January 16, 2018

Egg Substitute


Just a little check in with how my food journey has been progressing. 

Still meatless, still consuming little bits of dairy here and there, but mostly I've been pretty good.

While I don't eat dairy at home, there were still some store-bought products that contained eggs and butter.

From time to time, we like to get bakeries from a Korean pastry shop near our home and most likely they are made with non-vegan ingredients. We bought milk bread and I also had a vegetable croquette and twist donuts the other day but other than that, I think I've been choosing the vegan dairy route.

Another thing we like to do is make a variety of "jeon" - which people like to describe as Korean pancakes but I'm not sure if that's such a good comparison. The batter is prepared mainly with flour, eggs and water and you can add things depending on what kind of jeon you want. You can go with Asian chives or scallions, kimchi, seafood, shellfish or even meat, including beef or pork, or mixing the vegetable with your choice of either seasfood or meat. I can it can be pretty versatile. The egg plays a binding role and while I have read that certain fruits can act as an egg substitute, I found something else at the market instead.

The Neat Egg (also found on Amazon - don't worry, this isn't an affiliate link and I don't get paid to include links in my blog posts - if I do, it's always stated within the blog post).

The entire bag is equivalent to 18 eggs and all you do is just add water and mix and use it in recipes where egg is a binder. It's made from just two ingredients - chia seeds and garbanzo beans. 

So simple and we haven't had issues making our favorite types of jeon with it. And it tastes exactly how we like it.

A couple of days ago we made buchu jeon (buchu is Asian chives). Usually the Korean grocery sells these in a big bunch and so there is always leftovers. We like to take care of it buy splitting the leftover buchu in half and making buchu jeon with one bundle and buchu kimchi with the other.

Oh and jeon is paid with a soy sauce dip that you can mix with vinegar, sesame oil and I also like to add onions, scallions, green peppers, sesame seeds and red pepper flakes as well. 

Happy eating everyone.

What's been on your dish lately?

January 12, 2018

I like this life with you... I miss this life with you // 019



















"Words can be worrisome, people complex, motives and manners unclear. Grant her the wisdom to choose her path right, free from unkindness and fear."
-- Blueberry Girl, Neil Gaiman

January 11, 2018

Welcoming Angel + a little something about this in-home dog boarding business


This morning we welcomed Angel, a chihuahua mix, to our crew today. Angel has been here before but that was already two years ago. Back then Angel was a little plump and was on a diet. I was so surprised to see her today because she has lost her weight! She looks so good and her face and happy tail wags are as exactly as I remember. 

This year marks our 5th year in running Piri's Place. And I have enjoyed every moment, every dog and every person who came through our doors (except one woman who was a nightmare and accused me of not wanting to care for her dogs and said I was using Piri's cancer as an excuse and she littered on my driveway before going home - I don't think I can ever find it in my heart to forgive her).

I started Piri's Place about a year after quitting my job. I took that full year off to just recharge. I was so incredibly burnt out from a decade of just working my tail off in a field that didn't pay much but required a lot of your time and, well frankly, your heart as well. While the endless work never stressed me out (it was hard and there was stress, but it was never a stress I couldn't handle) it was the people that got to me in the end. And I left and never looked back. 

I took that time to do things I never got to enjoy when I was working (working at the office, working out in the field, working at home, working in my sleep). I picked up on knitting and crocheting and began to do crafts. I found joy in thrifting and went vintage shop hopping. I spent more time with Piri, I read, watched TV and ventured around the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area.

The most noticeable change happened right away when I was on break. I laughed a lot. And I spent my time with Yangkyu and Piri doing meaningful things and having wonderful conversations, and not wasting that time venting and crying and stressing over people. I thought, "This was what I want my life to be." And it's been that way since.

One of the biggest challenges at the time was having our income slashed in half. We were dependent only Yangkyu's full time salary but that was ok. I wasn't into buying things and we were ok to tighten our belts here and there. I grew up not having to worry about money, but this reconfiguring of our budget never made me sad or feel trapped. I didn't need to buy things to make me happy. My happiness was right at home with Yangkyu and Piri, and all the things I was doing and making.

About a half a year into our break, Yangkyu sent me a link to DogVacay - a network of dog caregivers offering in-home pet boarding and daycare service. I have definitely heard of DogVacay before but never felt that it would be convenient to do because we were living in a condo at the time. Yangkyu sent the link my way not to pressure me to make money but to consider it if I wanted to ever put my photo taking skills to use while caring for dogs. I thought that was a good idea and after a month into moving to our corner lot townhouse - the home we live in now - , I opened Piri's Place to our very first guest. 

This may sound weird or may sound like a lie, but I didn't start this business to make a lot of money. 

We began humbly - charging only $30 a night (which DogVacay - and Rover now takes 15% of) for overnight stays and $20 for daycare. Following our very first guest, we started to get a string of guests. While it is encouraged that hosts ask clients for good reviews, I never asked them. But they miraculously came in and in a blink of an eye I had racked up a good 40-50 reviews. And not one of them was solicited. I was beyond thankful. 

I have since increased my fees to $45 a night for overnight stays and $25 for daycare, which is still low compared to commercial boarding facilities. I increased my price to stay even with other hosts in my area, but also to make sure I was also making enough to put back into Piri's Place.

We provide all dog beds, blankets, poop bags, toys, treats (if they want) and we are big on cleaning. And cleaning doesn't come cheap. All our clients never minded the price increases and actually tell me they think I don't charge enough (one client once told me she paid more for someone else because I wasn't available one time and the care was not satisfactory - that I am worth so much more - that made me feel good). Some express their gratitude by gifting us things from their travels or give us a tip.

Of course they don't have to and it is never expected. I actually feel bad for taking any extra money in the form of a tip and so we started a little tradition where we kept the tip money until the end of the year and donated half of it to a local rescue organization. But I always appreciate clients' thoughtful remarks, their appreciation in words and in the form of tips. 

There were (and perhaps still) a few misconceptions people had about how I run Piri's Place. If you glance through our profile, the pictures we share are all from my DSLR. I take photos of dogs from my good camera and share them with my clients during their daily updates (I use the phone often as well). People would comment that it was a good visual marketing strategy and I kind of tilted my head and thought, huh?? 

I may be running a business, and I am very proud of it, but all the things that I do for dogs and clients are not driven to increase my popularity or to make Piri's Place look good to attract a bigger customer base.

I love pictures and I value them a lot. Not everyone may be the same, but pictures hold a deep sentimental value for me. I wanted clients to have nice photos of their dogs because I thought maybe one day they would be happy to have something, a moment captured on camera, that they can remember  forever.

I also save all the photos in large resolution format and also in smaller resolution (to send via email). I do this not because I have time on my hands all day, every day, but because we make photobooks for clients whose dogs crossed the rainbow bridge. I use the higher resolution files to make them so that the quality would be good. I don't charge for these books. I just send it to them because I want to. Because I want to help soothe their broken hearts any way that I can. 

Sometimes I feel like I think differently than the rest of the world, hence these misconceptions on motives on how and what I do with Piri's Place. And when they assume I do something for a particular reason, I am baffled.

The first year we opened, I did something that 99% of the world would think is the dumbest idea. I gave one free night to clients who booked with us for the month of December.

Why? (I'm curious to know why you think I did that)

It was simple, really. 

Because it was the holidays.

That's it. In the holiday spirit, I wanted to gift a client of one free night.

It drove me nuts that people thought I was doing this to get clients because I was the new host on the block. It wasn't that at all. And when I saw that every other host was actually increasing their prices because it was the holidays, here I was, the newbie, giving away free nights, just so she can get more customers. I stopped doing this the following year.

My mentality back when I first started was that I was spending so much money caring for Piri. He was diagnosed with kidney disease and he needed to have blood work done constantly and needed sub-q fluids injected and medications refilled and the whole nine yards. It was a lot of money. I had stopped boarding him at facilities because he was sick and I just stop traveling altogether. And so my mindset was - 1. people shouldn't have to worry about boarding their dogs, especially if they are old and sick; and 2. boarding care for dogs shouldn't break people's wallets, especially if they are caring for sick senior dogs. They are already spending so much on vet bills. Boarding their dogs and hoping they are getting good care should be the last of their worries.

Ok.

Maybe this thought was dumb.

I quickly came to realize that not many people thought this deep. And a handful took advantage of my low prices.

Unlike most hosts, I don't charge for walks during their stay with me (although my walks are limited as I don't leave dogs home alone), I don't charge an extra daycare fee if their pick up time is in the evening, I don't charge for baths (although not everyone gets it but we do a complimentary bath for long-term stays). Most people will say I don't have a mindset of a business person. Perhaps I don't. But doing things my way have earned me a great client base who respect the work I do and who appreciate so so much every email and pictures I send them. 

Another misconception people also have is that I have it so easy. I get to play with dogs all day! Yay! Fun! 

I do have a lot of fun with the dogs and there are definitely perks that come with doing an in-home dog sitting service, but there are also a lot of things that aren't exactly cake walk. 

For one - we offer a 24 hour supervision policy. That means, unless you have a husband or another family member who can watch the dogs for you while you want to go out, you are stuck home caring for dogs for as little as one night to possibly 30 nights straight. Of course not all hosts offer 24 hour supervision policy. But we do. And for me, I'm an extreme homebody so this works in my favor for most of the time, but even for someone who enjoys being home, his can get tough. Mentally and physically you have to be ok with doing this.

Two - There are a lot of dogs going in and out of our house and they are welcome everywhere. On the sofa, on the bed. That means I clean a lot. I am constantly wiping, cleaning, washing doggy paws and wiping their private areas after bathroom breaks. When we have as many as 8 dogs at a time (which is rare), that's a lot of paws and butts to wipe. When it rains. Oh boy.

Three - The entire day, I take pictures and videos of dogs. And not half assed pictures but candid moments, posed moments, play time moments. And they are edited, saved, emailed with a full detailed update that happens right around dinner time. DogVacay and Rover does make it easy for hosts to just snap a few pictures and send it via their app but I don't like doing it that way. It's just not in me as someone who takes joy in taking good pictures. 

Four - While your normal work day may be 8 hours, mine starts at 6 am and ends at 10:30 pm and perhaps waking up a few times during the night if I'm caring for older and sick dogs. There are days when I do need a nap and take it in the afternoon, but my work hour is literally 24 hours.

Other people, while thinking I have it so easy, also don't really consider this a "real" job. And they always comment on how what they do is so hard and so important while I'm just playing with dogs. Ok - you enjoy your mid-day fancy coffee and your happy hour while I am probably either giving an injection shot to a diabetic dog and writing my daily updates at 7 pm, while still waiting to eat my dinner.

They also think I can hang out and leave the house and go shopping and or talk on the phone all day. Um. No. While this may not seem like a traditional job to most folks, I take pride in what I do. And that means, I don't slack off or do "fun things" when I have guest dogs at home. 

It's ok to think that I have a lot of fun on my job. I do. But when people start saying how I have it so easy and how what I do isn't really a job, then it's rude and inconsiderate. To me, most of the people who say those things to me won't last a day doing a dog boarding service the way I run it. You just have to have a certain physical and emotional mindset to plow through day in and day out.

I guess the point I want to drive the most is that I don't do things half baked around here. As with my previous job and responsibilties, everything I do, I do my best and more. It's just not in me to do the bare minimum, get paid and then go on vacation somewhere with that money. And it's nice when it's recognized. When people leave reviews and say I go above and beyond, I know I've done my job.

Good and honest work pays off in different ways. Through Piri's Place and the way I operated it, an opportunity opened up for me to be a freelance writer for the DogVacay blog, taking my own photos, and although I haven't taken these offers up, I have been asked by my clients if I would be willing to do a few professional family photo shoots with their dog included (I didn't take these offers because, sure, good photos come about with a good eye, but I also feel that it comes with good guidance from the photographer to the subjects, and I'm not sure if I would be good at that - with people subjects that is).

Finally, while making money on the side, and either helping pay the mortgage, putting it in savings or supporting our monthly budget, I also don't ever plan to operate Piri's Place like a money making machine. Some people think I don't get enough clients and that it's always the same dogs over and over again. That's not because I don't have people inquiring and sending booking requests, it's because I chose it to be that way. I decline requests often. 

Most of the spots fill up quickly by repeat guests who know that they have to book early or request their spots be saved because spots at Piri's Place get filled months ahead (currently we are booked all the way to March with a few weeks in the summer and fall filled up as well).

I also only take in two dogs at a time. I used to take in three but lowered the number when caring for Piri became more hands on and I wanted to make sure I gave each dog in my care my individual attention. The only times I take in more dogs than my limit is when a repeat client inquires about boarding on booked days. If all the dogs' temperaments fit then we open our doors for more guest friends. 99% of the time, I don't accept new clients when I am completely booked for overnight and daycare stays.

It would be a wonderful thing to find a job that is so simple and wonderful and easy, wouldn't it? I've learned that nothing is easy, especially if you want to take pride in what you do. And plus, if everything was so easy, where would be the joy in tackling challenges?

January 9, 2018

Lady









I was talking to Yangkyu the other day about how I don't post about Lady often on the blog. With Piri and Bartles, any chance I got, I was taking pictures, editing and writing a story about them. There was so much to talk about with them.

With Lady it's been considerably different. Have you heard of the middle child syndrome? Where the middle child feels they are constantly excluded or left out because the first child and the last child gets all the love and attention? If Piri and Bartles were still alive, Lady would have been the middle child. And for a moment I was wondering, "Does Lady feel like that middle child?"

Caring for Piri when he got very old and sick was incredibly difficult. He was able to get around fine. His mobility at 17 years old amazed me but feeding him was extremely hard. He had lost his appetite completely but he needed to eat, but also eat a diet that met his renal failure and cancer needs, which contradicted each other (renal diet needs less fat, protein, etc. while a cancer diet needs it). I had switched his diet to home cooked meals and I was constantly in the kitchen making one meal after another until he finally ate something that he could eat. This was every morning and evening. Piri also had trouble drinking water and so I would give him droplets via a dropper. And giving his daily medication was a challenge as well. People kept suggesting things - cheese, peanut butter, pill pockets. I had done them all and more but there were days when he just didn't want to have anything. That is just what happens to old sick dogs. And you watch a once very lively dog who once had a voracious appetite wither away and break your heart in the process.

Bartles had Cushing's Disease. It was something we knew he had when we adopted him and that was ok with us. Because of the illness he had limited mobility (dog's hind legs become considerably weaker with Cushing's) and he had a hard time getting around. His eye sight was partially compromised as well. He would do what we called "Bartles hops" whenever he saw leaves or a crack in the sidewalk thinking he needed to jump over it. 

Bartles came just two months after Piri crossed the rainbow bridge. I was still grieving so hard for Piri and even though I still felt physically tired caring for him, caring for another sick senior dog was what I wanted to do. It was the only thing I had known for a long time.

For 7 months that Bartles was with us, I slept downstairs with him every day. I got up multiple times in the middle of the night when he stirred or began to circle (a habit that got worse during the last couple of months that he was alive). I got down on my hands and knees and supported his weight so that he could move around during the last couple of months when his mobility was really compromised. Just as I had done with Piri, I hand fed him. Bartles had a good appetite but sometimes he had trouble getting food in his mouth. I acted as Bartles shadow and was there any time he got himself into a pickle. 

Lady joined us just a week after Bartles crossed. And she was completely different. At 14 she was incredibly healthy. The only medical issue she had was incontinence. She walked well, ate well and stayed home by herself well. Piri's separation anxiety came back when we moved to our home and when he got old and sick and frail I couldn't leave him home alone because he would pace constantly, exerting the minimal energy he had. Whether we were gone for 30 minutes or 3 hours, Piri would pace non stop. Bartles was able to stay home by himself but because his mobility wasn't that great he would sometimes fall and couldn't get back up by himself. Or he would have an accident and would fall on it. With Piri we took him everywhere with us and with Bartles, I was constantly home with him. 

Perhaps it was the 2 years and 7 months of constantly caring for sick elderly dogs, but with Lady all of the sudden I became (for a lack of a better word) lazy. Or perhaps because she was such a low maintenance dog, I found myself doing and enjoying things I had forgotten about. I went out more when we didn't have guests dogs. I read books in cafes and enjoyed farmers markets with just Yangkyu. But I began to abandon things I once loved as well. Pictures - I took less pictures. I stopped knitting and crocheting. I stopped making things, baking, cooking and learning new things. During the first couple of months when Lady came home to us, I sometimes spent afternoons doing absolutely nothing. Nothing. 

I wondered if perhaps my mind and body was just looking for a break. Or maybe this was my body's way of rebelling like a teenager. And so it was like this for 5 months.

Right around on New Year's Day though I felt a sense of renewed motivation (sounds so cheesy! but the right words and phrases are escaping me today). I had a hard time looking back on all my old photos and blog posts because it reminded me too much of Piri and Bartles, but I took a look at them and there were some really great moments and blog posts. I should continue and not feel like I have hit a wall. 

I am still figuring out how to best feature Lady on Instagram and the blog. With Piri, everything was natural. I found him doing things and almost all our pictures and videos were candid. Bartles, too. With Lady though, she's a little like me. Incredibly awkward in front of the camera. So every time I put up my phone or camera, she sits and has the most unnatural face expression (I get you, girl. I get you). She has gotten a lot better so I am thinking that as time goes on I'll be able to get those candid moments of Lady. 

Lady is not Piri and she is not Bartles. Perhaps I was also trying too hard to recreate something that I had with my two boys. But she deserves something special. Something of her own. And I believe that this year that special something will come about organically. 



 // These photos were taken a couple of weeks ago when we had our first "real" snow. We borrowed Bartles' old jacket and had a little photo session.

 // People ask me if I would adopt a sick senior dog again. Absolutely. 

January 5, 2018

The Weekend


Friday. 

A very windy Friday. Although I guess it is not bad as yesterday.

I went on a walk with our guest dogs, Spootie and Clover, around noon and went only half way on our usual route. I think their paws got chilly and so after we came back home I soaked them in warm water. Hopefully we got rid of all the salt they walked on too that kept the grounds from being slippery. 

We were dusted with snow the other day and while I was disappointed that we would get more snow, perhaps it's better that we lucked out with a dusting. 

For the entire month of January Spootie and Clover will be staying with us. For a few days here and there we'll also have other friends joining but mainly it'll be our favorite cockapoos.

They are also so very easy to care for (aside from being picky eaters from time to time but that's noting really). With some guest dogs I have to constantly be on the look out as they can have a tendency to mark when I'm not looking (even though they are house trained - alas they are dogs after all and new environments mean new behaviors), or have accidents that are out of character or they like to sneak into things (like the garbage bag, treat bin or the recycle bin). Some dogs who sneak into things have special diets and so I get extra cautious and worried when they wander into the kitchen. I have bought a new gate to block that area off so that it gives me a peace of mind. With Spootie and Clover though I don't have any of these worries. They roam freely about our home even though they mostly like to stick by my side.

I have a few things I want to make over the weekend and will send Yangkyu over to the Korean grocery store tomorrow. Did you read the article about the woman who draws her husband a grocery list? I thought it was the funniest thing because while I don't draw, I have to be super detailed with the list I give Yangkyu, especially with the size of certain vegetables. Yangkyu is just better when I am as detailed as possible. I didn't think I was that picky but perhaps I am?

There is also knitting and crocheting and also reading. I started 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (I read a string of books by him last year, including Kafka on the Shore, and finally am taking on the monstrous volume that is 1Q84 - my favorite so far is South of the Border, West of the Sun) and I have also borrowed manga from the library as well. Rurouni Kenshin, which I already read (and watched the anime, which is a little different from the manga) in Korean but I didn't understand it completely and so I am re-reading it English. I was disappointed though when I read that recently Nobuhiro Watsuki, the creator of Kenshin, was arrested for possession of child pornography. It is completely and utterly disappointing. 

Aside from Rurouni Kenshin I have also borrowed One Piece. I have never read it, although I tried watching it (I couldn't get past the first five minutes of the anime) and while everyone tells me I will like it, I am still not sure. I am not particularly fond of the drawing but I will see if the storyline and characters will win me over.

I also hope to use the fireplace over the weekend and maybe get our little grill going outside (or perhaps the fire pit) as I want to roast some chestnuts and also sweet potatoes as well. They always turn out better on a real fire instead of in the oven. And I love the smell of fire when it cold out. Don't you? I have always admired people who can still be so active and mobile in the cold and so in their spirit, I will too try it over this weekend.

Have a wonderful one, friends. 

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