Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Tradition of Christmas Pajamas

Every year when my kids were little they used to beg to open a present before Christmas. Every Christmas Eve I let them open one present - one that I picked out. Of course it was always pajamas - the ones I got to take their pictures in the next morning. So this year, I had a cute Christmas nightgown that I was going to let Rylan open on Christmas Eve.

She had told me that she sat next to a soldier on the plane who told her if she had been a good girl she would get all the presents she asked Santa Claus for but if she had been bad all she would get was clothes and underwear.... I was hoping she had forgotten that when she opened that present!

She was so excited that she got to open one of her Christmas Presents!

She gleefully ripped the paper!

You can see how excited she is until....

She realizes it is CLOTHES!

Her Mommy explained the tradition but she was not amused until she found an extra surprise inside - chocolate gelt.

Here she is in her nightgown and Santa hat.

Christmas Visit!

Liz, Ryan and Rylan came for Christmas. Unfortunately, they took Rylan with them when they left....

Here are just a few pics from their visit.

I took as many pictures of Rylan as she would let me. She got so tired of posing. Here's a pic of Rylan in a dress that Jeannie made for Caroline when she was little - about 22 years ago! She is just so adorable and sweet.

Enjoying a warm fire.

We made cookies a few days before Christmas. Savanah rolled and cut them out. Rylan and her Mommy decorated them. They were delicious. Rylan put a plate of cookies and milk on the fireplace for Santa (he found them!)

Liz not interested in having her picture taken.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

One step closer to being done

The stair railings are finally done!! As with everything else, we changed our minds a couple of times on what materials we'd use for the stairs. I wanted iron but decided it was too "fancy" for our house. We liked rustic peeled cedar logs, but couldn't find anyone who could install them. We finally decided on milled cedar. The railing and balusters are cedar (and smell so good) and the trim in ponderosa pine and aspen. The landing has tongue & groove ponderosa pine.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Baking Bread

Dana and I had been talking about the high prices of groceries and the poor quality of so many things that you buy in the stores and I was telling her that I had been making homemade bread for a couple of months now. She asked for the recipe that I use most often so I thought I'd post it here. I enjoy making bread (and enjoy eating it more...) and for the last couple of months have made all the bread we've eaten. Marc said one day if I'd slice the bread just a little thinner he'd make his lunch sandwiches with it. Since then we've only had homemade. The bread I like in the store is almost $4 per loaf. I should figure out what homemade bread costs, but haven't. I know it's cheap though.
I have a Kitchen Aid Mixer (which Caroline gave me years ago for a Mother's Day/birthday present!) that does a great job of mixing and kneading dough (in fact, I made home made pizza dough with it last night), however, nothing beats the convenience of a bread machine. There's no rolling dough out on a floured board, shaping, rising, etc., not to mention washing and drying the bread board. Marc got me a Sunbeam bread maker one year and at first all I made was mixes from the store. They were really expensive and there are only so many to choose from. Then I found a couple of bread machine cook books that have some really good recipes.
My favorite is pictured here. It's called The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking by Better Homes & Gardens. I think I got it at Barnes & Nobles. Mary found one on Ebay (for much less than I spent). My machine makes 1-1/2 pound loaves and this book has both 1-1/2 lb. and 2 lb. recipes. So, my favorite everyday bread recipe in this book is called Oatmeal Bread. I've made it many times and have now improvised the recipe somewhat.

Here's the way I make it (recipe for a 1.5 pound loaf):
Spray the pan & blade with Pam if you want, it helps the blade come out easier, then place the following ingredients in the pan:
  • 1 cup oats (the recipe calls for quick cooking, but I've used regular as well. The recipe also says to toast the oats in the oven but I never have.)
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon butter (recipe says you can use margarine or shortening)
  • 2-1/2 cups bread flour OR here's where I've improvised.... I use about 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1/4 cup flaxseed meal, and the rest regular flour)
  • 4 teaspoons wheat gluten (the recipe doesn't call for it but I add it because since I'm not using bread flour, which has more gluten, and I use whole wheat and flax it will rise better)
  • 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon active yeast
Place those items in the pan in that order, then put pan in machine. I use the regular (white) setting and light crust color. When it's done I immediately take it out of the pan and rub butter on it. When cool I use an electric knife to cut it into very thin slices. That way it makes a good sandwich. I eat at least one of the ends while hot, with butter..... I bought a plastic container that is about the same size and shape of the finished loaf to store the bread. I got tired of using gallon zip-lock bags. This bread also makes great toast in the morning.
Two other recipes in the book that make great sandwiches are Jalapeno Cheese Bread and Sun Dried Tomato.

Grinding the Whole Wheat Flour ....
I can remember reading issues of Mother Earth News back in the early 80's and I really wanted a grain mill but couldn't afford one. The one I wanted was the Excalibur grain mill. It was somewhere around $280 or about $50 less if you bought the kit and assembled it yourself. Still too expensive... So I never got one. Fast forward to 2007 - I found one on Ebay. It was (supposedly) never used and I got it for $35. It came with the instructions and it really didn't look like it had ever been used. This particular grinder is housed in a wooden cabinet, which helps to keep down the dust while you're grinding. Anyway, the thing works great! And it's so easy to use. Here are a couple of pictures.
In this pic you can see the wheat berries in the hopper (on the left). The wheat is gravity-fed into the stones and ground between them and then the flour falls into a pan below (not in picture). You can change the settings for more coarse or fine flour. You can use it to grind corn and other non-oily grains too.

In this pic you can see the flour. There are doors to keep the dust from coming out, but I have the doors open in the pictures so you can see the flour.

In this pic you see the freshly ground flour in the pan under the grinding stones. Until I ground wheat berries with this grinder, I'd never had truly FRESH whole wheat flour before. There's really no comparison to store-bought. It's got a nutty taste. It has all the parts of the wheat kernel - including the wheat germ, which is removed from commercial flour so as to avoid spoilage. I buy organic wheat at the health food store in bulk for about 79 cents per pound. It takes about 1 cup of wheat berries to make the amount of flour needed for one loaf of machine made bread.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Blue Bathroom

The "Blue Bathroom" opens off of the screened back porch. It's really convenient. This is the same color blue that I used in the guest room and bathroom in town. That blue is so relaxing. In this first pic, you see the door on the right - that's the laundry closet. The washer and dryer are in there and we installed shelving in there so everything is well organized. I wanted this bathroom to have a victorian feel to it. This is the only room where the fixtures aren't oil-rubbed bronze - they're chrome with white porcelain.
We're not done with this room yet - we still have to paint the doors (you can see the blue tape) and touch up the tub - it got scratched during installation. We haven't cleaned the windows (more work than it sounds, what with the labels stuck on and the sheetrock mud sprayed on and whatnot). Also we haven't installed a mirror, towel racks, etc.
Here's a close-up pic of the clawfoot tub. I bought it in Warrenton for about $200. It is in excellent shape. I bought it before we even sold the house in town - it sat in the warehouse for about 2 years. I cleaned it up and painted the outside the same blue as the walls. The feet are painted white. While cleaning it I found the date stamp on the bottom and it was made in 1923. Hard to believe it's been around that long. The faucet and drains, etc. cost more than double the price of the tub. And that was the cheapest I could find. I love it though - it is completely modern but looks old fashioned. It has an "English Telephone" style hand shower. I also got the soap/sponge holder that hooks over the side of the tub.

The Loft

We're a long way from being done with the loft. We want to replace the door to the balcony because it leaked in the beginning. Marc caulked it and it doesn't leak any more but we don't feel confident about it and just want to install one that we know we won't have a problem with. You can sort of see the balcony out the door in this pic. It's not big, but room enough for us to have a glass of wine in the evening. We couldn't decide what kind of floor we wanted so we painted the floor with porch paint. It actually looks good. This way we were able to move furniture out of the warehouse we've been paying for for 2 years! Later we'll put down a wood floor, but we're in no hurry. We want to buy a desk for the loft, maybe a roll-top, and build or buy book shelves. And I want some sort of sewing cabinet, but I haven't been able to find one that I like that will fit. The side walls are 50" tall, which sort of limits what I can do.
Within the next couple of weeks we expect the stairs to be finished and we'll post pics of them.

The Great Room

The "Great Room" as some people call it is one big room - 30' deep and about 20' wide. The fireplace is in the middle of the west wall.

This first pic shows the living area from the loft.

You can get a good idea of what the floors look like from this pic. We stained the floors ourselves and it was SO hard. I only wish we'd had the time to practice and finish one room before doing the whole house. We see some flaws but others don't and we get a lot of compliments. We applied a mop-on wax after the floors were done. That wax protects the floor and we are supposed to reapply it every six months or so. The floor feels great under foot. It's easy to keep up with - just sweep and mop occasionally.

This pic shows the dining area. You can see a side view of the fireplace. You can also see part of one of the ceiling beams. There are three of them - ponderosa pine with a natural finish.


Here are a couple pics of the fireplace. In the first one, Caroline's dog Catahoula is sitting on the hearth. We looked in lots of magazines (mostly log home mags.) to find pics of what we wanted. We had plenty of time to research while the house construction was moving along slowly. We found that the look we wanted was created using a "cultured stone" (no one uses real ones anymore) and is called "Stream Stone", made by Owens-Corning. It was unbelievably expensive. We had to buy it by the pallet. You can't just buy the amount you need. I plan to use some of the left over rock for my outdoor pizza/bread oven. We plan to apply a sealer to the rock in the near future. This is supposed to bring out the color more. The color we chose is called "Summer", with cream, taupe, grey and white stones. Those colors go with the floors and aspen trim best.

We hunted high and low for a mantel. Most of the ones we liked had to be ordered well in advance. The prices are crazy. We decided we would have the pecan tree that's dead on our place milled into mantels. They sell for around $800 or so. The mantel we ended up with was found (used) on Craigslist. It's made of cypress and we really like it, plus it was only $250.

We've had a couple of cold nights (around 34 deg.) and built some nice fires. We have some downed pecan here that Marc has cut up but we need to get more wood. It was too hot today (Thanksgiving) to have a fire, in fact I had to turn on the air conditioning for the first time in a while. We initially planned to put a flat screen TV on the fireplace but changed our minds. There's an electric plug above the mantel which will be nice when we decorate for Christmas.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Bedroom was the first room completed

The bedroom was the first room that was completed in the house. We were able to move out of the camper and 364 days after moving into it. While the shower wasn't done and we still had to take showers in the camper, at least we were able to sleep in a king size bed. There was so much construction still going on in the rest of the house we had to keep the door closed to keep out the dust.

Here are some pics of the bedroom. This first pic shows the hallway that leads from the bedroom to the bathroom. The two doors on the left are the closet.

You can see the way the walls were glazed. The color is dark brown over ivory. In the future we may want to add another glaze color over it. I'm not 100% happy with the color.

We haven't done anything to the closet yet - we plan to put in built-in closet organizers which will really make the most of the space.

We haven't put up blinds yet. Out here in the country we don't really need them but will still do it in the near future. We put up temporary (I call them "construction blinds") shades on the front two windows when we still had workers coming to the house. I plan to put up window "scarves" on decorative hardware in the future too. Other than the window treatments the bedroom is done.

Master Bath

Here are some pics of the master bathroom. As with the rest of the house all the hardware is oil-rubbed bronze, which as it turns out is really easy to keep clean. The vanity is a little higher than standard bathroom vanities. The tile on the counter matches the tile in the shower but is 6" square. The tile in the shower is 9"x12". The tile on the floor is the same pattern but a darker shade, and the squares are 18". There's a tile medallion in the center of the floor, pictured here. The crosses are hanging on the wall opposite the vanity and reflected in the mirror. To the right of the vanity is a linen cabinet. The paint is the same paint used on all the doors in the house. All of the window and door trim and baseboards is natural aspen.

We have just a little bit of touch-up painting to do but other than that the bathrrom is done.

This is the tile medallion in the center of the floor. It's made of several different shades of stone in rectangles, squares, etc. and matches the tile perfectly.

You can't see it in the picture, but there are two recessed niches in the shower tall enough for shampoo, etc. The shower head is 8" so it makes a really nice wide "rain shower". We also have a hand-held shower which makes cleaning the shower much easier.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Marc insulating the ceiling in the living/dining room. Messy itchy stuff. Horrible. I got to be an expert in cutting it though. Marc did virtually all of the stapling. It took way more than we expected. Marc also sound proofed every interior wall with insulation. You can see the Reflectix material between the rafters and the roof - it's kinda like aluminum foil with insulation sandwiched between. It bounces the heat from the sun back off the roof. We also have it on the west wall of the house. We blew in cellulose insulation in the attic areas above the porches. Those areas are completely enclosed. Since they house the A/C ductwork we wanted them to be well insulated.

Here's a pic of Marc starting a spring garden on Feb. 29, 2008. I took these pics from the loft balcony. He had a load of mushroom compost delivered and you can see it's in the middle of the garden. That stuff is like black gold. It seemed like we couldn't kill the plants if we tried - they grew so well. We planted tomatoes, including grape tomatoes for the first time ever, potatoes, peppers (jalapeno and banana), onions, radishes, lettuce (mix of several varieties), spinach, summer squash and cucumbers. We were able to put up some tomato sauce (which is finally all gone), dill pickles (gone), bread & butter pickles, salsa, pickled peppers, and tons of frozen squash. Mary and I made salsa together in her kitchen. We were over run with tomatoes at that time. I was able to can pickles and tomato sauce while living in the camper. We set up the "turkey fryer" in front of the camper and put the water bath canner on that. I figure if we could do as well living in a camper and working on the house at the same time we should be able to produce a whole lot more next year. When we starting doing finish work in the house (around May-July 2008) we abandoned the garden. Marc tilled under everything a week or so ago to get ready for a fall garden. But believe it or not, as of today's date, Nov. 22, the peppers are still going strong. It's crazy. We're going to set out brussels sprouts tomorrow. We have "salad" seeds on order. It will be nice to have "free" salads again. That stuff is $3-4 in the stores. When we had it going in the garden last spring we'd go out with a colander, and pick what we wanted for dinner. It was really nice having a "salad bar" in the garden. One day I went out there and some bug or other had totally decimated the spinach. That's what happens I guess when you ignore it for a week and expect everything to be as you left it when you go back. I've never been able to grow summer squash before, so it was a real treat to have all we could eat fresh. Those squash kept growing until Marc finally took a hoe to them to till this fall. It was like some kind of "Day of the Triffids" thing - they would not quit growing! We were so busy with the house that we just quit picking them but those crazy plants just wouldn't die. Ditto with the tomatoes. We planted a variety called "Celebrity" and they just kept coming. Of course, SOMEONE planted them too close, then never did get around to staking them... so they sort of sprawled all over the place. Despite that, almost all of those tomatoes looked perfect. We didn't have as good luck with the Roma variety. For whatever reason (again, perhaps the spacing issue??) they developed blossom end rot on most of them. The grape tomatoes still have flowers. It's crazy. They were very easy to grow but a lot of work harvesting cause they're so small.
This first pic shows the view from the front porch. The road winds around the pond to the road. The next pic shows a sign that I got in Canton. It's exactly like a TX Farm Road sign, but these people put whatever name you want. The sign is right before you go over the dam on the pond. You can see the house still is in the tarpaper stage... Next pic shows the view from our front gate. The new fence looks good (hate the power poles though...) It's the dead of winter and the pecan trees have no leaves. The oak on the other side of the pond keeps its leaves all year round. There's another oak like it behind the house.

In these pics, the "tar paper" has been added, which helps to see how the finished house will look. The first pic is of teh back - the porch is on the left and the 2nd bath/utility room is on the right. You can see the opening in the loft where the door to the balcony will be. The next pic is looking at the front porch. The living room is on the right and the bedroom on the left of the front door.

These pics show the framing.

Marc surveys the progress... He's looking toward the loft. Another pic shows the large window in the "blue bathroom" where there will be an antique clawfoot tub. Another pic shows the kitchen window (above the sink). The door opens onto the back porch. The dining room is to the right of the door.

It took so long to get all the utilities in place - the road took the longest, then the power. The well and septic tank took just a couple of days. We had no idea how much it was all going to cost..... It was overwhelming!
These pics show the foundation being framed up and the concrete poured. We pressed our hands and wrote the date in the concrete on the back porch. It was an exciting day.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cabin Construction on the Hill

I thought this would be a great way to let everyone see the pictures of the house construction and other things going on. These first two pics show the "camp" that we set up on our land in August 2007. We naively though we would only stay in the camper for a few months. We thought we'd be in the house by Christmas. HA! We lived in that 18' camper for THREE HUNDRED SIXTY FOUR days! One day short of a year! The other picture shows the camper from down by the pond. The property is rolling hills with the center being the lowest spot. There's a pond in that low spot.