Monday, August 14, 2017

Brick Dust: Changes Inside and Out, Garden Update...Stuff

Things are busy right now at Sage Alley!  While most of our produce is starting to come in and be ready for harvest, my partner and I also have our own pursuits in progress.  Except for a recent illness for both of us (mine slightly more protracted,) we've both been running, running, running!

We were hoping to take a trip to the beach for our 10 year anniversary in September, but unfortunately, our finances aren't going to allow for that.  We'll probably take a shorter trip (long weekend or something) closer to home.  We also may go visit his family in Vermont. We have not decided yet.  It's a bummer, that we can't do our Big Trip this year, but it's not the end of the world.  It will be just as special next year!


This is our current bedroom.

Part of the fallout from our recent illnesses is that we have decided to set up a second bedroom for ourselves on the second floor of the house.  Our current bedroom is in the basement of our house.  We both love this room; however, basements tend to be cooler than the rest of the house.  While this is great in Spring and Summer, it's not so much in the colder months.  At the same time, our wood stove really heats up the house!

To this end, my partner has decided to condense his two studios on the second floor into one, and we're taking over one of the rooms as our "winter bedroom."  When we are not using it, it will serve as a guest room.

The master will remain my art studio, but I think we're going to replace the bed that's currently in there with a twin, set up as a daybed.  That way, the studio can still double as guest space, but I will have a little more work space.

I actually don't mind having a second bedroom.  My whole thing about sleeping in the basement has been about not leaving my cats down there all on their own, but the truth of the matter is that we are down there all the time, for various reasons.  When we are not sleeping down there, we'll be able to open the bedroom up and cover the bed, so they can hang out there.  We aren't able to bring them up into the house, because of my mom's pets, who are all still with us.  (I think I have posted in the past about trying to introduce one of our cats to the household.) The basement is a finished space.  It's an apartment, so it's not like we're just leaving them in some damp, cold place.  It's a home.  :)


I have made a major decision regarding the direction of my future, and I have not made this decision lightly.  I have fibromyalgia, and in the past year or so, it has gotten worse.  Thought I still do a lot of running around, and I get out a couple of times a week, it is getting harder and harder for me to function. Those outings and activities are costing me more dearly than they used to.  I may have a good day or a string of good days, and I take advantage of them when I do!  That said, I'm paying for them more steeply.  My flares are getting worse, and I'm staying more tired for longer periods of time after. I'm also not able to stand or exert myself for as long as I used to be able.  I now have to rest after every task or after every 15-20 minutes of activity. Sometimes, I'm done for the day after hanging the laundry for instance.  I can't concentrate on anything for more than an hour or two.

These factors are making it harder for me to find work that will accommodate my needs for rest and time to refocus my mind.  I have been looking for a part time job for over two years, and I have not had any luck. After much discussion with both my partner and my client (who has been more than understanding with me,) and with much hesitation and emotional struggle, I made the decision in July to apply for disability. I know what I am getting into, and I know that getting it is a long process and that most people do not get it the first time they apply, so I am taking it all one step at a time.  In the meantime, I am continuing to look for work and for clients.  I can't just sit around and wait for it. It could be years, and I might not get it at all, even on appeal.

I don't like it. It doesn't feel good.  When I have a string of good days and am kicking butt, I feel like maybe I don't need it (I DO need it.  Fibro does not get better. There is no cure right now. It's just symptom and lifestyle management.) I try to remind myself that I paid into the system for many years, and I still do and will continue to. I try to look at the bright sides:  When and if I get it, the stress of trying to find work and/or clients will be alleviated.  I will be able to focus better on meaningful things.  I will have time to help out others and work on stalled projects around the home and in my studio. I will have peace of mind in knowing that I will have an income and won't have to panic, as I would if I lost a job.  (Though there ARE sometimes hiccups with disability.)  I just try not to beat myself up. It's not my fault that I've gotten ill.

This is a very personal thing to share, but I want the people who follow this blog to understand a little more about who I am.  Unfortunately, my illness is part of who I am now.

On that happy note...


We harvested a ton of corn today! (Well, OK--so it was about eight ears, but still!) I have quite a learning curve with the timing. As you can see, most of the ears were not quite mature enough yet. My bad!  It tastes very good, though, and now I know better what to look for next time.  I did the research to find out when it should be harvested, and I guess I took it too literally.  I should have waited a few more days.  This isn't going to stop us from enjoying it, though!  The white ear is the same variety as the rest, just younger, but it tasted fantastic.  There is plenty more coming in, and I told a friend I may be able to give her some next week!

The good news is that, although I did see (and pick off) some critters while harvesting the corn, they don't seem to be eating the corn itself, so far.  If I can stay on top of the timing for harvest, we may avoid that problem altogether, which would be wonderful!  Overall, this variety appears to be pretty hardy, and it's also possible that the plants we have nearby are helping to keep some pests away.  We don't have a companion planting for the corn this time, but the beds are fairly close together.

I'm just over the moon, because the corn was all me.  I've never cultivated anything on my own before, so the fact that the corn is doing well is just a thrill!  Next year, I will take a more active role in the garden!  I became pretty invested in the peas, so I may oversee those next year, as well as the corn, and who knows what else?


Finally, I want to express how heartbroken and angry I am over the events that took place in Charlottesville, VA.  Something is very wrong with our society when someone is able to murder people in cold blood in the light of day.  No remorse.  No hesitation. Possibly pre-meditated. It's horrible, and it is surreal.

Tonight, I will be attending a candlelight vigil in a nearby town to honor all of the victims of what took place.  America has a lot of healing to do.  We have really lost our way.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Garden Update: Summer

It's been a while since I've posted one of my Garden Updates. We're about due!  Despite the extreme, up-and-down weather we've had so far this year, the garden is doing pretty well.  Most of what's been planted is coming in.  Most, but not all. It also looks like we're losing the collards to an as yet unidentified critter.  As for the kale, it just never came in at all.  The tomatoes, which were started inside early in the year, mostly didn't make it through transplanting.  I believe we ended up with two plants.  Those two plants are thriving, though!

We have three or four surprise lettuce plants (top left in the collage, below,) and they look delicious!  I can't wait to harvest them!  The largest one, I believe, is a seed plant. We also have garlic coming in gangbusters, as well as two potato plants, which are doing well.  My corn is doing well so far, but in thinning out my plants, I fear I may have thinned too much.  I think the plants are fine, but I may not end up with as much corn as I had hoped.  A few did not come up, but I'm learning that this is normal.  This is why we "over plant."

The garden is huge, and all of the beds are not even in yet, but we are already growing quite a variety of foods--all things we will actually eat, of course. After my partner did some research, we decided to use the no till method for laying in our garden. In our case, the process is even simpler than what larger farms do:  We simply laid down grass mulch over the tops of our beds and dug the seeds in by hand. That's it.  We still have weeds, but they haven't overrun everything, and weeding doesn't take long.  (Though in the case of the dandelion, we're leaving some of it in place, because we eat it.) We will need to rotate our crops from year to year, but there's no need to leave a bed fallow, as some people do. Not only is this better for the soil--it is also saving us a lot of time, and with both of our various chronic health issues, it has made the process a lot easier.  The plants we have coming in are very healthy.  It helps that, before we moved in here, my parents had not put any chemicals on the lawn for several years.

As always, we use no chemicals or fertilizers--other than compost--on our garden.  Over the years, our yields have been fine for our needs.  Heck, last year, we weren't able to eat all of the tomatoes we harvested! I feel like in using this no till method, we are reducing our footprint just a little bit more, and that's a good thing!

(Other stuff)

The candles in the middle of the bottom row have nothing to do with our garden.  LOL!  That is one of my recycled art projects!  It was my first attempt at making votive candles (from recycled wax,) and I was about 90% successful.  I lost one to maker's error.  I'll just remelt it and use in in the next batch! Candles and incense are both items I have been making on and off for years. I had stopped for several years, because I simply did not really have the space to do either one on the scale I prefer.  Now, I have the space and the resources to do it.  It is my hope to start selling them. I'm even hoping to eventually sell some of our sage, but that is a long way off, because, though it is doing well, our sage plants are mere teeny, tiny babies at this point.

The photo in the lower left corner is of the entrance into the woods where our pet cemetery (I'm calling it "Sage's Rest") will eventually be.  The kitty statue is staying, and I'm making a sign.  Over time, I will be clearing out the space, and as our pets pass on, this is where we will bury them. This is where we buried my dear Musashi.  It may seem a bit morbid to pick out a space for a cemetery, but it's all a part of life.

I'll be sure to update later in the year, when we start to see how our yields are! Meanwhile, happy summer!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Hadmade Pasta-First Attempt

First batch of handmade pasta with my fancy pasta maker!

Part of attempting to achieve zero waste means doing some things from scratch.  Recently, I made my first batch of pasta from scratch! Since we've been on this zero waste journey, there have been some radical changes in how we shop, cook, and eat. For a while, we would just buy pasta and find the boxes with the smallest plastic window we could, but we finally decided to stop.  Making pasta is very easy.

This plate of pasta was for my cheeseless lasagna, which is delicious. I did not make enough.  I will need to double the recipe next time.  I also used too much water/not enough flour.  the noodles fell apart a bit and stuck together.  Most of them were fine, but I ended up with a lot of broken pieces, which I used anyway.

It was fun to try, though, and the lasagna tasted great!  It also doesn't take long at all, so I don't think I will miss buying pasta. I'm finding making food from scratch extremely rewarding, and I'm finding that the food tastes a whole lot better, too.  I especially like using non-electric, old fashioned methods.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saying Good-Bye to a Sage "Alley Cat": Musashi

Here at Sage Alley, we had eight cats, until this morning.  This morning, we said good-bye to my beautiful boy, Musashi.  Sadly, Musashi (or Mu'shi, as we used to call him) had a type of cancer that wasn't treatable and was aggressive.  (Lymphosarcoma.)  After diagnosis, poor Mu'shi only survived about a month.  Spending more money and treating it more aggressively would not have made much of a difference.  I asked.  Mu'shi spent his last weeks being loved on and eating whatever he wanted.  His brother, Sam, kept a close watch on him, just like he used to do when they were kittens.

My previous partner and I found Mu'shi and Sam at our old apartment complex in Maryland when they were kittens.  I knew who their mother was, but she was too feral and hard to catch, so she never got caught and spayed.  Her story did not end the way I'd hoped, but I believe I've posted about her in the past.  The Muffins (as I called Mu'shi and Sam as a pair, because they were fluffy and white) were part of her latest litter at the time.  We heard some kids outside saying there were kittens, so we went to investigate. I cornered Mu'shi in a bush.  He had climbed up into the highest branches of this bush, and I just reached in and plucked him like a fuzzy, little piece of fruit.  He didn't like it, but he didn't show any aggression until I handed him to my partner.  He bit the heck out of him!  Sam, meanwhile, just ran right into the carrier we'd brought outside with us.  (Mu'shi was the brains of the operations.  Sam was the brawn!)

How did they end up with such different names?  We would take turns naming our kitties, and my ex was very into Japanese culture, and especially Samurai lore.  Musashi was named for Miyamoto Musashi, a famous swordsman. (I have only two cat who he named left--Fujiko and Toranaga.) He really lived up to his name in those early days, too!  For the first year or so of his life, he had a "top knot"--a little, gray smudge on the top of his head!  He also lived up to his name when, as a kitten, he was up on top of the dresser playing one day and went after my ex's miniature katana and wakizashi!  He had the little katana partway out of its sheath before we put a stop to that!  It was pretty hilarious.

At the same time, Mu'shi was a very, very shy cat, extremely sensitive to stress.  I remember one time when we were replacing a sofa.  He was so upset, he was cringing on my lap and chirping.  I held him and rocked him for about an hour before he was finally able to calm down and adjust to the change. (It was long after everyone who didn't live there had left.) Over the years, he remained very afraid of people he did not see often.  I used to joke that he was our "invisible cat."  He was also very sweet, though. He never fought with the other cats or so much as hissed at anyone.  At the vet and groomer, he would freeze instead of fight or bolt.  I felt very sorry for him, but at home, he was a gigantic love-bug.

He loved to cuddle.  If I sat still for too long, he would climb into my lap. When I was cleaning the cat boxes, he would come up behind me as I sat on the floor and put is paws on my back and pop up and say "hi."  Then, he would curl up and roll around on the clean cardboard I would put down.  He was a very, very gentle soul.  I have never met another like him, and I doubt I ever will.  I'm just grateful that he saw fit to walk the path with me awhile.

Good night, sweet Prince.

NOTE:  I referred to my cats as "Sage 'Alley Cats' " as a play on words.  All of our cats here at Sage Alley, except for Mama Kitty, who was my mom's, are indoor cats.  Even though we live in the country on private land, I feel much safer keeping them inside.  The dangers to cats are different here, but there are still plenty of dangers.

Photo credit:  All photos in this post were taken by Rebecca Whittington, except for the first one.  Used with permission.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Brick Dust: More Photos

I have been ill the past few weeks, so I have not felt up to getting deeply into any particular subject.  Sharing photos is an easy way to keep in touch and give people a taste of what life is like here at Sage Alley.  I hope you enjoy them!

Just a quick note:  I have been working on a post regarding a very important topic. I'm nearly finished; however, I am unable to share it for a few more weeks, due to the sensitivity of this particular subject.  It should be an interesting read, and--I hope--educational! Stay tuned!


Now, on to the photos!

Peonies!  Seems to me like they bloomed early. It is also unseasonably cold right now, so I wanted to cut some before the cold kills them.  These were planted by my mom, and they make me think of her, always.  I like to always have a few in the house while they are in bloom.  (Never take all of the blooms, however!)
(That is not actually a bucket of cat litter in the corner of the photo!  LOL! It is potting soil.)

This is a view of the driveway as you head out.  The day I took this, my partner and his friend were felling a tree!  I was on my way down to check on their progress and help them load up the wood.  They didn't end up needing my help, but I always like to make myself available, when I'm feeling well enough.

The honeysuckle are also blooming early!  I have no objections, however.  :)


I hope you've enjoyed my photos today!  I'll be back soon with some actual updates!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Brick Dust: Photos!

Spring seems to have arrived, literally, overnight!  I swear, I woke up one morning, and everything was just green!  The weather is still weird--up and down--and my partner and I are both getting over illnesses, so not much is happening this week, but he did get a few lovely shots last week.  I though I would share some.

This rock sits beside the driveway right as you come out of/enter the woods.  There are a lot of stone outcroppings on our property, and they are beautiful!

That's red bud in the foreground and our weeping willow and electric tractor. I believe all of our lawn equipment is now electric! 

We enjoy our fire pit year-round! Some nights, we even cook over the fire.

That's all I've got for now.  I'm enjoying the explosion of color we're experiencing, and I plan to get out with my own camera soon!  (Heck, I still have photos from an ice storm in December that have not been processed!)  We've got planting and some DIY projects coming up, so I'll be sure to share about those!

Happy Spring, and I'll catch you later!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The P Word-Another Update-Food

Tomato at our old place in MD.

It's been a little over two months now, since we started our plastic elimination experiment here at Sage Alley, and it's going pretty well.  I still have not transferred my animals' prescriptions to local stores, but at the moment, I don't need those foods, and the dogs have a vet appointment this week, so I will be able to ask then.  Likewise, I'll be setting up appointments for my cats at my other vet's office soon.

As for the humans in the house, it's been interesting.  Our eating habits have had to change pretty drastically (in my case, anyway,) and frankly, I'm finding it challenging.  One would not think that it would be that big a deal for vegans, but there were a lot of foods that I was eating that came packaged in plastic.  I'm no longer eating those foods, and I miss them.  My guy has always been OK with--and even preferred--eating whole foods.  The convenience foods we used to get were a treat for him, but he mostly ate whole food.  I'm the one who is having issues adjusting.  My thing has always been to take foods I've always liked and veganize them.  I like some of the meat and cheese substitutes.  I liked still making "chicken" soup, mac n cheese, etc.  Those are comfort foods for me. Now, I'm not able to make those foods, since we are eliminating plastics.  I'm learning a completely new way to eat.

I like whole foods, and I don't mind not having the mock meats and cheeses.  I'm just not used to it yet.  One thing I have tried was making lasagna.  It was a cheeseless lasagna made with tofu.  It turned out to be really good, actually.  I also have recipes for different kinds of "cheese" sauces made from tofu and nuts. I just need to change my thinking. We do have a source for bulk tofu, which really helps.  What is frustrating me right now, though, is the fact that I can't even make seitan, because it comes in plastic bags now.  Next time we are at the nearby food co-op, I need to check and see if they have vital wheat gluten in bulk. I suspect they do not.  The store back in the DC area does not.  I'm also going to look around online.  Seitan doesn't work with everything, but it works really well in the dishes for which it's appropriate.

We're making more foods at home, from scratch.  Bread and baked treats, in particular. The next thing I want to learn to do is make pasta.  We were getting pasta in boxes with no interior plastic bag, but with a small, plastic window.  We have decided to stop buying even that.  Again, this is hard for me. I really enjoy pasta.  It's extremely versatile.  Plus, I love Italian food!  I've wanted to learn to make my own pasta for years, so I'm looking at this as an opportunity.

We no longer buy the nut milks we used to keep on hand.  They come in either plastic or aseptic packages, which do not recycle where we live.  What we do now is buy canned coconut milk, blend it, dilute it, and keep the "milk" we make that way in a jar.  It's very tasty, and I don't miss the other milk substitutes at all! Breakfast hasn't changed much for us, really.  We just don't have veggie bacon or sausage any more, because they come in plastic.  Instead, we have fruit with our pancakes or potatoes or whatever. Both the hot and cold cereals that we eat are available in bulk.

So far, taking our own containers to restaurants is not a problem.  The problem has been that sometimes, we just forget. It's a matter of building habits, just like we had to do when we stopped using plastic shopping bags.  We both have a routine now before we leave the house where we gather everything we're going to need and put it in a bag and either hang it on the door to the garage or put it with my purse.

I'd have to say food has been the biggest challenge for me in cutting out plastic from our home.  I'm a foodie, and I have foods that I have always liked and looked to for comfort.  Learning this new way of eating is challenging for me.  My partner is much calmer than I am.  Change is easier for him.  The good news, though, is I am always open to learning.  As a foodie, the idea of trying new foods is exciting for me. It's just the cold-turkey nature of our changes that has kind of thrown me off. I'll get there, and in the meantime, I comfort myself with the knowledge that we are reducing our footprint on the planet.  That alone makes up for all of the mac n cheese that I can't eat right now!

Have a great week!