Looking Back, and Forward

I have entertained myself during the last few dreary gray weeks by watching The 1940s House. I enjoyed it a great deal, and loved the practicality, and the attention to the truly important aspects of family, the glue of society, during that awful war experience. Life was shown to be very difficult for those who maintained domestic stability during that era. So many times I have heard balanced historians describing survival during “pioneering” or “unstable” social periods, to be centered around the ability of families or small social units to maintain the basic necessities of life… human connection, shelter, food, and clothing. Too often, I think, “history” focuses on the wealthy and the violent, ignoring the vital role played by the provision of basic human needs.

A delightful aspects of the series were the appearances of Marguerite Patten OBE (1915 – 2015), who was one of the consultants for the series.

“The Ministry Food Advice Division employed dieticians and many home economists, to help people throughout the country. Our role, for I was one of the food advisers, was to conduct cookery demonstrations and talks to show what interesting things could be made with the rationed and unrationed foods available.”
Marguerite Patten, Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Fact from 1940 – 1954, In association with Imperial War Museum, 2002 Edition, Forward.”

This book arrived on my doorstep a few months ago, and I am enjoying it. The first degree I studied for was Home Economics, with an emphasis on Food and Nutrition, three years. I loved it, and I taught Home Economics in the public school system in Ontario. So this book is right up my alley.

Two of the things I have been thinking about and researching, in relation to my interest in domestic science, are the head scarf, and aprons.

I’ve never worn head scarves, as my head has rejected them within minutes. I must have a very animated head, because not even hats will stay on properly, unless they are tied on. So you would think a head scarf would work right… nope. But Lyn, in the 1940s House series, is ever so briefly shown tying on a head scarf as she prepared to do housework. The technique was new to me; I was hooked. I had to try it! The only scarves I have are over 30 years old, and are 40 inches square, a little too large for the project I think. The result is supposed to have either a little bow top front, or the ends tucked in neatly. I can accomplish neither, and end up with a great wad of fabric just above my forehead. A smaller scarf is called for, something to think about.

Attila likes the look, and so do I. But the what I like most is that it stays on my head! And that it prevents my ever so cleverly errant hair from escaping into my eyes, my nose, and my mouth.


So, here I am with my great edifice on the top of my head, which should be a wee bow, but you get the drift. It is a project in process. Fair dues, I took over a dozen photos of myself before I finally settled on this one, I don’t consider myself to be photogenic, and only take selfies when I want to demonstrate something, I am a free model. Photos are great in that all the blemishes are sort of pixelated out, so I end up looking a lot younger than I do in real life! I get the same effect when I take off my glasses and look in the mirror; that is when I look most like the “myself” I had become so accustomed to seeing over the decades of adulthood. I do miss the way I used to look. Oh well, been there, done that, doing this now.

I made an apron some years ago, that I wear almost every day. I want to make another apron, but haven’t yet decided on the pattern. The closest I have come to a pattern that I think will work for me is a pattern for a doll apron. And, well, the pattern needs a few alterations if it is going fit me! I am thinking of making a “template” apron, from an old sheet, to see how I like it before committing valuable fabrics to the style.

Attila continues to spend his evenings working on the basement insulation project. It is coming along really, really well. The whole wall-with-exterior-exposed, has been framed, the insulation, the vapour barrier, and taping finished off. Just the drywall, and paint to go now for that section. Some of the drywall even got installed last night!

I am really looking forward to the completion of this project! Not because it is particularly intrusive, but so that I can begin to organize the storage in the basement. Organizing the basement has been on hold for 10 years now, four of those years we have actually lived here full time. We will be able to unpack the last boxes, and put things where we can easily find them.

The first drywall has been installed! Attila installed this last night. This is mold resistant drywall, because this is a basement application, and although the basement has no moisture issues now, the air is moist because it is a basement, where cool air settles and moisture condenses. We are painting the drywall white, which will make it area much brighter.

When we bought the house there were two dismal rooms down here. One was a bedroom, with a broken window, with a piece of plywood nailed over it. It had carpet over the concrete. Everything was covered with mold and mildew. The other room was a “rec room”, in similar condition to the bedroom. Everything smelled awful from the mold and mildew, and mice and chipmunk colonies that lived there.
That first year we removed the window in the basement, the one you see in the image, and Attila tore everything out, gutted the basement completely. It was all removed through the window opening, and thrown into the large rented dumpster. We also put a new roof on that first summer, so the large dumpster was full of debris from the house. The renovations had begun, and we are still at it, but not quite to so hard at it anymore, thank goodness.

Worldly

Weather

4°C
Date: 9:00 AM EST Wednesday 27 November 2019
Condition: Mostly Cloudy
Pressure: 101.0 kPa
Tendency: Falling
Temperature: 4.2°C
Dew point: 2.5°C
Humidity: 89%
Wind: NE 24 gust 34 km/h
Visibility: 13 km

Wind warning in effect
Southwesterly wind with gusts near 90 km/h tonight.
Very strong southwesterly winds with gusts near 90 km/h are expected to develop early this evening as a sharp cold front blasts through. These damaging winds will persist into the overnight hours before before veering to the west and diminishing.
The highest wind gusts will be along exposed areas of the Lake Ontario shoreline.
Power outages are possible.
Damage to buildings, such as to roof shingles and windows, may occur. Loose objects may be tossed by the wind and cause injury or damage. Be prepared to adjust your driving with changing road conditions due to high winds.

Quote

“My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I’m happy. I can’t figure it out. What am I doing right?”
Charles M. Schulz
1922 – 2000

There are many cartoonists, that I read and wonder, “so?” I feel I’ve missed the point somehow. They must be using a set of experiences for a frame of reference, a set of experiences I did not have, and haven’t even observed.

BUT Charles M. Schulz is one of the cartoonists I actually “got”, there have been a few.

The Last Harvest

Saturday! Since retirement, the days of the week aren’t the focus of my life, as they were when I had to be at a specific spot at a specific time. I like retirement. I was sitting here just minding my own business, and Saturday night snuck up on me!

Yesterday I milled flour, it took me quite a while, the supply was down to two cups of flour. I only mill about eight cups of flour at one time, then I let the equipment cool down before milling again. I ended up with about 44 cups of freshly milled whole-wheat flour.

Today I used the flour I had just milled to bake five loaves of bread. We were completely out of bread. No, wait, there was one partial loaf left in the breadbox, Chocolate Bread. Not really suitable for savory sandwiches.

This evening I made Hamburger Gravy with potatoes in the Instant Pot. I sauteed ground beef in the Pot, then added chopped onion and sauteed it all, adding a few herbs, Rosemary, Pepper, Garlic. Two cups of homemade vegetable broth were then added. A metal steam basket was set over the meat mixture, and the peeled potatoes were placed on top. The potatoes would be removed from the pot, and a gravy made with the meat, broth, and onions. Three minutes of cooking and dinner was prepared. Of course there is the time it took to heat up the Instant Pot, and then the time it took for it to cool down again, so the process was more than three minutes. While I was preparing the meat and potatoes, Attila prepared the very last harvest from the garden, carrots and beets. They were tiny and sweet, only about a cup all told, so good! So that is the garden done for this year.

Attila has been very busy with his insulation project. About a third of our basement is above ground, and that third was bare concrete blocks, outside and inside. When it got cold outside, it got cold inside too. By bedtime tonight he will have built stud walls and installed insulation and vapour barrier over the concrete blocks in that third of the basement. There is a noticeable difference down there already. I used to feel chilled every time I went to the basement during the heating season, and now I don’t. Not really a scientific measurement, but good enough for me.

Attila is moving along on this insulation project at lightning speed. Just dry wall and paint to go in this corner.
It is a no-stress project, compared to all the other renovations that have been undertaken at Mist Cottage. Attila only has to set his equipment and materials up once, in the now wonderfully dry garage. When he is finished for the day, he can just shut the door and walk away, and it will all be waiting for him just as he left it when he returns to take up the task again. This is a real luxury. Also, there is no deadline with this project, it will be completed whenever that happens, no rush, no pressure. Unless of course I get a bit concerned when it gets too close to Christmas and I want the basement things that are stacked in the living room taken back downstairs. But really, the project is far enough along even now, that this could be accomplished.

I’ve just bagged my five loaves of bread, and tucked them into the freezer. Baking bread is a very satisfying activity, I like it a lot. The bread I just put in the freezer is sandwich bread, it is wonderful. It took me ever so long to get a good loaf of 100% whole-wheat bread, but finally the loaves are light and airy and delicious.

I have been experimenting with 100% whole-wheat sweet breads, and am not satisfied with the results thus far. The loaves taste wonderful, but the bread is dense and a bit dry. So far I’ve made Raisin Apple Bread, and Chocolate Bread. I have to keep trying, practice makes perfect!

Worldly

Weather

2°C
Date: 6:00 PM EST Saturday 23 November 2019
Condition: Partly Cloudy
Pressure: 100.8 kPa
Tendency: Falling
Temperature: 2.2°C
Dew point: -1.1°C
Humidity: 79%
Wind: SW 13 km/h
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure not a slight pleasure.”
Michel de Montaigne
1533 – 1592

Insulating the Basement

The first section of the basement studs is up! As you can see, our basement has a low ceiling, there are areas where we have to duck to get around.

The basement was finished when we bought Mist Cottage, and full of mildew and mold and chipmunk dens and mouse nests… so we gutted it. There were no salvageable materials.

It was a very wet basement. We invested a lot of money in digging up around the foundation, installing drainage tiles and water shield. But the water problem was still with us. So Attila broke a hole through the basement floor and dug a sump hole, installed a pump, and that helped, but it didn’t solve the problem.

Unbeknownst to us, a water main was broken in our front yard, and was saturating the ground around our house, seeping through the concrete walls and up through the floor. And the water traveled beyond our property.

The inspectors came because one of our neighbours assumed we were causing water problems in their basement, so instead of talking to us, they called the municipality and submitted a formal complaint against us. It turned out that was the the best way to do it, as the problem was quickly discovered and remedied. And we didn’t have to acknowledge the complaint, and could easily ignore it, pretending to know nothing about it. At that time I was using the power washer to remove the original exterior paint, which used a lot of water. She assumed that was flooding her basement. But it wasn’t us causing the problems!

When the municipality came and replaced the broken water main, THAT solved the water problem in our basement.

It will be good to get some insulation on these walls, as there is quite an expanse of blocks that are exposed above ground. I think the floors on the upper floor will be warmer when this project is finished!

Last weekend Attila started on the insulating the basement project.

Monday evening we visited the local lumber yard to order the materials needed to build the stud walls and drywall. Today the materials were delivered.

I have taken a lot of deliveries in my time and, with a few exceptions, the delivery fellows, and they have always been fellows, have been courteous and helpful. The delivery man today was exceptional. He was friendly, and helpful above and beyond the bare bones of a delivery. Attila had told me that the drywall could be stacked outside, assuming the delivery people would not bring it into the garage, and I was left a plastic sheet to cover it up in case it rained before he got home. But this young man did not like that idea, and he suggested that the drywall be carried into the garage, which he did for me. Then after he stacked all of the wood on the driveway, he covered it with the plastic sheet and secured the sheet so that the wind could not blow it around. This was a delivery from Home Hardware, and I have got to say that their employees are pretty darn good.

Attila did prep work for the last few weeks, moving things out of the way mostly. Moving things out of the way, is a pretty big job. Because this is a tiny house, and well, if you move it, where do you put it!?! He managed though. Some stuff went into the garage, never to return to the basement, yay! Other things were piled here and there., some of it in the living room. And a few corners were reorganized so as to make room for more stuff. Yesterday he finished moving the stuff that needed to be moved.

The other prep work that needed to be done was insulating the rim joists in the section of the basement he will be working on. This was an area that had been infiltrated by chipmunks, when we bought the place, so there was a bit of repair work needed there. It was all ship shape by last night.

And so the actual renovation begins! There is a lot of banging and whirring, hammers and electric saws.

Worldly

Weather

-1°C
Date: 8:00 PM EST Wednesday 20 November 2019
Condition: Mainly Clear
Pressure: 102.2 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: -1.2°C
Dew point: -3.2°C
Humidity: 87%
Wind: NW 10 km/h
Wind Chill: -5
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
Mahatma Gandhi
1869 – 1948

Bright Gray Day

Well the weather is not a ray of sunshine today.

I am still making the transition from months of being super busy with the garden and food preservation, to the quiet and peaceful passage of short winter days.

Bread baking has been of interest lately, several loaves of bread with dried fruit were baked, and consumed entirely by me! I love bread, and particularly bread with dried fruit. It is a bit of a luxury item, but as a sweet treat, it ranks up there with the healthiest. Bread here at Mist Cottage is now made exclusively with organic whole grain flour, milled right here at home. I am busy looking at recipes for Christmas treats, Panettone, Pulla, Stollen, Paska (Easter Bread), Babka, Nissua, and many more. What fun!

Making all these specialty sweet breads is fine and dandy. However, there is an issue, and that is me! If that bread is sitting in the bread box, I am eating it for every single meal! I cannot resist it. So I am on a campaign to balance my diet. First off, I will make very small loaves of sweet breads, and freeze most of them, so only one small loaf is on the go at one time.

My other measure to balance my diet, is to include vegetables in every single meal. This morning, for instance, breakfast consisted of 1/2 cup frozen chopped organic spinach (our garden), 1 medium onion chopped, olive oil, and an egg. The onion were sauteed in olive oil, spinach added and sauteed, and finally the egg was broken into the pan, stirred in, and cooked just until done. It was very good. For lunch I plan a cream of mixed vegetable soup, made from a roux, one cup of 1% milk, and a cup of cooked mixed vegetables (frozen from the store).

Canning soup bases that require only the addition of cooked noodles or cooked rice to ready them for serving, is on the to-do list. So are canned jars of chicken stew, and beef stew.

Another project that would be good to pursue during the winter, is trying to master Tattler canning lids and rings. They are reusable, and so very desirable. But the learning curve is steep, I’ve had about 80% failure rate so far. Due to the failure rate, I’ll be experimenting canning water until my skill level increases significantly.

There are a few sewing projects that need tackling, but they will have to wait until the basement insulated walls are completed. There just isn’t a horizontal work surface available for a sewing machine right now.

Worldly

Weather

-2°C
Date: 9:00 AM EST Tuesday 19 November 2019
Condition: Mostly Cloudy
Pressure: 101.0 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: -1.7°C
Dew point: -6.1°C
Humidity: 72%
Wind: NNW 14 km/h
Wind Chill: -6
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
Maya Angelou
1928 – 2014

Interesting to note that when I was doing a bit of poking around on Google about Maya Angelou, the suggested other people of interest included Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Margaret Atwood. Well, I admire the integrity, compassion, and talent of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker… the third candidate just makes me shake my head, not in Morrison or Walker’s league, in my opinion, and I admit to being slightly offended by her inclusion.

And that wraps it up for this year!

Just minutes ago I labeled two tubs of pureed pie pumpkin, and placed them in the freezer. Then the kitchen was handed over to Attila for his projects. He is cooking a variation on scalloped potatoes, and is including in his dish the last garden Zucchini, and some organic carrots purchased at the grocery store. When that project is safely in the oven, the very last tomatoes, that had been set to ripen in the basement more than a month ago, will be brought upstairs to be either cooked or composted. We had the last ripened beefsteak tomato in our green salad last night.

By this evening the very last of the garden harvest will have been either eaten or preserved or composted! Well not entirely, there are about 10 small beets still in the garden, and some carrots, which have been miniature this year. We will cook these vegetables immediately. The garden harvest preservation projects are over for this year.

As the garden and preservation projects have slowly wound down, other projects have been initiated.

Our basement is not insulated, and unheated. As a result, the floors are cold underfoot. We lose heat through the bare concrete blocks. This winter the most exposed expanses of blocks will have stud walls constructed, insulation installed, vapour barrier installed, finished with plywood, and finally painted. In order to do this, our belongings have to be moved out of the way. This is no small task! Attila has been organizing and rearranging things down there for two weeks now, and there is lots more to accomplish before the insulating project itself can begin.

One of the solutions we have had to implement, is to move all of the food preservation equipment into the living room. It is cluttered and crowded in here now, but I can still get around. At some point, if the insulating project slows down too much, which I hope it won’t, I will be applying significant pressure for completion! Hopefully it will all be done and dusted before Christmas, so we will have room for a Christmas Tree!

Small house living is cozy and comfortable most of the time. But I have to say that it is most uncomfortable during interior renovation projects!

I have been experimenting with my bread baking, as the food preservation season has slowed down. Today I have an Organic Whole Wheat Apple Raisin Bread on the go. I love my bread! The experimentation is in addition to the Organic Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread I always keep on hand for Attila’s lunches. I love Quick Breads as well, and baked Banana Chocolate Chip Raisin Oatmeal Muffins yesterday, so that we would have snacks for the weekend.

The blanket I have been crocheting was set aside for most of the warm season, it was just too uncomfortable to be working with a blanket on my lap, in the heat. But now that the cold winter weather is here, it is a perfect project. If I accomplish a row a day I am happy.

Now that I have learned how to get down to, and up from, the floor without pain, I’ve been taking on all kinds of projects that have been neglected until now. The bottom kitchen cupboards held many pleasant surprises, as I unearthed items that will be very handy. But most importantly I am finally reorganizing the whole kitchen to suit our cooking and preserving activities. We moved here four years ago now, and the dust is just starting to settle. It will take some time, and I need Attila to build some specific shelving, but the items that will be stored on those shelves can sit on the kitchen table until the basement insulation project is complete, and we will eat on trays.

Attila was just saying to me, that he didn’t realize when we bought Mist Cottage, just how much work was needed. I don’t think I did either. We have made a lot of improvements over the last ten years of ownership, but we are a long way from completing the basic structural improvements that were needed. After the basement is insulated, we will eventually need to gut the living room, kitchen, and bedrooms, update the wiring, insulate, install vapour barrier and drywall, and then paint. And then there are the floors!

One thing Attila and I both agree on heartily, is that the new front door makes a world of difference! It is as attractive as it is functional.

I am as happy as a clam here. Attila says he is as happy as a clam here. That adds up to it being a pretty good situation.

Worldly

Weather

-5°C
Date: 3:00 PM EST Saturday 16 November 2019
Condition: Mainly Sunny
Pressure: 103.6 kPa
Tendency: Falling
Temperature: -4.8°C
Dew point: -16.4°C
Humidity: 40%
Wind: NNE 16 km/h
Wind Chill: -11
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“It’s funny how dogs and cats know the inside of folks better than other folks do, isn’t it?”
Eleanor H. Porter
1868 – 1920