Monday, November 26, 2012

A Farmhouse Thanksgiving

We had a really nice Thanksgiving weekend with my family, getting home late last night. Matt and I arrived at the Spokane airport on Thursday morning, where Mom and Lisia picked us up for the 20-minute drive back to Tighe and Lisia's beautiful new (old) house.

Built in 1889 (and renovated/added onto a couple times since), theirs is the oldest house still standing in Medical Lake, WA, population 4,000. Their big bright kitchen/dining room was the perfect place for a Thanksgiving dinner that afternoon.  Sadly, Lisia's parents weren't able to join us, as planned. We still managed to have a good time, and made some last-minute changes to the menu to make up for what they were planning to bring.

What I wouldn't give for a kitchen like this....

The Thanksgiving table.

Cranberry-orange relish

Garlic-tarragon-lemon potatoes. The potatoes and garlic were grown by Tighe, and the tarragon came from Mom and Dad's.

Alla would like some turkey, too, please. 

On Friday morning, most of us headed outside to do some outdoor projects.

The someday chicken coop. I tried to convince Tighe that they should get chicks this next spring, but he wants to focus on the house renovations first.

Dad and Tighe transplanted a couple of young cherry trees to better locations at the south end of the yard, while Alla "helped."

Mom and I took on the garden, which was totally overgrown. Mom found a couple beds full of Egyptian top-setting onions, and replanted them so Tighe will get a harvest of them in the spring. I dug up a big heap of Jerusalem artichokes, and after pulling out a lot of dead grass, we found several types of herbs, some strawberries, and a bunch of chives. 

I fell in love with the rock walls made from the local volcanic basalt. 

When we came back inside from the quite cold weather, Lisia had made chocolate croissants for everyone, her family's day-after-Thanksgiving tradition!

We offered up our many sets of hands to help with some of the house fix-up projects on Tighe's list. He took us up on the offer, and in the afternoon we went to work to get the trim in the parlor painted.
All of the yet-to-be-unpacked items that had been stored in the parlor were moved into the living room. Limo and Mina, the feline members of the household, found this to be a satisfactory development:

While we tackled the parlor, Mom scraped paint from the cabinet windows in the kitchen. 


 Men contemplate the next course of action

 How many people does it take to paint a room's worth of trim?

Meanwhile, in another room...
...the lady of the house does homework.

 Before the masking came off, the room took on a patriotic feel. 

In daylight, bright red trim!

Matt and I spent Saturday night at Mom and Dad's, where I neglected to take any pictures at all, but where we enjoyed cold walks in the woods and yummy hot meals. I was so glad to finally see my brother's new home, and to help contribute to fixing it up. Plus there was lots of relaxing in between, touring his new hometown, and of course heaps and heaps of good food.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Quiet Sunday

Thanks, everyone, for all the encouraging comments on my last post. Writing about my motivation issues definitely helps- I have gotten my groove back a little bit since then, getting through some school projects I had been putting off.

It's been a quiet weekend around here. Matt's dad has been in the hospital all week- he is okay now, I won't elaborate on it, but it's been an exhausting week. So it's been nice to have a fairly low-key weekend. Yesterday morning Matt and I ran a bunch of errands, and then I worked on homework while Matt went to visit his dad. It's been gray and rainy since Friday, a typical Portland November. There's a big windy storm rolling in just now, and it's supposed to be pretty blustery the next couple of days. The rain is splattering all over the windows quite vehemently as I type this.

This is where I've been for most of today- my basecamp at the living room table, where I work through readings and research projects fueled by lentils, satsumas, and tea:

Matt's been working on progress notes for his job (he's salaried, and tends to fit his hours in across all seven days of the week- he went to the office tonight for a few hours to get caught up before Monday), so we've been hanging out together with our laptops all day. We took a break in the afternoon and walked to the community garden in the rain. We hadn't been over there in a couple of weeks, and needed to get outside.

The parsnips are at several different ages, and all are coming along well. 

The chard is thriving. We cut a big basketful and had a bunch of it in the fry-up that Matt made for dinner.

The cover crops are doing well, but everything else is growing very slowly. The leeks are fine, but the kale and bok choy and beets are all inching along- we definitely got them in the ground a little late in the season. I thought they'd get enough warm weather to get a good start, but I guess not.

Back home, we did a few outside chores, then Matt made dinner and we got a loaf of bread into the oven.

Then I went back to work on a seemingly endless research proposal while Matt got a few more chores done and packed up to go to the office. Now I've burnt out on homework for the night, and when I'm finished writing this I'll wash a few dishes and sweep the floor, and then the house will be in pretty good shape for the week. We fly out to Spokane on Thursday morning, and I have a mountain of schoolwork to climb before then, so I'm going to sign off until after the Thanksgiving holiday. I hope you all have a great weekend with loved ones, wherever you may be. We're looking forward to seeing my brother's new home, and have been reminiscing about our wonderful midsummer Thanksgiving at the Wavehaven two years ago, far away from the cold and rain.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Have You Seen My Motivation Anywhere?

I'm going to be a bit of a whiner today. I hope you don't mind too much. I don't expect anyone else to solve my problems, but writing about them in a public space gives me a sense of accountability to the whole wide world, which usually helps me turn things around. So thanks for bearing with me. And look, here's a pretty view from the Portland Japanese Gardens:

I've really been struggling these last couple of weeks with staying on task with schoolwork, keeping my energy up, and limiting my spending. I go through phases like this occasionally, where I end up thinking a lot about the things I like doing and things that make me feel the best about myself, but I don't actually do any of them. It's not how I see myself, and so it's very weird and depressing. I tend to blame it on school (it has been a rough quarter with an extra heavy workload of not-particularly-interesting classes), but that's probably just a cop-out. I have pretty high expectations for myself, and when I don't meet them I get down on myself. Does anyone else have this problem?

First, spending. I did so well all summer with not buying coffee or anything, but now I am buying it two or three times a week, which is mostly just a waste of money. This fall, I've been the one who says, almost on a weekly basis, "Why don't we just go out for dinner?" We're not exactly flush with money, and while Matt reminds me that our spending habits are so much healthier than the average American's, I still feel guilty. I am ok with occasionally eating out, but I prefer to do it as a treat, not because I'm feeling exhausted or stir-crazy. Those are situations in which actually putting in some effort to cook a nice meal will make me feel better, but I go for the easy out. And most of the time we have leftovers in the fridge, so I can't even say "there's nothing to eat."

I haven't been doing my best at work, wasting a lot of time and getting behind on my duties. I am putting off schoolwork until the very last minute, and then freaking out about it. I am getting very little exercise and eating a lot of candy (thanks, Halloween), which is rather hypocritical for a public health student whose focus is on promoting physical activity and good nutrition. I'm just finding it really hard to turn these habits around right now. Maybe it's because I was so busy all summer that I didn't properly catch up with myself before school started, and that has been dragging me down all term. Maybe it's the change to fall weather and short, dark days, getting home after dark and no gardening to do. Maybe it's this silly feeling that I'm getting old and it will be awhile yet before kids or a farm come into my life (note to self: you're 28. You have all the time in the world. 30 is the new 20). Maybe it's the fact that 2012 has just been a generally tough year, full of living paycheck to paycheck, working through difficult relationship stuff, loved ones in and out of the hospital, and otherwise generally stressful. Lots of bright spots (so many friends got married!), but exhausting.

I find that I can tell myself over and over, "I will fix this. Tonight I'll do some knitting/cleaning/cooking/reading instead of crawling into bed and wasting an hour on YouTube." And then I get home and crawl into bed and waste an hour on YouTube. I nag Matt repeatedly to do certain chores, without ever actually giving him time to do them. That's not who I want to be, but it's who I am being right now. Ugh.

I know I can't expect myself to snap out of it all at once. But here's what I'm going to try and focus on for now:
  • Getting more exercise. We've been managing a short hike each weekend, which is helping, but during the week I'm sitting so much of the time, and it makes me feel gross and lethargic. This week I've been walking to work, which gives me 15-20 minutes of exercise rather than the 5 minutes I get when I ride my bike. I'm going to try and keep that up, to walk to work every day. I'm trying to stand more, but it's not always an option. I'm going to try and bike from to school once a week, rather than taking the bus, but it's a pretty long ride so I'm going to try to not be hard on myself if I don't do it. 
  • Not buying coffee or going out for food. I need to start bringing a thermos of tea with me to school. There's no reason not to. I can fill it in the morning or at work, and then hopefully I won't be so tempted to pay $3 or $4 for coffee or chai at school when I feel the need for comfort, otherwise known as a hot drink. And I'll ask Matt to hold me to the not-eating-out plan, and remind me that by actually cooking something we will both feel so much better and will be saving a lot of money too.
  • Buckling down on schoolwork. I have been putting off getting started on a couple of final projects that have me a little bit intimidated. I know from experience that just getting started makes the biggest difference, so if in the next couple of days I can read a few articles and write a few paragraphs, that will get me well on my way.

There are only three more weeks of this term of school, and in spite of how hard this quarter has been, I am really looking forward to the next one. I start my Field Experience in January, finally working in the health promotion field and satisfying one of the final requirements for graduation from my program. I'll also be taking elective classes, so they'll be fun ones that I'm really interested in.

We'll be getting out of town soon, too, which I think will help me work out some of my stir-crazies. We're going up to Medical Lake, Washington (near Spokane) for Thanksgiving, to spend it at my brother and sister-in-law's newly purchased turn-of-the-century farmhouse. I haven't seen it yet, apart from pictures, and I am really excited.

I do feel better having written all of this down, and I appreciate your reading it, if you made it through :) 
We'll be back to regularly scheduled food/chicken/rabbit-related programming next time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Garlic in the Ground

We got the garlic planted on Sunday afternoon. A late fall ritual for us now, and the first time we have ever planted seed garlic that we grew ourselves. We're starting to work out a crop rotation for our garden, and so this time the garlic went into the bed where the peppers grew this summer (above, with a visitor), and a strip up front by the lawn.

It either means we're giant garden nerds, or actually sort-of-farmers, but we're so proud of our soil. We've only lived here a year and a half, but already the dry, thin soil that was originally in the garden beds is now deliciously dark and beautifully textured, having been tilled several times, and amended regularly with our homegrown compost. We are leaving all root matter in the soil now, to help aerate and add more organic matter. In the front yard, the thick, dense clay soil was broken up nicely by the potatoes and tomatoes that grew there this summer, and by the thick mulch of rabbit-straw that covered it last winter, breaking down and blending in to give it natural fertilizer and a softer texture.

Lilac leaves raked up and used to mulch one raised bed. This bed has been constantly in use since we moved in, so it was time to give it a break.

Planting cloves from the most robust bulbs of our Chesnok Red.

We planted 85 cloves. We grew about 80 bulbs this year, and that seems to be about right, since we use about 2-3 bulbs per week.

Mulching with chicken/rabbit straw.

Safely tucked in. See you next summer, garlic!

Our November yard: yellow leaves and green grass, as opposed to the summer arrangement of yellow grass and green leaves. 

It's election day here in the U.S. (You may have noticed. It's been on the news occasionally....).
I have no qualms in sharing that have my fingers crossed (plus a few weeks of hoping and praying stocked up) that we end up with a president who doesn't feel that his life's calling was to make money in private equity, who believes that all Americans should have healthcare whether or not they "earn" it, who doesn't believe that it is the government's job to decide what I get do with my uterus, and who thinks that ALL people should be able to marry the person they love.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

On These Shelves

We haven't been over to this particular corner of our kitchen on this blog since we first moved into the house. It seemed time for another visit. For a kitchen that looks like it has a lot of cupboards, we don't actually have enough storage space for all of our dry good and bulk food, but luckily this space at the end of the counter is just right for these shelves.

The shelves are from Ikea, and Matt has had them basically forever. They fit just right here, although it took several rounds of loading up the shelves, discovering that they needed to be spaced differently, unloading them, changing the spacing, and reloading them, before we got it just right. This is where we keep the majority of things like rice and pasta, and then refill the containers from the bulk stockpile in the basement.

Our friend Leah is a genius when it comes to storing things efficiently. She visited right when we were moving in, and suggested buying plastic buckets or bins that would fit under the shelves for things like flour. They should be big enough that they don't need refilling terribly often, but small enough that they don't take over the space and can easily be lifted onto the counter when mixing something up. We went to the container store and found these, and they work perfectly. Brown sugar, white sugar, white flour, whole wheat flour (and, on the far right, the city compost bin, to be emptied into the yard debris wheelie bin).  The rest of the baking supplies and spices take up one full cupboard above the counter.

This was another of Leah's brilliant suggestions: instead of paying for fancy cruets, just buy pour spouts that fit into wine bottles. We buy oil and vinegar in bulk, then decant it into these bottles, which are much more user-friendly (and look a lot nicer) than bulk containers. 

Our remaining winter squashes have made it onto the shelves, where we also keep the cutting boards, spare egg cartons, and newspaper/paper bags that we use for various things around the house.  In the springtime, these shelves end up full of seed packets and garden plans.

Most of the rest of the shelves are taken up with jars of dry goods, the breadbox, the microwave, and our tea collection. The wine rack on the very top shelf was a housewarming gift from Laurel. 

In my dream house, I would have a small built-in pantry right off the kitchen, with floor-to-ceiling shelves, big deep drawers, space for all of our canned peaches and jellies and things (as well as the small kitchen appliances we don't use all the time), and a door or curtain that could be shut to keep things out of sight and generally make things look less cluttered. But as it is, this setup works quite well for us, and it's nice to have everything handy, right there in the kitchen.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Green Eggs and Thrift Store Finds

Apparently not all of our hens are moulting- Thelma and Louise are laying! We got our first green eggs on Monday, and now we are getting a regular influx of them! One of the other girls started laying again too- we're getting one brown egg every day.

The light and timer we set up on the coop to give the flock lengthy days must be doing its job. So nice to have fresh eggs again, and such pretty ones too!

Another nice addition to our household this week is homemade soap. Yesterday I received a package in the mail from Laurel, containing my share of the soap we made, now well-cured and ready for use. It's a biggish batch and should last us until I can get it together to make another batch on my own. I'll give some of the small bars as gifts, but keep the big ones for the bathroom and shower and kitchen sink.

I went thrifting this week, in search of flannel sheets for our bed. I didn't find any, but I did come across a couple other treasures. The first was a cast iron griddle pan, in perfect condition. I've been wanting one for ages, but not badly enough to pay for a new one. But for $7, we now own this one:

We're going to break it in tonight, making hamburgers for dinner. Matt says he's going to go find a small brick from our collection and clean it really well to use as a hot press for making things like panini and tuna melts.

I always keep my eye out for sewing supplies and candles, things that can be expensive if bought in large quantities new, but are always cheap and abundant secondhand. We use a lot of candles, especially in winter (our living room is not particularly well lit, so we always have candlelight at dinner). I bought a bag of about 15 tall taper candles for $3, then found a bag containing a bunch of lovely ribbon and some thread for $2. I like wrapping gifts either in reusable bags or with fabric and pretty ribbon that can be reused, rather than the weird plastic-y kind that is everywhere. Plus, with a couple young kiddos in my life, this kind of thing is very useful for craft projects.

We were down to one set of flannel sheets, and needed another set to swap out with when the other set goes in the wash. But not a single thrift store I went to had any queen-size flannel sheets. I stopped at Fred Meyer for some groceries and peeked into their homewares section to see what they had. I found a nice set of cream-colored sheets (two pillowcases included) on sale for $20, so I got them. They're very cozy, they'll last us a long time, and they mix and match well with the rest of our bedding too.

Matt and I try to limit what we buy, because we already have more than we truly need, but we keep a philosophy of "pay for the good stuff," things we know we'll use and that will last a long time, even if they're not completely necessary (case in point: griddle pan). We also keep in mind our "someday plan" of having a bigger house and more property, where our sometimes strange collections of tools and books will be more practical.