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!