Winter Routines

My photo of our Poinsettia does not do the colour justice. It certainly adds a richness of colour to the living room.

I am having a quiet, restful day today. The sky is gray and overcast, as it almost always is these days, so I have the lamp lit beside my chair, to add a bit of cheer. My crochet project is waiting for my fingers to cease tapping here, to resume the rhythm of the yarn. The tidied kitchen sits at the ready for the next frenzy of activity, which I will call lunch. The computer is playing peaceful piano music, a bit sombre really for a gray day, but calming. Wistful thoughts touch me occasionally, hoping that those who are experiencing difficult times will find comfort and peace.

So far this winter we have only experienced two short bouts of frigid weather, enjoying relatively mild weather for the most part. Tomorrow night though, another cold snap is predicted, with the night time low of -15C, and even colder nights to come. This will put the unheated basement insulation to the test! So far the basement temperature is holding at 12C (54F), but the weather has been mostly mild. We were living in a house for a few months that only reached a high of 5C (41F), before the chimneys for our heating system were installed at the country house, and we survived nicely, but not exactly comfortably. Life takes us through all kinds of experiences.

This winter is a time of rest here at Mist Cottage. Nothing much of anything going on, a bit of reading, a bit of crocheting, a bit of milling and baking, a bit of cooking, a bit of walking on the elliptical machine, all very cozy.

Attila has been putting up the last of the vapour barrier in the basement, and taping the seams. Slowly but surely the job is getting done. The project is relatively stress free for him, as there is no deadline for completion, it will get done when it gets done. Every so often he will call me down to view the progress, and take pictures, but that is my only involvement.

Our water meter has been replaced, fingers crossed it isn’t a dud, and our water bill does not skyrocket. I am keeping an eye on it. I tested it for accuracy and it seems to be reading accurately. Time will tell.

I am coming down with something, sneezing up a storm! Attila hears me from wherever he is in the house. Every time I sneeze, he calls “bless you”; from the basement, from the kitchen, from wherever he happens to be. In aid of an ounce of prevention, I decided this morning to add a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses to my morning ACV beverage (1 cup water, 1 tablespoon ACV, 2 drops liquid stevia). I replaced the stevia with 1 teaspoon of molasses. No, I do not care for it, so tomorrow I will go back to my usual routine and I will either take a teaspoon of molasses raw, or bake gingerbread cookies. So far I am favouring the cookies.

Worldly

Weather

0°C
Date: 7:00 AM EST Wednesday 15 January 2020
Condition: Cloudy
Pressure: 102.2 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: 0.3°C
Dew point: -1.2°C
Humidity: 90%
Wind: WSW 7 km/h
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it.”
Kyle Wiens

Forest Floor Muffins

The ice storm arrived here after midnight, so we awoke to a sparkling world. The sparkle was brief though, because very soon the snow began to fall, making everything white, and surprisingly, not all that slippery. We did not lose power at any point. Today was another gray day.

Having baked bread last weekend, there was no need to do it again this weekend. Actually, there were no plans to bake today. But mid-afternoon I was looking for a snack and couldn’t settle on anything. So I made muffins, a go-to recipe. I don’t read the recipe anymore, I just use this recipe’s base ingredients, and then mix and match the rest of the ingredients.

The base ingredients are divided into two categories, dry and wet. Extras are usually added to the basic dry ingredients, but also sometimes to the wet.

The dry ingredients in my base recipes are:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup of quick cooking oats
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder (aluminum free)
  • 4 tablespoons of brown sugar

The wet ingredients, in a two cup measuring up are:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • liquid to make ABOUT 1 1/2 to 2 cups (milk, applesauce, pureed pumpkin, pureed any fruit).
    NOTE: the liquid is the tricky bit in my muffin baking. When I add a cup of applesauce or pumpkin puree to the liquid measure, the mixture is quite thick, and needs a bit more thin liquid (like milk) to moisten the batter adequately. And muffins can easily be over stirred, so getting the liquid to dry ratio just right, without stirring too much can be tricky.

The rest of the ingredients are discretionary. My mixing and matching was ambitious today. To my muffins I added: chopped walnuts; chocolate chips; shredded coconut; roasted sunflower seeds; flax seeds; raisins; and applesauce. When describing my choices to Attila, he laughed and called the muffins, Forest Floor Muffins. He figures my choice of ingredients was the equivalent of going for a walk in the forest and picking up whatever interesting things I could find on the ground, then throwing them into a recipe. The process was a bit like that, I have to admit. The muffins are delicious.

I use the basic dry and wet ingredient measurements to make all my muffins. I end up with low-sodium, low-sugar muffins that taste good to us. I can vary the recipe depending on what is on hand, or in season. Currently Attila favours Cranberry Chocolate Chip Muffins for his lunches. I mix a cup of whole fresh or thawed cranberries into the dry ingredients just before adding the wet ingredients, AND I add a few drops of liquid stevia to the wet ingredients, because the cranberries demand it.

Attila spent the weekend making soup for weekday snacks, and applying vapour barrier on the newly insulated walls in the basement. He is down to working on the fiddly bits of vapour barriers, behind pipes, the furnace, and the hot water heater. I snuck in a mention of my new kitchen shelf today, providing him with the height and width specifications that I have decided on. Fingers crossed for that project!

So not exactly a busy day, not exactly an exciting day (excitement is highly overrated), but certainly a pleasant day.

Worldly

Weather

-7°C (we are getting down into oil furnace temperatures!)
Date: 8:00 PM EST Sunday 12 January 2020
Condition: Light Snow
Pressure: 103.3 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: -7.1°C
Dew point: -9.7°C
Humidity: 82%
Wind: NE 8 km/h
Wind Chill: -11
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“What is important is to keep learning, to enjoy challenge, and to tolerate ambiguity. In the end there are no certain answers.”
Martina Horner

Settling Dust

After the flurry of holiday season, the dust is once more drifting down and settling around life and Mist Cottage.

Only seven weeks left until March arrives, with its promise of a new season to come, and the lengthening days. March is my least favourite month, two of the people I adored in life passed in the month of March, so that it hasn’t been the same since 1976.

It has been a busy week for me. I was out and about all through the beginning of the week, taking care of shopping and errands. A quick visit to the bulk food store was overdue, to pick up things not reasonably available at the local supermarket, such as buttermilk powder and rubbed marjoram. Garbage tags were running low, time to stock up on those, which entailed a dedicated trip to the municipal offices. I snagged a free 2020 calendar while I was there. A host of little things to get done were on my list, which had lengthened shockingly over the last few months!

At home bills were paid, and a slow return to kitchen organization was initiated. The first thing on the kitchen list was repackaging some of the save-it-because-you-might-need-it items. The ground egg shells were repackaged from a glass jar to a plastic container with a shaker lid. The cherry pits, cleaned, dried, and stored in a glass jar, were repackaged in a clear plastic recycled peanut butter jar. There are at least a dozen small mason jars with small bits of things like powdered kale, and chamomile flowers, that need to be organized. To this end I’ve taken measurements and now have a set of requirements for a kitchen shelf, to be built and installed by Attila. I have my fingers crossed he will take a brief break from the basement insulation job to build this shelf. A shelf would allow me to move all these necessary jars off the kitchen table, so we can sit there to eat again!

The crochet blanket being made for Attila to use of an evening while relaxing on the sofa, is back in hand. I started it last winter, and I hope to finish it this winter… slow but sure.

I have noticed in the last year or so that I have been losing a lot of hair! My health is good. I wonder, could I have been exposed to some sort of environmental poisoning, all sorts of things will cause hair loss; arsenic, mercury, bismuth, lithium, thallium, cadmium, and gold are poisonous. I will be keeping an eye out for possible exposures. It might be old age of course, but none of the women in my family who have aged have had this issue, so it is not hereditary. Mom has a beautiful head of hair, so did my Granny, and my paternal Grandmother. In the meantime I am supplementing my diet with biotin and collagen to see if that makes a difference. I am thinking about being tested for levels of the usual suspects, just to eliminate that line of exploration.

I would really like to get my hair trimmed, it is getting long (and thinner) and I would like it shoulder length. The local style shops are too pricey for me, over $60 for a simple cut, and they expect a generous tip, or there will be unpleasantness. The walk-in cut-and-go places are a quarter of the price, they don’t expect tips, but they are not close by, so that a visit has to wait for an alignment of opportunities; I have to get there during operating hours. Oh how I wish I could do this job myself! Hair styling is not something Attila is ever going to do willingly, and I don’t want the job done under duress, so it is me or the hairdresser. Hair trimming has always been an issue, it stretches limited resources, and yet it needs to happen, at least occasionally.

I have also been thinking about fermented food. Sauerkraut continues to be a big success story at our house, it is delicious, and easy to make. But it is very high in sodium, so it really isn’t a good idea for me to rely on it for my intake of fermented food. What to do? Attila suggested yogurt, and so I will be gearing up to give that a try. It can be made in the Instant Pot, so all I need to find is an unsweetened, unpasteurized yogurt to use as a starter. I won’t be using the cold start recipes, that call for ultra-filtered milk ($$$). I want to use ordinary milk, and that will require a few extra steps, as the milk must be scalded and cooled before use. I am not sure when I will be getting started on that, but it is the next project I want to tackle. There is no lactose in yogurt, even if it is prepared with regular milk.

The weather, until last night, has been very mild. We have had snowfall, and accumulation, but each time it has accumulated, it has subsequently melted, so that the landscape is brown and black and gray. And almost every day has been cloudy, except yesterday, which was brilliantly sunny.

Our little street continues to be very busy, with vehicle traffic and pedestrians. Since there are no sidewalks, the vehicles and the pedestrians must share the pavement, which is often narrowed with cars parked on both sides of the road. We are becoming accustomed to this congestion. It is quite a transformation from the little dead end street we first knew, where our neighbours were all known, because there weren’t that many of us.

Since the temperature fell to below -15C last night, I was curious to see how cold it got in the basement. After arising this morning, I made my way down the stairs to peer at the thermometer. It was 54F or 12C, so it dropped only 2C over the course of the night. Not bad! Usually in cold weather the temperature in the basement was hovering around 40F to 45F or 4C to 7C. At times, during prolonged cold snaps, it dropped as low as 38F or 3C in the basement. There has been a very real improvement in comfort, and in lower hydro usage.

I continue to enjoy the Christmas tree and the lights. We keep the tree, and light the lights at night, for the month of January. By the time the tree comes down, the days are noticeably longer, and March is only about four weeks away, thoughts of spring begin to stir, and seed catalogues sit beside our easy chairs.

And now I am going to post this entry. My lunch is ready, home canned Taco Soup!

Worldly

Weather

-15°C
Date: 7:00 AM EST Thursday 9 January 2020
Condition: Mainly Clear
Pressure: 104.1 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: -15.2°C
Dew point: -19.1°C
Humidity: 73%
Wind: NNE 10 km/h
Wind Chill: -21
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
1841 – 1935

Filling the Pantry

We had a busy weekend! Having consumed all of our Christmas fare, it was time to replenish the pantry.

Attila made a big batch of Turkey Noodle Soup, with the remains of the Christmas turkey. The way he likes it includes salt, which I don’t eat anymore, so this soup will be exclusively for Attila’s consumption. Which, as it turns out, is just fine with me, because when there is no salt in Turkey Noodle Soup, it isn’t one of my favourite meals.

For my part, we were in need of baked goods, going into Attila’s first full week back at work, so baking it was. On Saturday I milled 24 cups of organic whole wheat flour. Because I wanted to use sunflower seeds in my baking, I roasted then cooled two cups of them. Then I used the freshly milled flour to bake one dozen Cranberry Chocolate Chip Muffins, one dozen Apple Raisin Nut Seed Chocolate Chip Muffins, five loaves of whole wheat sandwich bread, and when all of that was cooling I made four liters of Switchel, which Attila takes as a beverage in his lunch. Phew.

On Sunday the bread machine was put to good use baking a loaf of Cranberry Raisin Panettone. Another kitchen project was processing the dried egg shells. Whenever there are fresh egg shells, the membranes are removed, they are dried, then pulverized with a mortar and pestle. The egg shell powder is saved for sprinkling on the garden as a soil amendment. It was being stored in a glass jar, but has now been transferred to a reused spice container with a shaker lid, to make it easier to apply to the soil.

Attila spent his weekend working on the remaining fiddly bits of the basement insulation project. Some of those fiddly bits are discussed, as we need to make joint decisions about them, but most I leave to Attila’s own devices. There are still loose ends to attend to down there, for instance, the wiring has to be rerouted and installed properly, before the drywall can be installed.

So few words here describe so much activity!

I continue to enjoy my audio books. My eyes get very tired by the end of the day, and a long break from the digital screens is needed. Listening to audio books allows me some distraction while I wander around the house puttering with this and that. They are played by the iPad, so are portable, and follow me wherever my little projects take me. Right now I am listening to Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. I am familiar with the book, but that does not prevent me from enjoying the story read aloud to me!

I find myself quite relieved that the intensity of the holiday season has subsided. The flurry of activity is enjoyable, but it can be tiring. Of course, with the basement in flux, the main floor of the house is cluttered with items normally stored down there: boxes of empty mason jars; boxes of mason jars full of food; boxes of storage jars with things like powdered kale and celery; and all manner of little things like tins, boxes of tea, that sort of thing. It will be spring I think, before I can begins to organize things downstairs, and then organize things upstairs. For example, yesterday I accidentally knocked over a cup of pens and pencils that was on the kitchen table, as I was trying to read a recipe from a book I had placed next to the cup. I felt so annoyed! This renovation is going as fast as it can go. Oh well, I will just have to keep my cool and carry on, time will set things right again.

Speaking of spring, it is only 73 days until the first day of spring! 73 days ago it as October 25th, which doesn’t seem so very long ago. Tempus fugit. Each one of those 73 days will be a little brighter than the day before it. But is going to get colder before it gets warmer!

Today I am spending some time contemplating a window treatment for the window in the new front door. Fun.

Worldly

Weather

1°C
Date: 9:00 AM EST Monday 6 January 2020
Condition: Light Snow
Pressure: 100.8 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: 1.0°C
Dew point: -0.6°C
Humidity: 89%
Wind: WSW 21 gust 32 km/h
Visibility: 19 km

Quote
“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”
Unknown
Misattributed to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland
By Lewis Carroll

Publications consulted, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland misattribution:

  1. THE MILLENNIUM FULCRUM EDITION 3.0
  2. SAM’L GABRIEL SONS & COMPANY
    NEW YORK
  3. Copyright, 1916,
    by SAM’L GABRIEL SONS & COMPANY, NEW YORK
  4. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. With a Proem by Austin Dobson
    London, William Heinemann, New York, Doubbleday
  5. Copyright A. C. McCLURG & CO. 1915
    Published December, 1915
    Rights to produce this play in all countries of the world are reserved by Alice Gerstenberg
    W. F. MAEL PRINTING COMPANY, CHICAGO
  6. The Tenniel Illustrations for Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
    by Sir John Tenniel

The West Wall

Another cloudy day here. It has been cloudy for weeks and weeks. The sun did come out yesterday, for about an hour, which was lovely. But today the skies are steely grey. And mild, it is very mild for January. I might have called it the “January thaw”, but there is nothing frozen here that needs thawing. The snow disappeared well before Christmas.

As an aside, looking out the window, it makes me wonder why the colour gray is so very popular for interior domestic decor these days. I get enough exposure to gray from the weather, I don’t need to emulate it in my home. But that is just me.

Here is the challenge the west wall of the basement presents. Water pipes, sewage pipes, electrical wiring, all within inches of the concrete wall. Attila’s solution was to rip studs to a an inch and a half thickness, build partial studs, and install inch and half inch thick rigid Roxul insulation behind the pipes and wires. It is better than nothing. There are areas, as you can see in the photo, where nothing is the only option, as there are pipes right up against the concrete wall. The area can be upgraded to thicker studs and insulation after the plumbing and wiring have been upgraded and installed properly. There is no timeline on the plumbing and wiring, it will get done if and when.

Attila has almost completed the stud walls and insulation in the basement! He has about 16 inches to go! The rim joists on the back wall will not be completed until into the summer, so we will have some heat loss there for the rest of the winter. There are lots of fiddly bits, as retrofitted improvements always reveal, that need to be done before the drywall and paint can be installed.

The unfinished stretch of rim joist is a dogs breakfast of jerry-rigged plumbing and electrical, which have to be fixed before insulation can effectively be installed. Attila is considering completely replacing the plumbing; we both agree it needs to be done.

The insulation in the basement is a game changer, as so many projects are here at Mist Cottage, the dilapidated mini-house that has become our home.

Lets see, I will start with what I feel as I sit here typing on the computer. The air circulates differently in the house, now that the steady breeze of cold air coming into the basement has ceased. Moisture moves around differently, cooking odours move around differently. It just feels different in here.

Attila has been vacuuming the basement as he goes along. There are corners down there that have not been cleaned in who knows how long, certainly not since we bought the place ten years ago. Finally getting to the basement project means that we are cleaning up the last of the dirt-that-came-before-us. This is kicking up a lot of dust. When the final lick of paint coats the last of the newly installed drywall, I will be running air cleaners down there for a few days, while I wash surfaces and clean. I plan on a mission to reduce dust at first opportunity.

The temperature in the unheated basement has risen to 13C (56F). In the winter it has ranged between 3C (38F) and 7C (45F), so this is distinct improvement. The basement is definitely retaining more heat than it did. This means the floors are warmer. In fact, briefly walking across the floor, in bare or sock feet, no longer leaves me chilled.

And then, where the dollars and cents of the project come into play, our hydro usage is decreasing.

Attila started the project in mid-November, and we saw results!

From October to November 2019, when the average temperature was 3C degrees colder than it was for the same period in 2018, our hydro usage declined by 9%.

From November to December 2019, our hydro usage dropped by 11%.

When the temperature outside is above -7C, our electric air source heat pump is heating the house. That means the hydro bills for November and December, since the temperature has primarily remained above -7C, reflect decreased electric heating costs.

Now all I have to do is record the decrease in hydro usage, and the average cost of hydro during that period of time, so that I can calculate how many years it will take us to save the amount of money spent on the insulation project… how soon will it pay for itself? Of course that will not take into account the oil heating costs, as our system uses the oil furnace when the temperature dips below -7C. I will have to think about how to estimate that cost saving.

Another hydro saving is in controlling the humidity in the basement. We are already finding that the dehumidifier needs emptying every three days, instead of every day, so the appliance isn’t running as much. Only about half of the insulated wall space is now covered with vapour barrier, so there is still moisture seeping in, in those areas. It will be interesting to see if the humidity is even further reduced when all of the vapour barrier is installed.

This morning I decided to pay the hydro bill online. While I was logging in the banks computers went wonky, the whole process fell apart, I was blocked form the site. I called the support team, and was glad to hear it wasn’t me, it was them. All I had to do was wait, to give them a chance to get their act together.

Then I decided to take my blood pressure. Usually five readings are taken. After the third reading the device just stopped. Dead batteries. I had a bad technology day! My blood pressure was within the normal range, nothing to worry about there.

And now darkness has fallen. Attila is home, the pizza is in the oven, The Crown is called up on Netflix, and we are having a Friday night in, pizza and a show.

Worldly

Weather

4°C
Date: 7:00 AM EST Friday 3 January 2020
Condition: Cloudy
Pressure: 100.7 kPa
Tendency: Falling
Temperature: 4.2°C
Dew point: 2.9°C
Humidity: 91%
Wind: SSW 10 km/h
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts, therefore guard accordingly; and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue, and reasonable nature.”
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
121 AD – 180 AD