Saturday, December 8, 2012

Restoring a Home, and a Wood Stove

So, in the time since I've last posted, we have suffered a death in the family, been through a horrible bout of some kind of nasty virus, and moved to a entirely different home.  It makes me tired just to write it out.

The place we've moved to we absolutely love.  It's definitely more of a permanent place for us, and we have the option to buy if we decide we would like to make it ours for good.  But, the moving in was incredibly difficult.  It's a very long story, but the short version is our very sweet landlady was taken advantage of by someone close to her and the home was hoarded and then pretty much abandoned.  It was supposed to have been clean, safe, and ready for us to move into, but that didn't happen either due to some bad circumstances, so we ended up doing a lot of the work ourselves.  It was hard, dirty, gross, and there's still a lot to do, although the main living spaces are clean and are renovating nicely.  After Christmas, we hope to take on the apartment and storage spaces that are still full and badly in need of some tea tree oil.

So far, we have, in addition to cleaning out the home (many truck and trailers' worth of trash hauled out, a metric ton of cat hair, urine, and feces cleaned, and making everything fresh, safe, and non-sticky), added chandeliers to the dining and living area and a ceiling fan to the girls' room, painted the girls' room, added solar lights to the sidewalk, taken out the upstairs carpet so we can finish the wood floors, oiled and polished all the wood surfaces, fixed the dryer, cleaned off the front porch and added a gate, chased away a million spiders, and generally made the place a home again.  All in the last two weeks.

Tonight's project for me was refinishing the wood stove.  It is a sweet, sturdy, cast iron thing, just wanting to be loved again.  It was covered in rust (and cat hair and dirt) and the first thing I did was vacuum it.  I wish I had taken pictures...actually, I wish I had taken "before" pictures of the entire place, but I was in survival mode just trying to get us into the new place on schedule and make it on that ragged edge of acceptable for the girls to be in.

Anyway, the top was covered in loose rust and I just vacuumed it away to see what I was working with.  It was pretty rough, pocked and pitted, but seemed to be just surface damage.  That was as far as I got until tonight.  I bought a tub of Imperial Stove Polish from Lowe's for less than five dollars, and some SOS Pads.

I began by using the steel wool to scrub away as much of the rust as I could.  I was really surprised by how much of it came off, it actually came away very smooth.  I was worried I would have to sand it, but that wasn't the case.  I washed off the soap with wet rags and let it dry.  I then began applying the stove polish with a piece of cloth.

Ugh, so sad and dingy!
I started at the top and just covered the whole thing.  A word to the wise, wear gloves.  Unless you have no common sense, like me.  Then just plan to paint the rest of your nails black.  Also, don't touch your face or you'll look like you've been making out with chimney sweeps *again*.  Don't ask how I know.
 The last step is to buff the finish with a soft cloth to bring out the satin finish.  There is no odor to the polish, it's just carbon black in a paste form.  It may smoke a bit when you put your next fire in, it will only last a few minutes as the finish cures and is nothing to worry about.

Then, just enjoy the beautiful heart of your home!
Isn't he gorgeous?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Second Go at Slow Cooker Monthly Meals

I finished my second night of Once a Month Cooking last night.  This time around, rather than using a menu that was set up by someone else for their family, I searched through the internet and some cookbooks to customize a menu for us.  The result:  4 weeks of meals (plus two weeks of lunches and some snacks and breakfast items) for $194.32.  I feel really pleased.

I tailored the menu to foods that I knew we would eat, with a few new recipes I wanted to try.  Last time, all of the recipes were new, and honestly, it was too much.  Every night was sort of a gamble, and while we did like a lot of them, particularly the Thai Coconut Chicken, it was kind of like playing dinner roulette.  I prefer to know that, at least 5 nights out of seven, we will for sure like what we're having.

One of the new recipes we tried

That said, here is our menu for dinners:

--Turkey Chili with Apples
--Creamy Chicken Stew
--Slow Cooker Jambalaya
--Saucy Pork Chops
--Beef Fajitas
--Pizza (this is not done in the slow cooker, we make dough in the bread machine)
--Breakfast for Supper
--Chicken and Dressing Casserole
--Island Pork
--Hashbrown Casserole
--Italian Stew

Each of these recipes were doubled so that we could eat them twice in the month.  We had our first new recipe this evening, and it was super good!  You can find the recipe here.  It is so autumn-y and filling!

Turkey Chili with Butternut Squash and Apples---Yum!

In my next blog entry, I'm going to make a list of things I wish someone had told me before I started Once a Month Cooking.  I'm sure as I go along I will think of a million more!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Rain, Rain, Rain Came Down, Down, Down rushing, rising rivulets.  Or, at least, that's how the song from The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh goes.  And that's how it's gone here for the past several days.  I've honestly never seen rain like we've had in the past few days.  I've seen crazy, driving rains in Illinois, tornadoes and driving winds that blew the windows out of our upstairs sunroom and tore up our barn.  But the rain here is so...rainy.  Seriously, the drops are enormous and it's more like watching water poured out of a bucket than rain.  And it lasts for days.  But, it's beautiful and soothing to hear it on the roof.  And it's really interesting to see how the river changes, swollen and muddy and rushing in giant WHOOSHES instead of the clear, rippling flow we normally have.

I am dreaming of farming again.  Right now, the only thing I'm growing is a basil plant in my kitchen window (it is gorgeous, by the way).  I passed a sign for pullets for three dollars, and I am tempted.  I think my property manager would be on board.  She's an animal lover and she's actually cleaning out a room in her home right now for two tortoises to free range in.

It is a little premature to be making big decisions, but Preston and I have been looking over home buyer's guides and dreaming of buying property here.  Our dream is still to farm and I think it would be a good place to do it.  The local residents and the local restaurants are really big on small-footprint food.  The local schools do farm tours, have school gardens, and eat local food in the cafeterias.  The students even receive a monthly local food magazine made by an organization in the surrounding counties.

In many cultures, this month is a time to honor our ancestors who have passed on.  In places like Mexico, they are remembering loved ones as they celebrate Dia de Los Muertos.  I am thinking a lot of my Great Grandpa and Grandma Cowsert and how much I loved being on their farm as a child.  I loved visiting the rabbits and chickens and eating good food from the garden and watching the corn grow.  But most of all, I am thinking about how much love a place holds when you have roots in your spot in the world and use hard work and perseverance to put them there.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Some Things We've Been Up To

So, the last few weeks have been really busy.  I've been enjoying the fall weather coming in, and it makes me really want to get in all the fun the pretty weather will allow.  I also am busy preparing for the cold that I can feel creeping in, putting out all the winter clothes, trying on coats, making plans for scarves and mittens and hot chocolate.  Maybe I've been reading too much A Game of Thrones, but the phrase "Winter is coming" is hitting a chord with me lately.  I feel like a squirrel gathering nuts, trying to make sure we're all warm, comfortable, and safe in the cold this year.

We have been taking lots of time together and it's been wonderful.  I think this fall is going to be one full of wonderful memories.  A few of the things we've been up to include:

Serious Construction Projects

Always wear proper headgear when building with blocks!

 Making friends.

Taken at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies.

 And, creating masterpieces.

Persephone's pumpkin she painted for our front porch.

I hope that this gorgeous weather holds...we have lots more memories to make!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Doing the Diapers

I was going to write today and show you all the curtains I sewed for the house.  We moved in and had NO window treatments in any of the windows, and I was really tired of having to huddle in our tiny bathroom to change and then turn out the lights to get into to bed rather than risk scandalizing the neighbors with me in my nightie, but I changed my mind and will do that post later.

Instead, I'm going to blow your mind with my awesome find.  But first, a little backstory.

We are a cloth diapering family.  Both of our girls wore Sunbaby pocket cloth diapers like these.  We have loved them dearly and I can't tell you how much money we've saved over the last two and a half years by using them.  We sing their praises to everyone we know.  Not only are they good for our budget, they are aren't chlorine-laden, and when we use them we don't generate mounds of garbage that will sit in a landfill somewhere for goodness-knows how long.

However, we are having a quandary.  Our new place does not have washer and dryer hookups.  Our little river community has it's own laundry mat that is very close and convenient.  However, at $1.00 a load to wash, and $1.00 a load to dry, we would lose the financial advantage of cloth diapering.  I would also be spending a LOT of time traipsing back and forth to the laundry mat with two little ones in tow, only to find out that all the machines are full.  (It's been happening a lot lately.)

So, we've been using disposables.  And I don't really like it.

Enter the Panda Portable Washing Machine.  It is small, easy to use, hooks up to your sink, and washes a load with about the amount of water it takes to flush a toilet, compared to the forty gallons a standard washer uses.  I think it will be just the thing to wash our clothes and diapers.  It also features a laundry spinner, sort of like a salad spinner, that gets all the water out so they are almost dry when you hang them up.  I plan on using a retractable line outside and a drying rack indoors in inclement weather, just like I did when we went without a dryer in our first house.

I just ordered mine from e-bay for 159.00, along with a optional 26.00 three year warranty that will repair or replace the machine at any point within three years if it stops working for any reason, with free shipping to send it in.  I think it will be well worth it to know that my investment is protected.  I have also figured that, doing a load each night of our regular clothing plus a load of diapers, I will no longer have to go to the laundry mat except to wash very bulky items like comforters.  The machine should pay itself off in two months if you count the savings of at least $10 a week in quarters for the laundry mat plus the cost we're currently paying for disposable diapers (about $14/week between the two girls).  Our water here is included in our rent, so it's not an additional cost, but with as efficient as the machine is, I don't think it would add much, if any, anyway.

I just ordered and hope it will be here very soon.  After I've been using it for a little bit, I'll let everyone know how it's working out.  I'm super excited!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Monthly Freezer Cooking

All the moms on one of my favorite forums, Diaper Swappers, love to chat about once-a-month cooking.  It seemed like a lot of work to me, especially considering a lot of the dishes shared (such as lasagna) are completely pre-cooked, requiring a lot of oven time on the day you do your cooking.  Since we are in the last days of summer, I really couldn't justify keeping my oven on all day and heating the home up.  But, after finding a link to this post on Ring Around the Rosies, I was inspired!  It seems so logical to put together every ingredient and then simply cook it in the crockpot on the day you want it!

I also downloaded the e-cookbook she recommends from Mama and Baby Love.  There are a lot of good recipes in here and we have tried almost all of them in our first month of once-a-month dinners.  We've liked most of them so far and I think it was worth buying just to get some ideas.

To get started, I first brainstormed recipes.  Using the e-cookbook was a good starting point, then we just added in things that were already favorites with us.  I used this menu to make a shopping list, going through each recipe and writing down every ingredient we'd need.  In the recipes from the website mentioned above, each recipe is set up to make two full meals, so you can eat one and bank the other for a supper down the road.  I don't think I've ever bought so much meat at one time in my life!  But, knowing it was a full month's worth of meals plus some, I went ahead.  I was surprised then, when I only spent $267, and that included a lot of spices and things that I won't need to buy again for a long time (such as coriander, cumin, and curry) that I didn't already have on hand, plus breakfast, snack, and lunch things for us.  Those can add up really fast!  And that's still a lot less than the $700 or so that the average American family of four spends on groceries a month.  For the rest of the month, I only anticipate buying milk and fresh fruit and veggies for snacks.

We brought home all our ingredients, along with the recipes, and started the assembly line!  It was actually fun.  We did it after the girls were in bed so we didn't have any little "helpers" to deal with, and we enjoy just hanging out together anyway, so it was nice to keep our hands busy and talk.  We assembled each recipe, split the ingredients between two gallon ziplock bags, and added the meat last.  In some recipes, I substituted cuts of meat that were less expensive or that I already had on hand.

It was not an orderly assembly.

As we got each bag finished, we made a label with the ingredients, the assembly date, and the cooking instructions, such as adding a cup of water to the slow cooker and cooking four hours on high.  Each bag was then smashed flat with all the air removed for storage.

The bags were stacked in the freezer, and my menu put on the front of the fridge for easy reference.  Each day, I simply take the bag I want out of the freezer (hopefully without an avalanche...there's a lot of meals in there!), and stick it in my Crock Pot.  So far, it's been smashing success.  It is super nice to not have to think about what we're having for dinner.  It's even nicer to empty a bag into the slow cooker at eight in the morning and not think about supper for the rest of the day.  All told, it took about four hours to assemble the meals, and I could not be happier.  I will definitely be doing this again.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cedar Chest as Chalkboard Coffee Table

When we moved, we had a LOT of things.  Our home was pretty big, with a garage, attic storage rooms all along the second story, and a basement.  We also had tons of closets.  When we moved here, we knew we were going to have to pare down and simplify.  I wasn't horrified by the idea, since we've been trying to embrace voluntary simplicity for quite a while.  It WAS a challenge to figure out how to fit our entire lives into a 6x12 moving trailer, though.  It really gave us a chance to evaluate what was important to us, what was necessary, and what we were ready to let go.

In the end, we ended up giving away and donating truckloads of our things.  We also had to rethink our furniture because what we had just wasn't going to work in our new small space.  One of the things I had hiding in a spare room was an old cedar chest.  It had a big ding in the top and the finish was flaking off, but it had a lovely shape and I really just love cedar chests in general.  They make me think of family.

We decided it would be a perfect coffee table, taking the place of our large octagonal one which was simply too big for the space and too heavy to move.  The chest would be both narrow in the room and would do double duty as a storage space for blankets.  I didn't have a chance to do any refinishing on the chest at all before we moved, other than a good wipedown as we had less than a month to pack and move after Preston accepted the job here.  So, once we got here, I decided to simply give the top a coat of chalkboard paint (thank you, Pinterest!).

Everything is sort of temporarily arranged until we get a chance to get our new couch.

I think it looks pretty nice, and it's a great spot for impromptu art!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Day in the Life

Some of you might be wondering what in the world we're doing now that we're here, for the first time, away from family and friends out in the big wide world.  Well, we are spending much more time together, now that three hours out of every day aren't being spent commuting to and from Preston's job.

We are going to the Farmer's Market a lot.  The girls love all the sights, smells, and tastes, and I like buying from people in the community to keep our money local.  I've been using this gorgeous head of Bibb lettuce ($1.00!) as both a food, and a centerpiece on our kitchen table.  I bought it with the roots on, and I just keep watering it and picking off leaves as I need them.  Multipurpose for the win!

We've, therefore, also been eating lots of good food.  We've been eating on kind of an adjusted schedule, both as we acclimate to the time change, and as we get used to Preston's new schedule.  We have been eating a small meal/snack (granola, fruit, etc) when the girls get up, and then having brunch with Daddy when he gets up.  That lets us then have a meal with him early (he gets up about 10:30 after getting home at 2:30 in the morning) and then we're also able to have a late lunch with him before he leaves late afternoon.  Then, the girls and I have a light meal/snack in the evening and Daddy eats at work.  Here is this morning's brunch, French toast with blueberries and powdered sugar:

Oh, yum.

We've also been trying to get settled in to our new home, which is a great deal smaller than our last house.  We are finding places for everything, and love living on the river.  There's nothing quite like waking up to the sound of the water flowing by to soothe you to sleep.

I hope in the near future to be good about updating so we can all keep in touch!
Hello, friends and family who are finding your way here!  We've decided to start a family blog to let you all know a little about what we're up to here in the wilds of western North Carolina.  It's more dynamic than a Christmas newsletter, less expensive than sending you all postcards, and easier than smoke signals.  I hope you enjoy it!