Monday, September 5, 2016

Long Overdue Update

We have been full-timing for over 10 weeks now. For the first two months, we stayed at an RV park a few miles from our house so that we could keep the yard looking nice while it was on the market. Honestly, I don't think we would have stayed there otherwise; it did not have many amenities and was in a fairly noisy location. The next closest RV park had more amenities (a pool!) for the same cost but was just too far away for the twice-daily trips to the house.

Adjusting to the RV lifestyle has not been without its challenges. Heavy summer thunderstorms revealed more leaks in the bedroom slide and high winds tried to rip off our awning a few times. Dealing with these issues, the lack of space compared to a house, and the stressful process of selling a house had me seriously questioning why I thought this was a good idea.

The past two weeks, however, have reminded me why we made the choice to downsize to an RV. We are camped at Catalina State Park just north of Tucson. This is a park we visited often to hike, bike, walk the dog, and go birding. I remember being envious of the folks camped here when I'd see them slowly biking up the road, obviously enjoying themselves. Well, we are those happy campers on bikes now!

We ride our bikes around the campground, to the Ranger Station to report sightings, and to go birding. We even tried looking for snakes on the road one night by bike. We can step out of our RV and be on a trail almost immediately. We can pause while washing dishes at the campground's dish-washing station and look around to see if any hawks are soaring over the cliffs. When I wake up at 4 in the morning, I can listen for owls right outside my home.

RV life will not always be like this, but we are enjoying ourselves right now. We do have to take care of minor issues like earning money at some point. This week, we'll be pulling out of here and heading to Texas to establish residency there. It is likely to be an interesting trip, full of surprises for us as newbie full-timers.

I have  been thinking of features I'd like to include on this blog, such as RV and campground reviews, product reviews of items we are happy with in our RV (and perhaps Amazon sponsor links), a tour of the RV, what we're finding works well in the RV and what we're struggling with, and so on. If I can drag myself away from the great birds (and snakes! and mammals! and butterflies!) outside, I will share more with you. For now, enjoy this gopher snake we saw on the road last week.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Having Fun Where You Can

I know I haven't written in the month since moving into the RV. It's been a rough transition, which I promise to write about soon. Tonight, however, we've made plans to have some fun.

For the first time ever, we get to watch a Sharknado movie on the original air date! The office building has satellite TV and they get the SyFy channel. Woohoo!

Before you judge us for considering this fun, remember our choices at present. It's almost 100 degrees outside, muggy, and the mosquitoes have taken over. Inside the RV, it's muggy, crowded, messy, and the mosquitoes are trying to invade. We have DVDs but no satellite dish.

And sometimes you just need to revel in complete silliness to make the rest or your life seem a little better. I have learned to appreciate 'B' movies and we find the Sharknado series to be so ridiculous that it's fun. Sharknado 4 is exactly what we need  right now to counteract the stress of selling our house. (Appraisal is tomorrow.)

To make our 'movie-going' experience complete this evening, I'm going to make a big ol' mess of fancy nachos, starting with a bag of organic blue corn tortilla chips. I've dug out my recipe* for nacho "cheese" sauce, using soymilk and Daiya cheddar cheese shreds. There's salsa and guacamole to go on top and I think I'm going to chop up some of my own cured black olives to sprinkle over it all.

The only question now is whether I kept a big enough pan to put all this in. It was such a harried rush there at the end to load up and move into the RV that I still am not entirely sure what we kept and what we donated in the end.

Hope you have a fun evening planned, too. Watch out for sharknadoes!

*ETA: Here is the requested recipe for vegan nacho cheese.

Vegan Nacho Cheese  
1 tbs Earth Balance (vegan butter)
1 tbs flour (I use whole white wheat flour for everything.)
1 cup soy or other non-dairy milk
1 ¼ cups shredded vegan pepper jack or cheddar cheese (I prefer Daiya brand.)

In a medium sauce pot, melt the Earth Balance.
Add the flour and cook for a couple of minutes over moderate heat.
Whisk in the soymilk, stirring well to smooth out any lumps.
When the sauce comes to a bubble, stir in the cheese (not with the whisk unless you want an annoying clean-up job!)
Remove sauce from heat and pour over tortilla chips.

Sprinkle with any of these foods for even more flavor: sliced green onion, chopped fire-roasted green chiles, chopped fresh or canned jalapenos (remove seeds for less heat), chopped fresh cilantro, and/or chopped black olives.

Note: this can easily be made with dairy ingredients instead of the vegan versions.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Moving In to the RV

Before I tell you about the moving in process, I must warn you that I will not be providing a falsely cheery version of the facts. What you get is the real, and sometimes bitter, situation without any sugarcoating to make it easier to swallow. Some may call me negative but I prefer to think of myself as a realist.

It seems like we have been moving in to the RV for weeks but we'd really just been taking a few things out here and there to see how they fit and to start to clear out the house. The moving in process began in earnest this week, right in the middle of another heat wave. Temperatures in the Tucson area this month are the highest they have been in 20 years. Moving from a house, albeit a manufactured house, into an uninsulated RV has had me seriously questioning my sanity!

To avoid spending too much time outside during the hot part of the day - and for good reason considering that several people died from the heat here this week - we transferred our stuff from the house to the RV during the cooler morning hours. During the day, I worked on figuring out where to put it in the RV while my husband worked on the house getting it ready to sell. At the end of the day, we went through the house, gathering and sorting whatever would get moved the following day.

While I already understood that space was at a premium in the RV, I quickly discovered exactly what that means. It means that I don't get to keep everything I want to keep. As I sorted through load after load, many items got tossed into the donate pile. I've been by the local charity shop every day this week with donations.

Here is what the RV looked like last night. After taking the photos, I worked for several hours to clean up the mess but I want you to see what the real moving in process looks like.

I'm not actually a slob or a hoarder. It's just a difficult process getting moved in to a tiny space.

This is the view that greeted me when I came in the door. (I almost turned tail and ran!)

How is all this going to fit?!

Even the refrigerator is ridiculously crowded.

The freezer, too.  That black ice pack on the top shelf goes on my twisted ankle every night.

Someday I'll show you some 'after' photos. Right now, I'm too tired and it's time for ice cream.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Chile in a Hot Tin Can

Oh my gosh, people, it is so incredibly hot here right now! I just met some folks for craigslist sales and my car's thermometer read 107 degrees. There are heat warnings in place through Monday. Thank goodness we decided not to hold our final moving sale this weekend. We had planned it but had to postpone because the tow dolly for the car was delivered yesterday by a large freight truck that would not have been able to get to our driveway with a bunch of yard-salers parked in the way.

So, I keep hearing the same questions over and over: "When are you leaving?" One variation often seems to be "You're still here?!"

Yes, we're still here. Contrary to what some RV bloggers may imply, the transition process takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r! We bought the RV in August of last year and honestly thought we'd be out of here by late winter. What a fantasy that was. With all of the repairs and cleaning we had to do, we're lucky it's ready now. The condition of the RV was misrepresented, to put it nicely. Many, many repairs were necessary, including replacing a dry-rotted bathroom floor that had been subject to long-term leakage. Even the steel frame underneath had rusted out.

The cleaning has been just as time-consuming and infinitely more frustrating. Somehow, the sellers were able to disguise the fact that they had smoked in the RV. I am extremely sensitive to cigarette smoke but did not detect it when we went to look at it. The sellers did not smoke in our presence, either. It did not even occur to us to ask whether they were smokers. After we'd purchased it and driven it home, it sat closed up overnight. The next day when we sat inside, the smoke smell was overwhelming. Within 10 minutes, I was wheezing!

We have spent hundreds of hours cleaning the entire interior from top to bottom. With our new carpet cleaner, my husband went over the carpeted ceiling (carpet helps with condensation issues) multiple times to not only remove the smoke smell but to clean the grime. You can see the before and after in this photo with the yellowish square the last bit he had left to clean.

He removed and cleaned all of the blinds, which was a good step because they had to be restrung anyway. We replaced the bed. I have cleaned every hard surface inside the RV at least once, many of them twice (or more) as I worked out what solutions I needed to use to remove the odor. We ended up replacing the convection microwave because the smoke smell had permeated it so badly that it was not salvageable.

Visitors do not detect the tiny bit of lingering smell that is left and my husband thinks it's in my imagination at this point. I mostly do okay inside as long as there are exhaust fans running. Before we move in, we'll need to toss the pans of charcoal and baking soda sitting in every room, as well as in a few cabinets.

The exhaust fans are not an option today because of the heat. We'll have to run the generator in order to run the air conditioning units to keep it cool inside. Thank goodness we are not yet living in it, although if we were, we would be parked where we could plug into an outlet and run the A/C without the generator.

I did plan to continue loading the RV today but the heat changed my plans. Opening and closing the door frequently would let out too much of the cool air, just like for a refrigerator, so I am continuing to do final sorting in the house. More than half of the kitchen has been moved into the RV, a challenging process during which I had to let go of many items I wanted to take with us. We will not have the joy of grinding our coffee beans by hand or making pasta from scratch with the manual pasta machine. If I take those, I can't take food. What good do kitchen gadgets do if you have no food to prepare?!

The house is looking sparse. Today I literally sold the chairs out from under our rears so we are left only with the folding chairs purchased for the RV. The table holding the TV went last week and the totes that served as our temporary TV stand are going tomorrow. There is very little furniture left. What is left are piles of stuff to be sold or donated and piles of stuff to go in the RV. And, sadly, in the office, there are piles and piles of paper files that I still need to deal with. For every piece of paper I'm able to ditch, it seems like half a dozen more come to take its place. I suppose the next few days will force me to deal with this because it's just too hot to do much else.

If you are thinking about downsizing to the RV lifestyle, be sure to give yourself adequate time to get rid of just about everything you own. Most blogs devote a single post to the downsizing process. Perhaps those full-timers did not go through the angst that I have in giving up a houseful of possessions. I know it is all just "stuff" but it is MY stuff that I have spent years enjoying. Some of it is stuff that I made or my husband made, making it just a little bit harder to see go away. Just this week, we decided we really don't have room to take the long bike that he built for me.

He BUILT this bike for me from a pile of tubes ordered in the mail. It was gut-wrenching for me to decide not to keep it but the reality is that the RV lifestyle means limiting your possessions. Hard choices are necessary. Hopefully the pay-off will be worth it.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Crunch Time

I really wish that "crunch time" meant that it was time to sit and eat a bunch of crunchy chocolate chip cookies, but that is not the case. Crunch time means that we have finally set a target date for getting into the RV: end of May.

Holy guacamole, that is only a few weeks away! Most of the repairs and remodeling have been completed in the RV, we have a realtor, and the house is almost ready to go on the market. All that's left to do on the RV is get new tires and have the windshield gasket repaired. Once those are complete, we will park it in a nearby RV park and start moving into it.

We hope to stay in the area for a little while to keep the property looking really nice while it is on the market. Eventually, though, we will have to head out for work. It's hard to think about that right now because we're having lots of fun with the birds of spring migration. If you want to read more about that, I've started a new blog focused just on birding.

Now I just need to get rid of everything in the house that won't fit in the RV!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Cleaning Frenzy

Holy moly! We've made an appointment to talk to a realtor Wednesday evening. That means we have three days, count 'em - only THREE days, to get this place ship-shape.

You would not believe the mess it is right now. It's not surprising given that we are in transition, but still... Considering how cluttered every room of the house is, it's hard to believe how much stuff we've already ditched. How can the house still be crowded when all of the following is gone? Chest freezer, exercise machines & equipment, Christmas tree & décor, about 30% of the furniture so far, loads of kitchen stuff including many of my beloved canning jars, clothes, linens - donated for doggie use at the shelter, and more. Even food has been donated, given away, and/or fed to the birds. The shed is still crowded, too, even though some bike stuff and tools have gone away.

The next three days will be devoted to organizing the clutter so it looks neat and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. We're mainly meeting with the realtor to get a sense of what we need to do besides empty the house in order to have it market-ready. But, we want him to have a positive impression when he comes in, not think, "OMG, these people think they're almost ready to sell?!" So, that means I cannot allow myself to be distracted by all the Spring birds coming through. Well, other than going out to bird the yard right now because there was a storm last night and something cool may have come in. And tomorrow morning when I'm meeting with a friend to help him identify birds on his large property. Other than that, no, I won't be distracted.

Okay, I will probably look out the window this evening to see if the cormorants fly by, but that's it. Really. I mean it.

(Checking e-mail.... What?! There's a Heermann's Gull just 8 miles away? Gotta go!)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Lack of Interest

I'm considering retiring this blog due to lack of interest; mostly mine, but also yours. One of my favorite parts of blogging has been the conversations that happen in the comments. Without comments, I don't know what my readers are thinking. It could be any of the following or maybe none of them.

"Hm, I never thought of it that way."
"What happened to the old, funny Chile we knew and loved?"
"Yikes, this is booooring!"
"Where are the recipes?!"
"OMG, not another recipe!"
"Where are the cute dog pictures?"

When I started blogging again, I wanted to write about how one downsizes to an RV, the transition process from home with garden to mobile RV, and then life on the road. As I struggle through deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, I wondered why nobody on the full-time RVer blogs really talked about the agony of this process. Well, now I know. They didn't have time! There is so much to do. Here are some of the things on our to-do list:

1. Clean and fix up the RV to make it livable.

Believe it or not, we are still not done with this phase. Almost all of the cleaning is done but I have yet to muster up the courage to tackle the microwave. I seriously considered just buying a new one, but at more than $200, that just isn't in the cards when the other one functions perfectly fine (as far as we can tell). The only other cleaning projects left are the windows and screens. Oh, and the Corian kitchen countertops. Don't forget the light fixtures. Yeah, not done yet.

Most of the modifications are finished. My husband has done all the necessary repairs, built in a couple of shelves for books and multimedia, and installed the solar panels. He still needs to build in a surplus water storage area so we are able to boondock longer. (Boondocking is RV-camping without hooking up to water, sewer, or electricity.)

2. Decide which personal belongings will go with us in the RV.

This obviously does not include furniture since everything is built into an RV. The only exception is my student desk and my small kitchen cart will fit in the living room/office/kitchen area. I've gone through everything we own and gotten rid of a tremendous amount already but as I look around the house at what remains, I know that more will have to be left behind. In the end, it will probably come down to trying to cram it all in and realizing most won't fit, requiring a last minute huge donation to the local charity thrift shop.

3. Clean and fix up the house to sell.

Every house we've ever lived in has looked its very best on the day we put it on the market to sell. We fix it up nicer for other people than for ourselves. We've been working on spackling holes in walls left by the previous owner(s) and doing a bit of painting. We've cleaned half the carpets and will clean the others when the rooms are emptied out. We're cleaning up the yard and my hubby just planted some flowers this past week. We think we already have a realtor lined up; he's just waiting for us to get to the point we can talk about listing it.

4. Do the admin prep to change from a permanent home to full-time RVing.

There's a bit of work involved in setting up your life to live on the road. We're working on figuring all that out.

5. Have fun and not work ourselves to exhaustion.

Part of the reason for doing this whole RV thing in the first place is to enjoy our lives more. Pushing ourselves now to the point of exhaustion defeats the purpose of making these changes. What this means is that we regularly take time off to go birding, get out for a hike, or watch a movie. This is slowing down the schedule for leaving, but is important for our personal well-being.

In the midst of all this work, all the regular chores are still there needing to be completed. Dinner has to be prepared, laundry has to be washed and dried, and the dog has to be fed and walked. It sometimes feels like we are never going to get out of here!

Let me know if you are interested in reading about any of this. I may decide to just ditch all of this if nobody's interested and go start a new blog devoted to my birding adventures!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Litter Clean-up

I live along a rural road that gets quite a bit of vehicle, foot, and even horse traffic. This area tends to be windy at certain times of year, too. Consequently, there ends up being occasional litter along my property edge. For the past six years, I have picked up the litter at least once a month. When I am being diligent, I pick it up more often. It's relatively easy to get out there and clean up so I do.

Surprisingly in all that time, only two people have thanked me. I am thrilled that at least a couple of people appreciate my efforts. Sometimes I fantasize about how nice the whole area could look if everyone took a few minutes a month to clean up litter along the edges of their property. Sadly, I know that will never happen.

But, I can still do my part to keep my little corner of the planet clean. One problem I have had, though, is that some trash ends up under very prickly plants. It's the desert here, after all. Usually I don't mind crashing through a little brush to get trash but not when it means getting cut up by thorns or impaled by cactus! So, some trash stayed put, month after month, year after year, aggravating me every time I saw it.

I did not have any poles long enough to reach under some patches of the catclaw acacia. This plant's thorns are small but they are recurved like a cat's claws and so sharp that even slightly brushing against one results in a small painful slice in the skin that immediately wells up with blood. Today, my husband came up with a tool for me. He'd recently purchased a professional extendable paint pole to reach the eaves of the house that needed a little touch-up. It was a whole lot easier on his knees than going up and down an extension ladder a zillion times. Well, with the paint roller holder on this pole, I was able to reach and extract every bit of trash that has eluded me for years!

I had to extend the pole fully - to twice the length shown here - for some of the trash.

As you can see, some of the trash had been there for a very long time!

It looks great out there and now I have a tool to keep it that way!

Monday, February 22, 2016

I'm a Little ... What ...?

I had an odd encounter at the store today. I'd parked some way from the doors and as I walked towards the store an old man was heading to his car. I smiled, as I often do when encountering other people, and he smiled back a little. As I got closer, he spoke but I wasn't sure that it was to me because it didn't make any sense. It sounded like he said, "Aren't you a little ____ today?"

Like I said, the word he used did not make sense so I obviously looked puzzled. He said again, clearly to me - not to himself, someone behind me, or about a window display or something else - "You're a little princess!"

What an odd thing to say to a grown woman. Maybe not if it was Halloween and I was dressed up as a princess, or if we were at a Renaissance Fair or Fantasy Con event, but that was not the case. I'm obviously not a young woman, not with white sprinkled through my straight (no princess-y updos today!) hair. No make-up. Not even fancy clothes; in fact, I'm wearing a drab gray sweatshirt on a warm day because the tees are all in the wash. And I'm certainly not "little."

Maybe my shoes confused him. They have a smidge of pink in them. Princesses wear pink, right?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wonders of the Internet

I am old enough to remember thumbing through piles of cookbooks looking for just the right recipe to try for dinner. Sometimes it meant going to the library, although in more recent years, it meant buying and storing far too many cookbooks on my shelves. Nowadays, though, I can get online to look for recipes. I often find what I'm looking for in minutes, although sometimes I end up having to combine elements from two or three recipes to create what I want. (When you've been cooking for decades like I have, you tend to know what ingredients, flavors, and textures you like. This lead to a lot of fiddling when it comes to other people's recipes.)

Today's search was a splendid example of finding precisely what I wanted very quickly. I have several fresh ingredients that need to be used up soon: a third of a head of cauliflower and some young kale from the medium Aerogarden. I'd been thinking about making a couple of Indian dishes but when I glanced at my spice rack, I noticed the jar of Ethiopian Berbere spice. Mmmm, that smells nice! I set the spice jar on the kitchen table to remind me to use it this evening.

As my mind mulled over the possibilities for dinner, I realized that I didn't want to make multiple dishes. Making basmati rice, a saag dish using kale, and a curried cauliflower dish sounded like too much work, especially when I realized that I'd really enjoy having some red lentil dal on the side. Besides, if I was using the berbere spice, I wouldn't be using the specific Indian spices for those various dishes anyway. Well, maybe I could just throw everything in together in one pot. Surely I could find a recipe for something like that.

In the Google search box, I typed in "berbere spice red lentils cauliflower kale". The top search result was for an Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew with Cauliflower, Baby Kale, Peas and Potatoes. Perfect! I have peas somewhere in the freezer and I've got dehydrated potatoes in the pantry. Karen, I'm hoping your recipe is good because I'm making it for dinner tonight.

The nice thing about being able to find millions of recipes online is that I don't have to own a boatload of cookbooks anymore. That is a definite perk when trying to downsize to live in an RV. From an all-time high of over 1,000 cookbooks,* I am down to less than 20 and that is including the Vitamix recipe manual and a notebook filled with favorite recipes of my own creation and out of cookbooks. The cookbooks I've kept are the ones with recipes I make frequently and food preservation books for canning, pickling, and fermentation (kimchi!) I suspect I may let go of a few more when it comes time to move into the RV full-time. After all, we have to meet the weight limit of 2,000 pounds for everything we keep!

*While I did have over 1,000 cookbooks in the house at one time, they weren't actually cookbooks that I'd gotten specifically for my own use. I bought 945 cookbooks from an estate sale years ago at the bargain price of $100 with the hopes of re-selling them for big profits. Well, it didn't work out that way but I did have fun sorting through them all and doing loads of research. I ended up trading some at a local used bookstore for store credit and then donating boxes and boxes of them to the local library for their semi-annual book sale. Hopefully many other home cooks are now enjoying those cookbooks.

Update: Turns out I don't particularly care for Ethiopian flavors...

Friday, February 5, 2016

Chile's Got an RV!

As you know from my previous post, we spent the first half of 2015 taking care of my husband’s mother in our home. After she passed away in early July, we decided to proceed with our original plan for 2015 which included getting an RV and leaving this area.

We are currently in the process of fixing up the used RV we purchased, emptying out our house, and fixing up the property to put it on the market. The challenge has been that there are far more problems with the RV than we suspected, resulting in it taking months longer to get it road-ready than planned.

My husband has essentially been working full-time (and unpaid) on the RV since last fall. We are very grateful for his wide range of skills that enable him to do most of the work himself. Every system in the RV has needed some kind of repair: the engine, wiring, plumbing, air and ventilation, and structural. In addition to the repairs, we have had to do a very intensive deep-cleaning of the entire rig, something that appears to never have been done since its manufacture in 2003.

The idea of staying in crowded RV parks with hook-ups all the time does not really appeal to either of us so we are setting it up to allow more boondocking. That means we can be self-reliant and camp in a wider range of locations. We switched to a composting toilet which allowed us to remove the black water (sewage) tank. The plan is to install a second fresh water tank in its place to give us more water storage capacity - with new plumbing, of course! We have also installed a solar system so that we aren’t reliant on a noisy generator anytime we use power.

There are still some small upgrades he is working on for the RV, mostly to do with the solar system, but it is getting closer to completion. I still need to deep clean the kitchen area and he still needs to build in a couple of shelves for books, music, and movies. After he installs a new fresh water tank, we will then take it in for new tires and to have the windshield gasket replaced.

In the meantime, I am trying to sort through our house to determine what will fit in the RV. There are, of course, space limitations in a 38 foot RV but there are also weight limitations. All of our personal belongings, from kitchenware and clothing to tools and books, must weigh no more than 2,000 pounds. That sounds like a lot until you start paying attention to the weight of what you own. For instance, my stack of mixing bowls weighs an amazing 4 ½ pounds! Books, which we love, are also heavy.

It has been brutal making the decisions about what to keep and what to let go of, even though it really is all just “stuff.” We humans tend to attach so much importance to our belongings, in addition to the emotions and memories associated with them. I continue to pare down to what we truly need and want in our new adventure. The many books I’ve read over the years on de-cluttering and minimalism are helping me through the process. Ironically, I had just begun to work through Marie Kondo’s bestseller, “The Magic of Tidying Up,” before my mother-in-law had her health crisis and we ended up as her caregivers.

We don’t intend to keep a storage unit as we’ve read the accounts of many RV full-timers that regret doing so. Instead, we are taking a huge leap of faith that we will like this lifestyle. We recognize, however, that if we don’t, we are not stuck with it. We can find a new place to live and sell the RV if we find it does not suit us.

While we don’t have a deadline, we do hope to get out of here before summer. We need to get the house on the market and my husband will need to find paid employment somewhere. We hope he can find a contract position in his field somewhere we wouldn’t mind staying for a while. We do want to travel, but we don’t intend to be on the road changing locations frequently. We’d like to spend several months at a time in each new place to really explore and get to know an area. Getting to bird in new locations is, of course, something we’re looking forward to doing. Who knows; we might end up in your neck of the woods!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Quick & Easy Dinner After Pruning Marathon

On nights when we are both tired, it's tempting to make a run to a nearby Subway sandwich shop or Chinese take-out place for dinner. However, with no income at present and the need to eat up what's in the pantry, I am striving to just knuckle down and force myself to make dinner at home. Luckily, I still have some foods on hand that can be put together for a relatively quick and easy meal. Often I manage to keep it healthy, too.

In the past week, I have put in a tremendous number of hours on yard work. I wasn't able to do any pruning for the previous two winters and could not let the trees go another year. Two winters ago, it didn't stay cold enough for long enough to do any pruning. Last winter's plan for pruning went by the wayside with my mother-in-law's heart attack and subsequent moving in with us. This winter has been a chilly one, which is the perfect time to get the pruning done.

A storm several weeks ago was the driving factor in pushing pruning to the top of the to-do list as the wet heavy snow broke four large branches on a palo verde tree. It only took about an hour to remove the branches but it took much longer to cut them up for disposal. The next day, I tackled our terribly overgrown olive tree. That one took me two days because I also had to remove some old barbed wire and fence posts to clean up the area, while also being careful not to get poked by the nearby cholla cactus.

On Friday and Saturday, I tackled some mesquite trees. Not only were they overgrown from two years of pruning neglect, we also wanted to prune them higher than we prefer in order to give a better view of the house from the road. We are working to increase curb appeal factors on our property since we hope to get it on the market sometime this spring or summer. I am usually quite good at looking at a tree and seeing exactly what branches need to come out to give the tree a nice shape. This week, though, I found that I was overwhelmed by the overgrowth of branches and kept losing my vision of the best shape. I had to enlist my husband's help in shaping the trees.

I also enlisted his help in cutting up the large branches once they were down so that we could put them out with a "Free" sign. Mesquite burns nice and hot once seasoned; the neighbor that picked them up will have some great firewood for next winter. With the exception of a couple of branches my husband removed with his Skil saw, I did all of the pruning with manual saws. Although it would be far quicker with a chainsaw, I am clumsy enough that we've agreed that I should avoid their use.

Dinner, on the other hand, can be quick and easy with little risk of cutting off limbs. Last night, I was able to put together a surprisingly delicious dinner that took no longer to make than it would have taken to drive to Subway and get sandwiches. I apologize for not taking a photo of the food. I was very hungry and it didn't occur to me until I was almost done eating.

My pantry is dwindling because we have been trying to use up food that I've purchased when on sale. I still shop for produce because we don't have much in the garden now except for lettuce. I used to keep quite a bit of frozen food on hand, but we ate it all up in order to sell my beloved chest freezer. Last night's side vegetable was some asparagus I'd purchased on sale and then forgotten about in the fridge. I was able to salvage about half of the two bundles. The rest had to be composted. We are still maintaining the compost bins as we hope that the garden set-up will be an appealing part of the property once listed for sale.

The main dish last night was just a simple pasta dish. Pasta keeps a long time if stored in a cool part of your home so I always bought plenty when the price was right. This box of medium shells had a 'Best By' date in 2013 but still tasted perfectly fine. (Note: whole grain pastas do NOT store well for the long-term because the oils go rancid.) For the sauce, I mixed two cans of tomatoes together, one with green peppers, celery, and onion, and the other with basil, garlic, and oregano. No additional seasoning was necessary, which was a good thing. I was too tired to even chop up an onion or dig out the jar of Italian seasoning! I added some Daiya mozzarella shreds when I heated everything together. The advantage of the non-dairy Daiya is that it has the flavor but not the stringiness of real melted Mozzarella cheese. It simply made the sauce nice and creamy.

The meal was simple, colorful, healthy, and filling. And the pantry is cleared of two more cans of tomatoes and one more box of pasta. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that we were able to harvest some fresh basil from the Aerogarden to stir into the finished dish.

Why are we planning to sell the house? And why did I have to sell my chest freezer? I promise to tell you in the very next post!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Droppin' Like Flies!

It strikes me as rather funny that while my blog sat inactive for over three years, the number of readers I had did not change. I'm guessing it was a case of 'out of sight, out of mind.' Now that I've resurrected the blog, however, my readers are droppin' like flies! I'm trying not to take offense at this as I realize my posts showing up on your feeds may remind you that it's time to clean up your list of blogs to follow. It's also obvious that my content has changed, although those that stick with me will see that there are some changes on the horizon that may be interesting.

I plan to change the header of the blog to reflect that, just as soon as I can figure out how. Sometime while I was away from blogging, Blogger changed some things with my template. For some reason, I cannot edit or even delete the image in my header; it simply will not allow me to access that. If I can't get to it by changing my template, I may have to start a new blog and import everything to it. Knowing this is likely to take me some time to figure out is why I haven't tackled it yet.

How in the world did I find the free time to do all the fun blog stuff years ago? I miss reading other blogs, too, but currently don't have the spare time for that either. I have plans to at some point, but my husband reminded me yesterday that "life is what happens while you're making plans for the future." True, that!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

I'd Rather Be Birding

I haven't posted much here lately because we've been busy with projects and when not busy, we've been out birding. With my husband's eye still not back to normal, he is unable to work on a lot of the items on the to-do list nor can he read or work on the computer much. He is able to enjoy being out looking for new birds, though, despite still having enough floaters in the one eye to be rather distracting.

This past week, we met our goal of seeing 100 different species this month. Getting the last few felt like pulling teeth; we had to really work for them. A short afternoon trip to a local park on Wednesday yielded numbers 99 and 100 on our list. Ironically, later that same afternoon, a new bird showed up in our yard. And the next day, another new bird showed up in our yard. So, after struggling to hit that "100" mark, we jumped past it with ease.

While bad weather hammers the East Coast, we have unseasonably warm weather here in the West. Yesterday was so nice that we took a drive north to do some birding in agricultural fields. Lots of driving around on dusty dirt roads yielded eight new birds for our list. Sadly, despite another warm, sunny day in the forecast, we do have to get some chores done today. I'd rather be birding!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Watch Out for Your Eyes

Let me give you a bit of advice for the New Year: if anything suddenly changes with your vision, get it checked out by an expert. Make an appointment with an ophthalmologist post-haste and have an exam. Do not waste hours or days googling the symptoms and deciding it’s nothing to worry about. By the time you realize you should have gone to the doctor, it may be too late.

Sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it? Well, here’s a cautionary tale for you.

After having so much fun birding on Christmas Day, my husband and I decided to start the New Year birding, if weather permitted. New Year’s Day dawned with sunny skies and no breeze despite earlier forecasts for wind. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time. Even though we opted for a more relaxed pace than Christmas Day, we saw more birds, thanks to good weather.

Since a week of rain and cold was predicted starting on the 4th, we went out again on the 2nd and 3rd. We got this crazy idea that it would be fun to keep track of bird sightings for the year to see how many different species we could see, but without necessarily chasing down individual rare bird sightings. (Remember, in the last post about birding, I told you we aren’t obsessive-compulsive about this.)

I was feeling pretty good about the year starting out so nicely, especially since last year started out so horribly with my mother-in-law’s heart attack. However, after birding all day on the 2nd, my husband mentioned how frustrating it was that he apparently now had another symptom of aging: more floaters in his eye. They had appeared in his dominant eye and were proving to be quite distracting while birding. I hadn’t even known this was going on but he told me he’d checked his symptoms online. Although most medical sites recommended getting any vision changes checked out by an ophthalmologist, he also saw numerous YouTube clips from ophthalmologists that said floaters were normal with aging and there was no need to worry. So, like many people, he opted not to worry and to just 'wait and see.'

'Wait and see' is an acceptable approach for some medical issues. A cold or a bout with the flu will generally clear up with no medical intervention. A minor cut in the skin, also unlikely to pose a big problem. (Yes, there can be rare cases of flesh-eating bacteria introduced in a minor cut, but for most minor cuts, the normal steps of cleaning and treating the wound at home will suffice.) With the eyes, though, we are now convinced that one should have any sudden change checked out.

Luckily, he did have some niggling worries and made an appointment to see our regular eye doctor on the 4th. As I sat in the reception area during his appointment, I got a bad feeling when the doctor came out and rooted around in the desk for a minute, taking a business card back with him. Sure enough, he had recommended a retinal specialist and had gotten my husband an appointment the very next morning at 8 am. He went home with a tentative diagnosis of “vitreous hemorrhage.”

The inside of the back part of the eyeball is filled with vitreous, which is a gel-like substance. The new floaters in my husband’s eye were evidently blood specks. A more thorough examination, with dilation, was needed to determine the source. I went along again the next morning so that I’d be able to drive since this kind of eye exam requires dilating the eye. That leaves the eye very light-sensitive for several hours and unable to focus well.

We were nervous when we arrived for his appointment. I brought a book that I hoped would keep me distracted while he saw the specialist, figuring it would possibly be a long wait since they’d fit him into a full schedule and might need to do a variety of tests. I was surprised when he came back out only an hour later. As we waited to see what was required with our new insurance, he quietly told me that he’d just had surgery.


The retinal doctor’s exam quickly revealed that my husband had a severe tear in his retina. There is no pain with a retinal tear. There may be no vision loss with a retinal tear, as was the case for my husband. The new floaters were indeed due to blood as the tear happened right over a blood vessel. But, why did the retina tear in the first place? He’d had no impact to his eye, no recent surgery, nor does he have diabetes.

Apparently, as we age, the vitreous in our eyes begins to liquefy. The vitreous is attached to the retina, and as it liquefies, it can peel away and detach from the retina. This in and of itself is not a medical emergency and does not impact vision. However, in rare cases, there can be points at which the vitreous is firmly attached to the retina and the force of it pulling away from the retina can tear it. If a retinal blood vessel is torn or damaged, as in my husband’s case, the blood can leak into the vitreous and cause new floaters to appear.

The eye surgeon told my husband that he was very lucky. It is rare to have a retinal tear happen this way and it will not get better. Had he tripped or even sneezed, the jarring could have torn the retina off completely. A detached retina is serious and will result in vision loss. Retinal detachment is painless but symptoms include a sudden profusion of floaters, flashes of light when your eyes are closed, or obscured visual field in one eye. If the retina is not re-attached within hours, the vision loss my result and be permanent. My husband frequently has violent sneezing attacks so we are amazed that he avoided this fate.

But, wait. The news gets worse. Even if a person with a torn retina is lucky enough to avoid tripping or sneezing, they are not out of the woods. Once there is a tear, fluid begins seeping in under the retina through the tear. In time, simple hydraulic pressure will detach the retina. A ‘wait and see’ approach could easily lead to losing the ability to see out of that eye! Again, if a person gets to ER and can have eye surgery done in a matter of hours, this can be repaired. But, as my husband pointed out, this could have happened at any point, including in the middle of the night while he was sleeping. He could have woken up, blind in one eye, and past the timeframe during which surgery would help.

Retinal detachment from hydraulic pressure, especially in a tear as severe as the one in my husband’s eye, can happen within hours to days. When the doctor counted up how long it had been since the original tear – 5 days – he was shocked that it had not happened. My husband was apparently very, very lucky.

It will take a while for him to fully recover from the surgery but his eye seems to be getting incrementally better every day. Until he gets the doctor’s okay in another 10 days, he’s being cautious about physical activity. No skydiving, horseback riding, and such. Okay, so he wouldn’t have been doing those activities anyway, but he is avoiding projects where he might trip, bump his head, fall off a ladder, or do anything jarring. It may take another month or so for all the blood from the original tear and from the surgery to clear out of the eye so that the floaters disappear. In the meantime, he’s trying to ignore them, although he says the “flocks of blackbirds” he sees everywhere are pretty distracting when we’re out birding.

Please remember: if you have any sudden change in your vision, see an eye doctor right away. As they say, better safe than sorry!

Saturday, January 9, 2016


How long has it been since I last posted? Long enough for the plants in our new AeroGardens to grow big enough to start harvesting!

Guess you could say I've been neglecting the blog a bit. Sorry about that but I hope to have an explanation up soon.

Kale on New Year's Eve

Kale today

Basil, dill, and parsley on New Year's Eve

Herbs today