parsley and cilantro have done well, and the sage, as always, dominates.  Nothing fazes that plant!

The carrots and beets have done OK, too, but they are taking their time.  The kohlrabi is finally really coming in, too.  Unfortunately, we are not saving as much off our grocery bill as I would like, but again--everything seems to have been coming in more slowly this year.  I have a feeling that our late Fall/Winter will be a different story, though!

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I am attempting to refinance the Little Stone House!  So far, so good, but there is one outstanding document, and my property management company is not cooperating.  My loan processor is trying to help facilitate the process, but if they don't come through for me, I will lose out on the chance to close on this loan!  I'm hoping it won't come to that!  I'll keep you all posted.
This refi would save me about $280/month, which would really help, considering my current financial situation!

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I don't have any links of interest this time.  I don't have a lot of time to surf the 'net these days. You are always welcome to browse my Links List--to the right of my blog.  When I come across something interesting, I'll be sure to share it!

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!