Archive for ‘Kitchen’

November 3, 2011

The Report from Days 303 – 315: Let the Bodies Hit the Floor…

I may have mentioned before the need for finished flooring in the kitchen and bathrooms before the plumber can hook us up. As running water is one of my requirements for move in, this really needed to be finished as soon as possible to allow the plumber time to schedule us in.

Since real stone, though beautiful, is costly, cold and hard we picked out a decent stick-down vinyl floor tile for the kitchen/mudroom/downstairs bath. Basically these are 18 inch tile stickers. Super easy to install. We just had to collect the amount we needed. It took several trips to multiple stores to gather enough.

It only took about three hours on day 303 to install almost the whole floor, saving some of the more fiddly trim pieces for a day when the crew wasn’t so flu-ridden.

The installation was indeed so easy that even The Belle and I could lend a hand.

In fact, we didn’t even expect the floor to last all that long; 7 years maybe. All it needed to do was stick. But the next morning we found this:

We tried walking, jumping and leaving heavy objects in strategic places. We even rented a weighted roller and tried that.

No luck. About 50 tiles just didn’t stick all that well, a problem that would only get worse as dirt collects under the edges. These tiles are not perfectly square so there wasn’t a good chance that we could replace just the no-stick-um ones. We would have to rip up the whole floor and try again. When Ev called the store to discuss a refund both the store and tile company were more than willing to give us our money back. According to the lady Ev talked to all we had to do was bring in the receipts. Well, as of yet we still haven’t figured out who Ev talked to on the phone that day, and despite two trips to the store so far no one has been able to get us our refund. Grrr.

Regardless of refund we needed a new floor, and quick. We thought it a poor idea to buy the same brand but nothing else much appealed to us. After three whole days of trips to all the home improvement stores in three states we finally settled on a similar looking and priced tile from a bigger, more well known company. This new tile is made in the USA, which is a nice bonus.

On the third day we even managed to find a store with enough boxes for our project. So Saturday evening, the day of our freak pre-Halloween snow storm, we pile box after box of tile into the car and make our way home in the cold, dark, slippery night. On route 15, just north of Lucketts, we hit a pothole and blow out a tire. Ev was not going to unload hundreds of pounds of cargo into the rainy night on the side of a crazy road so we kept driving and some how made it home.

On Sunday we spend most of the day trying to buy a new set of tires, but no one has what we need in stock. That evening we heat up the house and gather our courage to begin pulling up the original flooring.

We open the first box of the new tiles. There are two tile patterns, which we dub A and B. We open the second box; A and B. Ok, we’ll have to twist and mix these tiles so they don’t look quite so obvious. We begin the tedious task of heating each old tile with a heat-gun and using an increasingly sticky chisel and fingers to pry it up, then replace it with a new tile. One. At. A. Time.

After many hours work and most of the kitchen floor except a one-tile-wide-band around the outside we are ready to open a third box of tiles. Expecting A and B we are shocked to find brand new patterns; C, D and even C/D tiles. These ones have different colors! And shapes! And even though it isn’t glaringly obvious, when laid side by side it will be if there is no blue in the kitchen except for a stripe around the outside.

Ev and I are exhausted by four days of the whole flooring saga and a bit high from the fumes of slightly melted vinyl floor tiles. We have a small cry and then begin the painful task of ripping up the half of the floor we have just spent hours laying down to incorporate the C and D tiles.

At 10:30 that night, with the kitchen almost finished (again) we call it quits and go to bed. The next morning the crew arrives and helps Ev lay the rest of the tiles in the mudroom and bath.

Today I can’t even say that we are finished with the whole thing as there are two damaged tiles in the kitchen that need to be replaced, but at least they aren’t anywhere the plumber needs to work so it isn’t a big deal. Good enough.

All ranting aside I would like to note that The Belle was a perfect angel the whole time. She spent a whole weekend of bedtimes in various home improvement stores with nary a peep.

Good girl!

October 22, 2011

The Report from Days 62 – 295: Moving Date

About a week ago I was given the move in date November 10, 2011; almost one month shy of a year since we broke ground. That’s day 325 for those of you playing at home. There have been lots (and lots!) of “we-can-probably-move-in-around-_______” dates, but never one with actual numbers! In celebration here are some stories and pictures that didn’t make it to posts of their own.

The Septic Field

Day 172

Not terribly exciting, and this is a foggy picture, but impressive to note that it took these guys only two or three days to dig, install and bury the whole deal. That really is a lot of dirt to move. Also, I refuse to live in a house with no indoor plumbing. I’m picky like that.

The Thief

In June we had what are called the “home run” wires, the wires that run from the house to the power company’s box, ripped out. The wires were cut and sold as scrap copper, earning the thief roughly $35-$50 bucks in cash. The cost to us was significantly more than that to buy replacement wire and pay the electrician to rewire the whole downstairs.

Day 212

Ev was mad, mad, mad. At this time we had not heard of any similar crimes in the area so we couldn’t rule out some kind of personal vendetta against us, our electrician, or new construction in general, especially since the huge roll of copper upstairs and all the tools were left untouched. Scary. Even though we weren’t living in the house at the time it was still a kind of violation that you don’t really want experience. Ev bought a motion detector and set it up outside in a pile of cinder blocks so we could have record should it happen again. There wasn’t much else we could do to protect the wires. If we locked the basement door there was a good chance that the glass would simply be smashed and we would have to replace a door or window as well as the wires. I figured once was enough and we didn’t have to worry any more.

I was wrong.

Just after the masons started working we were hit again on July 20, day 212. Ironically it was only that morning that the masons had moved the pile of cinder blocks and the camera without replacing it, so we had no visual proof. Now Ev was furious. The police hadn’t been very helpful the first time, but at least the second time they could tell us that wire stripping had been reported in empty and under-construction houses all over the area. So at least this wasn’t personal.Whew.

Sadly, even if the thief was caught we could get no recompense for his damage since all together he has stolen less than $100 in raw material. The time and money that went into replacing it would not be accounted for. So we bought more wire and the electrician rewired the downstairs for a second time.

As far as I know we are still waiting to see if the builder’s insurance will cover any of the costs.

The Earthquake

August 23, 2011, day 246, a rare magnitude 5.8 earthquake shook NOVA and most of the east coast. It was freaky to be sure, but so little damage resulted that we laughed the whole thing off. A few weeks later Ev found this:

Day 263

It’s hard to see so I’ll just tell you. It’s a crack that runs through our brand new brick from the door all the way to the roof line smack dab in the middle of the front of our house. Looks like we laughed a bit too loud. All brick houses will crack at some point as they settle, we just expected this in about 20 years, not 20 days. Sigh.

We’ve Got the Power

Day 270 brought us power. We waited more than a month for the power company to finish an installation that was supposed to take two days in August. To be fair, I’m sure that there was a lot of work in the middle as they cleaned up from the hurricanes that ravaged the coast, and we would be fine without power in an empty house when others would be hard pressed to cook or fight the late-summer heat. September 16th brought us glorious electricity. Until then we had a generator for the tools, but it wasn’t enough to power tools and the lights needed to work after dark. Now we could really make a dent in all the little jobs after hours.

A few days later I pulled up to see lights on in the house after dark for the first time. It was really starting to look like a home:

Day 274

More Chicken Goodness

Day 62

Way back in Feburary Ev designed and built this, our chicken coop. This coop is designed with a gang plank in the middle to reach the upstairs that can be lifted shut at night. It has a nifty sliding door for checking the two nest boxes. One whole side of the roof hinges for easy cleaning. The chickens use it for sleeping and most of their egg laying, but mostly they prefer to be out and about in the yard during the day. Should we need them to stay in one place we can shut the downstairs door.

Day 195

In early July we moved the chickens over to the new house. Above is a shot of the finished coop, and our handy coop-mover (AKA Granddad’s cart). She slides along the grass without much effort.

Day 284

More chickens in the attic. They really did love being in the house. Now that the floor is more maple hardwood than plywood they are banned! Silly chickens. But we sure do love these:

Day 276

The Garden Again

It really is important to us that we make our house and land work for us. Producing our own food is probably the single biggest step towards sustainability and self-reliance we can make. In fact, as I type I’m enjoying a fritatta made from our own green beans, potatoes and eggs. Next year we plan to expand the garden and possibly incorporate bees and turkeys to our little farmette. We also have water from our well, fuel for the wood stove from the trees, and income from the apartment.

Things are pretty quiet in the garden now while we wait for the fall and winter crops to grow, so here’s a recap.

Just getting started:

Day 105

The Belle enjoys her own special garden box:

Day 135

At midsummer:

Day 198

The very last of my tomatoes for the year:

Day 294


I’m sure everyone knows how impatient I am to move in (it’s an amazing house and I have a baby due – wouldn’t you be?). But there is very little I can do to help with NoelBaby tagging along; No painting. No roofing. No heavy lifting. Lately though I’ve been puttying nail holes in the trim, helping Ev lay the hardwood by racking (choosing what goes where while he nails), laying the stick-down tiles in the kitchen and mudroom, installing switch plate and electrical outlet covers, and other odds and ends like that. It feels good to be doing at least a small part, and every little bit I do makes the house feel more like my home.

Day 262

Day 304

The Belle helps, too:

Day 304

Hopefully I’m all caught up now on the little bits and pieces that I wanted to share. This has been quite the experience and it’s hard to believe that we’re really in the homestretch now! A funny note, I just realized that NoelBaby is due one year almost to the day that we broke ground. Wouldn’t it be funny if that’s how it works out?

October 1, 2011

Our Feathered Friends

I thought it might be time to introduce our Chickens.

In April we started with 28 chicks. We’d ordered a straight run (both male and female, but we didn’t know how many of each) of 25 Dominique chicks and the hatchery sent us two extra in case we lost a few during transit (one died shortly after) and threw in one free rare breed chick, what we later determined was a Golden Polish cock. We chose the Dominiques because they are a heritage breed, one the settlers took west because they are calm, cagey, compact, cold resistant, good layers and decent meat. Our plan was to raise the chicks until they were old enough for butchering and keep our two favorite roosters and between 6 – 10 hens for laying and put the rest up for the winter. The only catch was that we needed to be in the new house to have access to the freezer space needed to store our dinners. So we put it off.

Then we lost two hens to a visitor’s dog. We lost 10 when we moved the coop away from the garden in an attempt to get them to leave my squash alone. and they didn’t get the memo. We lost two more roosters (including our Polish cock, Frazz) one night when we didn’t pull the gang plank up until late at night and a fox or cyote tried to get in. They died bravely protecting their girls, but we were still sad. Most recently we lost one hen of unknown causes.

Because there were so many, and because we didn’t plan on having most of them around for long we only named a few. All the hens became Sheila. The top two roosters became Butch (who I wanted to name Cassidy, but he was so obviously “Butch”) and Sundance. Then there was Frazz, our goofy, bottom of the pecking order, got his ‘fro tonsured during the dog attack, Frazz. I don’t think we have any pictures of Frazz, which breaks my heart a little. One hen, one of the smallest, has become Shelia Rae, from one of my favorite childhood books, because she was always the most out going and adventurous. Lately, Sheila Rae has taken to spending much of her time in the house keeping Evan company while he works and laying her eggs in the sawdust under the table saw.

The other day she brought Butch and Sundance in with her. While this is adorable, I am putting my foot down when the hardwood goes in: No chickens in the house!

For now we still have 9 hens and two roosters, a few more than the coop Evan designed and built was intended to hold. During the day, however, the are always out side eating up their feed and tasty tidbits around the yard including bugs (most especially those Lyme carrying ticks!!) and the occasional frog. They do a good job on the stink bugs, too. They are just starting to lay regularly. We’ve been getting 5 or 6 small brown eggs a day, just enough for us and a extra dozen to share every week.

Things are going well, but we’re still novices. Any one have any chicken tips?

September 22, 2011

How Does your Garden Grow?

I had planned on a weekly update of our garden this summer, but it just never happened. Now that the weather is decidedly Autumn-esque and we’ve started prepping our fall garden I thought I’d give a recap of our summer work:

For most of the summer we had to fill trash cans with water and haul them down the street to the garden. We had a lovely deep well, but no way to get to the water until almost the end of July when we finally found a pump we could afford. Needless to say, our garden didn’t get watered as often as it should.

The view from the top

We planted greens, snap and shell peas, carrots, onions, red and yellow potatoes, a few varieties of tomato, pole beans, bush beans, beets, turnips, cucumbers, broccoli, cabbages and a three-sisters planting of corn, more pole beans and various squash and pumpkins, sunflowers and zinnias.

Lettuce greens are one of my favorite things to grow because they come so early and are almost fuss-free. It got hot so fast that they did bolt pretty quickly, which was a shame. But we have a cold frame of sorts that we’ll try with winter lettuce this year.

The peas were planted too late for much success. Ah well.

The onions, all three hundred sets, perished in the heat.

The carrots did ok, but they aren’t very happy in our Virginia clay. More sand in those boxes for the fall.

The potatoes are fine, not as sweet as last year’s, but decent. Ironically, I think next year we’ll plant a bag of sprouted store bought potatoes like last year, rather than the super expensive, not as tasty organic seed potatoes we bought this year.

The tomatoes did just fine until the day the chickens realized how tasty they are and ate all they could reach. We are just now getting red tomatoes again.

The beans did gang-busters and we had so many we had to stop harvesting. Didn’t care for pole beans as they are extra squeaky to the teeth and not as sweet as bush beans, so no pole beans next year.

The beets and turnips were HUGE, but woody and bitter from the heat and lack of water. We’ll replant for the fall.

The cucumbers were fine, if not terribly prolific. But they were planted as an afterthought and in such random locations that it was hard to find them.

The cabbages suffered the same fate as the broccoli. At harvest I pulled off the chewed laves only to discover that there were no unchewed leaves and the buggies had taken up residence in the very center of each head. A total loss.

The broccoli did really well when the chickens were around to peck them clean. Eventually they did more harm than good to the other veggies and they were banned from the garden so the broccoli suffered. The heat didn’t help either. We’ll try again.

The three-sisters seemed such a good idea, but alas I think we’ll try something different next year. It may have worked better if someone small and thumbed (a raccoon?) had not pulled down all the corn, and thus all the pole beans climbing the corn. We got not one single ear of corn this year *weep*. The beans either rotted on the ground without support or, surprisingly, grew really well anyway, covering the squash and making it hard to find them at harvest time. We couldn’t find most of the zucchini until it was almost too late. The butternut squash did amazingly well until the day (while we were on vacation) the chickens discovered how tasty they are and ate all the ripe ones and pecked festering holes in the not-ripe ones, just to check. I cried. Lots. And called the chickens every unflattering name I could imagine. We did save a few, as well as several acorns and sugar pumpkins. But my bumper crop of butternuts is decidedly no more.

The flowers did beautifully and graced our table and window sills all summer long. I am so glad because all my zinnias froze in a freak cold snap last year and I saw nary a one. This year I couldn’t possibly pick them all.

Harvest, Aug 2

Harvest, Aug 5

Harvest, Aug 29

Snap Peas; they got planted too late again this year and we didn't get many

As much trouble as we had in the garden we still managed to preserve a few jars of pickles, a bag or two of frozen sliced carrots, two jars of freezer tomato sauce and about a zillion bags of frozen green beans. We still have potatoes in the ground and tomatoes on the vine. We managed to incorporate something from the garden in almost every dinner this summer (generally a side of steamed green beans or brocc). Not too shabby! Here’s to hoping that the fall garden is at least as successful.

July 26, 2011

Harvest: Monday, July 25th 2011

Harvest 7.25.11

Today’s haul: 2 lbs bush beans, assorted small carrots, three small yellow onions,  5 decent sized turnips and three smallies, one beet, two tiny german butter potatoes (whoops), two pickling cuques, assorted zinnia and sunflowers and one honking huge butternut that I’m not sure is ripe yet but I can’t imagine it would be good if it got too much bigger. There are 8 butternuts on the one vine growing out of the compost bin that are already bigger than anything I bought last year. I don’t know if it’s being pregnant in this heat or what, but I’m looking forward to fall – I could go for some squash!

Sadly, I think there will be no corn this year. Someone smallish and thumbed has pulled down most of our stalks, neatly shucking all the ears worth eating. This is doubly disheartening as the corn acts as a trellis for our pole beans. As you can see from above, we still have plenty of beans from the bushes, so I don’t think we’ll be hurting. I wish I liked green beans more….

Beet and turnips

Bush beans, carrots and onions


April 14, 2011

The Garden

Muddy boots

It’s been consuming our weekends, this garden. The tilling. The building of boxes. The filling of boxes. Breaking tough clods of Virginia clay. The endless planting of so many seeds. We may have bitten off more than we can chew, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Last year we had a small square-foot style garden with four boxes, but we really only used two. This year we have what seems like half an acre devoted to the green stuff: Several rows of root crops in the ground and the rest in about 10 wooden 4′ x 4′ or 2′ x 4′ boxes. In other words, quite the expansion from last year’s prolific endeavors. Whole boxes are dedicated to carrots. Only carrots. Indeed we many have gone a bit crazy. You see, we planted 360 onion sets, not counting the onion seeds (we eat a LOT of onions), four bags of seed potatoes, rows and rows of turnips, a box each of shell and snap peas. Other tasty promises include three different types of tomatoes, two kinds of broccoli, two kinds of cucumbers, bush beans, and summer squash.

We will also plant a corn, pole beans and squash in a traditional “three sisters”grouped and staggered planting so that the beans and squash climb the corn.

The Garden -- root crops above, Three-sisters corn and sunflowers below

Our hope is to put a large amount of this fresh produce away for the winter months. This will be a major boon to our budget, which used to center around our food expenses, our housing situation and our eating habits being what they are, but will very soon shift towards a more mortgage-centric style.

While we do still need to figure out a fencing system, this being deer country and all, we do have a devilishly clever pest control system. Next week our chicks will arrive. Not only will they provide us with eggs and meat, but they will be our first line of defense against the invading hoard of stink bugs!

If you need me, you know where to find me — in the garden, with this kiddo.

November 16, 2010

St. Paul and the $5 Chicken

It’s almost Thanksgiving and I can’t stop thinking about food. Even at Mass, while wrangling Cora, my ears perk up at the slightest mention of eating. During the second reading from 2 Thessalonians I caught this gem: For even when we were with you we gave you this rule: ” If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

That’s some heavy stuff. Shall not eat?! I don’t know about you, but eating is a very important part of my day. Now, I know that Paul is warning against idleness in this section, talking about pulling your own weight and not being a burden to others, but I can’t separate the food example from the general warning. In fact, when I really sit down and look at it, I’m not pulling much of my own weight when it comes it food. For example: The other day I bought a 6lb chicken for less than 5 dollars. Great deal, right? I thought so, too. At first. But how is it possible to house, feed, process, package, ship, store and sell a whole chicken for less than $5? There are so many people involved with getting that bird to our table that for $5 someone is getting stiffed. Most likely the farmer.

It is with this on our minds that Evan and I excitedly accepted an invitation from some neighbors to help them process their chickens last Saturday. When our house is finished we hope to have chickens for eggs and tick control, but we hadn’t fully discussed the chicken-for-meat aspect, so we thought we’d see how it was done and maybe pick up a few pointers. No big deal, we said, just knock off an old, slow layer when we’re feeling a bit peckish. How hard can it be?

So we left Cora with Grandma and we drove across town. The G family was all set up waiting for us, and a nicer, sweeter family I have yet to meet. The G’s had sent their littlest ones (2 and 5) to grandma’s also, but the 8 and 10 year-olds were fully expected to help out. It was hard work, and messy. The “offing” was left to the boys, mostly because Papa G cut his thumb last time and didn’t want anyone else to suffer the same fate. The plucker was a morbid kind of fun. The chickens were nice and warm inside on a cold day. The butchering required sharp knives, a trusting partner and a basic knowledge of chicken anatomy. But it was safe with killing cones, scalding water, ice buckets, sunshine, a cool breeze and brewer’s sanitizer. Most everything went to the freezer including the edible organs. The backs and feet were kept for stock making. The blood was kept for next year’s garden. For lunch we ate an entirely homemade meal, except for the butter, I think.

The G’s are just a normal family. Dad works outside the home, mama teaches music at home, the older kids go to public school. They live on three acres. But this family pulls their own weight. They have a huge garden, chickens of all kinds, turkeys, pigs and soon a cow. Enough to feed a family of six.

I know that not every one can or should do as much as the G family. That’s not really the point. The point is to do what you can to not to be a burden anyone when it comes to food. Not to burden the farmer and workers with inadequate compensation, not to burden my family with unhealthy meals, not to burden the planet with unsustainable growing practices, not to burden the animals with inhumane treatment, and not to burden the Lord with disrespect for his gifts. We’re looking forward to following the G’s example next year and start pulling more of our own weight around here.

November 1, 2010

Bounty of the Earth

Boy did we get lucky this year.

We had the best of intentions for tending our little garden. We really did. But to be honest we pretty much just half-assed the whole thing; planted at the wrong times, weeded occasionally, watered when we remembered, put up a ridiculously flimsy fence to keep the deer out. We pretty much did the bare minimum. We had no idea what we were doing and just made it up as we went along. And it worked!

From a little ramshackle garden with 4 4’x4′ boxes came much glory. Sweet, crunchy carrots, the tastiest, so red they were almost purple skinned potatoes and buttery yellow ones, crisp and peppery lettuces, and cute little butternuts. Not everything grew well. We got few peas, no onions no matter how many times we replanted, someone small and crawly ate the broccoli, most of the zinnias froze, and the sweet peppers, though prolific were bitter. But if you want jalapeno peppers, cherry tomatoes or green beans we can hook you up. No really. Please. Come take them. I don’t know what to do with them all.

One of the things I’m looking forward to most about our new house is having a bigger, more intentional garden, an orchard, chickens and one day maybe even bees and goats. Our garden plot was laid out and designed long before the house ever was with 8 4′ x 4′ boxes for “square foot” style gardening with pea gravel paths, a small storage shed, high deer-proof fence, and a stone wall along the back side. We plan on planting an orchard next to the driveway to feed our apple cider, sauce and turnover habit (we finished off all the apples from Ev’s parent’s trees in just a few weeks and are still craving more). My goal is to hopefully incorporate something home grown/made in every meal. Soup with homemade stock and veggies from the garden. Our tomato sauce and pesto with our own basil for pizza night. Maybe even cheese from our goat’s milk. That sounds like a LOT of work. Am I crazy? I did a lot of saucing, pressing, drying and freezing this year. Except for peeling 20 lbs of cherry tomatoes for sauce (NEVER.AGAIN.) I didn’t really feel like it was too much work to grow and process our own food. Since we’re a 20-50 minute drive to anywhere with a decent grocery store I found that I could put that time into our own food. And it was cheaper. And fresher. And tastier. And healthier for us, our neighbors and ultimately the world.

Got any gardening tips for two newbies? What is your favorite thing eat/cook garden fresh? Anyone want some tomatoes?

– B

Bright jalapeno peppers

Apples and cider from our own trees

Our ragtag green beans have produced enough to fill three grocery bags