Thursday, March 15, 2018

Time to be back in the yard.

Typical March here - one day there are flurries and the clover in the front yard wears little caps of snow.
And the next day it's warm and I get a chance to check what's in bloom. These hellebores are always the first to arrive and have been blooming since January. I also have daffodils and tulips out now.
If we get a nice day on the weekend, my husband and I try to get out for a walk.  A week or so ago, we walked along the greenway trail by the river. This groundhog was puttering around in the undergrowth and I gave him some grief about he and his kinfolk not predicting an early spring. Because let's face it - I was raised mostly in the South and I'm spoiled when it comes to weather. I want warm, sunny days, dammit. When I don't get them, I tend to huddle in a blanket and grumble.
Fortunately for me, we have had several days where I've been able to indulge in my gardening love. I cut back a lot of the old dead parts of plants to make room for new growth and pulled roughly seventeen bazillion weeds from the yard. If it's nice enough to be outside, I'm much more likely to be there than here in front of a computer!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

February No-Shop Summary

Two months in, and green for every day we didn't buy any discretionary items. And because I'm a chart-maker, I also have this:

 February       Year to Date      Category                              
      $0                       $0                   Clothing                                                   
      $0                       $0                   Shoes                             
      $0                       $0                   Accessories                                       
      $0                       $0                   Cosmetics         
      $0                       $0                   Kitchen items                 
      $0                       $0                   Gadgets/electronics 
      $0                       $0                   Furnishings
      $0                       $0                   Books 
      $0                       $0                   Shrubs/trees
      $0                       $0                   Non-necessary household goods 

I have to tell you, there is something immensely satisfying about not buying things. Although we didn't specifically ban restaurant spending, we have cut back on that as well. We got take-out sushi once this month, and that's it. Even my grocery shopping has changed. I went today and didn't get anything not on my grocery list. I think it's just because a side-effect of not buying things I don't need is that it makes me more mindful of spending in general.
          (photo cropped by request to preserve the privacy of the kids)
Still, we sure aren't missing it. My older son is home from Optometry school because it's his spring break and last night he, my younger son and his partner all came over for dinner. I made a vegetarian lasagna with zucchini, spinach, onions, leeks, and peppers, made a salad with greens, cucumber, dried fruit, almonds and pumpkin seeds, and baked a loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread that morning. When I am surrounded by people I love and have good food on the table, I am keenly aware that I am pretty damned rich.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Way-overdue post of kitchen remodel.

Back when I first bought this old house, I did some mostly minor fixing up (painting, changing ceiling fans, and so on) and posted before and after shots of each room as I went. But the kitchen took so long that posting about it got away from me. So here, just for my own records, is the remodel project.
The house had its post-war era original kitchen, circa 1945. The first two photos are from when the house was for sale. I liked it, but wasn't wild about the dark red walls, formica counters, and parquet flooring. Or that it lacked a dishwasher - a fact I somehow overlooked when I bought it. (Also - note the framed Audrey Hepburn picture. I like Audrey Hepburn as much as the next person, but it seemed like an odd choice for a kitchen decoration to me.) I went all out on my kitchen remodel in my last home and didn't come close to recouping the money when I sold it, so this go round I decided to take a much saner approach.
This is the original dining room. The chandelier is so not me. And I had no use for a bar with seats. One of the first things I did was tear that island out, leaving a gaping hole in the floor for months.
And paint the red walls a sunny yellow to cheer the place up. I like brighter kitchens.
I replaced the heavy red and gold valance that obscured much of the window with white wooden blinds, which now stay open most of the time so I can see outside when I'm at the sink.
I decided to keep the fridge and the oven, which both were in decent working order, and the upper cabinets because they went all the way to the ceiling. I especially liked the little semi-circle wood shelves attached to the upper cabinets. The lower cabinets, however, weren't sturdy enough to support granite countertops. And before everyone gives me grief about that, let me just say that I didn't want granite for its trendiness. It just suits the way I cook. You can cut things directly on it and set pots right off the stove or out of the oven on it without damaging it. Also, it is the perfect surface for working bread dough.
I'd ordered lower cabinets and also wood doors for the upper cabinets from a company in Washington, and painted them white.
In the midst of this project, I met my husband-to-be. He did most of the assembly and I did the painting.
Once they were all assembled and taking up space all over this little house, the contractor who put in my last kitchen came in and tore out the old cabinets and floor. I decided to keep the old porcelain sink, because it's a classic.
The parquet floor was replaced with oak, to match the rest of the house.
The old sink with new fixtures, including a space for the instant hot water spigot. I love being able to have water hot enough for tea or cocoa right out of its own little tap.
We picked out new brushed nickle cabinet pulls for the doors because the old ones were a) brass and b) grungy. I kept the basic arrangement of lower cabinets, except I added in a corner cabinet and another next to the stove. It was a more efficient use of floor space.
And replaced a cabinet between the sink and the refrigerator with a narrow dishwasher! We still sometimes hand-wash dishes, but it's really nice to have on busy days or when we have company.
The finished kitchen. I added a light over the sink, and three square shelves to hold spices.
And the dining room. That little granite-topped island is one I had made for my kitchen in the old house. When I put that house on the market, I stashed it in storage because I knew I wanted to keep it. We also added a tiny cabinet next to it with a piece of scrap granite and it holds the coffee maker, coffee bean grinder and sugar bowl. I replaced the utilitarian white light fixture over the old island with four amber glass lights.
I had already swapped out the chandelier with this glass globe and Edison bulb. It came from China and not only were there no English directions, they use different color wires than we do. Took me a little tinkering to figure out how to wire it in. I painted the top part of the dining room walls the same butter yellow as the kitchen and the part below the chair rail a darker honey gold. That hunt board along the wall was a family piece from my husband's family, and the table I've posted about before - it's made from reclaimed tobacco barn wood.
And that is likely to be the last remodeling we do here unless we change our minds and decide to stay forever.

Monday, February 19, 2018

This year, a sun with ironic freckles (can suns get sun-damage?) let me know I'm okay.

For those of you have been along for the ride for awhile, you might remember that I had a couple of surgeries for cervical cancer starting in 2009. The first wasn't effective and I had a hysterectomy right before Christmas in 2010. Each year since, I've held my breath waiting to see if there would be another recurrence. A couple of years ago, my old GYN (the one who did my surgeries) retired and I saw her replacement. I wasn't wild about her and that was doubly true when she did what turned out to be an unnecessary (and insanely painful) biopsy. Thankfully, it was negative, but it made me delay going back. Last month I went to see someone new and just loved her. She is frank and funny and I felt instantly comfortable. Her office sends out these postcards, that are blank on the back except for my name and address, to give the all-clear. The silly smiling sun instantly lifted my spirits - seven years with no sign of malignancy. I'll take it.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Foodie Post

Well, one result of cutting way back on restaurants is that I spend more time in the kitchen. Since I am committed to avoiding processed foods, it can be a little labor intensive. Good thing I like cooking!
On one afternoon, I spent a good bit of time chopping vegetables, roasting tomatoes, onions, and garlic, and making up a big batch of spaghetti sauce. I divided them into one-meal sized bags and stashed them in the freezer. Any time I make a sauce or soup, I try to make enough to freeze at least a couple of meals worth.
When I met a friend for dinner last month, I had a delicious chickpea salad. The menu listed mixed greens, lemon herb marinated chickpeas, cotija cheese, pickled red onion, radish, grilled zucchini, citrus vinaigrette. I thought, "I could make that." The first thing I had to do was find a quick pickled onion recipe, which turned out to be much easier than I thought. I made those the day ahead and also marinated the chickpeas in lemon and herbs. The next day I roasted the chickpeas, potatoes, and beets (which I subbed in for radishes) and assembled the salad. Easy and every bit as good as the one the restaurant offered.
A week or so ago, my son and his girlfriend were over for dinner. I had a Persian jeweled rice recipe I'd wanted to try and found a recipe for golden turmeric tilapia. I checked at the grocery store and couldn't find the mango chutney it called for and again thought, "I bet I could make that." Turns out it is easy. And so good - I could just eat it by the spoonful. We liked the turmeric fish recipe so much that I made another batch of chutney and my husband made the fish with sweet potatoes and broccoli for another dinner.
I'm back to making whole wheat sourdough bread more regularly, too. The last loaf I made with turmeric. It gave it a faint gold color and just a hint of the flavor.
I put poppy seeds on top but next time I think I'll mix them into the dough on the second kneading.
And then came Valentine's Day. We had already agreed not to buy unnecessary items, but groceries are exempt from the ban. I had the day off and put some of my time into prepping ingredients for dinner. I know I've said it before but it's just truth - I make a mean seafood risotto. There is something so peaceful about stirring the wine and broth a little at a time into the arborio rice and watching it absorb. I made it this time with crab meant and two kinds of shrimp, and add in caramelized onions, peppers and garlic, sautéed zucchini, and chopped greens.
It's heaven on a plate. We had some of the bread and a salad with field greens, cucumber, strawberries, feta and almonds.  I also made dark chocolate-covered strawberries for dessert and we cracked open a bottle of chardonnay we'd brought back from a winery we visited in Tuscany on our honeymoon. I'm realizing I'm happily able to forgo gifts for good food.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I meant to post about the project I was working on during my blog hiatus.

Knowing that blogs have a curious habit of evaporating, I wanted some way other than my posts to remember our trips. Last fall I got a deal on photo books for $5 plus shipping. I ordered five and had until the first of the year to use the vouchers. I did two on our first trip together to Ireland, and one each for Italy/Switzerland, Cuba and Argentina.
I loved that the cover photo could be wrapped around the book and inserts included. On the Ireland books I added Gaelic road signs on the back and the Italy Honeymoon book, an insert of our wedding photo.
Each book is 40 pages and there is a fair amount of flexibility on text and photo size. I like how compact they are so they fit nicely with the small bookcase that houses the only books we hang onto. In some ways, it's an anti-minimalist move on my part because I know they will interest no one but myself and my husband. But if travel is an experience that brings joy, so is re-living the memories.

Friday, February 2, 2018

How about a book review?

I love the gentle art of Swedish death cleaning. The idea of it, that is. Not so much the book, though. Thankfully, I won this book in a giveaway and didn't waste my own money on it. As a public service, I will save you the the cost of the book with a quick summary. I'd say that I'm also saving you time, but this book took literally 40 minutes to read - and that included my husband interrupting me to come to the study and proofread something for him!

The premise is that we are all going to die. The older you get, obviously, the sooner that will happen. And when you die, your stuff becomes your heirs' burden. Death cleaning, or döstädning, is about off-loading things that no one will want after you are gone to reduce that burden. So get rid of your crap.

That's it. That's what is of value in this book. The rest of it is random reminiscing about life in Sweden and an odd coyness about the author's age. Seriously, she says several times that she is "between 80 and 100." I found that irritating enough to google it - she's 83. Mystery revealed. I can't imagine saying I'm between 50 and 70. Then again, maybe I should start telling people I'm between 30 and 56.

Other tidbits from the book: She has a "stylish" leopard-print apron she wishes she could wear all the time. She repurposed a metal wok into a hat. She's remarkably snarky about her kids. Like this: "Still, I know families who live in a complete mess (I won't mention the names of my children here, but you know who you are.)" Well. Isn't that lovely. She also kept some of her kids' baby clothes to spur their own procreation. "And when grandchildren failed to arrive, I would take the box down and remind my lazy children of what I wanted. It worked. Now I have 8 grandchildren." Jesus.

Technology notes: She wishes she'd used tape to hold together papers instead of staples because you can't put staples through a shredder. Um, yeah you can. Also, a hook to hang your keys on doesn't actually "cost nothing" unless you steal it. And while she notes that encyclopedias are no longer necessary because of the wonders of the internet, she does hang on to reference books like a dictionary, a thesaurus, and an atlas. Because apparently she doesn't know those answers can also be found online.

In a section on accumulation she says, "We feel like last year's colonial style of dark wood and bamboo has to be exchanged for this year's clean white Nordic minimalism"... "This is wasteful but not a huge problem if we remember to get rid of last year's things before we buy the new ones." Well, I beg to differ, Ms. Magnusson, it is indeed a huge problem. That kind of mindless consumption is killing the planet.

Among the things she's held onto are ladles made from coconut shells (ah, NOW I know what my kitchen is missing!) and a "small tea strainer of plaited bamboo, far too brittle and beautiful for daily use." Okay, forget the whole idea of using what you have. She feels these things will be "easy to place with anyone," but she also tells a story of a beautiful bracelet her father gave her that she sold rather than risk a possible fight over it when she died. She really doesn't seem to like her kids much.

An additional reason to death clean is to rid your house of items others might find upsetting. Like Grandma's collection of dildos. "Save your favorite dildo - but throw away the other fifteen!"  (At this point in the book, I found myself wondering if I had any brain bleach on hand.)

A side note - when I was googling her age, I watched a bit of an interview with the author. In it, she was dusting a packed bookshelf with loads of knick knacks in front of the books. So how much death cleaning is she really doing? Walk the walk, man, especially if you are selling a book about it.

And the book wraps up with "I will feel so content and happy when I have done most of this work.... And if I don't die, I will probably go shopping. Again!" What the actual fuck?  I do believe that for Margareta Magnusson, senility started to creep in somewhere between 80 and 100.