Butler Pantry – Part 1

This was not my idea. I got the idea (and the name) from this blog here. A Butler’s Pantry is traditionally a space off the main door preparation area where precious or expensive things are stored and kept under lock and key with the Butler holding the key. I have long chaffed at the empty space above our basement stairs. It was bland, dirty and impossible to reach to clean. Over all, just an enormous irritant in a tiny house where every spot is precious. I decided to try to make my own Butler’s Pantry and make this space useful.

In some ways I had an easier time than the people I got the idea from because that floor level ledge is right beside the outer wall of my little house and three 2X10″ inch wood beams. I used extra long wood screws and four hinges to attach a carefully trimmed chunk of 3/4″ plywood to the outer wall. I then created two 2X4″ supports on the opposite side into another pair of 2X10″ beams using heavy duty lag bolts. The result was almost immediately workable, much to my delight.

The board can go up out of the way to access the basement, or be relatively easily lowered to cover the staircase opening.

The very first thing I did once I had a floor that felt solid enough to walk on, was to finally finally finally clean the entire space. It was dusty and awful and filthy and I had not been able to safely get at it since we moved in. In the process of walking back and forth to scrub the walls and ceiling walls I could feel the 3/4″ plywood board creaking a bit. My next job was to start adding some reinforcements and additional supports. I added some extra 2X4″ supports so the board rests on those instead of all the weight on the hinges. I also added a top rail and a wood blocking bit so it can’t accidentally fall onto our heads while we go up or down. This got rid of the slightly wobbly feel and stopped any creaking. I am going to add some additional cross supports at the ends of the plywood to further stabilize it and maybe add a couple of more in the middle similar to how the original looks but without disturbing my hinges that work just beautifully. I also want to figure out some kind of pneumatic lift hinge support so I don’t have to squat and pull to lift floor out of the way.

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A few things became immediately apparent. I now need to plan the best way to put in shelving for my pantry. I can put shelves into all the spaces above head height as one goes up and down stairs and in that back section. I need to plan what height and depth of shelves will work best for what I want to put in this newly accessible space. I have quite a few items that I need to keep but rarely use. These include my big red turkey roasting pan for company dinners, my pot distiller and my pressure canner and boiling water bath canner. Those can go up high on top. I’d like box for my recycle sorting bag instead of leaving it hanging on the wall. I could really use a broom closet and a dedicated spot for my vacuum.

I also need to add a light. With the board down, the new space is really dark. I am going to add at least one electric plug when I put in the light. I have been thinking this space might work very well for my seedlings in the spring if I set aside one shelf dedicated to that purpose and install my grow light above it. If I do that, I definitely need at least one plug. And of course the entire thing needs priming and painting to match my kitchen. The plywood floor will need some nice cover, maybe some pretty linoleum with tiny flowers or something.

I fell asleep last night planning my shelves and plotting the best path for wiring. I want to have it all figured out by the time we have to make our next trip to a city with a hardware store. That way I can walk in with a list of supplies, stock up, and drive home ready to start. The garden is under the snow now, but I have a brand new project to keep busy with. What fun!

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Winter Has Arrived.

If you are a denizen of the north this post is likely going to see rather silly and obvious. My travels south and discussions I have had there, have me thinking people who are not from the north might find it interesting to hear of our pre-storm prep.

Most of the winter preps were either completed or nearing completion. The weather advisories began Monday the warnings started last night compliments of Environment Canada.

Warnings

4:28 AM CDT Wednesday 09 October 2019
Snowfall warning in effect:

Heavy snowfall over Riding Mountains today.

A cold front pushing in from Saskatchewan will bring some rain, snow and cooler temperatures to these regions Wednesday. Most areas should expect only a few centimeters of snow accumulation with this cold front. However, cooler temperatures at the higher elevations in the Riding Mountains will lead to snowfall accumulations of 10 to 15 cm.

Travel outside of the Riding Mountains may be affected as well at times due to poor visibilities in snow and near freezing conditions.

Be prepared to adjust your driving with changing road conditions. Visibility may be suddenly reduced at times in heavy snow. If visibility is reduced while driving, slow down, watch for tail lights ahead and be prepared to stop.

Statements

4:49 AM CDT Wednesday 09 October 2019
Special weather statement in effect:

First taste of winter weather is coming.

A cold front pushing in from Saskatchewan will bring colder temperatures with some rain or snow Wednesday. This has led to some snowfall warnings being issued for the Riding Mountain area.

There is also a potential for accumulating snowfall from over the southwest corner of the province into the Red River valley and northwestward toward Berens River as a Colorado Low tracks north Thursday. Amounts could be in excess of 5 cm by Thursday night.

Currently, it appears regions in the Red River Valley and eastward will see a transition from rain to snow Thursday. However, exact position and timing of the transition is still uncertain, so the precipitation amounts and type in the forecast may change as the system develops.

This Colorado Low will affect Manitoba with snow and strong winds throughout the weekend. Travel will be affected.

Please continue to monitor alerts and forecasts issued by Environment Canada. To report severe weather, send an email to MBstorm@canada.ca or tweet reports using #MBStorm.

So what are our winter preparations?

The most important is provisions for heat. Cold kills much more quickly than heat. We have an electric furnace and so we must have hydro to heat our home. If the hydro electric power goes out, our furnace does not work. We have a 2000 watt generator that can run either our trailer, or 2000 watts worth of hydro in our little house. I have purchased and put aside enough gas (with stabilizer) to run the generator for seven days if we have to. We have two 600 watt oil heaters and two 300 watt heaters. Our generator can power them enough to keep us toasty warm in our tiny house in the around freezing level temperatures typical with Colorado lows.IMG_1815.jpg

We also have a wood stove for deep cold emergencies. The wood stove is disconnected, as you can see. If we hook up the stove our homeowner’s insurance is void because we are not insured for a wood burning stove. In fact, having it disconnected is requirement of our insurance. We only have it on hand in case we experience a prolonged power outage and it is too cold to survive otherwise. I also hesitate about using the wood stove because no matter how careful you are, if you burn wood, you get smoke in the house and I suspect my asthma would flare. Still having to use my puffers would be better than freezing to death. In our rural area a prolonged power outage lasting days or weeks is extremely unlikely but not impossible. Yesterday a local fellow delivered enough firewood to keep us warm even at -40C (-40F) for one week. If we don’t have to use this emergency back up heat supply, we will have a nice stack for backyard open fires with the grandkids for the summer. Obviously, I would have to do some tidying up before the stove is usable. The wood currently on the stove is for other things, not burning.

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Many of our local men are handymen who know how to do all kinds of stuff. They have had a big crunch going on because of the early storm warnings. The nice fellow who cleans chimneys and fixes roofs had already agreed to come by and do our chimney and inspect it and make sure it is safe. He rushed the job so he wouldn’t end up doing it after the roof was full of snow. Even as he finished sweeping up the soot he knocked out of the chimney, the snow had started. He was off to the next house.

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Other preparations include moving the snow shovel into the house. I made sure all our winter outerwear is inside and available. This includes boots, mittens, hats, winter jackets, long johns, snow pants, fleece vests, flannel shirts, extra blankets on the bed and everything else we Canadians require for the winter. We even have winter gear for the dog. Dogs only need winter gear when it is really cold and we’re not expecting that kind of cold so early but I am ready. The truck is full of gas and the winter tires inspected and ready. I tested the four wheel drive and it clunked in perfectly. We have enough of all our assorted meds to last well past when the roads are cleared.

We also have games and reading material ready in case the internet disappears with the power supply. I downloaded enough Kindle books to read for a month. I also bought myself a crewel embroidery kit in case I get so bored I need something to do for my hands.

Our water supply comes from a community well. The pump also requires electricity. This means if the power goes out we soon have no water. I have plenty of drinking water in bottles. My last chore is to drag one of my small rain barrels inside and set it up so we also have water for flushing the toilet and bathing.

Last preparations are food preparations. We have stocked up on extra milk, eggs, fresh produce, and our freezer and cupboard is well stocked with tea, cocoa and everything we might need to keep ourselves well fed and warm on the inside.

If this Colorado low follows the usual pattern for October up here in Manitoba, it will dump a mess on us and melt away and we will have a few more days of warm sunny weather and see the grass for a short spell before real winter sets in. Typically local kids plan their Halloween costumes to go over their snowsuits. That is when winter sets in for the season.

Winter is here. We’re as ready as we can be.

Tiny Home, Tiny Storage, Big Joy.

Our home is 480 square feet. (46 square metres) Depending on how such things are defined, we have a Tiny Home. One of the perpetual issues with Tiny Homes is not enough storage space. And yet to stay sane in a Tiny House, organization is critically important. Everything must have a place and everything needs to be in it. One of the least used spaces in a house is the top foot or so going up to the ceiling. So I decided to use it.

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I had two old fashioned one quarter inch plywood doors that started out as doors over a closet. While I was repainting, I had to rip the framing out around them and the framing broke. I stuck the doors in the garage and left them and put a curtain over the open closet instead.

After thinking a lot, I decided to convert the two old doors in four shelves by cutting them lengthwise. Since shelves “up there” are going to really show their brackets, I ordered some extra fancy brackets I liked from Amazon. The ones in our local hardware store were of limited selection and uniformly bland utilitarian. My wonderful neighbour used his table saw to cut the boards for me. I then repainted them with some leftover paint from the interior painting. Two shelves went up in the bathroom. My intention was to put in some pretty basket/box things so it looked nice like a magazine picture. What I didn’t know is my husband had been living with floor clutter he detested. I went to snap a picture of my new shelving and found he had already relocated all the bathroom clutter for me.

~ Hm, hubby dearest cleaning ~

~Hm, not exactly what I had planned. ~

~Hm, it does work even if it isn’t “decor” like a magazine. Okay it stays. ~

The second shelf is up much higher which gives the room a neat “staircase up” look instead of seeming crowded. Those fancy basket things I ordered will fit there on the higher shelf.

The third shelf solved one of my other little life joy reducers.

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We downsized almost everything we had and I discarded just about everything “sentimental”. I did keep a few very special things that bring me much joy and they have been sitting in a plastic box for nearly ten years. I wanted them out where I could enjoy them. One shelf fits very nicely over the TV on the wall of our bedroom. I quickly filled it before Hubby Dearest found things he wanted out from underfoot. Now, my precious few sentimental things are where I can see them and look at them and feel joy. Each one has a very special story and means the world to me. (Trump Bear is a late addition.)

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The fourth self went up behind Hubby Dearest’s treadmill work desk. He can do whatever he likes with it. I am hoping he declutters that space.

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Total cost was $32 for the brackets. Since I used leftovers, I am not counting the cost of the wood, screws, and paint.

My next project should be interesting. I am going to convert this space into something useful.

Stroke/Health Update – Carotid Artery Dissection with Pseudoaneurysm

Yesterday we met with the radiological interventionists via telehealth conference. This meant we could have a face to face meeting with the doctor without driving all the way to Winnipeg. It was a weird turn of events for us because years ago it was my husband set up the first ever working Manitoba telehealth link. The meeting went very well and it sure was nice not to have to drive two and a half hours to Winnipeg for it.

We first shared the clinical details of my husband’s condition which is, at the present time is he has no symptoms. The minor stroke symptoms have largely resolved. We are now working to lower the number of blood pressure medications he is on in a slow way while monitoring to make sure the blood pressure does not go back up.

We also got a radiological description of the kind, type and size of the dissection my husband had and why the second CT showed his is “worse” than it was before. We also learned that in some ways the dissection is actually better. This image shows the basic issue we are dealing with.

There is a blood clot sitting where the tear shows the blood running into the space in this image. The mild stroke my husband had is probably due to when the tear first happened and that clot was forming. Part of the clot got swept up in the bloodstream and ended up lodging in the brain farther up causing the mild stroke. That blood clot has shrunk. That is good news because the fact that it is shrinking means the artery is healing. The bad news is that the size and length of the blister like formation (often called pseudoaneurysm) within the artery wall grew a lot from when he had his first and second CT in hospital. It got both thicker (making the artery narrower) and longer.

The decision we have to make is whether to leave it alone and give it more time to heal or go for a stent. Such stenting is commonly done in cases where there is atherosclerotic plaques in the artery causing reduced blood flood as in this image.

Mayo Clinic Q and A: New treatment to open blocked carotid artery – Mayo Clinic News Network

However this is not the problem my husband has. In fact the CT and other tests he had done show he actually has almost no atherosclerotic plaques. Also because of the size and length of the “blister” he would need to have two stents put in a “pipeline” to fix it.

There is no doubt at all that the pipeline stenting works very well and is an excellent way to repair the damaged artery. The problem is this procedure is relatively high risk. The chances of this procedure causing a catastrophic outcome, like shattering the artery altogether or causing a huge stroke are, depending on what criteria you measure, about 5% (2-10%). In my husband’s particular situation, because of where the “blister” is, in a bendy part of the artery where it is hard to get good CT images, and the basket for catching clots can’t be deployed, we were told it is about 5-10%. There are also long term potential consequences such as the stent plugging up again, or breaking through the artery, and causing more damage over time.

Obviously, if the blood supply to brain is so poor it is causing symptoms, taking that risk is well worth it. Having a stent put in will probably fix it. The risks of the procedure are well worth the potential benefits compared to having not enough blood get to the brain.

What if there are no symptoms? In my husband’s case, he has no symptoms. Neurologically and physically he is perfectly fine. So should he take the risk of stenting or wait and give it more time to heal on its own? The risk is that the “blister” will continue grow and block the artery and cause a crisis down the road. He could die or have a major stroke before we can get to Winnipeg and get a stent put in.

After our discussion we, meaning my husband, the doctor and I, made a considered decision to do what my husband calls “watchful waiting” for now. The doctor wants to try to get a better feel for when and how the “blister” formed. Did it form after he got out of the hospital and now has stopped growing? Is it now healing after the whiplash setback? Has the “blister” been slowly growing the entire time and will it therefore continue to grow? In order answer to this question, we decided to have a fourth CT in two weeks. This is enough time after the first view of the “blister” to ascertain if the blister is growing or healing or staying the same. Until then, as long as there is no reappearance of any of the symptoms of the dissection we do nothing. If any of those symptoms start, we immediately get to the hospital.

After we had that visit, I had some words to use in a search of Pubmed and Google Scholar. I found some review articles on what to do. There just isn’t a lot of good large studies. Most doctors say go right in with the stent and fix it now in a controlled way. This approach is the absolute best for anyone with symptoms. However in people with no symptoms, if you choose to do nothing, the few studies suggest most of the time nothing happens or the artery heals completely or partially. People can walk around for years with that “blister” without a problem.

There is a very strong fear in the medical community that leaving it alone means you will have a high chance of some future uncontrolled catastrophe. Most of the medical literature on why one should go in and stent begins with that assumption. If you do nothing, the patient is going to eventually rupture and have a bad outcome. You must take the risk and do something now.

I then traced back to the original literature that says you must do something now or else. I learned something very important. That literature is based on assumptions that date from before widespread use of CT. Those studies also often mixed up the pseudoaneurysm with full aneurysms. Those studies also included very large defects, many so large you could feel them pulsing in the patient’s neck. Smaller ones are being found with CT no one knew were there before. So the old data on how extremely risky these ‘blisters’ are may not be correct for smaller ones. What few not very good studies there are suggest that these smaller ones usually stay the same, or heal on their own. We just don’t know. There is not enough data.

Doctors are not very good at sitting back and doing nothing. The whole profession revolves around going in and fixing problems. Doctors get sued more often for doing nothing than for doing something and having the procedure go wrong. It is also really hard for a doctor to hear that they risked their patients and caused unnecessary pain and suffering even death when they should have just left well enough alone. It is a good doctor’s worst possible nightmare.

In our case, we discussed the pros and cons. The doctor gave us lots of information. My husband assessed the information and discussed it with me. We asked a lot of questions. We decided to do nothing for now. I think if we had urged the doctor to go ahead and arrange the stenting right away he would have agreed to do that. I am also certain he agreed with our decision to wait. He is a good doctor who practices informed consent and respects my husband’s right to make his own informed decision about his own body. The decision is my husband’s and the consequences are his to live with. Whatever happens, it will not be the doctor’s fault.

Of course our decision may change given the results of the next CT. And, of course, if symptoms appear, the whole equation changes.

This is our decision. Your mileage may vary.

Update: Another article “Experience of a single center in the conservative approach of 20 consecutive cases of asymptomatic extracranial carotid artery aneurysms” from 2018 also supports the watchful waiting approach. In this article the author also points out older literature on why you should not wait is likely not applicable for the reasons I gave. Note this is a small study. More research is needed.

Our Weird Rock.

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We were out walking and we both noticed a round granite rock. It’s very unusual to find a round granite rock that is also rough and grooved on the surface. Glaciers can move and grind rocks but normally the result is smooth since glaciers act like natural rock polishers. Rocks smoothed by water tend to be more flat and oval. When we get home we washed the rock off and I noticed some black markings on one side in the grooved area. I tried washing the black off with a toothbrush but it would not come off. The rock is full of little flecks of white, we presume silica and some red/gold flecks which look to be iron. As we examined it, we both began to think the same thing. Maybe this is not an ordinary rock. Maybe it’s a meteorite. With that thought in mind we went on line to try to find something that would let us identify it.

Dick used the water displacement method to figure out the density. Iron meteorites are normally much heavier than earth rocks like granite. Our rock’s density is a bit on the light side but in the normal range for granite. Meteorites usually have a lot of iron and are often able to attract a magnet.  Our rock is very mildly magnetic. It pulls a compass needle toward it. The magnets we have are not strong and they don’t “stick” but you can feel there is a pull between the rock and a magnet. Of course there are earth rocks that do that too.

There are natural rock meteorites, left over from when a planet crashed in Earth and the result turned the Earth molten and created the moon. That type has lower density compared to iron meteorites. There are also stony meteorites called carbonaceous chondrites. These have carbon-bearing matter: elemental carbon, nano diamonds, abiotic organic compounds, fullerenes, and other rare, carbon forms. Carbon-bearing matter from meteorites are thought to be the very beginning of the tree of life. So perhaps what we found is a carbonaceous chrondite. Our rock is 2.4 grams per centimetre cubed or about the range of both carbonaceous chondrites meteorites or common earth rocks like granite.

We dragged out the stereo microscope to have a really close look at the surface. There are some perfectly round tiny nodules visible under a magnifying glass that are tinted green. There are multiple very small perfect half cups of both the white and greenish material as if nodules melted open. Embedded in the rusty coloured material are tiny perfect spheres of black. There are many small, bright metallic flakes over the entire surface. Our rock also does not have the typical exterior melted on look of a meteorite. Still there is that black smudge on one side where the surface has some shallow grooves. Under the microscope it looks like black melted rock material but only deep in the grooves so maybe it is a worn meteorite. On the other hand, you can find black with nodules like that from volcano rocks that formed deep in the earth. Maybe it’s just an interesting earth rock.

So what is it? We are asking some of our friends in the astronomy field. We could spend some money and send it off to be sampled by professionals. I’m not sure I want to hear them say, nope, just an earth rock. It’s more fun to hold it in our hands and think, of such stuff was life likely started in our planet. We shall see. Meantime we had a nice distraction from our day to day cares in the form of a round rock on our path on a country road. We used that to learn a lot about meteorites. We had fun dragging out the old stereo microscope we haven’t used in years. Even if it turns out our rock is just a funny round earth rock, we are glad we found it.

For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy. Psalm 92:4

Blessed are you Lord our God, King of the Universe, who makes the works of creation.

Good Doctors are Wonderful!

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We walked in to see the new family doctor for the second time. It was wonderful! I really like this new family doctor we have. This doctor heard us out, made careful notes and immediately agreed it was time to start getting off all the extra blood pressure meds. We did not have to argue or plead.  We now have a plan to reduce the amlodipine by half for two weeks and then eliminate it completely for two weeks. If his blood pressure stays in a good range we can then try stopping the second of the three drugs, hydrochlorothiazide. If his blood pressure starts back up again, we go in and reevaluate. I can’t say how delighted I am because while the stroke was initially the worst part of all this, the side effects from the drugs have more recently become the worst part of his life.

The order of the reduction which the doctor recommended was different from the one I thought we should move in but we will follow the doctor’s advice since, well, he’s the doctor. He explained why he was recommending the order he did and it made sense. It was immediately apparent he knew a lot more than me. He explained why he thought we need to continue with the blood thinners for three more months and it made sense so we will do that too. Unlike the previous doctor, he told us the blood test results.

Getting rid of the atorvastatin last week has already made a remarkable improvement in our quality of life. It’s not fun living with horrific thigh and back cramps and terrible muscle pain. It’s so hard as a wife to see your husband suffer and be unable to do anything. I am very hopeful that getting rid of at least one of the blood pressure drugs will help with the lack of stamina, dizzy spells, swollen ankles, and getting spots before the eyes on standing. The dog will be happier too if we can begin to enjoy our regular long walks again without the having to stop to sit and rest. As a bonus, we are getting referred to a new neurologist who is not so authoritarian and patriarchal in his patient interactive style. We are assured this one will better suit our personalities. I have no doubt about the skill of the previous doctor but he obviously has real issues with patients who ask questions. What a pleasure to be teated as intelligent adult partners in our care whose opinions and words count.

A good doctor is worth his or her weight in gold. I think we have found a 24K one.

 

 

End of the Season

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Frost warnings are up tonight and the forecast for a few days from now keeps alternating between snow and rain. It has been a poor year due to the summer drought but a bit of rain and the last season frost holding off longer than usual gave the garden a teeny boost at the end.

In preparation for the possibility of frost, I picked my tomato plants clean of all tomatoes and moved them into the basement to finish ripening. I also pulled up the last of the onions, beets, carrots, and cucumbers. I dug up the potatoes and cleaned off the pepper plants. I cut the last of the herbs. The house is full of the smell of rosemary and thyme coming from the dehydrator.  We are eating sauces and salsa’s from fresh tomatoes. We are still enjoying the sweet pleasure of popping whole cherry tomatoes like candies.

The end of the garden season is always a combined relief and a time for sadness and reflection. The garden is a lot of work and while it is mostly pleasurable work, it is still work. It’s nice to have a break from it. I have made my notes for next spring and I collected and dried seeds for next year. Now is the time to get to those indoor chores that have been neglected. There are still plenty of preparations before the deep cold. After last of the produce was safe from the frost, I finally fixed a light switch that has been broken since July.

Life runs in cycles and seasons. Life is a cycle of blessings.

Thank you, Master of the Universe for allowing me to enjoy another full summer of gardening and the opportunity to enjoy food from my own garden, grown and prepared with my own hands.