25 November 2008

Pashmina and bindis on a rainy day

Today it's raining. There's a large cloud of mist in the valley below where the Bozenkill runs. We need some more exercise but with the cold outside and the treadmill not yet hooked up, we're not getting enough. I've been keeping Savannah busy with homeschooling. We're continuing our daily reading and writing lessons and she does a lot of activities related to the seasons or holidays. Today we learned about the pilgrims' voyage on the Mayflower and how their lives in Plymouth contrasted to the Wampanoag, or native people already living in Massachusetts, who helped them survive their first winter. Savannah was mostly interested in the Mayflower as ships are one of her favorite things to learn about due to her interest in pirates.

She also cut out ten place cards for Thanksgiving with her cousins (fine motor skill development) because she wanted to bring something that she made herself.

Savannah received some Indian bindis from her Aunt Megan today so she picked out her favorites and got decorated with them and a pashmina from my closet (that her Dearest brought back for me from a trip to Nepal 7 or 8 years ago). Here's the little princess all dressed up.

I can't believe how she's the spitting image of me when I was her age. If I could find a pair of bright red or green corduroy bell-bottoms in her size and a wooly lamb jacket, we'd be twins.

23 November 2008

A sense of community with a side of cranberry sauce

Our neighborhood is filled with overwhelmingly kind people. We couldn't be more thrilled to have neighbors with such a strong sense of community. From my perspective, community, a place of belonging and sharing one's self, is so important and lost to more and more of us as fewer Americans share a common culture (or language) with their neighbors.

Last night we had the second neighborhood party since we've moved in - a traveling Thanksgiving feast. There's at least one neighborhood party here every month. People love to get together and open their homes and they couldn't be nicer or more interesting - each having real "character." Among our neighbors, there are retired folks who teach martial arts and dance classes, lawyers who maintain the communal cross-country and snowshoeing trails, gardeners, cowboys, television producers, engineers, nurses who travel to third world countries, contractors, hematologists, and who knows what else we are to discover. Savannah is excited to have two Thanksgivings this year and so are we since chances are good we won't be hosting one at our work-in-progress house. Our neighbors who have apple trees brought apple cake and our neighbors who have an abundance of squash brought, you guessed it, squash. I brought three kinds of cranberry sauces, traditional, sweet, and raw as well as Martinelli's sparkling apple cider. It's our favorite special meal drink for the three of us and makes me miss having a glass of wine less.

My Three Favorite Cranberry Sauce Recipes

Note: All of these recipes begin with washing the cranberries and picking over them to sort.

Traditional Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 package of fresh cranberries
  • 1 c sugar
  • peel and juice from 1 orange
  • 1/2 c water (more if needed)
In a medium sauce pan add all the ingredients and stir over medium heat. When the cranberries begin to burst open, lower the heat to a simmer for about 20 minutes, uncovered. This recipe should be somewhat sweet and somewhat tart but you can adjust the sugar to your tastes. You can also add more water if you need to.

Notes: I call this traditional cranberry sauce because it has the tangy tart flavor that cranberry lovers appreciate. For those who aren't the biggest fans or who prefer the glop from a can, try the next recipe.

Sweet Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 package of fresh cranberries
  • 1 c sugar
  • 3 c of red seedless grapes
  • 1/2 c of water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
In a medium sauce pan add the first four ingredients. Stir over medium heat until the cranberries begin to burst and the grapes start to soften. Then turn heat to low to simmer for about 20 minutes, longer if the grapes are still whole. Remove from heat and stir in salt.

Notes: Sometimes I use my immersion blender for a few pulses to make this smoother if the grapes don't fall apart. People who aren't big fans of homemade cranberry sauce often love this recipe, especially if you use the immersion blender to pulse it a few times for a smoother consistency.

Raw Cranberry Relish

  • 1 package of fresh cranberries
  • 2 apples peeled and sliced
  • 1 whole washed, seedless orange
  • 1-2 c sugar

Put the first three ingredients through a grinder, peels and all. Add 1-2 c sugar (I prefer on the lighter side but to your taste) and stir it in for a few minutes so that the sugar dissolves. This can also sit out for 30 minutes while the rest of the sugar dissolves.

Notes: This is one of my favorite cranberry recipes because of the ease of making it and the full fresh flavors. By not cooking the cranberries (or any of the other ingredients) you get the maximum benefit from the antioxidants that are packed in the berries.

I wish I'd brought my camera. Savannah had a blast even though she stayed up way past her bedtime. She explored the house with Fred (one of our hosts), even though she doesn't usually take to most men. She had Fred giving her the grand tour and holding her hand up and down the spiral staircases (they always make her nervous). She pampered their dog Brandy with her gentle attention and then she fell in love with our cowboy neighbor, Andy, whose lap she sat in for much of the night (when she wasn't hiding underneath the dessert table tablecloth eating sugar cookies, that is). The two of them were like two peas in a pod, especially since Andy's girls looked much like Savannah when they were younger. Andy didn't mind her chatterbox commentary on everything and he taught Savannah a little about playing pool. The next sunny weekend Savannah is hoping to get a horse ride.

On the needles
Savannah has become a slaver-driver about having me finish her new blanket. I sat next to her in the car the other day so I could knit. I waited for the car and my hands to warm up before beginning while Savannah kept saying, "Mom, you should be knitting!" She thinks that she needs to hide from ghosts under it. Unfortunately, I bought all the yarn that was left in FJORD's "Rosewood" at our quaint yarn shop downtown and will be needing more by the end of the week. I'm barely a quarter of the way through her new throw.

22 November 2008

Rugs, birds and surgeons

Two more of my rugs arrived and I love them both. The living room rug matches our furniture and finally gives me an excuse to get rid of the orange accents I wasn't really attached to. Now I'm making Savannah a new blanket for her chair in cranberries and pale khakis to match and eventually new accent pillows, but that will be after I discover which box my sewing machine is in and have the room to sew in.

One of my new Chob Rang rugs - yes, it's off center but when you see the unique angles of this house in person, it makes sense. Our living room is actually shaped like a trapezoid.

Another angle of the living room that doesn't look so off-centered.

I tried to have Savannah help me smooth out the wrinkles in the rug since for shipping it had to be folded and rolled but she was too busy performing surgery on Mantis, who was very sick and required her talents with the knife.

Here's the happy surgeon after a successful operation. Not only did Mantis live, but he recovered so well that I found him the very next day being rascally in my apple basket.

We've also begun a bird book to identify all the birds that have been coming to our feeders and pond. Savannah also loves to bird watch so the bird book is somewhat of a science project for her. She's still learning how to use her binoculars though.

Every morning and lunch we can watch the birds at both the pond and feeders from the dining room. They don't mind Sage in the least since she's way past her prime. She seems to be mildly entertained by their songs and comings and goings as if it were the nature channel.

My favorite kinds of birds so far (besides the blue heron and crows) are the Downy and Red-bellied woodpeckers. These birds look much more like mechanical wind up toys than actual live creatures from nature as they hop up and down the trees on straight vertical and horizontal lines. Their favorite way of traveling is backwards, which seems to take much effort on their part. Why they don't just fly to where they need to be baffles me. They will stop along the way to the suet feeders to eat up little goodies found along the branches and trunk.

19 November 2008

Of mice and men (and other little endeavors)

Country living and farms in particular, are different from city living and the suburbs in many ways. One of which is death. The cycles of life of all creatures are a natural part of life here. Some are to be expected; the deer lying in the ditch being picked apart by a family of thankful crows, the bees that froze to the stamen while drinking their last sip of nectar, the howl of coyotes after dark as they rile up their pack in anticipation of a hunting party, the spider web in the barn, full of mummified insects with their juices sucked dry, the putrid odor that emanates from the crushed Ginko berries daring you not to cross the road or breath through your mouth.

All these things are welcome sights to me for one reason; each is where it belongs, outside in its native habitat, performing its perfectly assigned natural role in the grand scheme of things. When it comes to finding critters inside my house, I become less of an admirer of nature and more of an executioner. In my house, no creature is safe, not even my beloved spiders. Least of all is the lowly mouse, so cute and furry when seen outside or in the pet shop, so despised when found in my house.

Supposedly the mouse problem was fixed a few years ago when new siding was put on the house. While cleaning the house, I found no signs of mice and rested well with these findings, until I heard one in the wall in my daughter's room, and not in the outside wall, the inner wall. Kevin asked me if I would like him to put poison around the house. I told him no, because the trouble with poison is that it doesn't kill them instantly, they crawl back into their little homes and die there while we are left to smell the odors of death like crushed overripe Ginko berries for months until the flesh has completely rotted off the bone. I told him that I wanted their little necks snapped in half like the stems of string beans. He was taken aback. Normally compassionate towards all creatures, I don't think he expected such a heartless response, but he placed traps around the house. Last night one mouse entered a new cycle of life and no doubt some thankful creature outdoors will appreciate the offering.

In the meantime, Savannah received a new closet and a large new rug in her room. Her toys have been unpacked and put away and it's like Christmas for her, rediscovering the new in the old. Her room is missing only baseboard trim now.

Savannah's room is full of starlight that glows into the room during the evening and night. She falls asleep to star clusters and two moons all over - like multiple galaxies glowing over her in the night.

Savannah's closet was a full family endeavor. I painted the trim, my mom painted with the roller, and Kevin installed the wood shelf and bar.

When Savannah first saw the master bathroom tub she declared that it would be hers and she would share it with her baby sister or brother for bathtime.

Savannah enjoys the ultra deep European-style bathtub. Now that our water is properly filtered no sulfur smell!

I like to decorate with simple things that make a big impact such as these fabulous rugs. I found them on ebay and have three more coming. They are hand knotted 100% wool rugs made in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As my mother likes to say, and makes me laugh every time, by buying these rugs, I'm supporting peace by keeping the terrorists busy... People are people the world over (and governments are essentially all the same) and I'm glad to support someone's beautiful handiwork and hope that a reasonable fee was paid to them for their art.

Chobi is the style that I love the best. There are few Chobi's that I don't like... The runners keep Savannah from slipping on the floors when she's dancing to the Nutcracker (an almost daily activity) and protect the solid wood floors in high traffic areas. I also consider them floor art, more important than wall art.

12 November 2008

From subfloor to Jatoba

Here's the happy demo crew for the upstairs bedroom...

I'm not in the picture because I have a pinched nerve in my hip from ripping out the shag carpet, so I'm part of the grumpy demo crew...

I suppose you could say that my standards for child safety have recently been lowered...there were nails and staples all over the floor as well as splintered wood and I let my daughter "help." She has her own pair of fitted leather work gloves and wears her safety mask most of the time for dust and particulates as well as hard-soled shoes but still....

The flooring project begins this morning. Kevin is thrilled because it begins with properly screwing down the subflooring to the joists below so the squeaks disappear. The top floor is very squeaky and I feel terrible creaking across the floor like an elephant on egg shells in the middle of the night while Kev is trying to sleep and rest for work the next day.



My mom also helped me paint the upstairs in Sherwin-Williams' Durability (that's the low-VOC paint that can be scrubbed with soap and water) in Napery. Actually, my mom did most of it since it was a cold day and it was hard to open the windows to get better air flow, so even with my mask on, there were paint fumes. (By the way my midwife who is leaving the country for two weeks told me the most important thing was for me to avoid toxins and take my prenatals while she was away - I didn't mention that I've been painting and doing other renovation work...) I'm almost 19 weeks pregnant now and somehow between week 13 and 19 I gained 5 pounds.

11 November 2008

A little bathroom magic

This is currently my favorite room in the house - the main floor bathroom. The thing was unusual with a corner toilet and corner sink with the plumbing all exposed and a corner mirror that drove me nuts because there was a weird seam down the center of your face where the two mirrors met the corner. I decided to work a little cosmetic magic on this bathroom but wasn't sure if the toilet and corner sink should be replaced with something more traditional.

"Before" picture - weird corner toilet with holes in the wall and baseboards. This bathroom was primed but never painted so the drywall soaked up tons of paint for such a small space...

A dark, picture of the corner sink after I had removed the weird mirrors in the corner. I'm not a big fan of exposed plumbing but haven't yet decided whether to hide it with a fabric skirt or leave it as is.

There was certainly room for something more traditional but with the amount of money we've been spending lately at Home Depot, etc, I decided to consider keeping the odd arrangement since it doesn't bother any of us. After the usual argument with my mom about paint choices (she wanted me to paint it green or purple or blue, two of which are colors I would never put in a house) I decided on the color I liked best, called Sugar Cookie by Behr. Since this is a small bathroom without a shower or bathtub, I decided that Behr paint would be fine. We've never had any trouble with Behr in rooms that have little to no moisture or get low levels of traffic. I also ordered a corner vanity for less than what I would've paid for a regular one on sale, and a corner medicine cabinet that was less than anything I would've found at Home Depot or Lowe's. Now I have a bathroom that I love. I was going to purchase some prints of cycads from ebay to decorate the bathroom with but decided that I want things to be more personal in this house. I'm going to use my own photography and have chosen a picture of a Buddhist temple from our trip to O'ahu and am still deciding on the other one. Here are some "after" pictures.

Nothing like a fresh coat of paint. I'm just thankful I won't have to do the trim work again in this bathroom for quite some time.

The cycad that I love in this bright red ceramic pot. Cycads are among the oldest plants known to humans.

Here's the medicine chest I found - and to think I didn't have to pay for shipping on anything! I really needed more storage space and the pair of pieces for this bathroom provide all we will need.

A photo from O'ahu of the Buddhist Temple we visited in September 2007 with the same red and green accents. I wish I could return! We would spend two days at the Buddhist Temple since it was so beautiful at the foot of the mountains with the mist circling over us and the koi and doves waiting to be fed by hand among the palms.

09 November 2008

Working on our lists...

We've been busy with our long list of home improvement projects. This weekend we demolished the platform bed in the master bedroom, painted the main floor bathroom and Savannah's closet, removed all kinds of plastic and metal shelving, built a hardwood closet for Savannah's room, installed curtain rods, and removed the washer and dryer from the basement to prepare for the water projects coming this week. Here are some of the problems with our house.
  1. The well water, which has great flow, stinks. It stinks because it's full of hydrogen sulfide gas and other minerals that leave our sinks and tubs stained. Basically if you pooped in the bathroom, no one would notice the smell, just the sulfur gases escaping as you flushed and washed your hands. We are getting this fixed (for around $4 grand) this week.
  2. The top floor has only subflooring. Our floor installers are coming this week though so I am very excited about it. I can't wait to have beautiful hardwood Jatoba under my feet when I scoot to the bathroom in the middle of the night rather than subflooring.
  3. The heating in this house is a mess. The radiant flooring in the basement is a no go but someone is working with us to provide radiant wall panels, which are nearly as good, less expensive, and still used with hot water, in case we end up with solar or geothermal. Also, the massive fireplace structure in the middle of the main floor will probably be ripped out and replaced with a proper wood stove.

  4. Boston has its green monster, we've got our black monster.

    Side view of the black monster.

  5. We have ticks all over the fields an have started a tick jar to drown the nasty buggers and to learn about the kinds that infest our land.

There are more problems, like the fact that rain drips directly on your head when you walk out the door and our walkway is sunk below the surface of the soil and so becomes one giant slippery puddle or future ice skating rink, but we like to focus on what's going well. Savannah and Dearest hung bird feeders outside and the birds are already crazy for them. We have blue jays, black-capped chickadees, and nuthatches at the moment. The crows in our field are an endless source of amusement as are our neighbors and the other locals. I will just say that first impressions don't mean much around here and most folks would run over to help you in a heartbeat.

We've learned that in addition to keeping chickens next spring, we need to raise and hatch a brood of guinea hens. These beautiful birds are like having a gardening assistant, pesticide program and alarm in one. They eat the pest bugs from the garden (and keep away crows), eat nasty ticks with pleasure, and sound the alarm when a coyote or bear is near. They will also co-habitate with chickens and flock back to the coop at night as long as they have a "landing board" to get over the fence. They lay often and their eggs are very high in protein, containing twice as much as chicken eggs and therefore are coveted in baking. They're also amusing as they love to admire themselves in mirrors and roost in the trees.

Savannah is deliriously happy about being able to climb trees, something she talked about everyday in Colorado before we moved.

Everyone helps out with this house...Savannah has her own masks and work gloves.

Savannah rolls up the carpet padding that was 30 years old...

Teamwork! Savannah helps Kevin roll up the 1.5 inch thick grey shag rug - toxic work!

Here we load up the tractor and Kevin hauls it off to the barn until we're ready to take a trip to the landfill. If Savannah is lucky, she'll get tractor ride later.

I know it probably seems like I sit around all day taking pictures of other people working but here's the 350 square foot shag carpet that I ripped out all by myself and am still paying for with a pinched nerve since pregnant bodies aren't exactly designed for this sort of thing. That's the king-size platform bed on the right that Kevin demolished today. It was as solid as a bronze statue and he'll be paying for that tomorrow.

Here's my after picture - you can tell it's really late at night now and see the built-in platform bed that is no longer. Kevin later came around and removed all the staples from the floor that were used to keep the carpet pad down and the tackless strips. Now can you see why I'm really excited about having the Jatoba flooring installed?

Meet Jack, our new little love. We discovered him in the house and took good care of him for a few days until we decided to let him go in the pond.

Nothing can come between a girl and her turtle.

Sorry, my zoom lenses are still packed away but here's a photo of the pair of herons that frequent our pond. "Blue flamingoes" we call them.

05 November 2008

Worth the view

It's been a full week since we've moved and the house is still full of boxes, some half opened, others still taped shut and we're functioning around the mess, at least in the kitchen. Sometimes I feel ambitious, like opening everything even though I don't yet have places for much of it due to the unfinished floors and then there are times like today where I get mesmerized by a pair of great blue herons that land in our pond and stalk the perimeter with their long beaks angled down, heads tilted to the side, and skinny necks coiled up awaiting the first sign of a fish at which to spring. Every room in the house has a view. I haven't hung any artwork on the wall yet and feel like my art is too dull compared to the picture windows that hold constantly moving images of wildlife like the paintings at Hogwarts.

Savannah's room is nearly done for now. We tore down the screw-in instant shelf system in the closet today and repaired the holes and painted it a creamy white. Tomorrow we should be able to install a solid pine sweater shelf and bar. Her room is missing only proper flooring (it's Behr's two-part epoxy paint system right now in khaki), which we can't install until we've decided on a heating system and baseboard trim. I want to put in a cork floor for her bedroom. Soft, cushy, warm, green, and sound-absorbing, but this is only if we don't go with the radiant floor heating.

Here are some pictures from the more fun things we've been up to including Halloween, trips to Indian Ladder Farm, building snow people and riding bikes.

Snuggling with Grampa Fred.

Pumpkins LOVE their lollipops!

Grampa Fred, Savannah and Dearest at Indian Ladder Farm after a cup of hot cider and fresh cider doughnuts.

A Tennessee fainting goat - they actually lock up when startled due to a medical condition and fall over, immobilized for 30 seconds or so...funny!

Savannah loved feeding the donkey, who seemed to like her attention and the midday snack as well!

The sweet calf that Savannah likes in theory until she gets a touch of the wet slimy nose...

Savannah's pregnant snow mommy - wonder where she got that idea? Now it's disappeared with the Indian Summer weather. Snow was just for moving day...

And...Savannah's new gift from Mommy, a big girl bike that she fully deserves. It gets her up and down our road quickly. L.L. Bean was out of the purple one but she likes the blue boys bike even better, so there you are.

Do you think she likes it???