Frozen Pants

I have too much free time on my hands again. The temperatures this week dipped to minus 20º C and this put a damper on my quest to find a chaga source. Most days my cross-country ski outings lasted about 60 to 90 minutes before I scrambled back to the cabin to get warm in front of the fire.

However, I heard an interesting interview on the CBC Radio program As It Happens on Friday evening with a man from Minnesota, USA who suggested Canadians suffering from winter boredom, could get involved in a fun activity called “frozen pants”. The man believes that Canada, with its frigid temperatures, should be a mecca for “frozen pants”.

Now, I am not sure that there is any point to this silly activity, but I have no pressing chores or anything else on the agenda this weekend, so why not take a stab at “frozen pants”.

It is easy – just take a pair of pants, soak them in water, put them outside, watch them freeze, and then put them on display for your neighbors to enjoy. Since it was too cold for me to go skiing this morning I sent my jeans skiing instead. Here they are enjoying the winter in Canada.

Frozen Pants out skiing.

Frozen Pants out skiing.

Frozen Pants

Frozen Pants

 

 

From the Cubicle to the Cabin

I packed up my cubicle in July and returned to Canada. Although I don’t miss my tiny cubicle I sometimes long for all the free time I had there. In my cubicle I often struggled to fill my day with tasks and activities whereas now I strive to find the time to do all the things I want to do. There is always something that needs to be done at my cabin and I find little time for blogging.

During the summer I finally completed the abandoned building that I started renovating in the  summer of 2014 to use as a mini-gym. I used pine boards for the walls and ceiling and then painted them with a clear veneer. I painted the floor with some leftover gray paint that someone gave me instead of putting down a new laminate floor as I originally planned. Then I put a fold-up tatami matt that I got in South Korea about fifteen years ago in the center of the room as a rug. Then I decided to transform it into a mini-yoga studio and a place to practice my hobbies instead of a room for my treadmill.

The building is a bit bare, but eventually I hope to furnish and decorate it. For starters, I restored an old table that I discovered abandoned in the woods last summer. It had several layers of paint and many rough spots. It took a few hours to remove the paint with a scraper, plain the top of the table and then sand it off as smooth as possible before staining it dark brown. Now, I am on the lookout for a chair to match my table.

In addition, I stained an old bookshelf to match the table. I am using it for ornaments. As soon as I find some cheap material or old curtains at a yard or rummage sale I will make some curtains. I stored the patio table and chairs along with my soap making equipment in the corner for now.

This brings me to my first batch of homemade soap. Let’s just say the end result is not very attractive – not exactly something to show off on your blog. Actually, the goal was to make some chemical free soap using natural ingredients, so even though it looks a bit rough it has a nice texture and it keeps my skin from drying out, especially in the winter months. Before I make my next batch I am going to make a wooden mold to place the silicon baking pans in so that the soap will be square instead of curved.

After my failed garden in Nizwa I was determined to have a successful one in Canada. Before I arrived Florian was in charge of preparing the soil, sowing the seeds and transplanting seedlings and protecting them from late frost. He did a fantastic job. The garden was ready and waiting for me to take care of it. The garden flourished thanks to the long, hot summer and we enjoyed fresh vegetables from the beginning of August through to mid-September. The cucumber, beans and tomatoes were abundant. We couldn’t eat them all, so I made pickled beans, relish, bread n’ butter pickles and salsa. Now, I am getting tired of eating this stuff.

I rearranged the garage and found a suitable place for the treadmill in a section of the garage that I use for storage. I only plan on using this machine when the weather is rainy, snowy or extremely cold, so it is not necessary to have a special building for it. Yet, I keep pondering the idea of converting part of the garage into a rec room.

The winter is in full force with plenty of snow for cross-country skiing. Santa Claus dropped off a new set of skis at my house and I am discovering new muscles aches as I venture out in the woods on my skis in search of chaga. So far I have come home empty-handed, but I have not given up on finding my own source and eventually I will stumble across or ski into a birch covered in chaga. I am also busy knitting a scarf for my cat with some left over yarn.

I will be back soon with a photo of my cat with his new scarf and hopefully some chaga.

DIY – Liquid and Dry Laundry Detergent

My family and friends all know I am frugal. They also know that I am not very crafty when it comes to do-it-yourself projects and I usually end up making a mess to clean up. Nonetheless, I decided to experiment with making my own laundry detergent to reduce my household expenses. There are many versions of homemade laundry detergent on YouTube and do-it-yourself websites and I selected the easiest recipes and the ones that require the least amount of time. After all, when I am not sitting in this miserable cubicle I have tons of chores and not enough free time on my hands. Today I have nothing to do in  my cubicle, so I will describe how I made homemade laundry detergent last summer.

Step 1: Organize the material - two 5 gallon buckets, containers, wooden spoon, food grater, bowl, saucepan, measuring cups, funnel, 1 bar of Ivory soap, 1 cup of Arm & Hammer super washing soda, and  ½ cup of 20 Mule team borax. (funnel, sauce pan and second bucket are missing from photo)

Step 1: Organize the material – two 5 gallon buckets, containers, wooden spoon, food grater, bowl, saucepan, measuring cups, funnel, 1 bar of Ivory soap, 1 cup of Arm & Hammer super washing soda, and ½ cup of 20 Mule  borax. (funnel, sauce pan and second bucket are missing from photo)

Step 2: Grate the bar of Ivory soap using a food grater.

Step 2: Grate the bar of Ivory soap using a food grater.

Step 3: Put the grated Ivory and four cups of hot water in a sauce pan.

Step 3: Put the grated Ivory and four cups of hot water in a sauce pan.

Stir continually over medium-low heat until the soap is completely melted.

Stir continually over medium-low heat until the soap is completely melted.

Step 4: Add 1.5 gallons of hot water to a 5 gallon bucket. Use a wooden spoon to stir the melted soap from step 3, washing soda and Borax until all ingredients are dissolved.

Step 4: Add 1.5 gallons of hot water to a 5 gallon bucket. Use a wooden spoon to stir the melted soap from step 3, washing soda and Borax until all ingredients are dissolved.

Step 5: Add another 1.5 gallons of hot water to the bucket and stir again. (Golden Tips helped by watching and not getting involved.)

Step 5: Add another 1.5 gallons of hot water to the bucket and stir again. (Golden Tips helped by watching and not getting involved.)

Step 6: Place a lid on the bucket and let sit overnight to thicken.  (I couldn't find the proper lid so I used a plastic bag and a lid from another bucket.)

Step 6: Place a lid on the bucket and let sit overnight to thicken. (I couldn’t find the proper lid so I used a plastic bag and a lid from another bucket.)

By the next day the mixture will be a gel-like substance.

By the next day the mixture will be a gel-like substance.

Close-up of the mixture.

Close-up of the mixture.

Step 7: Pour half of the mixture into another bucket and add 1.5 gallons of hot water to each bucket.

Step 7: Pour half of the mixture into another bucket and add 1.5 gallons of hot water to each bucket.

Step 8: Stir the mixture and use a funnel to put the soap into containers. (I made a funnel using a plastic bottle.)

Step 8: Stir the mixture and use a funnel to put the soap into containers. (I made a funnel using a plastic bottle.)

This recipe makes almost 8 gallons of liquid detergent – enough to last me months. However, I did not have enough bottles, so I left the extra soap in the bucket, put the lid on it and stored it in the garage for the winter. Hopefully, it didn’t freeze and will still be usable.

Generally, I use one cup of detergent for a normal load of laundry. This laundry does not produce many suds, but it cleans the clothes. If the laundry is really dirty I will add some extra or a tablespoon of dry laundry detergent which is  much easier to make and requires a lot less storage space.

Step 1: Prepare the material -  1 bar of Ivory soap, Arm & Hammer washing soda, borax, container, bottle, grater, wooden spoon, bowl and measuring cups.

Step 1: Prepare the material – 1 bar of Ivory soap, Arm & Hammer super washing soda, 20 Mule borax, container, bottle, grater, wooden spoon, bowl and measuring cups.

Step 2: Mix the grated Ivory (see step 2 above) with 1 cup of washing soda and ½ cup of borax in a large container.

Step 2: Mix the grated Ivory (see step 2 above) with 1 cup of washing soda and ½ cup of borax in a large container.

Use your hands to mix everything together. It takes about 15 or 20 minutes of continuous mixing until you have a fine powder.

Step 4: Use your hands to mix everything together. It takes about 15 or 20 minutes of continuous mixing until you have a fine powder.

Step 3: Store in a container and use one tablespoon for a normal load or two tablespoons for a large or heavy soiled load of laundry.

Step 5: Store in an airtight container. 

Overall, this laundry detergent works as well as commercial products, but costs a lot less money. If you have some free time then this is an easy do-it-yourself project.

 

 

Winter Garden in Nizwa

The scorching heat makes it impossible to grow anything in summer but the cooler temperatures and the occasional rain allow for a garden in winter. I have to admit that thinking about planting a garden is quite easy. The difficult part is actually getting started because with the heat and long work days I lack the motivation and initiative to prepare the soil after work. At one point, I considered hiring a laborer to pull out the weeds, dig up the soil, mix in the new earth, prepare the rows and sow the seeds.

In the end, I forced myself to get up at 5 o’clock on the weekend so that I could prepare my garden for planting. I started with a small space that was full of weeds, garbage, rocks and sand.

Is this really a garden?

Is this really a garden?

After about five minutes I made a new friend – an adorable little kitty that I discovered hiding amongst the overgrown water spinach.

What should I do with this little kitten?

What should I do with this little kitten?

I  used a small shovel, a broken rake and a garden tool to remove the weeds and rocks. This took much longer that I expected because that silly kitten didn’t want to leave its shady patch of weeds.

What a mess!

What a mess!

Eventually my garden was empty and I felt like calling it a day as the sun was making its way around to the garden. 

Almost finished.

Almost finished.

However, I forged on by making a long row for lettuce and four smaller rows for tomatoes and bell peppers. I used some homemade compost and potting soil that I bought at the local nursery for each row. I also kept a small area near the wall for cucumbers.

The garden is ready for sowing seeds.

The garden is ready for sowing seeds.

My colleague gave me some organic seeds that he brought back from Australia and I hope these will be suitable for the local climate.

After preparing the main garden I decided that to do something with this mess in the yard.

With a little work this could be a garden.

With a little work this could be a garden.

So, the next day I cleaned up the mess by moving the cement blocks to the side of the fence and tearing out all the dead plants and weeds. After about an hour I took a short break and when I returned someone was waiting for me.

Are you making a sandbox for me?

Are you making a sandbox for me?

The kitten might think that this is a sandbox but it is going to be my watermelon garden.

Going to try and grow watermelons here.

Going to try to grow watermelons here.

When it cools off a bit I am going to carry the cement blocks to the roof and use them along with a couple of wood pallets that I found near the garbage dumpster to make a table and bench so that I can relax and enjoy fresh watermelons in the evening after work.

Back in my Cubicle

I am back in my cubicle after seven weeks at home. I knew that the first couple of weeks would be difficult, far from my family and friends, surrounded by people speaking unfamiliar languages, chatting away about summer vacations, meeting and greeting fellow colleagues. Everyone is happy and relaxed after seven weeks away from their cubicles. I feel homesick and alone because some of my friends completed their contracts; found new jobs, or moved on to the next adventure. I miss the teachers who left and feel sad that the college didn’t hire any replacements.

On a positive note, my first week in my cubicle was a chance to recover from a busy summer vacation, a 36-hour flight, with 3 stops, a two-hour taxi ride and three hours of sleep before my first day at work. Thank goodness, we had no tasks, and were free to rest in our cubicles.

My second week back in my cubicle gave me an opportunity to reflect on my summer vacation and think about the future. I realize that most people do not have a seven week holiday and I feel a bit selfish saying that it was not long enough. I could have used another two or three weeks. Actually, I worked much harder during my holiday than I do at my job. Life in my cubicle involves zero physical activity and very little brain work.

During my break I accomplished some of the things on my “to-do” list, along with a few additional jobs that surfaced over the summer. As planned I made a tumbling composter using mostly recycled material. I also  increased the rock garden, built another raised garden bed, made laundry soap, and completed the outside renovations to my mini-gym. It no longer looks like an eyesore in the backyard. The inside will have to wait until next summer because I ran out of time and energy.

The unplanned projects included painting the garage floor and restoring  my grandmother’s antique sideboard that I rescued last summer. It was slated to go to the landfill until I agreed to take it.  Although it required hours of hard work and a great deal of patience I am pleased with the restoration.

Removed paint, made a new door, and fixed the mirror, and stained.

Removed paint, made a new door, and fixed the mirror, and stained.

Lastly, I removed our large, ugly deck that needed to be stained every summer, and replaced it with a small step with a railing. I thought this would be a simple job but it took a lot longer than expected. I built the new step using only recycled materials (lumber and nails) from the previous step, posts from inside the  abandoned building, and cement post holders that my brother gave me. The finishing touches will have to wait because I am back in my cubicle for another year. 

 Some days are challenging, coping with the boredom of cubicle life, thinking about what to do after the work day ends and counting down the days until the first holiday of the semester. Two more days and  I am off to Salalah for a week away from Nizwa and this miserable cubicle.