14 July 2014

So Many Projects.... Part One

We have been as busy as the bees around Heart's Ease Cottage. So busy that this poor little blog has been sorely neglected. Several projects are coming to a close and the gardens are in full flush, so I thought I had better take a few minutes and catch you up on what has been going on.

For many years, Da and I have been planning a deck on the east side of our house. Until late last fall that project has been on hold due to foundation work that needed to be done and drainage pipes that had to be installed. As in most projects the "ground work" takes as long as the actual project, or longer... For some reason the foundation work was the point where our foot was nailed to the floor. It was daunting, the thought of grubbing around under the house, (too much of that during reconstruction after Hurricane Hugo), forming and pouring a footer in tight spaces, and getting someone to lay up the brick, just kept us looking elsewhere for projects that needed to be done. But then the frame on the glass door started leaking and needed to be replaced, but the foundation work needed to be done before we could replace the door, so we finally had to swallow deep and just do it. It wasn't so bad once we got started.
Da mixes 16, 80 pound bags of cement by hand...Oh, his aching back!

I work the cement into the form, level and smooth the footer surface as well as abrade most of the skin on my forearms and elbows.

With the digging, forming, mixing, pouring, tamping, leveling and smoothing behind us, we can now turn to our mason to lay the brick and put our energies into a final plan for the deck. We have had a nebulous idea of what we wanted for a deck, but when it came time to actually decide what we were building it wasn't as straight forward as we thought it would be. We had to think outside of our original plans to come up with something that fit the space, gave us a nice place to sit and enjoy the gardens but also gave us a mud and mess barrier from the gardens to the inside of the house. Finally, we had a plan and our carpenter extraordinaire George, was scheduled to help Da put the deck in.
Da and George screwing down the decking.
The deck base and railing framework went up very quickly. The pergola was put in place and roofed with clear, heavy gauge, corrugated plastic roofing to allow protection from the weather without cutting out all the light. At this point, We needed to take a break for a couple weeks while I contemplated the design for the deck railing and made the master patterns.

The rails are up and the pergola covered, now what to do about the railing....
A view of the herb garden expansion from our new deck.
I wanted a railing that didn't block the view of our herb garden from the house or from our sitting area on the deck. I also wanted to embellish the railing with hearts, as a nod to the name of our sweet little cottage. So at every opportunity I would sit on the deck or at the kitchen table and look out at the garden area, trying to imagine what my ideas would look like in real life. My solution was to purchase some of the spindles I was thinking of using and to make a kraft paper scale model of my heart motif and then set them in place and continue sitting viewing the gardens until I was satisfied that I had what I wanted. The next step in the process was going to be very labor intensive, so I didn't want to commit it to wood until I was sure I was going to be happy with it.

Once the decision was made, we scheduled time for George to come and help me make my dreams a reality. I designed and cut out a paper template with two patterns one for the large sections and one for the narrower entry sections. George used these paper patterns to make a plywood template that he would use to cut out my Heart's Ease motifs. It took a couple of tries to get it just right, George was very patient with me as I looked over his shoulder and made on site modifications... Once I was happy with the panel,  George used the final template and cut out all my Heart's Ease panels. My heart was doing flips as I watched the first panels go up. It was just as I had envisioned it in my mind, only better!
Cutting out the paper pattern that will be used to make the wooden template for my railing panels
Making the template from my craft paper pattern. The template will not only be used to cut the pattern, but will hold all the boards in place while cutting.

The spindles and panels being put in place on the deck. Oh! How exciting!!! I think it looks great!
This project started last fall with the foundation work, the deck went in during April, and now it is mid July. It took awhile but the deck construction is completed. But I still have a lot of work to do, I need to sand the panels and go around all the heart panels and use a Dremel tool to clean up any rough edges on the motifs before I paint. Then of course, I need to stain the deck floor and caulk and paint the railing and pergola but the deck is now in use and I am enjoying every minute I can squeeze in out there.

The second part of this project is the expansion of the herb garden, followed by the construction of a large pergola cover for my vintage 1957 camper and the continuation of a privacy fence/kiwi trellis that will go behind the herb garden expansion. That work will commence next week. Once the camper pergola is done, we will pour a patio across the walk from the deck. That will finish off the east side of the house projects for this year... whew! I get tired just talking about it!
A view of the completed deck as of yesterday. Now all I need to do is get it painted!
Part two of this post, the herb garden expansion, will be coming up next...

Be sure to stop by for a visit again, and as always I would love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment! Until next time!

24 April 2014

At this time of year, where we live in North Carolina it is sunny and warm with a hint of much warmer weather coming close behind. But this year so far has been quite different from the norm. We had a long, bitter cold, gloomy, wet winter that went well into spring. Spring has been about what we usually experience during the winter, temperatures in the forties with rain and very little sun. We had a heavy frost on our last frost date and it has been below freezing every night this past week. I am almost afraid to see what the summer will bring. Last summer we had 8 inches more rain than the state of Washington, when we usually worry all summer about water conservation. I don't get it...
   My garden is really behind schedule, partly because I had a two month long bout with pneumonia, which took a lot out of me, but also because the weather has been too cold and wet to get the spring crops in the ground. But on days when it isn't raining, I have been putting in cool weather crops like chard and lettuce, cabbage and kale. Maybe with the weather being so cool I will still get some cool weather crops harvested before it starts getting hot.
   We have had many project underway at Heart's Ease Cottage over the winter and several are now drawing to a close. The foundation work we did in the late summer and the water management work my husband obsessed over all winter are completed, making way for a project that I have been dreaming about since we bought the house in 1989. We are building a deck off of the kitchen area with a covered area for having meals out of doors and flagstone patio area in my kitchen herb garden. The deck will soon be completed and hopefully someday soon it will stop raining, so I can begin implementing my new herb garden plans. I will be putting in a flagstone patio across the sidewalk from our new deck and expanding my present herb garden to reside along the left and the right of the flagstone patio. I am very excited!
  I have been working on another project, a bathroom remodel. I am finally to the point of putting paint on the walls! The renovations began with me pulling up the composition tile, (not much fun by the way...), and putting down mosaic tile. I have wanted to do that for years. We replaced the sink and cabinet with a pedestal sink and closed in our deep square skylight tunnel, fitting the ceiling with a reflective tunnel and cover instead. Finally, all the construction work is finished and I have put the faux finish background on the walls, next I will be stenciling the walls with stencils that I designed and cut myself. The end is in sight and soon I will be doing a post on the whole project, including some tips and how-to's for the decorative paint finishes and stencil creation. Until then here is a photo of the progress of the project.

19 April 2014

Savory Mushroom Stock

For the majority of our meals I try to serve as much raw food as I can, but sometimes it is just nice to have a hot satisfying meal. I often slake this craving with soup. I love soup, it is so versatile and it goes a long way.

One challenge that I struggled with when I first became vegan was how to make a decent pot of soup. Most soups require stock, as a foundation of flavor. I have not found the vegetable bouillon available in the supermarket to be very tasty or healthy for that matter, and water with no flavor base isn't acceptable either. So I cast around for an alternative. I began experimenting with different vegetable combinations to make my own stock, and came up with several that I really enjoy making. But today the stock that I want to talk about is one of my most recent creations, a savory mushroom stock. This stock has a woodsy, rich flavor that works well for things like French onion soup, vegetable barley soup, borscht and other soups that would normally use a beef stock as the base.

We are fortunate enough to live near a city that has several very well stocked ethnic markets, one of which is an Oriental market that carries a variety of fresh mushrooms. For this stock I use fresh Shitaki, Enoki, Oyster, Trumpet, light and dark Beech, and Portabello mushrooms. But if you don't have access to a large variety of mushrooms, then use what you can find. Dried Shitaki mushrooms can take the place of fresh, and Cremini or Button mushrooms and Portabello mushrooms will make a flavorful stock and are pretty commonly found in most markets.

                                  Savory Mushroom Stock

A variety of fresh and dried mushrooms, like Shitaki, Enoki, Trumpet, Oyster, Beech and Portabello mushrooms to equal 3 to 4 pounds of mushrooms.
2-3 large yellow onions quartered, skins left on
 4-5 whole heads of garlic, cut into two pieces through the center
5 large bay leaves
3-4 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
several springs of fresh thyme
2-3 Tbsp. salt

In a large stock pot, (mine is 20 quart), place all the mushrooms, onions, garlic, bay leaves, fresh herbs and salt in stock pot. Add water to cover mushrooms and fill the pot about 3/4 full, (amount of water would vary according to the size of the mushrooms). Place lid on pot and set heat at medium high until the water is boiling. Reduce heat to medium or even medium low depending on your stove. You want the stock to be at a slow simmer. Simmer for several hours, until the mushrooms are reduced to mush and the stock pot is about 1/2 full. Taste and adjust salt to taste. Strain the broth off into another pot and let it cool. You should have enough stock to fill between 6 and 8 quart-sized freezer bags. Place bags stacked two deep on a tray and freeze. Freezing them on a tray will make them easier to store when you take them off the tray. I usually return the mushrooms to the pot, add more onions and garlic, herbs and salt, and water to cover. Then I put it in the crock pot and cook for several hours. This usually gives me a few quarts more of stock to freeze. I sometimes throw in some dried shitaki just to make sure there is plenty of mushroomy goodness in the second batch.

                                    French Onion Soup  

2-3 large red onions, sliced thinly
1 quart bag of mushroom stock, plus 4 cups of water
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. olive oil or coconut oil
Dash of vegan Worchestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. barley miso
salt to taste
If you have an open bottle of red wine on hand that needs to be used, ( or you want to serve wine with dinner), 1/2 cup of red wine makes a very nice addition.
Place all the ingredients in a pot and simmer until the onions are soft. Remove bay leaf and serve hot. If desired you can spread a piece of French bread with a very thin layer of garlic-infused coconut oil, sprinkle with Italian seasoning, some freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of nutritional yeast.  Place under the broiler until golden, then top the soup with the bread.  Yum!

You are welcome to re-post my recipes as long as there is a link to this blog post. Please don't copy my recipes without giving me credit.



01 February 2014

Simple Things You Can Do Right Now To Be Healthier and Happier

 Here is a list of some simple things that you can do right now that will help you to feel better and be happier. None of them cost a thing, you don't have to spend anything but some time. By practicing these few things you can enrich your life and hopefully the lives of those around you. Since this is a list of my personal beliefs and practices, I wanted to make sure that there is a basis in fact for what I am recommending to you, so I made my list and then began to research to discover if there is scientific basis for what I believe it takes to live a healthy happy life. Here are my thoughts and some links to scientific findings on the subject:

#1 Turn off your phone.

You don't have to keep it off all the time, just turn it off when you are trying to have some time for yourself. Be in charge of your phone, tell it when it is useful and when it is a hindrance to peace and sanity. Don't just put it down or in your purse or pocket, turn it off. The notification tones for e-mail and Facebook, or whatever notifications you receive on a regular basis, will draw you back to the phone far more than is necessary. The phone should be a tool, not a task master. You have a message center and an inbox, most things can wait for you to have a few minutes of uninterrupted peace. There is much concern about the affects of cell phone use on the body, it is after all a microwave receiver, should be treated as such.  Here  is  More reading

#2 Breathe Deeply

The practice of taking slow deep breaths has many health benefits,  oxygenates the blood, calms the nerves, and energizes the brain. Take time to pay attention to your breathing, to purposefully breath deeply and slowly, and soon you will see an improvement in your overall well being and mental acuity. Here is an article that goes into more detail.

#3 Find Some Time to be Quiet

I know life is busy and the demands of the day often start as soon as you get your eyes open, but having a few minutes of quiet at the beginning, middle and end of your day will give you time to regenerate. This is not a time for thinking, this is a time for going still, blocking out everything and just allowing your mind and body to rest. It doesn't have to be for very long, even 5 minutes a few times a day will help! This would be a good time to practice your deep rhythmic breathing... Some of the health benefits of quiet time or meditation are: Lower blood pressure, IBS relief, a boosted immune system,increased fertility, inflammation reduction, and  fights depression. For further reading.

#4 Eat Colorful Food

Eating colorful foods will give the body a variety of nutrients to pull from, and be a cheerful feast for the eyes as well. Composing a colorful plate will not only insure that you are nourishing your body, but is key to good mental health since food supplies the source of power for your brain as well. Low calorie, colorful, raw foods may offer protection against obesity-related neurodegenerative processes, cognitive impairment and reduced brain volume and function. A diet rich in raw, colorful vegeatbles and fruits will boost both physical and mental health. Look here and here for more info.

#5 Go Outside and Get Some Sun

According to a group of studies published in a 2010 issue of the "Journal of Environmental Psychology," research participants reported feeling happier, healthier and more alive when they spent time in nature. Exposing your skin to the sun for 30 minutes a day will provide nearly all the vitamin D a body needs for a day, reduces stress and benefits sleep. But it doesn't require a study to prove that being outside is good for you physically and mentally. Spend a few minutes out in the sunshine and you will quickly see for yourself how much better you feel. Read more 

#6 Go Barefoot

Taking your shoes off and going barefoot in the grass, soil or sand allows your body to make contact with the Earth. Earthingas it is called these days allows the body to be grounded in literal terms. Being grounded allows electrons to enter your body from the earth, these negatively charged free electrons are potent anti-oxidants, which bind with positively charged free radicals destroying the free radicals by cancellation. Spending time with your bare feet in contact with the ground, at least 10 minutes a day, will allow free radicals in your body to be destroyed, which will help to alleviate inflammation, (inflammation being a major contributor to disease, reducing or eliminating inflammation is vital to good health). Another study found that earthing changed the electrical activity in the brain, as measured by electroencephalograms. Still other research found that grounding benefited skin conductivity, moderated heart rate variability, improved glucose regulation, reduced stress and boosted immunity. More here

#7 Stop and Smell the Flowers

Walking through the garden crushing herbs between your fingers and smelling their pungent scents and inhaling the sweet aroma of flowers has been a pleasant pass time through the ages, but scientific finding would indicate that it is more than a pleasant pass time. Many herbs and flowers have the ability to heal, their essence when inhaled can cross the blood brain barrier, carrying their healing essence directly to the brain, once in the brain, they can affect healing in the rest of the body. Studies have shown that hospital
patients with plants in their rooms had significantly fewer intakes of pain medication, more positive physiological responses (lower blood pressure and heart rate), less pain, anxiety, and fatigue, and better overall positive and higher satisfaction with their recovery rooms than their counterparts in the control group without plants in their rooms. Although a walk in the garden will help your health and mental well being, having the essential oils on hand and using them regularly is something I would recommend.

#8 Laugh 

Laughter is good medicine. Smiling works too. Having a positive attitude and sharing it with others spreads the wealth and just may help to keep you healthy. Here are some scientific studies on the affects of laughter on the body.
An excerpt from from an article on WebMD.com
  • Blood flow. Researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels when people were shown either comedies or dramas. After the screening, the blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy behaved normally -- expanding and contracting easily. But the blood vessels in people who watched the drama tended to tense up, restricting blood flow.
  • Immune response. Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response, says Provine. Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells, as well.
  • Blood sugar levels. One study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture.
  • Relaxation and sleep. The focus on the benefits of laughter really began with Norman Cousin's memoir, Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins, who was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a painful spine condition, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better. He said that ten minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.
#9 Be Kind

Random acts of kindness not only helps the recipient, it helps the giver. Kindness can diminish the effects of disease, decrease stress, anxiety and depression and enhance self esteem, boost self confidence and strengthen the immune system.The saying "what goes around comes around" may well be rooted in truth. Read more here.

#10 Be Grateful

 When we experience the generosity, kindness and sacrifice of others for our benefit and adopt an "attitude of gratitude", the peripheral health benefits are numerous. Gratitude has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, and a higher long-term satisfaction with life. See here for more...

If you have a suggestion for other simple ways to health and happiness please feel free to add them in the comment section. I would love to hear what you are thinking!

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