Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bringing Boulder to Oxford with Worm Composting!

Something I have been wanting to try for a long time is composting food scraps at home. After living in Boulder for almost 8 years, I feel guilty every time I throw vegetable trimmings in the garbage can, knowing they'll turn to sludgy mush in a landfill somewhere (probably in Ohio since there seem to be a fair number of telltale mounds around here).

Our condo was small enough in Boulder that I never felt we had the room for a worm bin, but here in Oxford we have more than enough! We could keep our worm bin on the back porch in warmer weather, in the garage when it gets cold, or even in a corner of the kitchen/dining area if needed.

So, I watched a helpful video on YouTube, bought a few materials, and got started!

The hardest part was finding the worms. I needed red wigglers, or Eisenia fetida for you science geeks out there. I looked on the internet but could only find them sold in large batches, and I only needed a few ounces of worms to start with.

Today while Ted and I were driving home from the BMV (another post about that later) we stopped to fill up at a gas station. Just so happens this little gas station also sold bait! So I went inside and bought myself a little canister of Red Worms. I hope these are the right kind. The girl behind the counter was not at all interested in the scientific brand of their fish bait.

Anyway, I had my worms, so it was time to finally construct L'Hôtel de Compost.

I started with a 10-gallon bin from Home Depot:

Drilled some holes in the bottom and sides:

In the absence of autumn leaves to use as filler, I hand-shredded some papers from our recycling bin and moistened them with a spray bottle:

Dumped the worms in. Gave them their first meal:

And voila! We're composting.

As you can see, I need to find a wider catch basin, but we had an old litter box on hand, so for now it's balanced above that.

UPDATE:  I don't think I have enough worms... by any stretch of the imagination. So I've placed an order on eBay! I found 75 worms for $8, and they're on their way! 

Do any of you have a worm bin at home? Any special tips or things I should know about?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Keeping Cats Happy

Our cats own us. No surprises there. And we will do anything to make them comfortable and happy.

Oxford is a great place for them, and they took an instant liking to it. It took them much longer to get comfortable in DC, as we were living below some friends and every little bump and shriek (from their 2-year old) sent the cats skittering under the couch.

Here we have two floors with no one above or below us. As Ted likes to say, "We finally own our air space!" The cats are in love with the stairs; Minnie runs down so fast she looks like she's tumbling, and Milo likes to attack the steps when he gets into one of his "mad-eyed frenzies."

They also get to go outside here, which is fairly new. We live in a quiet neighborhood. Not much car traffic, and not so wild that I worry about coyotes or foxes being out in the daytime. So the cats get supervised outside time.

Milo is, of course, the more adventurous one. He's the one we end up losing track of every time, only to find him in a neighbor's open garage, or on someone's back porch, or under the bush in our front yard. He also likes to eat grass. Which he promptly barfs up as soon as he comes inside.

Minnie has always been the more skittish one, so she stays close to home, though she loses all awareness of herself and her surroundings if a butterfly should happen to flutter by. She's a hunter at her core.

Now that they've had a taste of the big bad world, the cats are less content staying inside (say, when it's 93 degrees with 100% humidity and mommy and daddy don't want to sit on the back porch to supervise). So we purchased them a scratching post upgrade. Here is what they had back in Boulder:


And here is what they had assembled for them yesterday, placed thoughtfully in front of an optimal viewing window:

(You should hear a choir of angels singing a harmonious chord)

Milo loves the little dangly ball:

Or shall I say, "loved". He made short work of that:

Minnie was the first to the top. My money was on her from the start:

They were immediately all over it and were so happy to finally have some scratching surfaces back. Overall, they're both very good about not scratching furniture, but they have been trying to use the carpet to sharpen their claws since we got here. Hopefully this will solve that problem.

Of course, when I woke up this morning, where do you think the cats were? Happily curled up on their cat tree platforms, gazing out the window?


Sigh.  $90.00 cat tree: 0,  Narrow window sill: 1

P.S. Please disregard all the junk on the floor in these photos. We're still unpacking and trying to figure out where stuff goes in our new house.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Obviously classes have started. Could you tell? By the way I disappeared from the blogging world?

Also, I wanted to post about a lamp makeover I'm doing, but it's been so humid here the last two days that I haven't been able to spray paint.

Oh, the humanity!

So, to summarize, I've been very busy and I have nothing to show of my lamp makeover. But I'll be posting later in the week one way or another. I just have to get through my 4 hours of class tomorrow, then I get to relax!

Be back soon...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Quinoa Salad with Stone Fruit and Basil

I am in love with Oxford's Farmer's Market. There will definitely be more posts about it in the near future as we get to know the farmers there and continue to buy delicious, organic produce, farm fresh eggs, homemade jam... the list could go on and on!

Today I picked up some super ripe peaches and fresh basil to use as ingredients in a quinoa salad. We're going to a Geography Department potluck tonight, and this will be a nice, refreshing side dish.

If you've never made quinoa (KEEN-wah), don't fret! It's easy, like making couscous. It's like a grain, though it's actually a seed, and it's very nutritious! It's a complete protein, gluten-free, and cholesterol-free. It fills you up without making you feel FULL. You know the feeling.

You can find quinoa in the bulk foods section of most grocery stores or probably with the other grains like rice.

So, without further ado:


Serves 6

"Cherries, plums, and other stone fruit all work well, but you can also use apples or pears if you're making it later in the season."

1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
6 Tbs. olive oil, divided
4 Tbs. fresh lime juice, divided
1 bunch fresh basil
2 cups halved fresh cherries or sliced plums, nectarines, or apricots
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced (1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (canned works)
2 large shallots, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup sliced almonds or pine nuts
1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt

1. Bring 3 cups water to a boil in pot over medium-high heat. Stir in quinoa. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed (don't let it get too dry, though).

2. Remove from heat and cool, covered, in pot (I actually take the cover off and stir it occasionally so it cools faster. Even so, it takes at least 30 minutes to cool, so plan accordingly. While it cools I chop all the fruits and veggies.)

Once cool, transfer quinoa to serving bowl and toss with 3 Tbs. olive oil and 2 Tbs. lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. 

3. Lay 5 or 6 basil leaves flat on top of one another on cutting board. Roll tightly into cylinder, then slice into thin strips. Repeat with remaining leaves.

4. Add basil, cherries (or other fruit), cucumber, chickpeas, shallots, and almonds to quinoa mixture; toss to combine. Chill 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop.

5. Meanwhile whisk together yogurt, remaining 3 Tbs. olive oil, and remaining 2 Tbs. lime juice in small bowl (just FYI, I usually double this recipe because I like the dressing!). Serve salad with yogurt dressing on side. 

*This recipe originally came from a magazine, though I can't remember which one now. I just have the cut-out in my collection of favorite recipes. 

In the final product picture you can see the grains of quinoa mixed in:

This salad can be a hearty side or even a main course for lunch (I've been eating it all week, and it holds me over until dinner). It can be made with any kind of stone fruit. Cherries are delicious in it, but in the absence of cherries this last week I used a peach, a nectarine, and a plum, and that was tasty, too.

So I hope you give quinoa a try! Also, I hope you visit your local farmer's market to pick up some fresh stone fruit (and tomatoes - oh, the tomatoes are to die for right now). I'll post more pictures of our Oxford Farmer's Market next weekend. Until then, try some quinoa!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

My New Obsession

I've been reading a lot of DIY blogs lately, and one thing that has really struck me is what an impact simply changing a color can make. This can be easily achieved with a cheap can of spray paint. 

So I decided to give it a shot. After all, one of my goals while living here in Oxford is to save money by making over old things rather than buying new things. Since I've never spray painted anything in my life, I decided to start with something I thought I couldn't mess up:  our patio furniture.

I found this metal table and chairs by the dumpster in Boulder last spring. They were all a little wobbly, but that was quickly fixed by moving the little screw-on feet from the table to the chair legs that were missing them. Voila! Easy, and free.

Once we had these out on our porch here in Oxford, though, I didn't like the look of them. I'm going for a light, airy, serene feel in our home, and the black was a bit harsh. 

My original thought was turquoise. But that dream was crushed when the hardware store didn't have it. Spa Blue was the closest to what I was looking for, but it looked like the color of hotel poolside loungers, and that was not the look I wanted. 

So I picked up what I thought was a creamy white color. Nice and neutral.

Turns out the color I got is actually Buttercream (my eyes focused on the CREAM at the store and failed to register the BUTTER). The cap did not look that yellow in the store - the photo really accentuates the color and pretty accurately reflects what the final result looked like. 

So, without further ado, here is the result!

I'm really happy with it! It brightens up our porch, which we can see from our kitchen and dining area. It's cost me $12 in spray paint so far (I'll have to buy one more can), but since the patio furniture was free to begin with, I think it was worth it!

I still have some touch-ups to do, and the legs and underside of the table need another coat of paint, but I ran out. I underestimated just how much paint it would take to completely cover the original black, and because there are so many holes and angles in the floral pattern, a lot of the paint went right on through. 

This took 2 cans, which probably would have been enough had I been a little more adept at spray painting when I began. The first chair took almost one can by itself (I focused a little too much on completely covering the underside. Duh, nobody sees it!). Then I learned to do a light coat, give it a few minutes to dry, apply another light coat, and so on until I couldn't see the black coming through any more. 

Since doing this project I have been eyeing many other things around the house that might need a color makeover: the clock, a dated gold lamp, our dining table.... More posts to come as I paint EVERYTHING!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Bicycles and Blisters

Oxford, sadly, is not set up for cycling. Whereas Boulder practically had its own highway system for bicycle riders, it seems that people here prefer to drive. Well, Ted and I are on a mission to change this! We'll start simply by setting an example.

This past weekend we rode into town to get some Starbucks wi-fi for Ted's Fantasy Football draft. This morning Ted rode into work on his bike, and I merrily pedaled off to the coffee shop to write a blog post and check my email.

After safely maneuvering through a couple busy intersections and over some train tracks, I pulled off the street into the coffee shop parking lot. As I turned in, however, I was met with some kind of large concrete insert sticking up out of the asphalt! In my surprise, I made a sharp turn to avoid it, which caused my heavy bike basket (filled with laptop, bike chain, and school workbooks) to tip the bike.

Down I went! Hard. Like, hands-splaying-in-front-scraping-across-pavement-while-legs-are-tangled-in-bike style:

It's been a long time since I've fallen off a bike. The last time I was mountain biking on Mt. Hood (Oregon) and flipped over the handle bars when my front tire stuck in a ditch. I landed flat on my back, but aside from having the wind knocked out of me I was unharmed. It didn't deter me from riding bikes then, and this fall won't deter me from getting back up on my bike tomorrow.

BUT.... Here is the major lesson I learned from my fall today:  No more biking in flip-flops.

This is not Boulder with nicely manicured, smoothly paved bike paths along the babbling creek. This is Oxford, with cracked asphalt, potholes, drivers who are not used to bikers, and strange concrete blocks sticking up just far enough to knock you off your bike.

This is "closed-toe shoe" biking country.

Lesson learned. As soon as that blood blister goes down enough to wear closed-toe shoes comfortably, I'll get right back on my bike.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Road Trip Recap

We still don't have internet set up, but the local coffee shop has free wi-fi, so I'll use this opportunity to sip my iced latte from my mug (strange) and post some pictures from our DC-->Oxford drive.

We set off early Thursday morning - 5:45AM. The car was packed to the gills, and I had even ordered this thing called a Roof Bag to pack all our clothes and camping gear in (I highly recommend it!

(This photo was actually taken at the end of the trip. More on that later!)

The cats were packed together in a crate, with the litter box accessible through an opening in the side. They were not happy for the first 2 hours, and they let us know. I took a video, but I can't seem to upload it, so you'll just have to imagine two cats yowling in the background as you read this post.

Overall, they did well and the trip went smoothly. There were only a couple of "adventures" along the way. The first came around Hour 3, when Minnie managed to squeeze through a narrow opening between the litter box and the crate. After exploring the car and meowing her distress she eventually wandered up front where I grabbed her and held her until we were able to pull over at a Scenic Viewpoint and put her away, stuffing the escape route with a pillow to prevent further adventures. 

(Despite being unhappy about her re-capture, Minnie and Milo finally settled in together.)

Well, that held her for a little while, but around Hour 5 or 6 Minnie managed to flatten her body and squeeze through an opening that I couldn't even get my arm through! This time she seemed happy to settle in on top of the crate and her dog-like panting, which had been persistent up until this point, stopped. So we decided to let her ride on top of the crate from there on out. 

The drive, though 9 hours long, was pretty enjoyable. There was some pretty scenery while driving through Pennsylvania in the early morning hours. Fog had settled among the hills, and the sunlight filtering through gave everything a dream-like quality. Pictures taken with our little point-and-shoot camera couldn't really capture it, but here's what we got:

Most of our driving time was spent in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but we also passed through Maryland and West Virginia (briefly) along the way:

Finally, we found ourselves driving down a rural road surrounded by farms and sky before pulling in to our little neighborhood community at Applewood Circle.

Our arrival photo is blurry, but that probably better reflects our bleary-eyed state after driving 9 hours with a loaded car and two cats. You can see our unit (the brick facade on the left) with our POD in the driveway. More pictures of that in a later blog... 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

We're Heeeee-ere!


We've finally arrived.

After a 5month "apartnership" where Ted worked in DC and I worked in Boulder, after packing up my home and classroom, after selling our condo and saying goodbye to our friends, after a long summer spent waiting... we are finally here. Ohio.

I have to admit, I was not that excited about moving to the midwest when Ted first landed a job as a visiting professor at Miami of Ohio. Both my parents are from the midwest. Both of them left. So did my 2 aunts and grandparents on my mom's side and one aunt and all my cousins on my dad's side.

Seems like people can't wait to get out of here.

But, on the other hand, my Uncle Bob lived in Chicago his whole life and LOVED it. I have an aunt and uncle who settled here. Even my best friend from grade school lives here. By choice!

So here I am now, and I decided a while back that I would make the best of it and even try to enjoy my time here. I changed my mindset, and I had big plans to reset more than just my attitude once we got here.

What I wasn't expecting was that I would LOVE it here! Oxford is a quiet little town (maybe that will change once all the students move in on Thursday). Our 2-story triplex is cute and cozy, and so far the people are really nice. It's a nice change from the fast-paced, crowded DC area.

So, pictures are coming. I'm blogging from the Starbucks in town since our internet will not be up until Monday or Tuesday. And more is coming about the Oxford area and the unexpected pleasure of being here!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Last Day on the Eastern Seaboard

You may notice some changes to the blog today - color palette, background... I'm just experimenting a little! I'd love your feedback. :)

Other than playing around with Blogger, I have but one job today - pack the car and clean up our apartment! We're shoving off to Ohio early tomorrow morning!

The cats are ready to go:

At least, one of them is. The other one knows there's something up, and I have a feeling we'll be dragging her out from under the bed tomorrow morning at 5am.

So, the next time you hear from me, I'll be in the great state of OHIO! Let the adventure begin!

(There may be a few days of silence on the blog as we unpack our moving POD and set up our internet service, but I'll be back as soon as I can!)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mrs. Suzy Homesteader

I have this idea of my life in Ohio, where I'll be this kind of Martha Stewart/ Tree-Hugger/ Homesteader:

(Schoolteacher Miss Mary Longfellow holding down a claim west of Broken Bow, Nebraska. Via

Like, I'll make things from scratch and not let anything go to waste! But it will all look really good, too:

(A peek inside of my sod house.* Credit:

Today I've created a list of 15 things that will help me realize this vision of my life in Ohio. There are some things on this list that have nothing to do with being Mrs. Suzy Homesteader, but they've been a long time coming and need to be on this list.

The List

1. Be more positive (and nicer) (see my last post).
2. Get a smart phone.
3. Start composting!
4. Make some to-go jars for green smoothies.
5. Make over our kitchen table (post coming in the near future).
6. Start eating a healthier diet of whole foods made at home.
7. Learn to sew!
8. Get up early.
9. Start an exercise routine.
10. Maybe trade in my mountain bike for a cute little cruiser. With a handlebar basket.
11. Plant a container garden of vegetables.
12. Learn to play the guitar.
13. Learn how to can foods and make pickles.
14. De-clutter. Simplify.
15. Read the real news. And stop calling celebrity gossip "the news".

This is not an exhaustive list. I'm sure it will expand, contract, and generally morph once we settle in and I see how much time I have on my hands. But this is my starting point and a glimpse into some of my future posts!

What's on your to-do list for the coming year?

(And just FYI, I tend to call the school year "the year" rather than the calendar year. There's something about going back to school in the fall that just feels like starting fresh.)

*And another FYI, I will not actually be living in a sod house in Ohio. We've rented the middle unit of a very lovely-looking triplex.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Goal: Always Look Lovely

(Print by Kensie Kate, from

Roald Dahl has always been one of my favorite authors. It all started with The BFG in 4th grade. That year there was a school-wide contest to illustrate a scene from a book. Grand prize: Your scene gets painted into a mural in the hallway... on the actual WALL! In a nerdy frenzy I rather un-creatively copied the cover of the book, which shows the Big Friendly Giant holding little Sophie in his hand, and submitted my entry. To my great joy, my illustration was one of those chosen for the mural, and I proudly painted the BFG on my elementary school hallway. (I wonder if that mural is still there?)

Flash forward 20 years to myself teaching 3rd grade. Roald Dahl hasn't lost any of his magic. My students love his humor and British I-couldn't-care-less-about-using-swear-words-in-a-children's-book attitude. During our class author study I read his two autobiographies, Boy and Going Solo, and I fell in love with him all over again. This is a guy who knows how to tell a story.

What does all of this have to do with reseting in Ohio, you ask? Well, I came across the quote above while perusing Pinterest, and it made me realize that, over the years, negative thoughts have started to outnumber the positive ones in my mind. My face must always look hideous with the opposite of sunbeams shining out. Sludge oozing out, I guess.

My biggest weakness? I'm quick to judge. Yes, I admit it. I'm judging 24/7. From stupid drivers to iPhone zombies to that what-in-God's-name-is-she-wearing girl on the metro (Doesn't she own a mirror?). I'm not proud. I'd like to be more accepting! To live and let live. But it's become habit at this point.

Enter Mr. Dahl's quote. This is my new goal - to have thoughts so positive that they shine out of my face! Not just the thoughts about other people and their intentions, but also about myself and the world in general. I think this will improve my mood and make life more enjoyable!

For some of you, this may sound easy. Heck, it probably is easy once you get the hang of it. Or if you're simple-minded........ See! I actually just had that thought. I've gotten into a bad habit, and you know how hard those are to break.

Got any insight or ideas on how to think positively? I think I'm going to buy one of those daily mantra books once I get to Ohio. I need all the help I can get!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Slight Change Of Plans

Yesterday I had a phone interview with the ELL (Englsih Language Learner) Specialist at Miami University (of Ohio), and I am now a part-time faculty member, teaching English language classes to some of their Chinese international students! This will be a big shift from elementary school.

Though my original plan was to take a year off teaching, I've now spent an entire summer watching Netflix in a basement in Virginia...


... and I think I just might need some kind of structure and purpose once we get to Ohio.

This seems like the perfect amount. I'll be teaching a Reading & Writing course for 6 hours a week and a Level 1 Grammar course for 2 hours a week. I'm nervous about teaching for 3 hours at a time on one subject (to young adults), but I'll hopefully feel better once I see the text book and teaching materials.

Looks like I won't be just a housewife after all!

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Countdown Begins

In less than a week I will be driving 8 1/2 hours, with two cats and one husband, from Arlington, VA to Oxford, OH. The set-up will look something like this:

Milo (pictured) traveled by himself from Boulder, CO to Arlington at the beginning of the summer and cried for the first 5 hours in the car. There was one sleepless night in a hotel and one successful escape from the crate during the journey. We're optimistic that things will go better with TWO cats in the crate...