Tuesday, April 15, 2014

this is really happening

We did it. A few weeks ago after scouring Craigslist for months, I spotted this one. we were almost too busy to go look at it, but then we did, and as soon as I walked in, I said, "Yep. Okay, this is it."

I hardly looked at it. I saw the floorplan - it had all the things we were looking for, save for one, which wasn't a dealbreaker item. Lots of closets in the bedroom, lots of storage and counter space in the kitchen, two sofas, LOTS of basement storage. Door in the front, which allows for two sofas (which was important to my husband). It also has real cherry wood cabinets, which almost no RVs in our price range have - real wood? Most of them are particle board. Real wood!

We got an amazing deal on it because the couple who were selling it just wanted to pass it along so they could go on to the next phase of their lives, in Alaska. The tires are very recent, they had the generator serviced per our request, and it has two slides and plenty of space.

Every time I walk out my door and see it in the side driveway of our house, I think, "Is that real? Did we really buy it?" I'm kind of amazed and maybe still in shock. Still, we're getting right on redoing the interior, decorating, making it our own. And there will be photos! And a name! We have to come up with a name for her. I thought "Destination Unknown" but that's more of a blog name than a rig name, right? That's the name of our trip!

First we paint, then redo the floors, then compost toilet and solar added to make her road-ready. And a name! She must to have a name!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

a whole new world

I'm trying to process my world now.

Here we are at a four day unschooling convention - a nice small one with only about 30 or so families in attendance.

Because my health has been challenged with FIbromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, chemical sensitivity, I have had to learn to be extremely careful in the world, and my world of late has been limited to mostly my own home and the occasional trip to the grocery store or to see a movie, and really not much else.

I thought that this would be a better convention for us, because it's fewer families, and I would be able to manage the smaller amount of people (compared to the other one we've attended that has over 700 families and is completely overwhelming). The hotel is smaller, there aren't many people, and my son's BFF, who lives outside of Seattle, is here with his brother and mother.

I overestimated what I can handle.

Once upon a time, the word 'convention' meant me and a big group of friends in a hotel with thousands of people, walking the hotel ALL weekend long. The room was for 1) storing our stuff, 2) refilling our drinks, 3)changing our clothes and 4)sleeping (well, napping really). We were rarely in it, and if we were, there would be a dozen other people with us. I almost never stopped. Three days straight. We barely packed anything, sometimes even forgetting to bring a change of clothes. We brought alcohol in spades. If we ate, it was out at whatever fast food place was nearby. (I'm talking about science fiction conventions, these were our home away from home, and we looked forward to every single one that happened, several times a year).

Fast forward to now: we packed half our kitchen because eating out anywhere can be fraught with foods I'm unable to eat without reactions. Brought all of our own food, and the crockpot, an induction burner, a pan, dishes, our own beverages (NO alcohol), all my supplements. We have all the clothing we could need, toys to play with, our computers, my CPAP machine, my fan for white noise, my sleep mask, the toaster oven, and our own bottled water. Oh, and all our own bedding, including sheets for the bed, because we are sensitive to the bleach and petrochemicals in detergents. Packing the car, which my husband had to do alone because of my not having any spoons to help him, was like a live action game of tetris, because we have this small sedan and still had to fit three people in it after filling it with all of our stuff.

Once we got here, all we really wanted to do was recover. The first room they gave us had apparently just been cleaned with some kind of toxic chemicals, because within ten minutes of being inside it, I was lightheaded and felt sick. A friend across the hall let us smell her room, and it smelled much better, so my husband went to the front desk and asked if we could switch rooms. Luckily they were really understanding about it, and switched us to one that "hadn't been sanitized" that day, and she said they have other guests like that, who call ahead and ask for no chemicals. she even offered to go get us linens that were different, but we said no worries, we brought our own. So we opened the window, which looks out to the mini-golf course, and we were good.

We saw kiddo's BFF for awhile, then bed, and yesterday was the first full day. We went back and forth between their room and ours. Their room is upstairs and in another building - above the pool and down the hallway from it. You can smell the chlorine in their room. After the first visit of only a half hour or so, I couldn't be in their room anymore for the chlorine smell. Again: dizzy, nauseated, room spinning.

We went to see The LEGO Movie at 2, and when we got back I was completely spent for the rest of the night. Just - ZERO spoons left. I spent the time in the room while the boys visited friends. I was just WIPED.

So today I'm here in bed again, in the middle of the day, watching hotel cable and typing this. Noticing that although I can hear the people playing mini-golf outside, and the kids playing in the hall, and there is a whole convention of people out there, and I WANT to go meet with them and interact and play....I just need this downtime right now. I need the recuperation time between events, because there is just NOT the energy in my body to handle being ON all day, even for one whole day, let alone two in a row.

So instead of reaching out and making new friends, I am choosing self-care, and just trying to make peace with my needing this time in the room to rest until we maybe go to the beach today (we're on the coast right at the ocean) or whatever we end up doing that does require my moving and being up and around. And even here, as far away as our room is from the pool (it's actually in the other building, so down the hall, out one door, across a 5 foot walkway, in another door, and there's the pool), I can smell the chlorine - it was burning my eyes last night until I realized Husband had closed the window while we were out, and I opened it. In addition, I was having pretty intense brain fog - within a half hour of opening the window, I could think again. It was noticeably different. amazing, right?

So I'm the canary in the coalmine. And until I figure out the way to healing (believe me, as I sit here I am working on THAT), this is my life now. There are some things that sadden me about it, like the part where I don't get to connect with the people I want to connect with, or do things like stay up talking to people until the wee hours. It's lonely. An there are other things I am glad about, like that I WAS able to make it here, so my son could be with his friend, and my husband is here to accompany him and is a great support.

And hopefully later today, we WILL be able to go to the beach.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

what we're looking for in an RV - geek out edition

We have our RV search narrowed down - WAY down. It took a couple of months of scouring every RV classified site I could find: eBay, RVT, Craigslist, and even some facebook groups.

Ebay is wonderful because many of the sellers there seem to have it down as far as representing a rig with photos. So you can really get a sense of what a rig looks like inside without seeing it in person.

RVT, like Ebay, is thorough because it gives listings from across the US, and is only RVs.

Craigslist is better for local listings and private buyers, IMO, but has also been a great resource for investigating rigs. Just with many less photos.

Sadly, dealers seem to be the best at taking ALL the photos, because they've done it so many times and know what people want to know. Yes, I really DO want to see that floor, and what all the cabinets look like INSIDE, and what the storage bins look like INSIDE. You just really CANNOT take too many photos of an RV - there are so many different things that photos can show, sometimes even better than looking at it in person, believe it or not. Because in person you get swept up with being in the rig, and the seller, be it private or dealer, will be talking to you and distracting you from really taking a close look. With photos, you can look all you want, and there's no one taking your attention from what you're seeing.

Of course, you can't SMELL through the photos, or REALLY feel what it's like to walk through that pass way, or shower in that shower, so seeing rigs in person is definitely valuable, too. Of course! And if you can manage to get a test drive, all the better, because driving comfort is SO important!

With my limited spoons, and actually seeing RVs in person being really really difficult on me (salesmen LOVE cologne! And used RVs tend to have lots of interesting smells - spending a day in them takes me out for a week), I have LOVED the internet options that are out there. We only go to look if there is a rig we're REALLY interested in - and of course when there is an RV show.

All of this looking around has given me an idea abut what rigs have floor plans we like, and has even let me know what we prefer. Going to an RV show and looking at different rigs also helped us feel a sense of the space and design to give us an idea of the type we want.

For us and our needs and comfort, it's a Fleetwood Bounder. I've been drawn to them from the beginning, not really knowing why. But closer inspection has given me allthereasons: the layout and design, the storage both inside and out (there's so much!). As diesel pushers go, this is the one that for our price range, seems to come closest to actually having full time living in mind when they were designed.

We already decided we want a diesel pusher. They can be more expensive to maintain, but they are also more durable and long-lasting and in our opinions, more suited to full-time living. The engine is in the back which makes the drive quieter (we can talk to each other without walkie-talkies!), and also adds to the ability to get up those hills. Diesel engines can last a million miles, so mileage on a used diesel, at least engine-wise, isn't very relevant. And they tend to have a much better resale value.

The features we find most important are:

~ door in front of rig, for maximum living room space
~ 2 slides, for more room when parked
~ counter space! what we love about the bounder is see up there? pull-out extra counter space! since we don't really eat out the kitchen is of utmost importance. I gotta have space for my Vitamix!
~ big fridge - this is something we could replace ourselves relatively easy, but man it would be great to have it already done for us
~ an oven. We don't do microwaves, and I don't know enough about convection microwaves to feel that they're safe (for us) to use. So I gotta have an oven.
~ washer/dryer or at least the space and hookups for them. Again, with my chemical sensitivity, is important to have our own.
~ ability to convert bed to King (almost no rigs in our price range come with a king bed, but most of them come with a queen and the modifiable space to upgrade it ourselves
~ big ol' closets in the BR (which can be converted to a bunk/play area for K)
~ enough extra closets in BR that converting the big closet won't lose all of our space for clothing
~ a good location for the flat-screen TV in the living room. In an RV where space is at a premium, it's difficult to find a good location for the TV. And given that ours is usually also hooked up to the gaming systems and HDD drive, we need space for those, too. Sometimes this might require some modification.
~ relative ease of converting carpet to wood floors. Bonus if this has already happened - it's rare, and something we expect to be doing ourselves. And by 'ourselves', I mean my husband will do it.

Then there are mechanical things as well, but inside, the space we will be living in, that is important space!
Mechanically we ask things like:

~ Have the recalls been fixed (there are a few recalls for this model and year - minor things that the dealerships fix for free, like fridges)
~ What type of generator and how many hours are on it (this should be included in the description but often isn't)
~ How old are the tires (they need replacing about every 10 years even with low miles because the UV rays can break them down - this might be changed if they were stored inside, but I don't really know)

We got a lot of great information about buying a used motorhome from the book "Buying a Used Motorhome" by Bill Myers 

Right now the Kindle edition is only $2.99! And it was so worth it! It gave us so much to think about that wouldn't have occurred to us had we just been figuring it out on our own. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

well, I was going to write about RVing, but...

Sometimes it's difficult to remember how to keep a blog. Life gets in the way - health, trying to stay afloat, just staying functional. I struggle with chronic illness. One of the myriad of reasons we are wanting to get on the road is to find an environment more conducive to my health, as I am incredibly sensitive to mold and wet climates (NOW you tell me!). The past two years have made me very aware of just how much my environment IS affecting my health.

Have you heard of The Spoon Theory? I hadn't, until a few months ago. But it is a brilliant theory, in my opinion, because it really does explain what life is like when one has a chronic illness. When my own husband read it it helped him understand what I am going through in a much more profound way. I highly recommend clicking on and reading (and even bookmarking) that article, it is well worth it. Go ahead, I'll wait.

You see? That's it. That's my life now. Most days, even though I am probably sitting here on the sofa doing nothing, because that's what I have the spoons for, I cannot even brain enough to write blog entries, and instead I either read Facebook because it's brainless, or watch silly sitcoms, because they keep my mood up. If I do have the ability to brain anything, or any energy, I'm not at my computer - I am doing stuff with my son or getting some laundry done or catching up on chores that pile up while I'm down. (My husband, though valiant and tireless during this period, is only human, and cannot manage allthethings while also working outside our home full time).

And then there are days like today: my brain works, but my body feels exhausted - like I've been hard at work or am completely sleep deprived, despite having had a full night's rest. I'm just tired. But deeply, bodily tired, like I just can't move, and even walking to the bathroom is a LOT to ask of my body.

The official diagnoses are: Fibromyalgia, Hypothyroid, Adrenal Fatigue, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, PTSD, Anxiety, Sleep Apnea, Bursitis and Depression. It seems that when one has one major diagnoses, they become like those famous potato chips - no one can have just one. I also have Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which makes going out in the world akin to trying to navigate a minefield: all of the scents, chemicals, lighting, sounds, overwhelms my already overloaded body and it can take me down for days. I have to be so careful about where I go or who I am around (perfumes and colognes), or what I put into my body. I can't go out at night because the lights from the cars against the darkness will send me into migraines. Which is almost irrelevant, because what little energy I have tends to crash around 3pm, leaving me unable to do anything but rest for the rest of the day anyway. What social life? 

I use a combination of allopathic (that's traditional western medicine), biomed, naturopathic and chinese medicines to foster my healing. I see a therapist, and a GP, a naturopath, a rheumatologist, sleep experts, a chiropractor, and massage therapists just to keep at this level of function. Because it was even worse before. My brain fog was so bad and my energy was so low that even doing something as seemingly simple as typing a blog post seemed herculean. Everything in the world was overwhelming. My anxiety was so bad that even making a phone call seemed impossible. My husband was making most of my appointments and then even taking off work to take me to them so I would be able to go.

I take an amount of supplements I cannot even talk about because it is so far beyond anything I ever thought I would see myself do. Food is medicine if one's body is functioning properly and can absorb the nutrients in the food...but when one's biochemistry is all out of whack and one's health is a multi-layered onion...well, it seems food can be thought of as Step 1. I am very VERY careful about my eating - my body does well on only a handful of foods, all of them grown in nature and unprocessed. I have learned in these past two years what my triggers are and I work hard to avoid them all.

My goal now is to keep working and keep finding where I am unbalanced, and do my best to correct that imbalance. So that I will have energy again And be able to move my body again. And go out into the world safely again. And I can see that it can happen...albeit it slowly, I can see that it just takes careful tweaking of this and that until it takes me up a level, then I can address the next layer, and so on. And as much as I love my beloved Pacific Northwest, I think that being in the wet and mold and lack of sunlight isn't working for my body, and I need to find somewhere that I can heal a little faster and more completely.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Oh Canada!

Today, we took the oath of Citizenship and became Canadian Citizens! We are official! No longer are we mere permanent residents, but now we are truly and officially Canadians! 

One of our lovely fellow new citizens offered to take this photo of us.

This whole day really surprised me with how BIG it felt, and how emotional it was. Apparently citizenship isn't just this piece of paper. It's....being a part of something. A part of a whole. And it's important. And big. And a really big deal. And today I felt so amazingly proud to be a part of Canada, and a part of the Oath of Citizenship, and just...alive.

It was a long line to get the paperwork sorted  - everyone has to present their PR cards and their landing documents and sign a paper that says we give consent to being photographed. And there were 81 of us today becoming citizens. 81!

Once we were all seated and ready, the clerk told us how the ceremony would go  - how important it was for us to hear everything the judge said - and how we would stand up, say, “I, __our name__,” to the judge, because we were all agreeing to take the oath of citizenship. The judge then spoke about what it means to be a citizen, an how important it is, and a bit about what makes Canada a great country, and what that means to Canadians. He spoke about the aboriginal people and about the men and women who fought to keep Canada a sovereign nation, and how his father died in service to Canada. Tears! It was so beautiful and moving, and with Rememberance Day coming up...oh my goodness. I think he even teared up a little bit, the judge. When it was time to begin the oath, we stood up a row at a time, everyone saying our names individually. I let K know that he didn’t have to say his name, but that he could, and I sort of emphasized that he could - because it was really feeling like a big deal to me, and although I don;t want to coerce him, I do want him to know what he is capable of. I went over with him what to say. See, kids under 11, they don’t have to say or do anything if they don’t want to. And usually in situations, K would feel shy….

But it came to his turn, and he raised his right hand, and he said, “I, (his name),” and looked right at the judge when he said it, and I was SO proud! I got all teary and then almost forgot my own name because I was just beaming that he did it! SO PROUD. And he was proud of himself! Then when everyone had said their names, we all repeated the oath after the judge, in both English AND French, and it was so affirming and moving. And the judge had given such a moving and powerful speech about the responsibilities of being Canadian, it was SO emotional - and I really felt like yes, this isn’t just a piece of paper, much as a wedding ceremony isn’t just a piece of paper - this is symbolic of something big and important and REAL, and my big kid just took full part in it and really participated, and it was just….an amazing day. So you see that photo up there - that is what we all looked like the day we became Canadian Citizens. That is an important photo!

I know this judge must do this ceremony hundreds of times a year, but it felt like THIS was the most important ceremony ever, and it didn’t feel trite or overdone….and he was engaging and moving and I cried so many times as he spoke. And I was reminded of why I love Canada so much, and what I love about its citizens. And I am so, so proud to now be one of its Citizens. What a gift.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

so you're thinking of buying an RV...motorhome or trailer?

One thing I am learning in looking into all of this road travel business is that there are really a LOT of options for which type of travel one prefers. The three I am considering are:

 1)Motorhomes, which have the driver's seats right in the motorhome and are a part of it. And then one might pull a "Toad" (towed vehicle) behind, for running errands when the motorhome is parked. Run on diesel, so can be converted to veggie oil.

2) 5th wheel - which is a trailer that has a bit that goes over the truck bed (sleeping quarters?) that is pulling it. Needs to be pulled by a truck, preferably a diesel, because I have learned that they are workhorses. Bonus: diesel can be converted to veggie oil. 5th wheels often have pullouts (at least the newer ones), which make them much heavier but also provide more space when parked.

3) Trailers, which are also towed by diesel trucks or SUVs, and are similar to 5th wheels in that the newer ones can have slideouts. They're just flat on the front, nothing hanging over the towing truck. I believe thats the difference anyway. Again, diesel truck can be converted to run on veggie oil.

At first I thought I wanted a motorhome because of the fact that it is all self-contained, and I liked the idea of being able to hang out "in the house" while we were also driving. Everyone is always all together, etc. But there is also the part where if the engine breaks down, then ones entire house needs to go into the mechanic....and then what does a family do if it takes days or more to fix?

What really changed my mind actually was watching this video:
The Happy Janssens: RV Veggie Oil (WVO) System from Sara Janssen on Vimeo.

Now, that is an awesome veggie oil system, yes? But also, Scott installs those systems and has some skill with maintaining them, I assume. AND it becomes complicated with the RV towing the truck that also holds fuel, adding to the total weight and and and. So I did some more reading about towing and at the same time remembered that long-buried dream of touring the country in a silver bullet trailer. And it seems worlds less complicated to just tow a trailer behind a truck which itself is converted to veggie oil. Then when you need fuel, you just unhook the truck and off you go, and no extra steps - it's all on the vehicle itself. Plus there's all that extra space in the bed of the truck. Why not use it for fuel?

I also read that diesel trucks are workhorses, and go forever and ever apparently, so getting one with 148K miles is "just getting started" on their capacity and that the silver bullet trailers were built to be towed behind cars (in the 50s, 60s and 70s, which meant big steel boats, but still CARS), and so are fairly light, even with allthethings we would be putting inside. And again, having the trailer separate means being able to send the truck in by itself to be fixed when needed while still having the ability to live in the trailer wherever it is parked. And what I read about handling when pulling a trailer in a diesel made me say yep, this is the way to go. For us, anyway.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

thinking about choices: where do we go from here?

Once upon a time I had a dream that I would travel the country selling my wares at festivals, and when I did, it would be in a silver bullet trailer. Remember that, Sharon?

I honestly believed that that dream had died a long time ago. I haven't had the urge to travel since I started getting motion sick, and my family, they are the rocks that really just want to be in one place. I often say they are the trees (rooted deep in the earth, staying in one place) and I am the bird (fluttering around them, wanting to take them places and show them new things and never really wanting to be in one place too long). I get restless and I like to shake things up.

And I was ready to root down with them, I really was. I AM, actually. We bought this big beautiful house on this big beautiful property and we were working to make it a space we would love for years to come. But my health has not been improving since my concussion. And that puts my dear husband in the role of caregiver to me at times, and of course to our son, and having this big 'ol property on top of it with systems we aren't used to caring for and all the work they hasn't been working for us the way we had hoped. We had to concede that we need something smaller and that requires significantly less maintenance.

And then there have been all the issues we have had with the neighbours. It's been a huge mess, and we don't quite understand it, and I really don't want to rehash it here, but let's just say we have been sufficiently traumatized by their incessant need to ignore all boundaries, and if it wasn't the property itself needing so much more than we are able to give it, it would most certainly be the neighbours driving us away from here. And because of the (actual) trauma of the situation, I am feeling a need to explore other options and just NOT own any property for awhile.

We aren't able to sell until July because of capital gains tax, but that gives us time to get all our ducks in a row and really figure out our gameplan. AGAIN. We are honestly SO tired of moving, you know? But this isn't working for us, and we are in over our heads, and that is just what is so. Living here has been stress after stress, and the beauty of the property is not outweighing the amount of stress it brings us. So....what about going in the opposite for something completely different?

What if we just explored our options for awhile. Literally? We have always wanted to visit my biodad, for example and haven't been able to afford it. Or my dear friend in Florida. Or our relatives in various parts of the country. How about Legoland, or the beautiful National Parks, or any of the events we miss that we used to attend, but we don't anymore because $ and we live too far away? Kiernen wants to go to NYC to Nintendo World. What if we actually could?

My health has been a big thing for us these past couple of years. since my concussion, I haven't been the same. I am 42 now. That's young in many ways but it's also close enough to retirement age that we have this awareness of how short life can be. and because of my health issues, we are also quite aware of how fallible we are. In my family there is a degenerative brain illness that is hereditary .My mother, my uncle, and my youngest brother have it. There's a 50/50 shot any of us in my family do. I haven't been tested for it, nor has my other brother - we don't want to know (yet). But it affects the cerebellum - that means motor coordination, speech, ability to walk, causes severe vertigo and issues with sight. It hits in the 50s. That's ten years from now. Just ten years.

So I might not have much longer of a time in which I can do those bucket list travel in an RV across the country. And because of technology and seasonal work, there are actually a lot of different ways to make $ on the road. So why not? In my research (because I am me and once I am interested in a thing I like to spend hours and hours finding out as much as possible about it) I have discovered that there are SO SO many people who are full-time RVers. Couples, families, singles, all ages and backgrounds. There are tons of resources for doing this - so many I am overwhelmed by my options for research at present - and I will find my way through them so as to be as fully prepared as possible before (if?) we do this (also an incessant need of mine).

I even have friends who are doing it!

So this is the beginning. Who knows what might come of all of this, but right now I am in the "let's do this!" phase because that's how I roll. In this family, we throw our hat over the fence and then follow, and it works for us (mostly).

Monday, September 30, 2013

Once Upon a Time I Had a Blog

And I remembered to post on it. I have gotten sooooo far away from the habit of journaling my thoughts, and my intention is to return to that habit. Let's see how I do.

Got this photo here!
I've gotten a bee in my bonnet about RV living, possibly full-time. I don't know what crazy neural misfiring has taken me in this direction, but it gives me something to focus on when I need it, and something positive. At the very least I am learning about what it might be like to live in an RV full time (on paper) and have home be wherever one has parked it. And thus far my "research" has given to my wanting to at least own an RV.

In my research I have been looking at lowering one's environmental foorprint on the road, and others have found ways to make that happen. Solar panels on the roof, compost toilets, remodeling with zero VOC paints, natural fabrics, sustainable counters and flooring. Then there's the reduce/reuse/recycling while on the road: composting, saving recyclables and taking them to the proper facilities, and then there's the trash.

What to do with the trash? I found one family doing an RV tour called The Eco Womb (they bought the bus from the Janssens, which was formerly the Live Lightly Tourbus....running on veggie oil, sunflower seed countertops, no VOC paints, sustainable flooring: And they do something called Bottle Bricking. It's where you take plastic bottles and stuff them with all of the non-recyclable non-food trash until they are hard like ricks. Then they are used like bricks, to build cob benches (use bottle bricks as infrastructure, then cover with cob).

So I DO think that is an awesome and creative way to use trash and make something beautiful, and I do have a couple of things I am curious about. Plastic bottles, which are stuffed with said trash, are recyclable. Are we not then taking something from the recycling stream and putting it into the waste stream?  I love the idea, but I wonder about other ways to expand on this idea without using plastic bottles. Or does the energy used and carbon footprint of recycling said plastic bottles exceed that of landfilling them? 

It turns out that in third world countries, the answer is yes, but in first world countries where there are a plethora of recycling facilities, as long as we recycle at least half of them I believe, then recycling is the lesser footprint option. So bottle bricking is an excellent idea in third world countries. For us, we don't use plastic drinking bottles (the most commonly used bottle brick type) - we have glass water bottles and the liquids we drink are water, tea, coconut water and smoothies. So I was thinking, what plastic bottles DO we use? Supplements, for sure. Ketchup and mustard from Trader Joe's....not really much else that I can come up with. But those can all be recycled and reused. However, I do like the idea of using other trash for building materials.

And at any rate, it's definitely a good idea to really be thinking about where our waste goes instead of just "away".

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bee swarm!

Yesterday the most amazing thing happened. We were sitting in the living room and K said, "Mama, what's going on with the bees?"

I looked outside and right around the hives was chaos! Armed with my camera, we went out to investigate:

The bees swarmed! This is good news, because it means the hive is healthy enough to split in two. YES! So I called a local beekeeper who is also a swarm catcher, and he came and helped me get the swarm. He is taking it elsewhere and will return with another swarm for me when I have the second hive ready. The reason for this is because when the bees have made up their minds they're leaving, they might tend to swarm if put into a hive too close to where they were originally. So we trade, and the bees are more likely to stay put. So so cool - this means I will have a second hive this year! AND a new beekeeping mentor!

You have no idea how great it is to have other beekeepers to talk bees with - nothing like just geeking out on bees with others who actually WANT to talk about nothing but bees for hours on end. I am so excited - this is the beginning of my little apiary. Swoon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

crockpot cuban pork lettuce wraps two ways

I got a half of a pastured pig, and because we are relatively new to the world of pork, I had no idea how to cook it. Internet to the rescue!

I love the internet and all of the amazing recipes it brings me. I love that people share the delicious things they've created so I can grab them and try them myself and as always, add my own twist to them all. I LOVE that there are so many Paleo recipe websites out there.

I found this amazingly delicious recipe on PaleOMG, and I amended it a bit - two days in a row. We ate all the evidence, so there are no photos to entice you with - click over to the original recipe page and you can get a sense of what we had. Let me just say it was DELICIOUS. NOM.

Crockpot Cuban Pork

For the pork I followed her original recipe, found here:
  • 2lb pork shoulder roast (or roast of your choice)
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 orange, juiced and zested (I used 1 Tbs frozen orange juice concentrate)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • salt and pepper, to taste
I went ahead and made this into a marinade, then let the roast marinade for a few hours. You could easily do overnight and do the roast the next day.

Into the crockpot everything went for 6-8 hours on low.

For the slaw, I started to follow the recipe, then went rogue, due to lack of proper ingredients and my own tastebuds. So you can see the original recipe at PaleOMG, then see how I amended it and did my own thing.
  • 1 head of green cabbage, sliced to thickness preference
  • 3 tablespoons yellow mustard (the kind you put on burgers, not the powder)
  • 3 Tbs paleo mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Mix and if you're marinating the meat, let this marinate, too. 
If not, it will still taste yummy fresh.

Once pork is done cooking, use tongs to shred that guy!! (I had to use tongs, a fork, and a knife - it took some effort)

Place shredded pork and slaw in a leaf of romaine lettuce and eat it up!
This is so yummy - next time I will use TWO roasts, because we definitely wanted more the next day - and had eaten it all! Well, all the pork, that is.....But the slaw! There was SO much of it! And raw slaw does a bit of a number on my insides...but I REALLY wanted to eat
Cuban Slaw with Bacon
yesterday's cuban slaw
1 onion
bacon ends and pieces
Dice up bacon ends and pieces and fry them up in the big skillet. 
Add the diced onion, and saute onion with bacon until nice and clear. Add slaw, saute' until cooked. Eat! Experience food bliss. Wish you had made twice as much because you ate ALL THE CABBAGE! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Ringling Brothers...and the elephants

When I was a kid, I vaguely remember going to the circus. In fact, I really don't remember it at all. What I DO remember, though, is riding the elephant. The elephant was amazing, majestic and beautiful.
I'm the second one back - I was 12 or 13 at the time, but look like an adult - especially compared to my tiny mom. That's my young friend Mele in front of me and my brother behind me. And my wee Mama at the back.

Ringling Brothers got a LOT of guff about their animal acts since then - and have had to seriously readjust what constitutes their show.

In fact, I didn't even know they still existed until my husband's work offered some deeply discounted tickets to the circus. And when Kiernen found out, he wanted to go. So, thinking that if they still exist they MUST have straightened up their act where animals are concerned, we went.

I honestly thought they'd have had to retool and be much more like Cirque de Soleil - because PETA don't play - they really take animal welfare seriously. And honestly, how fair is it to an animal meant to have miles of space to be traveling in a train several months a year?

It seems they've changed their animal acts a bit. The elephants were there - I guess it's the one last animal from their heyday they're holding on to. Because you know, they're the signature act. 

So they had camels, ponies, and miniature ponies here. And later dogs, all rescued from shelters. One of whom jumped at the trainer from behind and knocked her out of the ring - in his exuberance to get that snack!

I looked online for an unbiased website to let me know what Ringling Bros is doing these days regarding animal welfare. It seems they've put a fair chunk of money into creating a big cat rescue where the big cats go and retire. Same for the elephants. But while there were no big cats in the show, there were still the elephants. And honestly, that made me sad.

But they did have a wonderful aerial acrobat show. 

I didn't get the photo I meant to get with this one, because this act was really about the crazy amazing strength of this woman. She was contorting herself into all manner of amazing positions while balancing his MAN's weight on parts of her body like her stomach, her hip, her shoulders. She was crazy strong. And had amazing balance. My lack of photos as due to my sitting there with my eyeballs and mouth open wide, astonished. I LOVE stuff like this. Way to fully utilize what your body is capable of, amazing contortionist lady!

These guys were awesome - basketball on unicycles. They did some really crazy fun stuff. 

And well, you know...the elephants. Signature and all.  They were beautiful, majestic...and they looked really sad and tired. And reading online that elephants would only do something like stand on their heads with threat of pain and then watching them do just that...these animals aren't really meant for circuses and performing tricks. They're meant to be free and wild and ruling the savannah.

Ringling Brothers has come so far toward actually making themselves decent and kind in the animal department - why are they insisting on holding on to these elephants and making them do this stuff? Have they not seen Cirque du Soleil (clearly they have, half of their show was "borrowed" from its pages)? Come on, Ringling Brothers - you can do better. Let the elephants live in peace, on a wildlife preserve. Don't subject them to this humiliation and pain. They deserve to retire.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

the bees were robbed!

So among bees, there is a phenomenon known as robbing - when the nectar flow begins to ebb, sometimes bees from one colony will descend upon another colony and try to rob them of their honey. This usually happens right around now in the Pacific Northwest - the days are getting shorter, the nectar flow is getting will soon be time to get ready for overwintering, where the bees will hibernate, depending on their stores for getting through the winter.

Today, because my bees are right outside my front window and my husband happened to be near the hive, we got to witness the battle of the bees firsthand. My huband came running to the backyard and said, "Something unusual is happening with the bees. You need to see this. It looks like they're fighting, there are dead bees all over the place."

What the what?!?

Yeah, it's been a year since I've had bees, and last time, they were on a property that was a 25 minute drive from my home. So I didn't get to witness much of the day to day. And now, my memory of what could have been witnessed is a bit hazy...

So I run to look out the front door window, which has a great view of the hive without the exposure that might allow for stinging. Sure enough, there was a flurry of activity in front of the hive, and some pretty heavy bearding on he front, but also on the sides, which was weird. We saw some that were actually fighting in midair, one on one, to defend their hive - my girls! There were dead bee bodies everywhere.

I freaked! I'm not in the bee club yet! What should I do? Who can I call???

The beekeeper who gave me the swarm! Now where did I put that number? .... apparently into the ether. Damn.

So I look at the Oregon Beekeepers Association website, and there is a swarm catching list! Yes! I look for someone near me, just in case they want to come answer. I go to the next person on this list, and score - they're home! I explain my predicament, and they are happy to answer my questions. Thank you, Universe, that beekeepers tend to love helping out new beekeepers!

After listening to my predicament, he and his daughter say sounds like robbing, although it could also be them putting out the drones. I told him they pout out the drones three weeks ago, but maybe again? So kindly they let me know I could put in the entrance reducer to help them protect the hive, and also to put a block in front of the entrance a few inches out, so they'd have to slow down to go in - to protect from wasps divebombing the hive, which apparently they wil begin to do in a week or two here.

Then later in the day, the first beekeeper I'd called calls me back, and has a lovely english accent to boot  - did I have a bee problem? I explained the sitch and that it was well in hand from the previous advice, and he still wanted to know all about it, so I told him the story, and he asked, "Do you have Langstroth (traditionally used by modern beekeepers) hives, or Warre, or...?" Warre. He said they have several Warres, then proceeds to give me all kinds of other advice about managing Warres, then gives me his email address so he can send me more information about the bee club locally and more links...and hen he invites me to come out to his farm and see HIS bees!

He also said I can call him any time with questions and he is happy to help. Yes! I have a Warre mentor! Squee! I am so damn excited.

So back to my girls - the fighting continued, but not for long, and pretty soon everything had settled back down. It looks like our hive is strong, though, and they triumphed. There are still bee bodies scattered everywhere, and they are on guard outside the hive tonight, making sure no one else comes a robbing. So now I'm not sure how to get the entrance reducer in, because the bees are filling the entrance and making their own entrance reducer, only made of bees instead of wood.

I wish I could communicate with them to let them know this device will make their job so much easier...hey won't have to expend all that energy protecting the hive at night and keeping themselves warm, because there will be less space for others to get in.

I will figure out a way.

Meanwhile, I took a little video of the hive while the fight was happening. You can't really see any fighting per se, but you can see the bearding out front and the agitation of the girls and all of the dead bee bodies strewn everywhere. I recommend expanding your screen view for maximum detail.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

we be jammin'

I finally made jam this summer - for the first time ever! I got myself a giant box of nectarines and decided to have a go. It was surprisingly easy, and the result was SO delicious! I made three kinds of jam:

The first, Nectarine Raspberry, I based on this one found at Domestifluff.

The recipe I used is as follows:

Sugar Free Nectarine Raspberry Jam
recipe yields 8 one half pint jars
4 1lbs. nectarines, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 lb. raspberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 - 1 1/2 cups honey
pectin (amount will vary depending on what brand you’re using.
1. Place canning jars, lids, and rings in a water canning pot or stock pot. Fill the pot with water until it is 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Heat to boiling, and boil the jars, lids, and rings for 15 minutes to sterilize. 5 minutes before removing the jars, place the jar lifter and kitchen tongs in the boiling water to sterilize. Remove jars using the jar lifter and lids and rings using the kitchen tongs, and set on folded tea towels in preparation for the jam. After everything is removed from the pot, continue to keep the water just below a boil.
2. Mix nectarines and raspberries in pot, then bring mix to boiling. Add the honey, pectin and lemon juice. Stir until blended. Cook over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes, or until any foaminess subsides and the jam has thickened. Remove from heat. Blend with hand blender.
3. Immediately transfer the hot jam to a large glass measuring cup, or use a ladle with a large mouth jar funnel, and transfer the jam to the jars, filling until ¼ inch from the top. Using kitchen tongs, place the lids on the jars, and screw the rings over the lids. Since everything is hot, you’ll probably need oven mitts to do this.
4. Using the jar lifter, transfer the jars to the water-filled pot for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and place on folded tea towels to cool. As the jam cools, you should hear distinct “pops” for each jar as a vacuum forms and they seal.
 So the jam was a bit tart, but oh so delicious. Also, the texture was a bit runny for jam. In the future I am going to use a friend's suggestion and add a couple of apples in the cooking, both for pectin and sweetness. Another idea is to use gelatin to help thicken. Maybe? I'll try the former first, though.

Next, Nectarine and Vanilla preserves, from a recipe found at Vicious Sweet Tooth.

Nectarine and Vanilla Preserves
  • 3lbs Ripened Nectarines, diced
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Start cooking down the fruit in a large mouthed pot. Combine Nectarines, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla and bring to a boil.
  2. By the time the water bath for the jars comes to a boil and then are boiled for 10 mins, the fruit should be just about ready for you to add to the jars and then process for another 5 mins in the water bath. You can leave the jam chunky or blend it with a handblender like I did.
  3. Scoop mixture into jars and then you want to make sure no preserves made it around the mouth of the jar, because this can prevent the seal from forming, so wipe the edges clean just to be sure.
  4. To add the lids to the jars, pour some of the hot water that the jars were being sterilized in and pour over the seals.  Then place lids onto the jars and secure the ring so that it’s finger tight, but not super tight.
  5. Then place jars carefully, using your new gadget, back into the water bath to “process” them, which means to boil them for a certain amount of time to kill any harmful organisms and to seal the lids. They go back into the water bath and make sure that the water covers 1″ above the jars to ensure a good seal.  Boil the water for 5 mins to activate seal.
  6. As they cool, they will suck the seals down and you’ll hear a popping sound.  Be patient as it takes minute or two.
This is my favourite of the three. The taste....AMAZING. Next time I will double the recipe for sure. SO. GOOD. 

And last but not least, I made Spiced Nectarine Butter based on the recipe found at Insanity Theory.

Spiced Nectarine Butter

2kg ripe nectarines
1 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice 

1. Wash your nectarines, then halve them and remove the seeds and any dodgy bits – do NOT peel them or throw away any peel.
2. Put the nectarines into a large pot with the 1/2 cup of water and spice and cook over medium heat, simmering the mixture till the nectarines have almost liquefied (you should be able to pulverize them with a bit of pressure from a spoon), this will take about 15-20 minutes, depending on how ripe your fruit is.
3. Puree the cooked fruit with a hand blender.
4. Stir in the honey and cook over low-medium heat till the colour has deepened, the texture has become quite thick and the amount of liquid roughly halved. This should take anywhere between 45-60 minutes, and you will need to stir it every 5-10 minutes to stop the mixture sticking to the bottom.
5. CAREFULLY pour into hot sterilized jars till it is filled about 1cm from the top. Place the lid on the jar, then place in simmering water for 10 minutes. Carefully remove from the water and place on a dishcloth on your counter top to cool completely.
This rich, gooey nectarine butter can be enjoyed in a variety of ways:
  • Spread into little tartlette cases as jam tarts
  • Swirled through a cake or muffin mix to achieve a marbled effect
  • In thumbprint jam cookies
  • To fill a cake…
  • Whatever your imagination can come up with…!
 Again, so darn delicious! And again, I'd double the recipe - because it is so yummy! In fact, I may buy another case of nectarines, if there are any left, and just go pump up the jams.