Thursday, December 31, 2009

Plans for 2010

Once upon a time, there was something on the web about achieving 101 things in 1001 days. I may even have such a list somewhere. In lieu of that list, I give you this list of 30 things in 240 days (or there abouts). These are above and beyond the usual yard and garden chores, and yet finite and doable. I think.

And I still have to decide what home improvement project to undertake, but it is difficult for me to even think about that when last year's is not yet finished.

About that lawn:
1. Overseed bare spots in lawn with clover (in February/March)

And that unsightly tractor tire:
2. Move hosta from tractor tire to under the lilac
3. Get rid of tractor tire
4. Use sand from tractor tire to create butterfly water site
5. Plant Prairie Fire crabapple where tractor tire is

How about a little curb appeal:
6. Prune shrubs (boxwood, burning bush, etc.)
7. Move some of the cotoneaster to the west side of the West Wing
8. Plant Big Blue Stem to fill in holes left by #7
9. Move sedum from under asplenifolia to in front of Big Blue Stem
10. Move 'Clara Curtis' from south side of house to 3B garden
11. Plant Magic Lilies, aka Naked Ladies, in holes left by #10
12. Divide hostas and day lilies and give away extra
13. Move/give away iris on north side of garage

Birds, butterflies, and bees:
14. Plant morning glories on fence behind 3B garden
15. Install ceramic bird house
16. Install mason bee house
17. Plant winterberry under arborvitae
18. Plant hummingbird sage in 3B garden

Weed control:
19. Experiment with injecting Roundup and/or vinegar into stems of Canada thistle

Protection from the elements:
20. Get estimates for a pergola for the patio
21. Plant arborvitae on west side of house

22. The West Wing needs some
23. Ditto
24. Ditto

Long term food:
25. Plant raspberries
26. Prepare asparagus bed

27. Use gladiolas as row markers
28. Keep better (any) records re vegetable garden production
29. Start dye garden
30. Buy a freezer

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

White parentheses around xmas

It snowed before xmas and snowed after xmas, but xmas itself? Rain. And there still isn't enough white stuff for cross country skiing. Boo.

This week's bread is Onion and Caraway Rye bread, from The Bread Book.

It was so good my son and I ate a significant amount of it before I thought to take a picture. The recipe discouraged using active dry yeast, but I did anyway, allowing lots of time for rising, and it turned out just fine. The onion flavor is very subtle.

Re the laundry room: yesterday was the final (FINAL!!!) inspection. The inspector provided some insight about why this process has been so grueling: new computer system. It sounds like a total mess. In my case, some inspections were marked as completed when they were not, while those that were done were not showing up as such in the computer. But now I have all the stickers to prove my new laundry room is kosher. Whew! Now all I need is for some heat to come out of the register in there. Oh, and sometimes when the washer drains, the water in the toilet bowl gurgles. Is that a problem?

My daughter helped me shop yesterday for a new cupboard for the family room. With the installation of the microwave over the stove, I did not need my old microwave and gave it to my son, along with the microwave cart. So now there is not only a hole in the decor, I have nowhere to put my recipe books. Also, I keep accumulating small kitchen appliances, like my sauce maker (BTW, the replacement waste funnel arrived - good customer service!), but have run out of places to store them. I ordered a cupboard/hutch thingy from Furniture Crafts, but it will be a while before it arrives.

We also looked at bookcases at Furniture To Go. Seeing that pile of recipe books on the breakfast bar, I'm wishing I had gone ahead and bought one. It would be for the West Wing. At Target, we did get a toilet paper holder and towel rack for the new laundry. I want a cupboard for over the toilet as well.

And we shopped for a new freezer as well, at Wisman's. (I prefer them over the big box stores.) There are dimension limits on floor space for the freezer, so it looks like I will be getting a 13 cu. ft. chest (heh), manual defrost. I'm a little surprised that the upright ones are frost free. My refrigerator has a frost free freezer compartment and stuff does not keep well in there.

So much for the recent past. Time to look to the future, like next year's garden. Several of the garden bloggers I follow keep track of just how much food their gardens produced, calculating what their investment provided. I hope to do the same this year, but I'm not sure how to incorporate things like the freezer and sauce maker. They represent investments in food production/storage that should be included in the calculations. Maybe I will amortize the freezer over five years. Or am I being too anal?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hoo dat?

Several nights ago, I was reading in bed when I heard an OWL. It was not a Barred Owl, who calls "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?" I got up and looked out windows to try to spot it, but I think it was on top of my house. The next day I looked up owls in my Peterson's and from the voice descriptions determined it must have been a Great Horned Owl. COOL! I hope it caught a rabbit or two in my backyard.

Or some shrews. My next door neighbor told me he has shrews in his garage. He also claims that female shrews become pregnant within hours after birth. I'm not sure if he meant the shrew giving birth or the just-born shrews, but I have not been able to confirm either. Here are some interesting facts, though, on both shrews and moles. Anyway, he has been letting one of his cats out into the garage, and the cat has caught six so far. I hope they stay on his side of the property line.

Meanwhile, holiday prep continues. This is cranberry orange bread, using a recipe from Whole Foods for the Whole Family.

This is wonderful quick bread, but I always hated to make it because of the need to chop fresh cranberries. Now I have a food processor and that step was a snap. Is there an equivalent small appliance for zesting oranges?

Somewhere along the line, cheesecake became a holiday tradition. The recipe for this one came off the Philadelphia Cream Cheese packaging.

What causes a cheesecake to crack in the oven? Anyone? Anyone?

I forgot to purchase anything to top the cheesecake with, and being the lazy person that I am, decided instead of going to the store, I would make chocolate syrup from some of that cocoa powder that has been breeding in my kitchen cupboards.

Very simple to do (recipe may be found here). I measured the cocoa first, then discovered I didn't have the required amount of sugar, so mine is more semi-sweet than sweet. I also cooked it a bit too long - it's more like pudding than syrup. My SO and I sampled it on slivers of cheesecake last night (what?!?) and it tasted fine.

Another tradition that has evolved is Mexican on xmas eve. I will be making chicken fajitas and Spanish rice tonight, to go along with the salsa and chips. And for dessert, Mexican wedding cakes.

I think the recipe I used is from my mother. That cracked one in the middle? I ate that. Mmmm - buttery!

Happy holidays to all!

Monday, December 21, 2009


Last Friday "they" were predicting gray skies but no precipitation. Friday night that changed to an inch accumulation. But they were wrong.

I'm not sure what the official tally was, but at Woodchuck Acres we received several inches of sticky white stuff.

Clearing the driveway and sidewalks became my exercise for the day:

Whenever I shovel snow, I can't help but think about my neighbor across the street, who bought a snowblower because he says he is "too old to shovel snow" (he's younger than I am).

There are rabbits under them thar sheds.

Betsy loves trailing rabbits. Since she is a digger, she has to wear an electronic collar to keep her away from the chainlink fence. Here she has reached the end of her range, where she stands barking in frustration.

Sunday I stayed indoors, where the Year of Bread has started early.

These are Oatmeal Rolls from The Bread Book. My copy is from the library, and while I can renew it five times, I decided to find my own, which I did through a used book seller at Barnes and Noble's online site. Merry xmas to me!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Little victories

Tomorrow the subcontractors are coming to put the finishing touches on the room. Actually, that is a bit misleading, as the so-called finishing touches are fixes to things that weren't done right. There are two outlets that are not flush with the wall, one outlet that is supposed to be GFI and is not, and the paint job needs some touch-ups. Please, please, please, let this be the end of it!

Re the flooring tile: They ordered a replacement box of tiles for me. Yay!

Re the cracked "waste funnel" from my sauce maker: A replacement is on its way. Yay!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Slicker 'n snot

I bought myself an xmas present, the Roma Sauce Maker. I'm sure you have seen these around - usually they are associated with tomatoes. Gardener's Supply was offering 20% off, so I purchased a variety of things, including this baby.

Saturday I decided I should assemble the thing, to make sure all the pieces were there, and initially I was not impressed. In fact, one part arrived cracked - the "waste funnel" which is made from a plastic one step better than the plastic used for disposable glasses. Anyway, all the parts went together, and I decided that I should test it out as well. Tomato season is long past, but I just happened to have half a peck of Gold Rush apples in the refrigerator.

An aside on these apples: they are not pretty, which made them a good candidate for applesauce, but while cutting them up, I tasted a slice. Oh. My. God. Crisp and tart but not overly so. I held one back just to eat, ugly skin and all.

According to the directions, tomatoes can go through the sauce maker raw, but apples and most other fruits need to be steamed first. So I quartered the apples and put them on the stove with a little water and let the magic of cooking with gas do its thing.

After the apples cooled a bit, I filled the hopper. That red thing is called a "stomper" but wielding it takes little muscle power.

After hand cranking for a bit, applesauce started to flow. Initially, the peels still had a fair amount of apple mixed in, so I sent the "waste" through again, and extracted even more applesauce.

And it is wonderful applesauce. In the past, I have made applesauce with a Foley food mill, which crushed the seeds and let some of the nasty stuff through. But this applesauce is clean and smooth. I like it tart, but also tried it with a bit of agave nectar and cinnamon. Lovely, just lovely.

It went great with the bread I baked at the same time the apples were steaming. Working from The Bread Book...

... I used their method of creating a sponge first. This step comes after proofing the yeast and before mixing in all the flour.

Smells yeasty.

Otherwise, the directions are standard for bread, with the exception of recommending longer rise times at cooler temperatures and a free form loaf.

The result was a very crusty loaf, just the way I like it. The basic loaf recipe used half whole wheat flour and half unbleached flour, so it is lighter than whole wheat but heartier than white.

I couldn't wait for the loaf to cool before sampling. Mmmmmm!

I highly recommend this book. There is a wide variety of recipes from around the world, plus the authors explain not only what but why. For example, besides instructing you to knead the bread for ten minutes, they also explain that this is to develop the gluten which is necessary to support the yeast, and that mechanical kneading can easily lead to over-kneading, which breaks down the gluten strands. I'm looking forward to working my way through this book during the Year of Bread.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

I'm flushing!

Welcome to my new laundry room/half-bath!

Paint colors: Outer room is "Khaki", inner room is "Antique", trim is "Architectural White", and door is "Oatmeal". Flooring pattern: Durastone Festiva Multi Greenstone.

As you can see, technically the service panel is not in the laundry room. Also, the plumbing on the right is the old faucets for the washing machine. I had the plumbers leave them so I can hook up a hose in case I need treated water outside. My outdoor faucets are connected to my well, and if I try to wash siding with that water, my house will turn orange.

The washer and dryer in situ. I bought new clamps for the dryer hose, so no more mishaps with that. Yesterday I did laundry and everything was hooked up and operating as expected.

In the opposite direction, toilet and utility sink. I obviously need hangers for the toilet paper and towels. Hmmm, that would make a useful xmas present (hint, hint!)

This is a Gerber Viper, round, standard height, white. It uses a ridiculously minimal amount of water. I haven't tried flushing golf balls down it yet, but since I use flushable kitty litter, that will become my new disposal method of choice.

The sink I picked up at Menards. The faucet doubles as a sprayer, which will be handy for bathing the dog. The plumber was going to fasten it to the wall, but there was no bracket with the sink, so he anchored the legs to the floor to make it more secure.

There are still a few outstanding issues, but basically, we are done. Whew!

And, apropos of nothing, here is my birthday gift from my daughter. She and my son-in-law hung it over Thanksgiving weekend.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Almost there

I can't sleep in tomorrow - not that the dog and cat ever allow me to - because the plumber is coming at 8am to install the toilet and sink. Whoo-hoo! The laundry room conversion has taken so long that I stopped believing it would ever end. But the painters are here today, and once the plumbing fixtures are in place, we are DONE.

Except for the post-completion wrangling. There are a couple of outstanding problems. One is an outlet that is not flush with the wall. Another is a line item on the original bid for a dumpster, a dumpster that never materialized. And then there is the floor tile.

Long story: Once upon a time, I replaced the linoleum in my kitchen with Durastone. Loved the stuff, so last year I had them use it in what is now the old laundry area. Later, while extolling the virtues of Durastone to one of my co-workers, we visited the Durastone website, where I discovered that my pattern had been discontinued. My flooring people found me some more, though, and I had them do the family room. I was contemplating having the breakfast bar between the kitchen and family room removed at some point in the future, so I made sure I had enough Durastone left over to do that job.

For the new laundry room, the contractor provided a line item on the bid for the flooring, using a different floor company than my guys. I asked my guys for a bid as well, which was a bit lower, so I said to the contractor, If your guys can match that bid, I will just go with them. They did, and they were able to locate more of my pattern. So far, so good.

When it came time to install the floor, however, the flooring guys wanted to use a "couple" of my tiles. I said, OK. Well, they used all but two tiles. That means I have virtually no extra tiles for repair nor any for the kitchen should I decide to remove the breakfast bar. I assumed their bid included all materials, so I feel duped. My response was to ask the contractor what he wants to do, replace my box of tiles or deduct the cost of a box of tiles from the final bill? He said he would get back to me. Either way, I hope I can find another box.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

... but the fire is so delightful.

The sky spit a bit of snow Friday, but nothing noteworthy. Still, I used it as an excuse to hang the sunflower seed bird feeder on Saturday. The sparrows thank me.

Since the weather was not conducive to outdoor activities, I busied myself with a few indoor ones. Besides the above fire, I baked bread, the old-fashioned way. In other words, no bread machine.

The yeast was a bit old, but it managed to muster a good yeasty smell and some bubbles, enough to produce a couple of whole wheat loaves.

They are a bit dense, but definitely tasty...

... especially with red raspberry spread, purchased (along with some apples) from Cook's Orchard.

Cook's Orchard is embarrassingly close to where I live, and yet I had no idea it was there. Some out-of-town visitors wondered if there were a place nearby where they could buy sauce apples, and the Internet pointed us to Cook's. Their cider is wonderful.

Progress on the laundry room continues, albeit a bit slowly. The painters came last week, so the ceiling is white and the walls "Antique".

I had some paint from last year's construction project, enough for the trim ("Architectural Off White") and the door ("Oatmeal"), and I thought the third leftover can contained "Khaki" to clean up the old laundry area, but no. I got a little panicky because I did not have the paint sample for that color anymore, but my SO and I canvassed Home Depot and Lowe's, and found it. Whew!

Of course, there are still problems, the current (HA) one being the outlet in the above photo. It is a GFI outlet that is tied into the same circuit as the laundry room light and fan, but it keeps tripping. This is particularly troublesome because I plan to plug in a freezer there. Freezers work best if they have an uninterrupted source of power, so this definitely needs to be rectified.

Tuesday the floor is to be laid, then the trim installed, then more painting. And then? Final inspections. (Cue ominous music.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

If I will cook, they will come

Our traditional T-day menu:

Crudites (that's fancy-talk for carrot and celery sticks)
Roast turkey (duh)
Gravy (from a jar)
Mashed potatoes
Sweet and sour green beans
Stuffing (Stove Top)
Deviled eggs
Crescent rolls (Pillsbury)
Pecan pie

Not very original, but no one complains.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

And we have Spanish lace

It has yet to be painted, but at least it is up.

For comparison purposes, here is the popcorn ceiling:

It's difficult to take meaningful photos of flat surfaces, but take my word for it, the Spanish lace looks much nicer.

Seed catalog number THREE arrived yesterday: Totally Tomatoes. I want to grow enough tomatoes to can sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato juice. I'm tempted to get at least one open-pollinated variety and try saving the seeds, just for grins and giggles.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cardinals eat yucca seeds!

Several male cardinals were spotted in the asplenifolia, and what they were doing is eating the seeds from the burst pods on the nearby yucca plant. One winter I saw a downy woodpecker pecking at the dead yucca flower stalks, so I stopped cutting them down in the fall. Now I have another reason not to be such a neatnik about the yard.

The laundry room finally passed all the preliminary inspections, so the drywallers came on Friday.

From the outside of the room, looking in:

Inside, including scraped ceiling:

The new alcove for the doorway, with the service panel technically outside of the laundry room:

The inspector liked this solution to the service panel problem.

The drywallers said they were coming back today, for the next step, but no one showed. *sigh* At least they did not interrupt the Colts game (we won! again!)

Seed catalog number two arrived Friday as well: Seed Savers Exchange. I bought garlic from them this year, and am looking forward to sampling more of their offerings. In fact, I'm ready to start gardening right NOW. Well, almost.

P.S. I decided to allow anonymous commenters again, but am moderating all comments. We'll see how that works out.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The First

No sooner had I mentioned seed catalogs than one arrived in my mailbox, from a place I've never heard of: Pinetree Garden Seeds. Their introductory note is basically an apology for their lousy service from last year (they were a victim of their own success) and a promise to do better. Ordinarily, that would put me off, but leafing through the pages, I see things that most gardening catalogs do not offer:

* Tobacco seeds (not that I am going to grow tobacco)
* Soap making supplies (not that I am going to make soap, although that might be fun)
* Hop rhizomes (something I've considered, for the beer-brewing members of my family)
* Green manure seeds (definitely interested in this)
* Dyeing herbs (oh, yeah!)
*Seeds for foreign varieties of vegetables: French, Italian, Continental, Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern (YUM!)

Already, I'm going "I want that and that and that and THAT and..." I wonder if one of my neighbors would let me turn their backyard into an annex for my garden.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Baby steps

The worker guys were here yesterday. The toilet was turned, the studs for the alcove erected, the light/fan switch moved, and the door will swing the other way. I went ahead and bought the sink, so that was there to provide reference, and the plumber offered to hang it as well as attach the legs, to make it extra sturdy.

Today the electrical inspector came and - YAY - we passed. Whew! Tomorrow the framing inspector is supposed to do his thing. Then we will be ready for insulation and drywall. Knock on wood.

Christmas catalogs have started to arrive. Can seed catalogs be far behind?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

At loose ends

Now that my weekends are not spent almost totally in the yard, I don't know what to do with myself. Not that there aren't still things to do outside. Yesterday I gave up on the fall snap peas - they bloomed but never podded - and lasagna-gardened that last bed. Other than hoping to steal some leaves from a neighbor, I consider the garden done for the year.

The greenery on the right are rhubarb and herbs, the straw next to it the garlic.

Other tasks this weekend included raking the few leaves that are in my backyard, primarily so I can spot the doggy-doo when on poop patrol; protecting more plantings from winter rabbit damage (poultry netting is my friend!); and raking up the detritus from the hostas and lilies.

I have become quite the viburnum fan. I love the fall color of the 'Chicago Luster'.

And after reading about not-Canada thistles in A Weed By Any Other Name, I'm letting this fellow grow.

Hopefully, next year it will reward us with a lovely bloom. Which I will destroy before it goes to seed. After all, I don't want a thistle farm.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A man's perspective

I learned from one of my guy friends on FB why toilets and service panels do not mix: a person who can use the toilet and touch the service panel at the same time could theoretically complete a circuit. My first thought was how a person SITTING on the toilet in my laundry room could accomplish that, but then I realized the not all of us SIT when using the toilet, in which case, yes, the service panel is within reach. I also have to assume that the reason such a code exists is somebody actually did this. In my Book of Life's Rules, that comes under the chapter titled "Just Thinning the Herd".

Anyway, the 30-inch toilet clearance is side-to-side, not front-to-back, so yes, they plan to turn the toilet 90 degrees, a task the plumber says is EASY. If they switch the door around, everything should be copacetic. We are having another powwow early Monday morning, and maybe by the end of the day, we will be ready for another inspection. Yay.

Meanwhile, I am going to clean and reorganize the garage so I can get my car in it, because it is getting frosty at night.

P.S. All my blogs are getting spam from "anonymous" commenters. So I am going to disallow anonymous comments, to see if that eliminates this pesky problem

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Is this common knowledge?

Today my SO agreed to housesit and let the inspectors in, should they show up. First one in the door was the electrical inspector. Ruh-roh. The toilet and the service panel cannot be inside the same room. Wha'?

It never occurred to me that this would be a problem. Apparently, it did occur to the people doing the work, but when they originally called the city's building inspectorship department, they were given a (tentative?) okay. When the inspector saw the results in real life, though, he said, Sorry, no can pass.

We (the worker guys and I) discussed a few alternatives, one being very expensive, the other being okay but kind of funky (and would not cost me anything extra). They want to recess the doorway into the new laundry room so that TECHNICALLY the service panel will not be in the same room as the toilet. Getting one's bottom onto the toilet will be a tight squeeze, but within allowable limits, which they claim is 30".

Hmmm. I just checked the online catalog for the toilet I picked out. It is 27.5" deep, which would leave the user 2.5" knee room. That doesn't sound like very much.

The guys are supposed to come to the house and draw on the floor just what they are envisioning. The room is 72" wide. I hope there will be more than 30" for the toilet.

Addendum: Home now. The only way their scheme will work is if they turn the toilet 90 degrees from its current intended location. And the door will have to swing the other way, out of the room instead of into it. Storage is more important to me that having a third toilet in my house, so I am also okay with simply keeping the room as it is, sans toilettes. Further discussion to ensue.

At least we passed the heating inspection.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Inspections conniption

For some reason, my contractor and his sub-contractors do not understand the building inspection process. I discovered this when the framing inspector showed up last Friday. The plumbing has been inspected and there is a green tag to prove it, but the framing inspector needed to see evidence that the heating and electrical inspections had passed as well. He explained that he cannot allow the drywall to be installed until those inspections have occurred because the drywall would impede said inspections. Duh.

As far as I know, the contractor has not requested heating and electrical inspections. What is up with that? They did not want to bother with building permits, which is a big fat red flag to me, the consumer. Apparently, they are also trying to circumvent the inspection process, another red flag. If they had just done things the way they should have been done in the first place, we would be past the initial inspections by now.

This is the same outfit that built the West Wing last year. That was a big project and there were very few problems, so I felt safe using the same company for this project. I think I will be satisfied with the final results, but the process is grating on my nerves. For such a simple job, they are sure making things difficult.

P.S. When I arrived home tonight, the "general" building permit posted on the garage door had been joined by two more permits. I hope that is a good sign.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

I stand corrected. I think.

The contractor, the carpenters/electricians, and the plumbers all attended a pow-wow at my house yesterday morning. The c/e's took pains to show me that the floor heights were just right, and they did not treat me like a crazy lady. At least, not while I was still there. We all went over what remains to be done, and I left for work, reassured that these guys are professionals. Denial is a good thing.

Today when I came home, I discovered that this...

... had been transformed into this.

And this...

... is now this.

The washer and dryer are not hooked up yet - they will be by this weekend, when I need to do some laundry - but I am pleased. Sort of. It's funny how a vision rarely translates perfectly into reality. The room seems smaller than I imagined, the door is not quite where I expected it to be, the area outside the new laundry room seems to have awkward dimensions (i.e. is a freezer going to fit in there?) It will take some getting used to, I guess.

The best thing, though? I will have somewhere besides the main bathroom to put the cat litter box.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Signs of November

The burning bush:

Under the burning bush:

The asplenifolia:

Under the asplenifolia:

The maple tree:

Under the maple tree:

And ornamental grasses:

(Don't tell the others, but the sea oats are my favorite!)