Thursday, November 15, 2018

Our First Snowfall of 2018

Today a big snowstorm is making its way northeast across the states and we are getting a few flakes here at the top of the Chesapeake Bay. 
A view from the kitchen window

Our forecast is only for a slight coating with the possibility of some icy accumulations on solid surfaces but I am not going anywhere so I can only enjoy the freshness of these whisperings of winter yet to come.

Cold hardy pansies that I hope will live long into the winter

Eric already left for an appointment down south so I used my morning coffee time to do a little research on nutrition (one of my passions) and listen to a video by Jane Esselstyn. I looked up and noticed that the snow had started. 

Purple cabbage is a tough plant

Snow! When the kids were younger, I used to make an animated and exaggerated announcement whenever I would see the first snowflake, "It's snowing!" as if the little flakes marked the start of an exciting event.

Snow-white daisy petals and snow crystals

Well today, I still made the announcement, only to myself as I jumped up to grab my coat and try to get some still shots of the snow outside.

Golden crabapples will be the base of my next vinegar after the frosts sweeten them

I find such beauty in the changes of the seasons and today was no exception as I could catch the beauty of a little rose bud still growing after a few frosts, now sprinkled with the icy snow flakes. 

Quite the contraposition

Soon the cold will deepen and the plants will reign in their life down into the depths of the ground where they will wait for spring among the roots, bacteria, actinomycetes, fungi, algae, protozoa and sleeping seeds.

My strawberries didn't seem to get the winter warning

Of course, I wasn't planning on staying out too long and as the snow transitioned into a wet sleet, I retreated back into our warm livingroom.

I love the hollow green onion stalks

You might notice in this picture my newest project - a wood rack. I used black iron pipe left over from my kitchen shelves to form this super easy and yet robustly strong rack to hold our split wood close to the woodstove. 

My newest project to the left of the stove - a black iron pipe wood rack.

Once I had the plan measured out, the assembly was simple. I did add two maple boards that I saved from the demolition of our pantry, since it was very fine grained and old wood - too hard and useful to throw out. 

Just amazing!

A simple phone camera captures amazing clarity of details

So I am posting some of my pictures here for you to enjoy and will now get on with my morning...

My girls' birdhouse still hanging on a sturdy white oak tree trunk.

Three bean and sweet potato soup hits the spot on a snowy day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Camping Along the Atlantic Ocean in a Nor'easter

Today is a rainy Tuesday and I am reminiscing of our weekend of camping at Assateague State Park a few days ago.

Who doesn't love the ocean in the fall?

What? Camping in late October? It must have been freezing!

Well, yes and no. Our family loves the beach in the fall more than the hot summer months and we thought October would be an ideal time to miss the inevitable flies and mosquitoes. So we booked our camp sites and sent out the invites months ago.

Our granddaughter flying a kite in the steady ocean breeze.

All through the summer we dreamed about and looked forward to an idyllic family get together on the sand with roaring fires, good food and spectacular sunsets. I always tell myself that half of the fun of traveling is in the anticipation of the event.

Night camp fires are so welcoming.

So about two weeks previous, we started hearing about a coastal storm - a possible Nor-easter that might affect the camp grounds and therefore our trip. Daily weather checks confirmed the gloomy news. After much consideration, we decided to go ahead with our plans, weather notwithstanding.

We headed for the ocean on Friday afternoon. The skies were overcast, but no rain and just a light breeze under a temperature of about fifty-five degrees. Wild ponies wandered around the campsites much to our curiosity. I won't bore you with too much detail so to summarize, everyone made it to the campsite by nightfall and then the rain started.

Photobombed by wild ponies.

The wind was our biggest struggle as we tried to huddle around a fire together under a tent canopy but we ignored the gusts of wind driving the rain and smoky air into our faces. By nine o-clock, Eric and I turned in to collect a few hours of sleep before the storm might interrupt our sleep during the night.

Sure enough, by midnight, our tent ropes were taking a lashing as the fabrics pushed and pulled in the gale force winds. The roar of the ocean was like a freight train that never stopped. When our tent poles collapsed, Eric crawled out to check on the others and found our daughter's tent collapsed and empty, our oldest son's tent empty and sopping wet inside. Our second son was sleeping fine as he had wisely chosen a spot in the dunes sheltered from the wind. My brother's tent was twisting and shaking like it was possessed but holding strong.

The ocean was wild and beautiful!

We checked our cell phones and found our daughter and her husband had wisely escaped with their year-old baby to a local hotel. We found our oldest son and his four-year old daughter sleeping in our van when we decided to leave our tent. The local hotel was a welcome respite at three a.m. where we managed to get in several more hours of sleep, although I did catch the hotel manager laughing at our windblown and sooty bodies as we quickly escaped to our rooms.

The morning after...

What an adventure! We drove back to the campgrounds and found that one tent was totally destroyed. The others we moved to a more sheltered area and spent most of the morning staking them well. We stoked up the fire and proceeded to have a blast cooking various chilies and laughing and visiting in spite of the light drizzle. The campsite was a beautiful spot right behind the dunes along the Assateague Island coastline. We were surprised and grateful when we saw the storm surge had brought the waves just to the crest of the main dune and not over, or we would have been flooded out.

The water temperatures were not that cold.

The second night was much calmer as the winds had died down to just ten mph or so. We found the wild ponies interesting camping partners as they did make crazy noises almost like children screaming in the night, but they didn't bother us. We had the usual conundrum of the air mattress not holding air and had to switch tents in the middle of the night, but the hot showers in the morning revived our spirits and warmed our bones.

Windy camp fire but such fun!
The camping season was over but we managed to have quite the adventure in spite of or maybe because of the "bad" weather. We spent the good part of three days together pushing our comforts away to enjoy the wildness of the ocean with our family and came away very tired but exhilarated.

Eric worked hard to clean up our gear of all the sand and now we have to find a new adventure to plan for next year. Maybe a mountaintop somewhere...?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Devil is in the Details

So I have been working several hours every day on various tasks as we try to tackle lots of projects around our home, but if you walked in the door you might be hard pressed to see much progress.

Revealing the beautiful wood below the layers...

Why? or even Why bother! 

Well, for instance, for the last few years, we have wanted to throw out our carpets and instead refinish our wood floors. So we did! We ripped out the carpet, pulled up the nasty staples and baseboards. We rented a floor sander and spent about ten hours sanding away. I was ecstatic! (I know, I'm a little weird.) Hard work, yes, but great progress, and what a difference!

Floor is sanded and ready for finishing

Sounds simple, right? What was left to do, just mop on a few coats of finish and tada!

But no. All the edges needed sanding with a hand sander. Then we knew we had to seal the wood before coating the floor with three coats of glossy finish.  Replacing the baseboard meant filling in the plaster gaps and that takes at least a day to dry. Next we bought lumber and custom fit new baseboards with quarter round trim. All the trim needed to be caulked. 

Trim is in and caulked and the doors are fixed.

We realized that our walls needed a fresh coat of paint so we kept going, even though we had to do three coats on the walls and then three coats on our new and existing trim.  Whew! We enjoyed when we could finally lift up the messy brown paper protecting our floors.

But what about the hallway next to the livingroom? Yup, had to repeat all those steps but on a smaller scale. In that hallway are four doors, and none of them closed properly after the shifting of everything after our house lift. So I took off all the door hardware, sanded each piece for a quick shot of paint and replaced them. Not sure if you have ever tried replacing door hardware but without fail something always seems off when I install doorknobs. Our house has plenty of wear and the doors show it, but after a little wood filler, caulk and paint, they look great again.

I was tired before I started writing this blog, but now I'm exhausted after reviewing some of the work!

But I won't bore you with more. Yes, we did put off a lot of home improvements that our house really needed but we planned to tackle them once our house was lifted onto new walls and that's where we are now. 

Figured out how to transition from hallway to bathroom
I read somewhere recently that homes really need to be updated and repaired at least every fifty years, and we can see why. So many details! 

I need to go and scrub my fingernails - I'm tired of seeing the paint on them...

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Throwing Out Our Gas Stove - For Good!

Today's view of the ocean along Virginia Beach

Today, I am high above the beach watching surfers ride the waves and listening to the constant crashing of the water onto itself. But that is not want I want to talk about.

Who doesn't love watching the sun rise over the water?

"Let's just rip it out!"

Eric loves demolition

That was Eric's bold suggestion for starting the change in our kitchen...and that is exactly what we did, or he did while I watched and tried not to worry.

Yup, we ripped it down in one stage revealing high peaked rafters and then in the next stage, the rustic ceiling joists.

In the beginning...

I just wanted to put up a few shelves, but he said we couldn't do that until we redid the floors which meant getting rid of all the old cabinets, which meant removing old baseboard heaters and the baseboards and so on. You know how it goes when you start one thing and it leads to the next.

Just getting started...

He just loves the demolition part and then we try and figure out a way to clean up and rebuild.

Well, there are so many phases to our kitchen work that today I only want to talk about our cooking appliances.

Here is our old gas stove still in use during construction.

Yes, we threw out our stove. We bought a gas range when we moved into the house in 2005. It served its purpose and we used it daily quite heavily until the kids all moved out and we knew we needed to make a change. When we realized our house was going up, we decided to remove the stove while we could just walk it out the door, and not have to go down a flight of stairs. No problem.

Our new stove only uses one square foot of counter space

We bought a small induction burner (Duxtop 8100MC 1800W Portable Induction Cooktop Countertop Burnerto use in our sailboat and used that in our kitchen until we could buy a new stove.

I can use a large stock pot for canning tomatoes on this little burner

Well, that was over a year ago, and we still have not bought a new stove and we are not going to. Why not? Well, we learned a few things about the induction method of cooking:

  • It is seriously efficient - much more so than regular electric or gas
  • We can cook things faster
  • I love cooking with a timer that shuts the stove off
  • I can set the cooking temperature
  • I can still use cast iron cookware
  • I can cook in metal mixing bowls
  • Off is completely off - no residual heat
  • No greasy film coating the kitchen because there is no flame lifting the grease
  • I can move the burner off the counter when I need space
  • If I need another burner, I can just buy another one
  • It is so much easier to clean
  • We can move the burner and cook in any room of the house or outside or the basement
You can read more about induction cooking here.

Love being able to use my mixing bowls for fast cooking

So, what about baking? Yes, we have always been asked that question since I am a fan of baking hearty breads. We bought a small oven for use the in sailboat, and again, found it to be sufficient for 95% of our baking needs once we moved back into our house. Yes, we do plan on purchasing a commercial small oven that will fit larger pans and heat up to 500 degrees, but until then our home cooked meals are quite easy to prepare in our small and efficient appliances. Now the thought of using a full-sized stove and oven seems so wasteful of the space in our kitchen. Most of all, I don't miss the daily chore of cleaning the greasy stove top.

Our kitchen is taking shape

Monday, September 24, 2018

I'm Out Splitting Wood

What?! You're not splitting wood - you can't be - you're a girl!
I'm a girl yes - a wife, mother and grandmother now...
Well, yes, I am a girl, but yes, I was splitting wood today - but not with an ax. There is no way I am confident enough or strong enough - so don't worry. We have been heating our house with wood for the last couple of years but until two years ago, we always had an oil burner as a backup source of heat. Oil as a fossil fuel was just not something we wanted to burn in our home any longer. The old burner was a good one in it's day but that was a long time ago and we all know that we cannot continue using petroleum products forever. We decided that our long term goal was to use solar as our backup source of energy for electric heat and that we were ready to ditch the boiler. We knew wood was a good renewable energy source as long as we burned it properly.

Freshly cleared trees

Our home has a beautiful stone fireplace that was built by a well-known stone mason in this area, but fireplaces are not efficient or practical to use for heating a whole house. We did get a big cast iron fireplace insert given to us a few years back, but it was a brute and sucked in the wood like spaghetti. While doing some research on efficient wood stoves, I stumbled across a Popular Mechanics article where they were showcasing the results of a clean burning wood stove competition. The overall winner was the Ideal Steel Hybrid made by Woodstock Soapstone. It was just what we wanted, a highly efficient, reasonable priced, low emission stove. This will be our fourth year with the really amazing stove.

Ideal Steel Hybrid Woodstove

Notice our personalized stove

Last year, Eric built a wood storage enclosure where we could stack wood out of the weather but in the sun and wind for optimal seasoning. We figure that it holds four cords of wood, which is enough to heat our home for a winter. 

Our Wood Shelter (we will remove the pallets when all the logs are split)

Last year, we also didn't spend any money on buying wood, just using the trees that we had dropped on our property to make room for the house lifting machinery. Of course, Eric had a chainsaw and a splitting mawl but since the logs were green and not seasoned, splitting four cords by hand would have been so much work. Our solution? Buy an electric splitter. Why? Well the reviews were fantastic. The price was much less than a gas powered splitter. We hated the noise level of the gas splitters, and I wanted to be able to contribute more to the effort. The big question was, could it deliver?

About 20% done!

We placed our order and within a few days, our cherry-red, Boss Industrial 7-ton electric splitter was in our driveway. Last year, we sat on our patio and fed the twelve to twenty-inch wide logs into the splitter and it just kept working. We could sit and talk while we worked, and before we knew it, we had our wood shelter filled up. No gas cans, no oil, no noise - we loved it! Yes, there were a couple super heavy and wet sycamore and black walnut logs that refused to split, but we set them aside to dry more and split them later. 

Boss Industrial 7-Ton Electric Splitter

I love telling people that I am out splitting wood. There is always that pause...Wait, what? And then I go on to explain that no, I am not an ax-wielding crazy woman, just a happy one sitting outside pushing the lever of the clean and quiet machine that renders dirty, twisted and gnarly logs into clean white fresh smelling chunks of wood that I can easily handle. After a few months of sitting in the fall sun and breezes, the wood burns clean and hot and thanks to our efficient stove with almost no emissions to harm our atmosphere.

So, yeah, I was out splitting wood...

Hydraulic power works great!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cutting the Cord

What? Are we hippies or something? Living in the bush? Do we use one of those huge antennas mounted to our roof?

Well, no, not at all. Read on...

We are free from a land connection!

Eric and I had many reasons for changing from being a cable customer to a cord-cutter. By a cord-cutter, I am referring to a person who no longer relies on a cable (or cord) that is wired into the walls of their home for internet and television service. We used to be a cable customer as it was our only choice, but I was very frustrated with the service for many reasons. Poor quality television programs, poor customer service, the costs were too high and so on. We have talked to so many people who, like us, couldn't figure out another method.

Even in St John, British Columbia we had great internet connection. Eric here having fun!

We were trapped...

Trapped until last spring, when we were planning on moving out while our house was to be lifted. We knew our cable subscription would have to be cancelled at least temporarily as we had no cable hookup in our temporary quarters in our sailboat. We could not be without internet for several months as Eric works from home and almost all of his communications are online. Since I am a writer, obviously the yellow notepad was not going to cut it.

Visiting Stonington, Maine

Go back another few months and we made a decision to change our cell phone service provider from Verizon to T-Mobile. This decision was based mostly on the differences in charges, but also on their offers. As T-Mobile upgraded its quality of coverage in our area, first I made the switch and then finally Eric did. Why do I mention this? I will explain...

As the deadline for our house lift approached, the need to find a solution for internet and television access grew increasingly stronger. One day, I had the simple idea of just unplugging our cable connection and see if I could figure out how to use my smartphone as a hotspot instead of using our router that fed a signal from the cable box to our television. Plenty of websites explained how I could turn on the software already installed on my phone and broadcast a wireless signal to my laptop. Sure enough, it worked!
Here you can see my settings page where the option for Mobile Hotspot is highlighted.

I can hear all your voices clamoring as you argue with this method as using up way too much data, as data is so expensive. Well you are right. Data was expensive, so I had to compare the new option with the costs of paying for cable and phone. Well, the new option was just a little more expensive but I still did not have television. I was happy to know how the connection could work and freedom from cable was in sight!

I scoured T-Mobile's website on their plans, their data limits and charges, and found that they did have a plan for unlimited data. Yes! That was one limitation gone. Now what about television? I saw that I could use mirroring, which is basically using your television as a monitor for your phone. I could see on the television screen whatever was on the screen of my phone. We used that method for a week or so, but I was still not satisfied. At this point, we could also watch television on our computers using the phone as a hotspot. This in itself was awesome as we could travel anywhere and as long as our laptops could power up, we could access the internet. Once in a while, we would lose signal on our phones but that became more rare as T-Mobile kept increasing its coverage area.

Time to cut the cable!

I feel like this blog is a commercial for T-Mobile, but I am just trying to explain how we were able to successfully cut the cord and am not being compensated by T-Mobile.

So, anyhow, then we discovered that we could use Roku as a receptor for our mobile hotspot signal that would input to our television anything we wanted. We didn't need a router anymore.

Here is how it works for us: I turn on the hotspot on my phone under the settings - the first time you do this you will have to set up a password so that not everyone has access to your data plan.

I plug our Roku stick into the HDMI input on the back of the television and power it by plugging it into the USB input (you can also power it from a wall receptacle, but we didn't want another long cord.)

Roku Stick plugged into HDMI slot

Next, I turn on the television and go to Input. I click on the HDMI source that I plugged the Roku stick into and the television will begin broadcasting any channels we have subscribed to including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and so on. The Roku stick comes with a remote that I pair with our television so it will also control the power and volume. At home, we leave the Roku stick in place and so our television automatically opens to our Roku homepage.

Powered by USB port

This method works wherever we travel as well. We bring our Roku stick and remote with us for overnight stays. No more flicking through hundreds of hotel cable or dish television channels and putting up with stupid commercials.

Our easy Roku remote

Back to the data problem. The whole issue with unlimited data was that the small print in the phone companies' data plans always mentioned that after so many gigabytes, the speed would drop. Now that was not really that much of an issue as the Roku stick could buffer shows and then play them at regular speed. High definition was where we saw the problem.

Eric working on the sailboat

A few months went by and our sailboat stay was very successful. We had a midsize television mounted in the center of the boat and we had great phone reception so our internet service and television watching were almost seamless. When we moved back into our home and switched back to using a larger monitor, we were surprised to see the lack of definition.

Back to T-Mobile I went and found that their International Plan included not just unlimited data but also high speed and high definition and wait for it...anywhere we went in the world. (Well okay, some areas still don't have cell phone towers but for all intents and purposes, for everywhere we travel, it has worked, including Germany, France and Ireland.)

Nice simple setup
So now I have spilled the beans and our secret to freedom from the cable is no longer a secret. What a pleasure we have found in watching shows that we choose, without commercials, and can watch when ever and where ever we like!

And, oh yeah, the cost we now pay for our two smartphones, with unlimited data, high speed and high definition for television and internet is now less that we used to pay to our cable company and phone company combined!

For those curious folks, we pay $95 a month, that includes everything except for our actual phone leases (as of 9/2018.) How much data do we use? Last month - 267.42 GB, 941 phone minutes and 2688 text messages.

Now our next step is to get an even more efficient LED television monitor that has 4K capabilities so that we increase our quality of picture while decreasing our electric charge so that we can use solar to power our phones and television.

It's nice to be free to travel and still be connected when we want. Here we are in Dingle, Ireland.

Just last week, I read an article on how impossible and unrealistic it was to try to survive without a physical hookup for internet and television whether to cable or dish, and I had to chuckle to myself as we are living proof that you can be free from the dreaded cables.We certainly enjoy our setup and highly recommend you explore your options.

But wait! What about watching sports? Well, we are not sports fans, but have found whenever we need to watch something important like the Super Bowl, there are streaming channels available for us to use on Roku. back to our regular programming....